A bit heavy
Short battery life
Ever since Reviewed checked out the Audeze Sine a few years back, I've been interested to see (or rather hear) more planar magnetic cans. Planar magnetic drivers are different than traditional dynamic drivers, using a dual-magnet system that's capable of a lot more "force," for lack of a physics lesson, which gives the whole frequency spectrum a lot more leverage to work with.
Audeze first debuted planar magnetic gaming cans in the form of the Mobius, which (until very recently) held rank on our list of the best gaming headsets. The Penrose models shave about $100 off the Mobius' high price tag, but they also shave off some of the features for which that headset was best known, including sound localization, head tracking, and room emulation. Skipping these admittedly really cool features gives the Penrose a lower latency connection, making it arguably a better choice for faster-paced online gaming (compared to the Mobius' emphasis on atmosphere and immersion).
While the Penrose delivers incredible audio quality, planar magnetic drivers aren't cheap, so you can still expect to pay around $300. While they're certainly not a budget option, they're a very welcome addition for gamers who have been hankering for an incredibly accurate gaming headset without paying for the Mobius' many specialty features.
About the Audeze Penrose X
Here's a look at the Penrose X specs:
- Cost: $299 MSRP
- Style: Over-ear, closed-circumaural
- Colors: Blue highlights (Penrose), green highlights (Penrose X)
- Drivers: 100mm Planar Magnetic
- Wireless connections: Lossless 2.4Ghz (over USB dongle), Bluetooth 5.0
- Wired connections: 3.5mm analog, USB A-to-C charging
- Microphone: Detachable
- Weight: 320g
The Penrose and Penrose X debuted in late 2020 and were the highlight of Audeze's presence during CES 2021. As of today's date they're still back-ordered on Audeze's website, but it's safe to say they're a big player in the 2021 gaming headset market, especially where PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X players are concerned.
Something interested buyers should be very aware of is that what mainly differentiates the Penrose and Penrose X is their platform compatibility. Here's how that shakes out:
- Penrose: compatible with PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Macintosh, Nintendo Switch, and PC
- Penrose X: compatible with Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series X, and PC
Both sets should be compatible with conferencing apps like Skype, Zoom, and Discord, too.
We received a Penrose X model for evaluation. Aesthetically, the Penrose and Penrose X are almost identical save their console-friendly color schemes (green for Xbox, blue for PlayStation).
Alongside the headset you'll find a 2.4Ghz wireless dongle, detachable microphone, a USB A-to-C cable, a 3.5mm cable, a quick start guide, and a warranty card. Our review sample (the Penrose X) was provided by Audeze during the review/evaluation period, and tested using an Xbox Series X console.
What We Like
Subtle, heavy-duty design (for better or worse)
When it comes to gaming headsets, audio and microphone quality are the most important components of the experience. Yet there's also no denying that gaming peripherals often aim for style and substance both: a glance at any set of peripherals tends to reveal outfits of breathing/pulsing RGB lights, stark angular lines, and bright, sometimes gaudy colors.
Comparatively, the Penrose models are a little subtler. While I wasn't crazy at first about the pale, yellow-green rings around the Penrose X's ear cups, they've grown on me over the several weeks that I've been using the headset. The dappled burst design on the back of each cup adds a nice touch of visual filigree without being distracting.
Like the Mobius, there's really no shortage of branding here either. Audeze's stylized "A" symbol is emblazoned in the same yellow-green at the base of the headband, and scrawled in white across the top. It's by no means garish or overstated, but you're not going to pass this headset off as Sony studio cans in public, either.
The next thing I noticed, placing the Penrose X on my head, was how durable and heavy this headset is. At 320 grams, it's not as ponderous an object as Apple's AirPods Max, but the weight is noticeable (that'd be the magnets). Likewise, the Penrose X clamp firmly around your head, though as someone who wears glasses, I can confirm that the clamping force isn't uncomfortable. This just isn't a product you're going to forget is on your head any time soon. On the plus side, the weight and robust firmness provide the durability we'd expect for $300.
Fortunately, the headset has very comfortable cup and headband padding (contoured memory foam, mmmm), making them easy to wear for long stretches despite the heavy-duty construction and overall weight. Even still, you might have to bulk up your neck muscles a bit if you want to use these regularly.
Stellar audio quality across mediums
There's no shortage of great gaming headsets out there, but most of them don't deliver planar magnetic sound the way Audeze's do. Without getting too far into the weeds, it's worth briefly mentioning that planar magnetic headphones (whether they're gaming-focused or not) operate in an altogether different fashion than standard headphones. While I wouldn't argue that any given pair of planar magnetic headphones perform better on average, they do tend to offer better bass response, faster transient response, and generally have more power overall.
All that to say, the Audeze Penrose X sound terrific. I paired them with an Xbox Series X console and played a bunch of games (often with friends!) over several weeks, including Cyberpunk 2077, State of Decay 2, Vermintide 2, Gears 5, and even Minecraft. I'd just come off the tail end of reviewing some other very fine headsets (like the Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen. 2), and even still the Penrose X deliver an ebullient rush of detail in music and sound effects.
Prowling the dark, neon-lit alleyways of Cyberpunk 2077, I found myself acutely more aware of ambient effects, like the sound of trash bags crunching beneath my feet or the distant sound of car engines on an overhead highway; these effects were still present when using a soundbar or my lower-end Xbox headset, but masked within the mix beneath more centrally located sounds. I found a similar wealth of hidden details in most games I played, whether it was the ringing sound of a sword drawn or the echo of approaching footsteps.
Where I really enjoyed the Penrose X was in its handling of music, however. In fact, with its bevy of possible alternate connections (Bluetooth, 3.5mm) and detachable microphone, there's no reason to think this gaming headset couldn't serve double duty as an excellent pair of headphones. The soundscape is not aggressively tuned for gaming, meaning it delivers good frequency balance across the board; in fact, I'd argue that sub-bass and bass frequencies are better supported here than on many entry-level headphones.
While the Penrose X doesn't come equipped with built-in sound modes or bass boost options (and with how well it seems to handle most kinds of content, these might be unnecessary anyway), Audeze does have a separate desktop/mobile app called Audeze HQ that allows for a range of additional sound sculpting options. Unfortunately, the app is currently only available for Windows, which makes it a less than ideal option for adjusting on the fly, at least where console gamers are concerned. Audeze claims the Android and Mac versions are coming soon, however.
Yet as useful as many audiophile gamers may find this app, most folks—even those with a particular interest in a high-fidelity audio experience—will be more than satisfied with the Penrose's standard sound profile. In short, the audio quality here lives up to the high price tag. Music and sound effects—from the subtle to the striking—sound clear with the kind of excellence we've come to expect from planar magnetic technology.
Intuitive controls and feedback
Like most wireless headphones, every function not outsourced to the Penrose's app is controlled by onboard buttons or dials. Most controls live on the headset's left cup, a design choice that makes memorizing the various functions a quick and painless affair.
On the flat back of the left cup, you'll find the power button towards the bottom of the cup, and a binary mute switch for the microphone up top. The other controls are arrayed in a ring around the cup.
Pressing the "source" button just above the microphone port (towards the front of the cup) allows you to quickly jump between wireless (the 2.4Ghz dongle connection, specifically), Bluetooth, and 3.5mm analog connections. Below the mic port, you'll find the USB-C charging port (which can double as a firmware update port if need be); the 3.5mm input; and two tactile volume wheels for mic and audio volume.
Not only is it convenient to have all of the controls and ports arrayed along a single cup, but many of the buttons also serve multiple functions. This may require a bit of a learning curve in the short term, but it's quite convenient in the long run. I'm pleased about the assignment of sound and voice to dual wheels, but what's more, you can even press/click the wheels to activate different functions. Pressing and holding the microphone wheel is especially useful, as it allows you to adjust the game/chat volume balance, while clicking the game music wheel can automatically reconnect the headset to whatever Bluetooth device it was paired with last—further proof that the Penrose X doubles well as a traditional pair of headphones.
If this all sounds like a lot to chew on, fret not. If all you want to do is plug the wireless dongle into your Xbox and play your favorite game, that's easy enough to do. The Penrose X straddles a valuable line by being easy to plug and play, but also boasting a huge amount of versatility.
Microphone quality is solid
Last—but definitely not least for a gaming headset—the Penrose X wouldn't feel worth its price tag if it didn't deliver a great microphone alongside its terrific sound quality and flexible usability. Fortunately, while my experience with the mic wasn't as jaw-dropping as my experience with the audio fidelity in general, it seems to live up to Audeze's claim of "broadcast quality."
I've been gaming with a couple of the same people weekly for months, if not years (it's become an almost singular social outlet during this pandemic), and they immediately noticed the difference in my voice compared to the more entry-level headset I generally use. One friend said I sounded "tinny," and that I was hard to hear—not a great sign.
However, after adjusting the mic's volume and the game/chat volume over a couple of weeks, I started to really notice a difference in how much effort I needed to make while speaking in order for the microphone to register my voice clearly. The "tinnyness" my friend had heard was likely the result of my own learned habit of speaking/shouting to make sure lesser microphones picked up my voice.
With the Penrose, I can speak relatively quietly, as though my mates were sitting just a couple of feet away from me, and the microphone still captures every phoneme—at least most of the time.
This was especially helpful during games like State of Decay 2, where sneaking around in the dark trying not to startle hordes of zombies results in all of us unconsciously choosing to speak in hushed, dampened tones. Even in these oddly strained situations, where vocal clarity is paramount but quietness feels more immersive and appropriate, the Penrose clearly relayed my friends' voices over the game's ambiance and relayed mine well enough that they could hear me whispering fitfully with the greatest of ease.
All in all, while the detachable microphone may not have some of the fancy add-ons you'll find on other gaming headsets like noise canceling or RGB mute indicators, what you're getting here is high enough quality that it fits the $300 price tag.
What We Don't Like
The battery life may cause some gripes
You'll get about 15 hours of normal use out of either the Penrose or Penrose X, and it takes a good amount of time to charge—around three hours. That means people who game a large majority of the time (or anyone who uses it as a combo gaming headset/wireless headphone) are going to need to remember to charge at least every other night.
If you forget to charge it before a gaming session, you may find you're out of luck as you wait around to get enough charge. Audeze sort of heads this problem off by way of including two charger cables (USB A-to-C and USB C), though that's more for convenience than ensuring that users remember to charge it.
Volume wheels can feel unresponsive
Something else I've noticed over weeks of using the Penrose X is that occasionally, it feels like the two volume wheels (for headset and mic volume) don't seem to do anything. They definitely are doing something, but the changes are almost too subtle sometimes. All of the other controls work just as they should, but in particular, clicking the secondary volume wheel to adjust game/chat balance can feel like stumbling around in the dark.
This is a minor complaint, but some kind of beep or feedback tone to let you know whether you were adjusting the microphone or the game/chat balance specifically would be useful, though this is a minor complaint at best.
Should You Buy It?
Yes—if you want an amazing gaming headset that does double duty
The Audeze Penrose/Penrose X may be a great option for hardcore gamers, but the real winners here are music-lovers who also game. While it's a bit heavy compared to traditional over-ear headphones even in this price range, it's also worth the weight: Audeze's planar magnetic driver technology really does justice to music, movies, and—of course—video games. The aural fidelity here succinctly complements the visual power of 4K/HDR gaming in a way that's delightfully immersive.
Of course, whether you should fork over $300 or not is a different matter. If you just want something with decent audio that facilitates the process of chatting with friends during multiplayer games, there are plenty of affordable options that will get the job done. The Penrose simultaneously stands as a way to experience the excellence of Audeze's planar magnetic tech without shelling out for the Mobius, and a flexible model that stands in as both a great gaming headset and a great pair of wireless headphones.
If you can swing the $300 price tag and really care about high-fidelity audio, the Penrose is worth it. A couple of small gripes aside, there's almost nothing to dislike about this headset (especially if you don't mind the subtle pops of color on the ear cups), and your ears just may thank you for the investment. On the other hand, there are perfectly decent options out there if you don't quite need this much finery. For Xbox gamers, we highly recommend the SteelSeries Arctis 9X, which runs about $199. And if you're looking to go super cheap but still get something comfortable and very functional, you can't go wrong with the HyperX Cloud II.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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