Setting up the HS-1200s is fairly easy. While it is a plug-and-play headset, Creative recommends you install their proprietary software and drivers to optimize the entire experience. (Sorry, Mac fans--the product is only Windows compatible.) To use the HS-1200s, you plug in the small USB receiver/transmitter and hold down the sync button at the same time as the headset's power button. Once synched, we never had to repeat the process again during our testing. The USB dongle also has an AC power plug that will charge the headphones as well. Creative claims a 2.5-hour charge will net you around 8 hours of listening time. But the lack of any sort of cradle means you'll have a spare power wire hanging around your desk when the unit's in use.
The software you install adds an "always-on" audio console launcher that gives you access to settings, 3D-effects controls, an X-Fi Crystalizer controller, an EQ, and a mixer. The 3D effect does a decent job of emulating a surround-sound (especially during our trials with Counter-Strike), however we found the X-Fi Crystalizer to be barely audible. Creative claims the filter provides a much more dynamic listening experience, but we left it off for all of our testing after it didn't seem to make that much of a difference. You will, however, need the software installed if you want to use the hot keys on the right ear cup. These buttons include call pickup and volume up and down.
In terms of sound quality, we felt the HS-1200s delivered mostly average performance. During our gameplay sessions in Counter-Strike, the gunfire and sound effects sounded a bit flat. That said, the microphone performed quite well. Our teammates reported that we sounded very clear and the HS-1200 did a great job of preventing any audio leakage or voice echo from coming through as well. When we switched to music, the HS-1200 really underperformed. Our concerns with flatness were confirmed as almost every music sample we tested failed to impress us. We tried tinkering with some of the available EQ settings, but to no avail.
Moving on, we tested the HS-1200 with a few VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) programs. Since the headset is preconfigured to play nicely with Windows Live Messenger, we attempted a session. The headset performed well and our other party said we sounded clear and crisp. We then tried out a few sessions with Skype and were just as pleased with the results. Even better, the HS-1200 has provisions in place so that you can assign hot keys on the right ear cup to work with the program. A one-time setup is required in the Skype settings menu and the headset should then be able to initiate a call pickup with the click of a button. We should note that you cannot have the headset configured with more than one VoIP program without changing settings each time.
Summing up, the Creative HS-1200s do a good job on the voice and game communication side of things, but fall short of most dedicated audio headphones for soundtrack quality on music, games, and movies. Available online for as low as $70, the HS-1200s are a good choice for any avid users of PC communications who don't like to be tethered to their computers--though interested parties should also check out the similarly designed and priced Logitech ClearChat Wireless PC Headset. But if audio quality is of the upmost importance to you, we'd suggest stepping up to the Turtle Beach Ear Force AK-R8. They're not wireless--and they can be a bit pricier-- but they'll provide you with better audio quality (and true 5.1 channel separation) that the HS-1200 simply cannot touch.
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