Audeze Mobius review: This gimmick-ridden headset doesn't need the gimmicks to sound great
- 19 July, 2019 20:20
Audeze is the latest vaunted headphones manufacturer to look over at the gaming headset market and think, “We could do that.” And why not? Gaming headsets get a bad rap even nowadays, derided for subpar sound quality and construction. It’s natural that a company renowned for audiophile gear would think it could do better.
The reality, per usual, is a bit more complicated. The Audeze Mobius does indeed nail the fidelity part of the equation, and is one of the best gaming headsets I’ve ever listened to. But it flubs a lot of details any gaming-first company would’ve prioritized—battery life, cabling, controls, and more.
So this is a somewhat dampened debut for Audeze’s gaming ambitions. On the plus side, those shortcomings are relatively easy to fix when you’ve already nailed the fundamentals.
This review is part of our roundup of best gaming headsets. Go there for details on competing products and how we tested them.
Your first impressions of the Audeze Mobius will probably depend on how you approach it. Yes, right from the start we’re in divisive territory. Here are your two options: Given the $400 price tag, you either approach the Audeze Mobius as a very high-end gaming headset or as an equally low-end pair of audiophile headphones.
Either viewpoint has its upsides and downsides. Personally, I fall in to the former camp and thus like its design. It’s the rare gaming headset you could wear out and about without drawing too many strange looks—Audeze’s roots as a mainstream audio company pay off here. It’s bulky, as all over-ear headsets are, but the lines are clean and slimming, and there’s light ornamentation but nothing too ostentatious—especially in the Carbon colorway we reviewed. But, I actually like the Gold version even more. It’s flashier for sure, but the highlights catch the eye without looking tacky, at least to me.
That said, it’s very plastic. Nice plastic, sure, with a soft-touch coating that lends it a premium feel—the same tactic Alienware used for its AW988 headset. And if you’re coming from another gaming headset, you might not see the problem. Plastic headsets are the norm.
If you’re expecting metal, wood, or other materials commonly found in high-end audio gear though, the Mobius is not going to cut it. Even the metallic-looking hinges are revealed to be plastic, once you have your hands on the headset. It looks fancy from afar, but the reality is less exciting.
Why? Because all the exciting bits are inside.
Plain to see
The Mobius occupies a weird niche, see: Inside the Audeze Mobius are planar magnetic drivers. Chances are, if you don’t know what those are, you don’t own any headphones that have them. This isn’t the place for a long technical explanation of how different speakers work, but suffice it to say, planar magnetic drivers generally produce a more precise sound than the dynamic drivers in standard headphones.
There are tradeoffs, of course. First of all, planar magnetic drivers tend to require more magnets than dynamic drivers do, hence the name. More magnets means additional weight, and I assume that’s partially why the Mobius uses so much plastic—to lighten the load in other areas. If true, it’s successful, weighing less than the Logitech G935 I had kicking around, for instance.
The other tradeoff is price. Dynamic drivers are—or at least can be—cheap. The $10 earbuds you buy at the corner store and $500 Sennheisers use variations of this same technology, with differences in how the drivers are built, in the potential for distortion, in bass presence, and so on. The point is, whatever your budget, you can find a pair of headphones with dynamic drivers to accommodate.
Planar magnetic drivers are expensive, especially historically. Even as prices have come down, the Audeze Mobius’s $400 price tag remains at the lower end for this tech. Thus we return to that earlier divide, between the Mobius as high-end gaming headset or low-end audiophile gear.
Because here’s the crux of it all: Audeze has made a great pair of headphones.
Stunning actually, except for a few minor stumbles. I wish the sound were a bit wider, like I get from the aforementioned G935 or HyperX’s Cloud line. As it is, it can be a bit hard to nail down tactical noises like footsteps and gunshots. Bass presence is lacking as well when it comes to meaty explosions and other included-for-impact game noises. This is a common problem with planars, as they don’t move as much air as dynamics, and thus lack the oomph you might expect.
There are drawbacks to using the Audeze Mobius as a gaming headset, in other words. But what the Mobius lacks in bass presence it gains in precision, with a sound that’s not quite studio monitor flat but closer than most gaming headsets you’ll find. Music is particularly pleasant, clean but warm, translating the detail in every cymbal hit and bassline without sounding overly sterile. Games benefit from this as well, giving well-recorded dialogue room to flex.
Is it enough to justify a $400 price tag? I’m not sure. Gaming headsets have gotten better in recent years, particularly Logitech’s and HyperX’s, and they’re also tuned for gaming—more bass, more directionality. And, of course, they’re way cheaper as well. You can get a pretty damn decent headset for $150 nowadays.
The Audeze Mobius does sound fantastic though, and I also tend to weigh not just gaming but music, movies, and more when testing. If you’re looking for something that can transition between all those fields at will, your options are more limited and I think Audeze fully justifies its price in that regard. It’s one of the few one-stop headsets I own, and one of the only times I’ve seen a $400 gaming headset compete head-to-head with similarly priced headphones—at least on fidelity. Build quality, not so much, but the Audeze Mobius sounds every bit as rich as its price.
That said, there are issues that need sorting in a hypothetical Mobius V2, and it’s why the score might be a bit lower than you’d expect.
For one, battery life is mediocre. The Mobius is actually a wired/wireless hybrid with Bluetooth capabilities. Audeze’s own estimates place the Mobius at 10 hours per charge, and I’ve found even that modest bet a stretch. HyperX’s Cloud Flight lasts upwards of 30 hours, and SteelSeries’s Arctis 7 touts 24. Sure, neither sounds as good, but the Mobius is at a disadvantage.
And doubly so since it’s Bluetooth. Most wireless PC gaming headsets opt for 2.4GHz or 5GHz connections because they’re more stable and pass better-quality sound. The Mobius is fine for casual phone listening, maybe on your commute, but it’s doubtful you’d use it as a Bluetooth headset at home—especially if you plan to use the microphone too, which further complicates incoming audio. It’s not a wireless headset really. It’s a wired headset that happens to have Bluetooth capabilities in a pinch.
If you’re sitting at your desk, you’re going to use the included cabling—but here Audeze stumbles as well, with cables that are just too damn short for desktop use. The USB-A to USB-C cable Audeze intends you to use is only four feet long. Put it this way: My desktop sits right next to my chair on the floor, and I found myself tugging against the limits of the cabling at times even with the Mobius plugged into the front panel.
The alternate 3.5mm to USB-C cable is equally limiting, and to add insult to injury, also terminates in a single connection rather than the dual mic/headphones ending required by most desktop PCs. Audeze’s recommendation? Source a splitter yourself. I find it a bit funny that a $400 headset doesn’t include the basic 50-cent adapter that comes with, say, HyperX’s $60 Cloud model.
Last but not least, the microphone is underwhelming, prone to plosives and room noise. It’s functional, which I guess makes this a headset and not just fancy headphones, but you can find better microphones on headsets a third the price. Given you pay a premium for the Mobius, I expected better.
There’s also one final feature I haven’t touched on until now, and it’s because...well, it feels like a gimmick—the irony being, it’s the reason I sourced an Audeze Mobius review unit in the first place.
The Mobius features what Audeze calls “3D Audio.” And no, it’s not just a fancy word for surround sound, or at least not the way you’re thinking. Basically what Audeze has done, with the help of Waves Nx, is simulate a roomful of speakers inside Mobius.
“But wait, isn’t that what software-driven 7.1 surround does?” Well, yes and no. See, your typical 7.1 headset mimics a full speaker setup, but attaches it to your head. When you move, the speakers move too. Sounds are relative to where you’re looking in-game, so a shot fired to your left will always come from the left ear. Makes sense, right? And the Mobius will do this form of 7.1 if you’d like (and does it well, I might add).
The Mobius also tracks your head movements though. If someone’s firing a gun to your left in-game and you turn your head in that direction, you’ll hear the gunshots come into focus.
The Mobius quite literally mimics a room full of speakers. Imagine you put a 7.1 setup in your living room, switched on a film, and then you turned around to stare at the wall across from your TV. Your speakers don’t move with you, right? Sounds that should come from the left will appear to come from your right, the center channel is behind you, and so on.
It’s really neat when you first put the Mobius on, and I had a good time swiveling my head left-to-right to hear music pan from one ear to the other. I’d be hard-pressed to say it’s useful though. Guess what happens when you hear an explosion off to your left and you turn your head that direction in real life? Unless you have the most ultrawide of ultrawide monitors, you are now looking at a wall, or maybe out a window if you’re lucky.
In any case, the point is you’re not looking at your screen, which makes this feature all but useless in any real-world scenario. I wouldn’t call it a dealbreaker, as it’s easy enough to disable and go about your day. But I certainly wouldn’t call it a value-add either, nor a reason to spend $400 on a headset.
So what is the reason? The sound quality, plain and simple. The Audeze Mobius does sound damn good, and I’ve enjoyed gaming on it, watching movies and TV with it, and (most of all) listening to music. There are few gaming headsets that measure up, and while I might opt for a headset that better balances audio quality with quality-of-life features—true wireless performance, a better battery, better construction—I still think the Mobius deserves a nod for its fidelity alone.
Of course, a Mobius that rectifies even a few of the relatively simple issues I encountered would do even better at justifying its high sticker price. For a first time outing though? It’s impressive, and I’m curious to see what Audeze does from here.