In the world of gaming hardware, sometimes a really great idea just doesn’t quite become the hoped-for reality. The examples are plentiful: The Nintendo PowerGlove, Sega Dreamcast, and now the Saitek A-350 Wireless Headphones. The reason I cite the Dreamcast and the PowerGlove is that they are REALLY good ideas, much like the A-350. Unfortunately, all three simply don’t live up to their lofty goals.
The A-350 is a wireless headphone system using a LiPol battery and a behind the head configuration to support 6 hours of use on a single charge. The problem with this is that hard core gamers are going to spend a lot more than 6 hours in one sitting, and having the batteries die mid game is not acceptable. One answer to this is to plug the unit into the AC adapter. This however infringes on head movement and obviously kills the purpose of having a wireless unit. For users whose purpose is primarily music, the 6-hour battery life is probably adequate. In addition, the unit charges very quickly (less than 1 hour on average), so you don’t have to be without the headphones for long when the battery dies.
The wireless connection is created when the transmitter unit (roughly half the size of an I-Pod shuffle), is plugged into any 3.5mm line-out audio source, and both the transmitter and headphones are turned on. Unlike its wireless sibling, the A-250 Wireless 2.1 Speaker System, getting the transmitter unit and the A-350 to link up can be a bit of a challenge. Being that transmitter plugs directly into the audio source it’s being used with, the signal broadcast is ripe for interference. I attempted to use the device with my PC, my I-Pod Shuffle, a conventional bookshelf stereo system, and the DVD player from my surround sound system.
The transmitter worked relatively well while connected to the audio out jack on the CD player of my PC, and established a connection within a few seconds. The connection showed no noticeable interference. When connecting the transmitter to the audio out jack on the sound card of my PC, it took several attempts to finally link the transmitter to the A-350, and there were fairly sizable amounts of signal interference. When the transmitter was attached to my Shuffle or the bookshelf stereo, the units synced nearly instantaneously, and had no interference whatsoever. Finally, when I attached the transmitter to my DVD player, it took nearly 5 minutes of trying before a signal was obtained.
Another issue with the unit is the range. At first glance, 10 meters (30 feet) seems like decent range. Sadly, once the wearer moves beyond the 20-foot range, signal quality begins to degrade. Again, unlike the A-250, which maintained it’s wireless signal even behind the closed doors of a kitchen cabinet, the A-350 loses signal quality or losses signal all together around corners, or even through a glass door.
The design flaw that made the most impact on my time with the unit was the fact that it simply didn’t fit. Saitek designed the unit to make use of several different sized brackets to make the unit adjustable to the head size of the wearer. The bracket slides into the middle of the unit, along the back of the wearers’ head. The two earpieces remained permanently connected through heavily reinforced speaker wire. In doing this, Saitek did not take into account those of us with larger heads. When I put the unit on, with the largest bracket installed, the earpieces that should fit in my ear would sit up against the very back of my earlobes, and each time I turned my head, I risked having the unit pop off my head.
Being that I couldn’t get the unit to fit properly, I called on my girlfriend to assist me in my review of the product. She wore the unit for several hours, and had no problem with the fit. In addition, we both found the volume +/- buttons, placed directly over the in-ear speakers worked were well placed, and easy to operate.
What really saves this unit from a bad review is the sound quality. Much like the A-250, the A-350 features high quality Neodymium drivers that really do provide superior quality audio. “Once we got the connection working to the PC, I was able to listen to my music while I worked on my homework. The sound quality was really very good”, said Heather Shanks. While I couldn’t wear the unit properly, I did hold the in-ear speakers in place (somewhat painfully, I might add), and found that my thoughts on the sound quality echoed that of Heathers experience.
I contacted Saitek Public Relations Executive about the issues we discovered. In specific, I discussed with her the fact that the unit didn’t fit me, and that it was a major design flaw. “Saitek prides itself on listening to customer feedback and applying that feedback in the form of adjustments to current products, or as part of the design process for new products”, Tiffany Massey, Saitek Public Relations Executive informed me.
In conclusion, the A-350 Wireless Headphones are flawed, but not fatally so. If you’re a person who has a medium sized or smaller head, and wish to use the unit for mostly music purposes, you may very well be impressed with the sound quality put out by the unit. However if you’re a gamer, and an averaged sized one (read: bigger person), you’re going to be less than thrilled with the product.
With the strength of the rest of audio line, and the solid reputation of their gaming controllers, the A-350 looks to be no more than a bump in an otherwise smooth road for Saitek.
Flawed, but not fatally so, the Saitek A-350 Wireless Headphones offer excellent sound quality and decent battery life. Presuming they fit your head.