Alienware Wireless Gaming Headset: AW988 Review

We have spent the last few days living with the Alienware AW988 headset perched on our head and have gotten a very good idea of what the first headset from Alienware in nine years is all about. We gamed, we watched movies, and we listened to a lot of music. We tell you how it did and all the features and build quality.

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Alienware Unboxing and First Look

We videod the unboxing and first look at the AW988 headset. It covers a lot of the points that we have touched on, on the previous pages, and gives you a look at all the accessories.

Alienware AW988 Experiences

Comfort

We are going to start with comfort, because this is where I had the biggest issue. I put the AW988 on and it was VERY tight on my head. My hat size is 7 3/8th, so it is not huge, but surely not small either. After wearing these for about an hour or so, I was in pain. The ear cushions were pushing hard UNDER my ears into the muscles of my jaw. I wore these for another couple of hours, and when I got up in the morning I was still in pain. I needed to do something to fix this issue, so before I hit the sack that night, I stretched the AW988 over the back of my chair.

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As you can see, our "fix" also doubled as a bit of a torture test for the build quality of the headband and how well the earcups are attached. There is no doubt that these are built to last. Even after our abuse, the AW988 still felt very solid and did not make any creaking or popping noises.

Alienware did say that they were very attentive when it came to the clamping force of these headphones. Apparently everyone at Alienware has a tiny head? Either that, or I have a melon head? Whatever the answer to that question is, my stretching technique proved to be a winner. I have worn the AW988 pretty much all day long every day for days without much issue. I have stretched these out a couple more times however, just not overnight.

The ear cushion material is a winner. I never had much issue with those getting too hot on my head as the material is breathable and wickable. If those did get a little warm, after many hours of gaming, a quick break cooled those off easily. The longest I wore these were 14 hours straight, with pretty much no comfort issue at all. Even just picking them up off your ears and giving the cushions a little fanning action cools everything down quickly as well.

The cushion on the headband of the AW988 is stellar! The AW988 weighs in at 377 grams I have to think about it being there when it comes to evaluating it. It is probably the most comfortable headset headband I have ever experienced. Also at no time did I have the AW988 pull my hair or catch it in a pinch or pull it in any way. My hair is also extremely short right now, so your experience may differ.

Battery Life

The AW988 has a 1200mAh battery and quotes a run time "up to 14 hours." If you turn on the Frag Harder Disco Lighting, you should expect your run time to be cut nearly in half according to Alienware. I know for sure that I hit the 14 hour mark with mine as I used these all day one day and never took these off.

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When the AW988 is plugged into USB power, you get two places that alert you to successful charging. The AHC software will give you a visible alert as shown above. It also has a tiny LED on the bottom of the headset earcup as well that goes from red, to orange, to green, signifying below 10%, between 10% and 80%, and over 80%. The orange color is more of an amber, but the alert is fairly obvious.

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When you hit the 10% battery threshold you will get a verbal warning in the headset that is very digitized female voice that tells you, "Battery low!" and then "Battery critical!" Once down to 3%, she starts telling you this over and over again. She told me 13 times. From the 10% mark, it took the AW988 56 minutes to fully lose power. That seemed great to me on time and usage, but the constant reminders were a bit much.

Sound Quality

Let's start with our gaming experiences, after all the AW988 is a purpose built gaming headset. My sound experiences in shooters like DOOM and Hunt: Showdown were spectacular. DOOM is simply and audio-feast when it comes to sound effects and soundtrack. The AW988 produced incredibly rich sound effects that just made me feel like I was there. The AW988 gave me the best sound experience I have ever had in DOOM. If you have never watched DOOM: Behind the Music, you should.

Where I got interested in reviewing headsets again was because I have been playing a lot of Hunt: Showdown, and to win, or at least have a lot better chance at winning in this game, you need have to have great 7.1 audio headset. Being able to position your opponents by sound is critical to gameplay. I have recently gone through several Corsair headsets, all of which had very good positional audio. The AW988 7.1 logic is handled differently than those headsets. I was able to clearly hear sound queues that were closer to me with ease and I could identify sounds that the Corsair did not produce for me. Also the AW988 was better in terms of sound direction as well. I could clearly pinpoint positions better with the AW988. The Corsair was a bit better at allowing me to hear sounds such as gunshots that were at far distances however. This was a little bit of a trade off, but not much. The way the AW988 handled the sound was very different and it took me a bit to relearn how to play the game with the new sounds I was hearing. That said, I will be using the AW988 as my go-to for gaming from now on...at least till I get the next headset to review.

My only issue with the AW988 is that I would have liked more audio volume in Hunt: Showdown. It worked out just fine and I felt like I was getting enough volume, but I wanted more. I like it loud. Conversely, in playing DOOM there were no audio issues at all. I could turn the volume up higher than I wanted.

When it comes to movies, I was impressed with the AW988. It's Movie preset works quite well and game me a "movie theater" feeling. Again, I would have like more volume here, but I did not feel I was missing out on anything. Moving over to watching the talking news heads, I found the Com preset worked best and I had no issues with volume in those instances.

On the music front, the AW988 actually did much better than what I expected out of a "gaming headset." Again however, I would have liked more volume, but the clarity of the instruments was easy to pick out and sounded very good.

Mic Quality

I was very impressed with mic quality. Here are couple of Hunt: Showdown video clips, with me getting excited and screaming like a little girl. The AW988 is the better of the two you will hear and it is easily discernible. You will know which sample is the AW988 and which is the HS70. That said, no one has ever griped about any of the mics I have used recently, but the AW988 seems clearer to me. I did have some issues with the mic picking up keystrokes during gaming, but adjusting down the volume in the AHC software fixed this issue.

Dislikes

  • Fingerprints appear on the surfaces easily

  • Volume controls are easily bumped reaching for the mic mute botton

  • If you walk out of wireless range, you get a notification in AHC that has be cleared by hand

  • Not loud as I would like in some games

  • Alert voice in headset is annoyingly digitized

  • Comfort before stretching

  • RGB

Likes

  • 7.1 sound quality in game is great in terms of sound and positioning

  • Mic length is short so it is not right in front of my mouth

  • Comfort after stretching

  • Earcups lay flat on your shoulders

  • Mic is clear and concise

  • Mic fold up and USB dongle storage

  • Battery life

  • Wireless - enough said

  • Great Profiles that are easy to customize

  • Stands up on desk by itself - no stand needed

  • RGB that turns off easily

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The Bottom Line

My experience with the Alienware Wireless Gaming Headset: AW988 was a very good one. The AW988 is solidly constructed and looks to be able to take a lot of use and abuse. The 7.1 positional audio I truly loved and appreciated in games. I do wish these would have had a bit more volume in some games. Even when the mic is not stored, it does not stick out in front of your face and interfere with eating or drinking. Although the AW988 had a clamping force that was unbearable to begin with, a night of being stuck over the back of my office chair loosened it up for my head size and the headband cushion is excellent. Given that I have had clamping force issues with the last two headsets we have reviewed, I am beginning to think it is my head and not the headset. In terms of value, priced at $230, I think the AW988 headset is going to be a solid buy for a lot of gamers that are looking for an elevated gaming experience that also plays very well when listening to movies and music.

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Alienware Wireless Gaming Headset: AW988

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