Judging by first appearances, you probably wouldn't even realize NOX Audio's first gaming headset, the Specialist, was designed for that purpose. That's because this small, collapsible accessory was designed for travel, too, making it just as capable of being used with MP3 players on the go as with bulky gaming rigs at LAN parties. While this $79 headset is a pretty good value, it shows a few signs of being a first-generation product.
Design and Comfort
The best part of the Specialist is its clever design. Most notably, it is by far the most portable headset we've tested, making it ideal for mobile gamers. At 4.9 ounces, it's also the lightest. The cups, made of memory foam, are noticeably tiny but provided a good amount of comfort. The black-and-silver design (also available in green, blue, or red) creates a rugged, urban look. The Specialist is unique in that the volume controls are on the right cup rather than on the cabling. While it took a few minutes to get used to, we found that this setup worked well.
The Specialist's boom mic retracts almost completely into the left ear cup, so it doesn't get in the way when traveling; you can extend it by pulling it downward or by turning a wheel on the left cup. Finally, the headset comes in a small semi-rigged case that protects the unit while on the go.
One problem we had with the Specialist was that with the first review unit we were given, the fabric on the left ear cup ripped after only a few days of casual use. A PR spokesperson assured us that this was the first time he had ever heard of such an issue, and mentioned that NOX has a 30-day "no questions asked" return policy. Fortunately, when we tested out a second headset, we did not run into any issues.
Sound and Microphone
The sound the Specialist produced was merely average. Considering this headset was made for gaming, the bass was fairly weak compared to the Turtle Beach EarForce Z2 and the Plantronics Gamecom 777 when playing Half Life 2 and Modern Warfare 2. We never experienced muddled or tinny sound from the Specialist, but at the same time we were never truly impressed by the quality, since it doesn't have exceptional highs or lows. You could probably get the same sound from a $40 pair of headphones.
The good news is that this headset's microphone is top-notch. We had no problems using it in Skype, and the callers we tested it with said that we sounded great. We could hear other callers just fine, though they weren't as clear as they were when testing with the Turtle Beach EarForce Z2. The mic is small and very adjustable, so we had no problem finding a comfortable position.
The NOX Specialist is a good headset that could have been great. However, the sound quality just wasn't as impressive as we'd hoped, given its intended audience, and our first model raised some questions about the build quality. If you're a highly mobile gamer then this $79 headset is worth a look. However, if you don't mind a little bulk, the EarForce Z2 costs ten dollars less and provides much better audio.