My New Favorite Headphones & Mic

I’ve been tentatively in the market for a new headset for a year now. I’ve had the same Sennheiser  PC 320 headset since about 2012 The sound quality was pretty good, and the mic quality was superb — unmatched by anything I could find. I needed to replace them because I have very sensitive ears, and they sit to far over my ears just enough that they would push on this little bump of cartilage and cause me significant pain after about 2 hours of wear.

I thought I might want to look at these “gaming headsets” out there. All I could find were overpriced heavy pieces of plastic. Everything in my price range was horribly reviewed, and I wasn’t about to drop $300+ on decent ones.

Going completely off the reservation, I decided to try something new: Headphones. Not a headset. Headphones. I’m glad I did, because I found the best pair of headphones I’ve ever worn.

Sennheiser HD 598SE

The Sennheiser HD 598 Special Edition over the ear headphones are simply magnificent. I feel like I’m wearing clouds on my ears. When I take them off, I still brace for the pain my previous headset brought, but it doesn’t come. I wore these for 6 hours straight and when I took them off my ears felt normal.The headband is padded leatherette, and the ear pads are an extra-padded velour.

Sennheiser HD 598SE

 

No pain. Not sweat. Nothing. Just normal. That’s definitely new for me.

The audio quality is also phenomenal. I’ve used Sennheiser for the past 10 years, and I feel like my previous headset had good audio, but the audio here is superb. I’m not quite an audiophile where I will critique certain levels of bass or anything, but I’m an average user who can confidently say, “The audio sounds great!”

The 598SE features a removable cable from the headphones. You can see it there in the picture above. The cable can swap between a 3.5mm and a 6.3mm (2 cables, but an adapter is included anyway).

These are over the ears and “open back” which means they do not block out any sound. I have a HUGE peeve with headphones that block out sound. I hate that sense of hearing myself in my head. I hate the closed in feel. I want to hear what’s going on around me, and I always feel like the noise canceling ones are too tight and make my ears sweat.

My one critique is that the audio is LOUD. My previous headset had windows volume at 100 and I turned people on in Discord. The 598SE makes me turn Windows down to 15 and I still turn people and games down. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Just be warned!

The Sennheiser HD 598SE will cost you about $148 on Amazon. I give these 5/5 stars and can’t say enough good things.

The Problem: Now I Needed a Mic

Looking for mic options, I felt even more overwhelmed. There are all sorts of options out there from desk mics like the Yeti to clip ons to various boom mic options. Nothing looked great. I didn’t want a desk mic because those really only work when you push them right up against your face. I prefer something attached to me, closer to my mouth and out of my way.

I picked up a Zalman ZM-Mic1 for $6 on Amazon and it was ‘okay’ but far from the quality I was used to. People said I sounded hollow, and quiet. I returned to the hunt. Then I found one of the best ideas ever…

ModMic

ModMic from Antlion Audio

ModMic Magnetic ClaspThe ModMic is an attachable boom mic! It connects to pretty much anything a 3m adhesive pad can stick to. At first glance, it sounds a little janky. I thought to myself, “You mean I have to stick this thing to my new headset?” You don’t even realize it’s connected that way once you have it on, and the sleek design blends right in.

The mic is even detachable via a patented magnet clasp. You simply attach the little base (pictured right) to your headphones, and then the magnet snaps into place. What’s cool about the design is that you can ‘rotate’ the microphone up and down because of the interlocking teeth.

Cable management became my next concern, but  the ModMic comes with little clips. I simply routed my cables together with the clips, and it’s almost as though there weren’t two cables.

modmicPerhaps the most important question: How’s it sound?

I think it sounds perfect. Just like the mic on my old Sennheiser headset that I thought had perfect clarity. I have no complaints about the audio, and my friends on Discord say that I sound great.

There are two options for your mic with a ModMic: Omni-directional and Uni-directional. The ModMic 5 (just  came out 2 days ago) comes with both options. Omni gives you a richer sound, but should be used on a decently quiet environment. An office or normal house space should be just fine. The Uni-directional version is noise-cancelling, but creates a somewhat less ‘full’ sound.

If you want the ModMic 5, it’s currently available on Antlion’s site for $69.95. Here’s my biggest critique: That’s just too much. That’s why I actually went with the ModMic 4, and chose to buy the Omni-directional version (without a mute switch) on Amazon for $49. I tweeted Antlion and they responded that there is no quality difference in the Omni-directional mic on the 4.0 compared to the 5.0. Saving $20+ (and having free one day shipping) was worth it to me, as I felt no need to have a mute switch or a Uni-directional option.

Although pricey, I give the ModMic 5/5 stars. It does what it’s intended to do, and it does it well. The design is innovative and solves the problem of having a great sounding mic on a perfectly comfortable pair of headphones.

Important: Use a USB Soundcard!

Sabrent Sound CardNever, ever, ever, ever ^10 just plug your headphones or mic into your motherboard. It simply can’t provide the amps, and there’s all sorts of interference and issues when you do. Your mic — even a good one — will sound like crap. Your audio quality will suffer too.

I use the Sabrent USB Sound Adapter. It’s $7 on Amazon, and it’ll change your life if you’ve never used one. There are plenty of options out there. You can just search Amazon or google for “USB Sound Card“.

The sound will not only come in clearer to your headphones, but your mic will sound better because this little guy will send like 3-4 amps to the mic to give it a better quality sound.

Finally I’m Happy with my Audio

So, after a year of hunting, I can finally say I am completely satisfied. My ears don’t hurt, my games sound great, and my mic is nice and clear for making videos and talking to friends while I game.

My total, all-in setup here ran me about $186. Feel free to share your setups with others who may be on the hunt for new headphones or microphone solutions.

Gears of War 4 Review

Gears of War Campaign Review

Gears of War 4 came out last month, and naturally it’s taken Graev and I a little bit of time to finish up the campaign. I’m going to review the story campaign of GoW 4, but not the competitive versus modes on the multiplayer side.

Overall Story

If you haven’t played the original Gears trilogy, stop and go pick it up on Amazon for $30. It’s the original game with remastered graphics + backwards compatible versions of GoW 1, 2, 3, and judgement. You can play on PC or Xbox One depending on the version you buy.

Gears 4 is the first in what will become a new Gears trilogy. GoW4 picks up 25 years after the events of the third game when the characters are all much older and mostly grey.

You play as Marcus’ son, J.D., who abandoned the controlling and martial law enforcing COG to join the Outsiders who refuse to live under COG rule inside walled-off cities. Teh game starts off with J.D. and crew fighting back against the oppressive COG by stealing their power systems and supplies.

While trying to be a rebel and mess with the COG’s plans, J.D. and his friends make a discovery: The Locust are back!

The Locust have evolved and are now looking to capture humans to evolve. Along the way we meet up with a few familiar faces to help take down the baddies.

I’ll leave the story spoilers there.

There’s an interesting revelation at the end that I think is a little bit of a reach, but overall the story is at least more interesting than the confusing story from the first trilogy.

Gameplay

For the most part, we’re looking at a continuation of the same gameplay from previous gears games. There’s lots of cover mechanics, grenades into emergence holes, and shooting.

The game takes place mostly above-ground in the wilds and ruins of Sera, with only a few missions taking place in warehouses or mine tunnels.

A few new guns introduce a few extra things to watch for, but this is still 100% GoW at heart.

Play Anywhere

I purchased the digital copy of Gears of War 4, so that means I can play it on Xbox One AND/OR PC! In fact, I can play on PC and Graev on Xbox One, and we can play TOGETHER. We played the entire campaign with Graev hosting our game on Xbox One. Windows 10’s Xbox experience is phenomenal.

Since it works so well, I wish Microsoft would expand this beyond just first-party titles.

Conclusion

Gears of War 4 is great. Graev and I both enjoyed the campaign, and enjoyed playing it co-op together cross-platform.

I’m excited to see where the trilogy goes.

My Battlefield 1 Review

Battlefield 1 Review

EA’s newest addition to the Battlefield franchise launched sandwiched between their own shooter Titanfall 2 (Which they woefully neglected to care at all about) and the latest CoD installment. Battlefield 1 takes us back to the days of the early world war era of trench warfare and guys with capes.

Lets get right to the important stuff.

What improved, if anything, over the past Battlefield games?

EA did a nice job refining the main menu and overall presentation of Battlefield compared to a few of their recent previous versions. Battlefield 3 and 4 (if I even have the right numbers there) had clunky web interfaces and menu systems. BF1 wraps what I still believe to be a ‘browser’ into an application, and presents it with a nicer bow or cherry on top.

The menu system is decently intuitive. Joining friends is simple. Getting into any sort of game appears to be their #1 priority. There’s even a server browser, and it has so far worked perfectly fine for me.

What sucks about the out-of-game menu system is the weapon unlocks or soldier gear setup. It’s seemingly non-existent. I can look at what I have unlocked, but I can’t do a dang thing about it. Compared to the in-game menus which have everything I want, albeit less intuitive, and it’s questionable why the out-of-game menu even exists. It’s more of like an achievement scoreboard.

Unlocking items in general is SUPER slow. I’ve put hours and hours into a class and I haven’t even reached the next rank in that class or unlocked a single item. Graev has dumped like 5 hours into one and unlocked the first rank, but he still hasn’t made progress on item unlocks because he has to earn lots of Warbonds (in-game currency).

Do the guns feel good?

They feel very different from recent Battlefield games. I consider that a great thing. Bad company felt like paintball guns. Battlefield 3 and 4 felt weak and clunky. Battlefield 1’s shooting mechanics are solid, realistic, and have a nice feel to them. I feel like I’m shooting the guns from the era — though I have no basis for that statement.

Bullet drop is ever present. At times I feel like I’m lobbing sniper bullets rather than projecting them in any sort of straight line. That’s okay.

Gun diversity is lacking. I feel like there aren’t a whole lot of options — and I suppose there weren’t back in the day — and customization is kept to a minimum in an effort to maintain some chance of suspending our disbelief.

How’s the match pacing?

Matches feel much slower and methodical. I attribute that to a lack of fighter planes and explosions coming from every player. There are still tanks (which are way less annoying to deal with) and grenades, etc. There’s even gas now which is annoying, but pressing T puts on a gas mask so that’s cool.

Going back and forth between Titanfall 2 and BF1, I feel like I’m moving slower than molasses as I charge up a hill to take a bunker. Again, I don’t see that as a bad thing but a definite note to make. No running on walls here.

Are there vehicles in Battlefield 1?

Yep, a decent number. Most of them end up feeling similar to each other. Lots of machine guns instead of shells, and lots of troop transporting instead of 1-man boom sticks. Again, with big maps and slower pacing, the troop transports work out nicely. There are even horses on some levels, though I have yet to see a single person use a horse and not be completely annihilated. Who brings a horse to a tank fight?

Planes are handled a bit differently than past games. Instead of waiting for a plane — which I actually liked — you have to be the first to click the button on the respawn map. When you die, there’s a chance one might be up. If you’re lucky, you’ll spawn right into one and already be in the air flying. I think this is a huge let down for those of us who enjoyed the plane experience of taking off, landing, and putting TNT on our wings.

Aerial combat is decent in BF1. I think it pales in comparison to 1942, though.

Certain maps even have special ‘super vehicles’ like a big battleship, armored train, or zeppelin. These definitely influence the battle, and are a lot of fun to both pilot/gun in and to take out.

What about the maps and modes in BF1? Are they any good?

The maps are good. Sometimes I feel like the map sizes are decent, and other times I feel like there’s absolutely no way the map should be this small. Many of the game modes I’ve played take the map and truncate it into smaller pieces which. Capture A and B to unlock the next area, then capture the new A and B.

All of the maps have felt memorable, and I think I can say that I like all of them.

The modes are your standard Battlefield modes with the exception of a new mode called Operations. These are like replaying old battles where you have objectives in a 3 part series to advance the campaign or theater of war you’re participating in. These are a lot of fun, though they are definitely the “take these points to unlock more points to take” style of play.  Operations are a nice way to battle across multiple maps in order to determine a victor.

Maps in general are all about PLAYING THE OBJECTIVE! More than any previous Battlefield game, I feel like playing the objective has 100% priority. This is how you’ll rank up, get the most points, and win.

Conclusion – Is Battlefield 1 any good?

Battlefield 1 is A LOT of fun. The guns feel great, the maps are memorable (though I want bigger maps), the vehicles are right for the era (though I want better plane combat), and the modes scratch that Battlefield itch.

My biggest gripe about Battlefield 1 is the rate of unlocking items due to ranking up classes. You’re going to need to spend time playing in order to make progress, but hey at least it’s fun.

Battlefield 1 checks all of the boxes for me. Despite not living up to 1942 in some aspects, BF1 still exceeds my expectations. Its gritty, real, and brings a great new angle of action and features to the BF franchise. If you’re a BF fan, then this is definitely one you can’t skip.

Titanfall 2 Deserves So Much Better

Titanfall 2 Review

I played the original Titanfall for two weeks. I liked it, but then quickly forget it existed. I call this the “Titanfall effect.” It’s that, “oh yeah that was a good game” feeling… followed by having no desire to play. Did EA know this, and decide to just ‘Titanfall effect‘ their launch of Titanfall 2?

Titanfall 2 Titan and PilotTitanfall 2 launched on October 28th, and I bet the world had no clue. EA decided to launch Titanfall just one week after Battlefield 1. ONE WEEK! Why? They also chose to release it the week before their biggest competition launched Call of Duty Infinite Warfare. The very notion baffles me.

Having played Titanfall 2, I can tell you it’s not a bad game at all. Really. In fact, it’s a lot of fun. It’s actually a great step up from the original. Titanfall 2 plays like Call of Duty in many ways. The maps are on the smaller side (though much larger than the original) creating more of a ‘fragbox’ feel, and you’re never more than a few seconds away from an enemy. Gunplay feels tight and actually phenomenal compared to so many other shooters too — again, I say the same thing about CoD.

This video does a fantastic job at representing actual gameplay. Take a look:

The average map has me running along walls, parkouring all over the place, and pulling off ridiculously over-the-top moves to out maneuver the enemy. I’d say 90% of the “skill” is not in shooting your guns well (Battlefield), but instead in how you can manipulate terrain and use your movement to out-pace the opponent.

Grapples, wall-running, ninja stars, you name it. It’s there. And it’s wicked fast (did I just say wicked? I feel like it’s necessary here). Titanfall 2 makes CoD feel slow to me, and Battlefield feel like a walk with my grandma.

Where Titanfall stands out as more than just a generic fast-paced futuristic shooter is in its Titans. These mech-like battle suits are taken up a notch in Titanfall 2. There are now more titans, more weapons, and more abilities.

Titanfall 2 does such an awesome job at immersing you in the Titan experience too. Jumping into one from various angles, or having your Titan grab you and pull you into your seat… it’s just so satisfying.

My gripes are mostly with map size and design. The maps are small and the gameplay is so fast that I often feel like it’s too hectic. Sniping is stupid since people move so fast, and when everyone has a Titan things become chaotic. The maps are also a bit forgettable and generic, though I’m still giving them credit for improving upon the original.

Overall, Titanfall 2 is a fantastic shooter. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to scratch that ridiculously over-the-top futuristic shooter itch, but can’t bring themselves to play another Call of Duty. Seriously, Titanfall 2 offers something different, and I have NO IDEA why EA launched it within a window akin to a death sentence. Major fail, EA.

Note: Graev and I play the PC version. If you’re a console fan, I hear great things about both communities. There are fewer PC players, but getting a match going isn’t hard. Singleplayer is actually pretty good, too.

Civilization 6 Review

I want to start off this review by saying I’m not an expert at Civilization 6. In fact, quite the opposite. I haven’t “won” a game yet, and I’m still learning how to play Civ 6 having not played a Civ game since Civ 4. However, I can talk about whether or not I’m having fun or like the game.

Civilization 6 is a turn-based 4x strategy game – “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate.” (Some people have different X’s, but you get the idea). The goal is to take your civilization from an early civilization up through a thriving world power. To win, you have to achieve one of the conditions centralized around military, culture, religion, science, or score based if no other victory conditions are met.

There’s a lot I could say about “how” one plays Civ, but for that I’ll leave you to read the in-depth guides or the videos. Suffice it to say, the game has subtle complexities that I have come to only learn by experiencing the game myself.

What I like most has to be that no two games of Civ 6 have been alike. I can play a game like Warcraft or Starcraft, and they generally all go the same way — I make the same units, use the same strategies, and generally play the same way on every map. In Civ 6 — albeit a completely different kind of strategy game — I’m rarely going to play the exact same way. The main reason for the diversity and dynamic play has to be the resources and tech tree.

Something I’m still trying to learn to be better at is planning my civilization around what I can access. For example, I thought I’d be super cool and tech fast to munitions only to find out that I had zero niter anywhere near me. Scouting better and actually thinking about requirements for making units would have made this a much easier mistake to avoid.

Civ 6 brings a lot of new features, but the main one for me so far has been the unstacking of cities into districts. Instead of all upgrades going onto jut your main home tile, you now can place districts within your city’s influence. Placing districts on certain tiles yields better results based on that districts requirements — something I’m still trying to be better at. Districts are continually upgraded throughout the game as you unlock more technology and discover new things.

Adapting to random circumstances has also proven challenging. For example, I started my last game next to FOUR barbarian outposts. For the entire first 100 turns I was living by a thread as I was continually assaulted from all sides and surrounded by barbarians. I couldn’t even make a builder because they were captured instantaneously.

Gandhi using missionaries to convert my civilization

Different world leaders also present some fun. Just when you think you caught a break by being neighbors with the peaceful Gandhi… he suddenly starts converting your people to his religion with dozens upon dozens of missionaries. And while you try and deal with stopping him without starting a holy war, Greece offers to send a peaceful “gift” and “delegation” to your capital — YEAH RIGHT.

Military gameplay has also been different. Units do not stack until much later, and even then stack less than normal. This has required a lot more thought into how I move my units across a map, and managing the units has become a lot more challenging. Military gameplay in general is something I’m also working on — especially when it comes to sieging cities with walls in the mid-late game.

Playing for a military victory feels really, really cumbersome and even a bit annoying. Perhaps it’s mean to mimic the complexities of supporting and maneuvering large forces, but it teeters on being obnoxious at times waiting for units to unintelligently move to open hexes if another becomes inadvertently filled.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer gameplay is pretty neat. Graev and I have a game going right now where we enabled simultaneous turns. The only real downside to multiplayer is that you may end up waiting a while before that player finishes their turn, and you both can start a new turn. I feel like it has almost doubled the length of the game, even with simultaneous turns enabled.

Teaming up together to strategically choke an enemy civilization or manipulate the map’s resources makes things a whole lot of fun… as long as you can trust your real life allies…

Conclusion

Overall, Civ 6 is a lot of fun, but you can’t go into this expecting a super high-velocity city conquering game. Civ 6, like its predecessors before it, is a methodical strategy game. You’ll need to plan ahead, take your time, and realize what type of victory is within your reach — and do it pretty early. On more than one occasion, I’ve realized (1-2 hours into a game) that I really can’t win. While that’s not a fun realization, I still had fun getting to to that loss.