To describe myself as an amateur gamer is somewhat of an understatement.
But I can't really think of anything that sounds more useless than that. I simply don't have the time. I put this down to bad management. I have plenty of friends who spend hours gaming every day. I just seem to get caught up doing other things. Like sleeping. And doing my job. You know, boring stuff like that.
However, when I heard JBL had a whole new range of gaming headsets, I felt it was time to put in the hard yards...
Talk about jump in with both feet; the Quantum range of gaming headsets is actually seven different headsets, to suit pretty much every budget and technical requirement. There are both wired and wireless options, some with customisation software, some with active noise cancelling.
The JBL Quantum 400 sits right in the middle of the range, so it seemed like a good place to start.
Given other JBL products I've reviewed in the past, I was surprised at how muted and subtle the general design of the Quantum 400 is. Mostly black with just a few orange highlights on the USB and AUX leads - and if you look hard enough, the connecting cable that runs into the headband between the two earcups is orange too, as are the L and R indicators inside the cups.
There's a black rubberised JBL logo on the top of the headband, which doesn't seem to serve any technical purpose so I assume it's just for show. The all-plastic construction seems to be solid and durable, with just enough flex for comfort. The headband adjustment is very firm and clicky which I like because it saves having to readjust every time you put the headset back on. The mic boom is also some kind of durable plastic, with just enough bendyness to adjust to your ideal position, or you can flip it up out the way completely.
The memory-foam ear cushions are comfortable and provide a good seal. They're a slightly unusual shape; oval but flat at the bottom. This certainly seems to be a good profile to cover my weird ears completely, so I'd guess that'd be true for most people. The tight seal does a good job of passive noise cancellation but it also means my ears do get hot after a while.
The headband is not as well cushioned, although its dimpled surface does mean it's a bit more breathable. The solid construction means an excellent, secure fit, however the lack of padding makes it feel a bit hard after a while.
The Quantum 400 offers two connection options; a 1.2m 3.5mm audio cable or a generous 3m USB-C to USB-A cable. The first choice connects you to anything, the USB option is really only for PC but this is how you access a whole world of customisations, both aural and visual.
Plug in via USB and you'll be prompted to download JBL QuantumENGINE, the Quantum 400's companion app. For some reason, this takes ages to download but it's worth it. This is where you can adjust all the sound settings to your preference and I do mean all the settings; there are volume and game chat dials on the left earcup itself, the latter allowing you to control how much of your conversation is added to the mix. But the QuantumENGINE app lets you choose from a selection of preset EQ's or create your own.
But most impressively, there's a choice of spatial sound options - DTS headphone: X or JBL's own QuantumSURROUND, a 7.1 experience that really is very convincing when playing first person shooters like Apex Legends. Not only can you identify friends and threats from left or right but also from behind or in front of you.
QuantumENGINE can also adjust the RGB logo that lights up on each earcup when you connect via USB. Again, there are preset patterns and colour schemes to choose from or you can create your own. I'd like the option to lower the brightness but that's a minor niggle.
My major niggle is the app looks really bad. What it can do is awesome but it's so hard to actually use, mostly because everything is tiny. The text is small and the controls are so little - especially the colour wheel for picking your RGB preference. Every time I tried for red I got purple instead. It feels like one of those apps a computer nerd designed without running past a real person, all function but no form whatsoever. I like the way you can view the app in three different sized windows but none of those windows are full screen and none of them make the controls any bigger or easier to use. I'm sure a future update will address this as I can't be the only frustrated user out there.
It's a shame, because the sound options really are pretty great. Not only is there crazy bass and treble punch for mighty explosions and gunshots but a few EQ tweaks make using the Quantum 400 for music very pleasurable indeed. "Gold on the Ceiling" by the Black Keys is a banger of a track that's produced to make the most of every instrument and they all come through loud and clear. On a more spartan song, like Benee's "Soaked," there's a lot of space between beats and you can definitely get a sense of it with this headset.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy my playlists as much as I have on the Quantum 400. Nor was I expecting the mic quality to be so good. Often the mics on gaming headsets are so low quality everything is muffled and muddy, or they're set up to boost highs and sibilance to cut through the background noise and music in games. Because the Quantum 400 has a dedicated game chat dial, you can balance your conversation accordingly so that toppy EQ isn't as important. I was immediately impressed by the clarity of the mic and that means this is a good headset for video conferencing too.
At $169.95RRP, I think the Quantum 400 is a steal. It has a lot of premium features, the surround sound experience is convincing, it's comfortable enough and the mic quality is very good. Obviously, if you're looking for something wireless, you'll need to move further up JBL's Quantum product line and the app definitely needs a facelift but in terms of the features on offer, this headset delivers.