The Most Extra Gaming Headphones I've Ever Used

mobius audeze headphones reviewImage: Kotaku (Alex Walker)

Gaming headphones make a lot of bold claims, so perhaps the best way to describe the experience of the Audeze Mobius 3D headphones is through a single Counter-Strike round.

I was running to defuse a bomb on the A site of Cache. The bomb sites on that map have plenty of boxes, and A in particular often ends up being a dance as players circle around trying to get an angle before the other player does.

The enemy terrorist was hidden behind a small box at the back corner of the site. But even though the bomb was ticking, he was running from side to side. Normally, I'd know that they were behind the box, but it'd be more of an approximation. I wouldn't know how far to the left or the right, because my audio setup just didn't have that level of precision.

Audeze's Mobius headphones were eerily precise. As the enemy ran from side to side, I could hear the first footstep clearly, giving me enough time to shift my aim to the correct side of the box.

Eventually, the enemy terrorist panicked when I went to defuse the bomb. Being able to hear each footstep, I simply planted my crosshair at the side of the box I could hear them walking out from. It was the easiest headshot I made that game.

Mobius Audeze Headphones

WHAT IS IT?

3D headphones that actually do 3D right.

PRICE

$599

LIKE

Great 3D audio that's genuinely helpful and noticeable in games. Lots of versatility with PC and consoles. Decent detachable mic. Miles better than any other 'gaming' headset. Good customisations through Audeze HQ app. Not adorned with tons of RGB logos or LEDs.

DISLIKE

Short battery life. Very tight fit if you have large ears. Headband can be a little stiff. No active noise cancellation. Can't disable truetone for the microphone.

If you've only used low-end "gaming headsets", or you've mostly listened to the sub-$200 or sub-$300 traditional audio headsets available in Australia, then chances are you'll have never used anything like the Mobius Audeze. The headsets are built on planar magnetic drivers, which is a different type of tech than the dynamic drivers commonly found in most headphones.

Headphones will typically have the following: speakers in each ear, some magnets, a voice coil and a thin membrane or sheet that helps convert mechanical vibrations into electrical signals.

For most headphones, the speakers inside each ear rely upon electromagnets that send currents through these coils. A central magnet moves up and down based on how the electrical current is regulated, which shifts the diaphragm to manipulate the air particles and resulting sound waves—thereby creating sound.

With planar magnetic drivers, like the the Mobius Audeze headsets, sound is created a little differently. Planar magnetic headphones rely on a series of evenly-spaced magnets on either side of the diaphragm, and the diaphragm has thin wires flowing throughout to regulate its vibration. As electrical current flows through those thin wires, it creates a magnetic field that resonates with the field created by the permanent magnets on either side of the diaphragm.

This has a few practical implications for users. Firstly, planar magnetic drivers don't have as much distortion. They're able to respond much more quickly due to changes in frequency, resulting in a more realistic bass. And you'll get a more lifelike sound overall, but it comes at a cost. The Mobius Audeze will set you back $599 from JB Hi-Fi or specialist local audio retailers, a few hundred dollars above most noise cancelling headphones or gaming headsets on the market.

But it's not just an airier, fuller sound. You'll also get a more accurate sound, which is where the 3D part of the Mobius Audeze kicks in.

mobius audeze headphones reviewThe head tracking is some Syndicate-level stuff.

The big hook with the Mobius Audeze is the 3D tracking. There's three modes available through the Audeze HQ app or through some long presses of the 3D button on the left ear: manual, auto and off.

Whether you set manual or auto, you'll get the same general experience. As you listen to a song or soundtrack, the sound will shift and rotate around as your head turns. Say I'm listening to Florence against the Machine do Stand By Me. If I rotate my head to the left, Florence Welch's vocals will gradually start playing out of the right ear, depending on how far you turn.

If you hold down the microphone knob on the left ear, you can also toggle between a 7.1 channel mode, stereo and "hi-res", which disables all head-tracking, surround sound and 3D audio—but allows 24-bit/96kHz playback, which is handy for audiophiles that have the files and software that use the higher sampling frequency.

Typically, 7.1 channel modes on other headsets have been pretty limited outside of video games (and even then, they weren't that great). The Mobius Audeze is the first time where the 7.1 mode has been enjoyable enough to use on a regular basis, with tweaks to the EQ preset (it comes with 7 out of the box, with an 8th "warm" profile available after updating the firmware) depending on what I'm listening. You can also adjust the EQ through the Audeze HQ app, or through a click and scroll of the mic volume slider.

You won't get access to the 7.1 mode if you're listening over Bluetooth, but since the Mobius has 3.5mm and USB-C connections, some of the functionality works with consoles as well. If you're connecting via USB, Audeze recommends switching to the 2.1 channel mode for the Xbox One, PS4 and Switch. If you're connecting via the 3.5mm cable, you can just plug that directly into the Switch or the PS4 controller—Xbox One users will need an official 3.5mm adapter. You'll still get the head-tracking and 3D audio if you're connecting to the console, but you'll need a splitter for the detachable microphone.

Gamers will get the most out of the feature set, especially fans of first-person shooters or battle royales where determining position is paramount. Apex Legends, Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six: Siege are all games where I noticed an immediate improvement.

But the most impressive element wasn't so much the positioning: it was the depth perception.

There are many instances in shooters where you'll hear someone behind a wall or around a corner. If they're right against the wall or that character has a particular sound trigger—Symmetra throwing out a turret, let's say—then you'll generally have a pretty good idea of how close they are.

It's one thing to pick up on the sound of someone reloading around a corner. It's another thing entirely to pick up on the sound of someone reloading through the doors in mid on Dust 2 - and know not just that they're through the doors, but that they're in lower dark, and what corner they're hiding behind.

There's a touch of cheek in having that level of accuracy—and a reminder of how much information your own footsteps can give away. But the 3D accuracy, depth perception, clarity and balance between the bass, midtones and treble are light years ahead of any gaming headphone or headset. The sound was a little fuller and, especially when gaming, more immersive than my current headphones, a set of Philips Fidelio X2HR cans even when powering the X2HR's through a separate DAC.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and the Mobius has several strong caveats besides the price.

mobius audeze headphones review

The biggest problem with the Mobius Audeze is that it tries to be the set of headphones that can do everything. Want to play Battlefield or Apex for five or six hours? No worries, these are the cans for you. Listening on the train or playing the Switch on a long-haul flight? The Mobius can do that too.

But while the Mobius is an amazing headset sitting at the PC, it's not as optimal as an alternative to noise cancelling headphones (which most people would be thinking about given the price).

Firstly, the Mobius headphones run hot over time. This is down to the size of the earcups, which fit very snugly over my ears, causing them to heat up a lot. It was never so much that I had to physically stop using the headphones, but it's absolutely enough that you'll notice it after half an hour or so.

Something that will matter from a pure price standpoint is the lack of active noise cancelling. You do get some blockage courtesy of the headphones' closed back nature, which insulates you to a degree. It works well, and the sound is surprisingly warm and rich thanks to the 3D tech mentioned above. But it's not designed to block out the office or crying babies on long-haul flights like Sony or Bose's proper noise cancelling cans, headphones that regularly go on sale for around $300 or $350.

The battery life isn't that great, either. It takes three hours to fully charge the Mobius, and while the site says you'll get around 10 hours-plus battery life with the 3D audio enabled, I found myself needing to recharge after four or five hours. That's not such a big deal if you're using it as a pure gaming headset attached to a PC, but it makes the Mobius a pretty poor candidate for long-haul flights—you won't even make it from the eastern states to Perth without running out of juice.

The supplied cables are also pretty stiff, and the USB-C and USB-A cables were far too short. I ended up cannibalising a USB-C to USB-C charging cable from a Huawei Matebook I'd reviewed recently, which was twice the length of the Mobius's, giving me enough slack to run the cord from my PC to my headphones. For $599, the supplied cords should be longer. The Mobius does ship with a nice soft corded pouch, although it's not padded for drop or scratch protection.

mobius audeze headphones reviewImage: Kotaku (Alex Walker)

If you're someone who plays a ton of first-person shooters, has spent over a thousand dollars on the best possible gaming monitor and generally enjoys throwing a lot of money at the things you love, the battery issues won't be a problem. How much you can tolerate hot ears varies from person to person: I didn't have any major problems, although I'd strongly recommend testing the headphones first if your ears are on the larger side.

That aside, it's hard to outline just how good the 3D sound is. It genuinely puts other gaming headsets to shame—they can't match the clarity and depth, and those are things that benefits every video game you play. You'll notice instruments in soundtracks you didn't hear before. You'll get a better awareness of what's happening around you. It makes gaming more immersive and more enjoyable, albeit at the cost of what most people would spend on a graphics card. Or their console.

And I haven't even mentioned the supplied microphone (or it's always-on sidetone), the ability to customise individual parts of the head-tracking, adjusting the ambience of the 3D audio, or support for LDAC over Bluetooth.

In the end, I can't tell you whether its worth spending $599 on a set of headphones. I've known friends who have spent thousands on gaming monitors. For some it was worth it. Others regretted the purchase. You'll have to decide how much you care about audio.

But I can tell you the Mobius is far and away the most exciting gaming "headset" I've ever used in the past decade. I just hope Audeze releases a second version that's a little airer and more comfortable for longer sessions. Until then, I'm more than happy precisely tracking people's footsteps through walls and picking up audio cues more quickly. And for some gamers, that level of aural precision is worth its weight in gold.

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