The best gaming headsets are a must for anyone who wants to focus on subtle noises or talk serious tactics with teammates. And for esports pros, they can be the difference between winning and losing. That's why San Diego company Victrix has decided to go all-in on a $300 package, designed with a little help from its friends in the sky, to offer killer technology for the gaming market.
"We put a lot of tech into this and in consumer electronics with Beats, Bose, Sennheiser; nobody bats an eyelid when you say $300 - but in the gaming aisles people expect things to be cheap," explains Victrix general manager Oz Maker. "Esports players have the biggest need for the tech like this."
The Pro AF has been in development for three years, and feels like it. At 318g, it feels light, but not in that flimsy, 'fall off the desk and shatter' kind of way. It's wired to plug into your PC or controller, and comes with nifty design features like a cooling mechanism built into the ear cups. Getting hot ears mid-match? A switch on the side can raise each cup to release humidity - "literally cracking open a window," says Maker. It looks sleek too, but the real tech is all in how you, and your game, will sound.
"We have a sister company that makes helicopters, so we asked their engineers how we could make a better mic," says Maker. "We found an expired patent from a Cobra helicopter. This exact mic design. It's definitely overkill for this use case, but it works."
So no more screaming "Goddamnit, I said I didn't have the relic!" at your fellow Guardians in a Destiny raid, or worrying that your mumbling just cost you and your partner a kill in Hunt: Showdown.
The same amount of thought has been put into your ears as your mouth when it comes to sound. The $300 ANC package comes with an OLED inline control that gives you more control over audio input and output.
"Noise cancelling isn't new - it's 25-year-old tech, for crying out loud. But this headset has a lot more in common with a pilot's headset than a gaming headset," says Maker. "We know we have competitors, but we didn't try to match their offering. Really, we tried to make an aviation headset and cost-optimize its features for an esports player or the hardcore gaming at home."
Maker points out that technically, just putting a headset on offers some noise cancellation, but true hybrid noise cancellation require four microphones and a hardware chip running an algorithm to determine what needs to be blocked out.
"We achieved -45 decibels, a TSO certification level [a standard set by the Federal Aviation Administration]. In comparison to any headset you buy from, say, Best Buy, it kills all of them."
That equates to cutting out around 70% of outside noise, which can be crucial for an esports team trying to focus in matches at tournaments, surrounded by crowds and other players. But it's also great for anyone who has to share their gaming space with humans, animals, or noisy ghosts. I was impressed when I tried out the Pro AF headset for myself, especially when I mentally compared it to the new Bose noise-cancelling headphones I'd been wearing on my way to the appointment.
"This beats them by out ten decibels," says Maker with a small smile.
The headsets have been in a beta for a while, with 300 or so out in the wild and around 40 esports teams already using them. Maker put his business card in every beta kit, and he wants to continue that personal approach when it comes time to launch. A phone number is etched on each limited edition set - the cellphone digits of a fully legit Victrix technician. "We're going to stand by it and we're going to answer the phone," says Maker. "No automated message, no support ticket."
The Victrix Pro AF ANC will be available for pre-order from March 8, and if you pre-order it'll be just $200 (that's $100 off the usual price). Maker sees it as a way to thank the community that's backed them so far.
As for the future? This headset is just the start for Victrix; it's already working on a tournament team audio mixer solution called the Team Amp, as well as different versions of the headset. I also got a glimpse of some other future projects, which aren't public yet, that made me want to go full kleptomaniac.
"The experiment here was, 'What if there were no limits?'" says Maker. "When you develop something not for cost, but just for specs? Let's not cut a single corner."
Looking for more headsets offering crystal-clear sound? Check out our list of the best gaming headsets for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.