I picked this unit up at Circuit City for $50. The Cyberacoustics AC-850 comes with no disc, no documentation and less to say about itself on its website than it says on its single-panel cardboard and glued blister packaging. I tried to approach this review with some sort of in depth information, but, because of the continued dumbing down of packaging, I can only really tell you how it sounds and how it works.
Recommend this product?
As I write this, I sit, listening to dance music through the AC-850, an enigmatic headset. I say enigmatic because I can't find real data on it, and I can't figure out whether it's a great set of headphones or a terrible microphone. I also know nothing about its noise canceling technology, how effective it is, what it is. Nothing. It gets an F on documentation. I do give it an A for sound quality and an F for microphone quality. Usually, that would average out to a D, but I want to raise it to a B because the above average headphone sound quality.
I'm not impressed with the flimsy but generous seven foot wire that connects to the headset. I'm sure that it won't last long if you abuse it, tug it etc, so if you choose to buy it, I suggest being careful with it. No twirling it around by the cord please.
The clarity is amazing. This comes from a guy who is an actual audiophile and feels that most headphones sound like garbage these days. For instance, I own an amplifier with .007% total harmonic distortion at half power and .02% THD at rated power. Try and beat those specs. I care about clarity. I've been unimpressed with headphones for a lot of years, and tend to only appreciate the more expensive ones. All headphones claim to be audiophile headphones, with 20-20,000 hertz frequency response, but what they don't show you is the graph of the frequency response, with a curve that probably looks like an inverted U. The Cyberacoustics AC-850 headphones try to deliver closer to a flat frequency response, meaning that the mid tones are not a lot louder than the bass or the highs. That's good.
Does the microphone deliver? Well, for casual uses like Yahoo chat, yes. For more serious use, absolutely not. The microphone delivers slightly less than telephone quality voice. No fullness at all. Chat generally sounds better than telephone. So while your voice might sound clear in chat, it won't sound as full as other voices. There is little or no bass in recordings made with the headset, and the audio is very low. Clean, but very low and not full range. I have to practically yell for a normal level recording.
I purchased these headphones because I do a podcast, and I thought I'd have a cleaner sound with a headset. I once owned a headset in 2001 and I actually liked it, even though it was a free headset that came with a $50 sound card. Well the horribly cheap microphone that comes with this headset has ruled it out for future podcasts. I will probably use it to chat, but I'll likely buy more headphones. I'm sure that the $19 analog headset I passed over will have a better microphone.
This was my first venture into USB sound. USB sound is more complicated than just plugging in headphones and the speakers go out. The computer tries to behave the way a normal stereo would, but the operation isn't ready for prime time. The USB device uses separate sound drivers, so it may take a few seconds for your player to switch software. Apparently, the sound drivers are mutually exclusive so your computer goes through a conniption when you switch. Doing this while music is playing can lead to some unpredictable reactions. Winamp just crashes. I have to close it and open it again to switch from headphones to sound card and visa versa. Windows Media Media player does a better job. I pulled out the USB plug and shortly afterwards, I heard music from my speakers. Reinserting the plug led to noise. Stopping and starting Windows Media Player resumed the music (sometimes pausing isn't enough). iTunes was also able to switch between USB and sound card after stopping and starting. All in all it's better to stop the music before inserting or removing the headphones into or from the USB port.
Another note about audio: When the device is plugged in, you can only record from the microphone. That's it. Different driver. Different mixer. If you to a custom Windows update with the headphones plugged in, you will see a new driver download that gives you a few more options and effects. You can find the CMI USB audio configuration icon in the control panel if it doesn't show up in your already crowded system tray near your clock. So if you want to record a conversation, you'll only hear your side of the conversation in the recording no matter what you try. When you download the CMI update, you'll be able to record the stereo mix, but the low microphone is lost in it. Way lost!
The audio is powered by the USB port and again, it's very clean. When there's no signal, there is no hiss or hum, at least that I can detect in this room. The sound is generated away from the interference of the computer's noisy components. Don't get me wrong here: Computers generally have great sound. Even the cheapest sound cards generally sound like $1000 DATs. What these headphones do is a good job of delivering that clean sound to your ears.
But again, I can't express how clear the sound is, reminiscent of my Creative Muvo, only with the power to blast. I truly believe that the weak link in my sound card's audio is the cheap cheap amplifier in my speakers. I'd expect similarly crisp sound directly from my sound card. It's not ponderous on the bass end, but it's decent. It's the absence of noise and clarity that's amazing. And the headphones can blast if you want them to. When it's all the way up, it's way too loud, but it's still clear and not distorted. The headset is decent for chat but I don't recommend this headset for podcasters.