Normally IGN reviews proper gear from well-known brands, and for headsets we’ve covered both the midrange and the upper echelon of choices this year. However, we understand money doesn’t grow on trees, so we’ve started examining some of the more affordable headset models, too. In doing so we decided to see if a super-cheap, no-name brand, the kind you see at the top of online retailers, could compete with the likes of Logitech, Astro, HyperX, and so forth.
To find our contestant we scrolled through Amazon and stumbled across its #1 Best Seller – the Sades SA902 (See it Amazon). It is rated at four out of five stars with over 1,600 reviews, and sells for just $26.99, discounted from a supposed MSRP of $72, although near as we can tell they’ve never been sold at that price. Can it compete with budget headsets that cost three times as much? I decided to find out.
The Sades SA-902 looks pretty basic, but does offer red LEDs on the sides, which is neat. It is made of thick plastic throughout, which isn’t surprising given its price, and has the benefit of making the headset very lightweight and comfortable. The SA902’s earpads covered my ears completely, making them comfortable and great at cancelling outside noise. The headband is easy to adjust, and there’s a good deal of padding on it too. The highest compliment I can give the SA-902 is that after I adjusted it a bit I could barely tell I was wearing them.
The built-in omnidirectional mic can be adjusted by swiveling it both up and down, but it’s not removable. The mic doesn’t have a lot of resistance when moving it into different positions, which I liked since it makes it easy to adjust. It also doesn’t feel flimsy, which surprised me. The only downside to the mic’s design is that you can’t move the mic closer to your mouth. The sound quality is generally good. I chatted with a friend on Skype and was told I sounded clear. The air conditioner I had running wasn’t audible, which lets me know the mic cancels out background noise well enough.
Instead of a regular plastic cable USB , the SA902 has a thick, red, braided cable that protects it from environmental hazards. If you accidentally run over it with your office chair, it will keep working. The cable is six feet long, and I found this length to be a bit too long since my PC is directly next to me, but it’s handy if your PC is further away obviously. The headset controls are on an inline module that’s attached to the cable. It lets you raise or lower the volume, mute the audio, or mute the microphone. The buttons on the controls are large enough that I could find them even in the dark. They also give a satisfactory click when pressed.
The instruction booklet for the included software is in Chinese, but setting up the software is intuitive enough. Within the app, various options for the headphone and mic customization are available. You can choose volume control, equalizer for music (rock, pop, metal, jazz, rap, etc.), and environmental effects. With environmental settings enabled, you can make whatever you’re listening to sound like it’s in a concert hall, a living room, a cave, or an arena. The auditorium setting is nice for making it feel like you’re in a movie theater while watching a film. Other than that, I didn’t like having the environmental effects enabled.
The app also allows you to adjust the orientation of each of the virtual speakers. You can spin the speakers counter or clockwise, or just move them individually by dragging them with your mouse. You can even adjust the room size within environmental settings. I was fine with the default settings, but it’s nice that folks have the option of tweaking the surround sound exactly how they want it.
Another feature is called Xear SingFX. Both the headphones and mic have this option in their respective drop down boxes, and each serves a different function. If you want to sing along to a song but can’t hit the perfect C, you can use the pitch shifter to help your natural key match the song’s. You can even add natural echo to make it sound like you’re singing at a karaoke bar. While it’s interesting to have options for singing, I don’t see many people using it if they purchased the SA-902 for gaming.
One of the stranger Xear SingFX options is called Magic Voice. With this setting, you can alter the sound of your voice. The options are Male, Female, Cartoon, and Monster. Male gives you a deep, bassier voice while Female is higher pitched. Monster is just Male with more bass, while Cartoon makes one sound like they inhaled helium. I can see the appeal of these presets for those who want to disguise their voices in online matches. I wouldn’t personally use it, however. It’s certainly one software differentiator compared to the big headset makers.
Though I had low expectations given this headset’s price, I was not disappointed when playing games with the SA902. Thanks to its 7.1 surround sound capabilities, titles like Doom, Forza Horizon 3, and Gears of War 4 were even more immersive than what I’d experienced previously. I’m used to playing PC games with regular stereo headphones so being able to hear sounds from multiple directions felt like an entirely new experience. The default settings delivered a nice punchy sound that I greatly enjoyed. I also liked how bassy everything sounded. Blasting demons away with a shotgun in Doom was even more satisfying than usual. In Forza Horizon 3, I was able to give in-game commands using the microphone.
As far as playing with others is concerned, you’ll be able to hear other player’s voices well even in loud games like Forza Horizon 3. I didn’t have any issues hearing what my friends had to say. The boom mic on my end did pick up the sound of my air conditioner. Despite that, my voice managed to come through clearly enough. With that said, the mic is fairly sensitive. Others will hear distortion if you start to talk loudly. It’s best to keep your own voice at a reasonable volume.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for music. No matter what equalizer settings I used (Rock, Rap, Metal, Jazz, etc.), I wasn’t happy with how music sounded on the headphones. This is interesting considering how in-game music from the titles I tested sounded generally fine. Mid and high range sounds didn’t come across as well as they should. I understand that the SA902 is primarily a gaming headset, but I still felt disappointed by the poor music playback audio quality.
Thankfully, using the headphones to watch movies provides a much better experience. I popped in the first Avengers film and skipped to the climatic battle. Despite all the explosions and screaming, every sound came across nice and clear. I don’t have a surround sound set up in my apartment so headphones like this help recreate a movie theater-style sound at home. Like with music, most will not buy this headset to watch movies. But if you decide to watch the occasional film, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
The Sades SA902 supposedly has an MSRP of $71.99, but is just $27 on Amazon, and has pretty much never deviated from that price since its debut: