On-ear, over-ear, in-ear. Whatever headphones you’re rocking, it’s all about pushing sound down your ear canal. While most gaming headsets have a tendency to make you look like a Cyberman on a stag do, there are more subtle options out there. Asus’ ROG Cetra are a pair of gaming-flavoured USB-C in-ear headphones that are perfect for gaming on the go, whether you’re one of those mobile phone gamers, or a dedicated Nintendo fan.
Besides that USB-C connection, these are in-ear headphones. They’re mostly black from connector to earbud, with both an in-line microphone and a slightly chunky in-line connector boasting volume controls, a pause/play button and a control for switching on the Cetra’s party piece; active noise cancelling. Other than that, Asus have bunged in a great selection of ear tips and fins – black again – to help you get a perfect fit so they shouldn’t be going anywhere, even when you are.
That might all seem pretty subdued, but Asus have categorically aimed the Cetra squarely at gamers, or at least their own fans, as each earbud features a glowing red Asus logo. They’re pretty bright – especially in an un-lit room – but whether or not you think they’re cool will depend very much on personal taste. Personally I think they’re smart, but my wife thinks I look like an idiot. I’m sure she means that I look like an idiot with super cool glowing red earbuds in, right?
While it didn’t take me long to find a fin size that fit snugly in my ear, I really struggled at first to get a decent seal with the standard rubber ear tips that are included. This would limit the Cetra’s output, robbing it of that all-important bass while neutering the ANC as well. Fortunately, Asus have also included a pair of memory foam tips and they completely transform the way the headphones sound. If you’re picking up a set make sure you try out every one of the options to make sure you’re getting the best out of them.
With a snug fit in place the Cetra really showcase their abilities. Pumping out audio via 10mm ASUS Essence drivers, there’s an excellent level of definition across the board. Bass is handled nicely, and while I don’t think they’re going to ever be the most bass-heavy pair of headphones no matter how good a seal you get, the balance with the enjoyably crisp mid and treble is just right.
I tried the Cetra out with my standard music test tracks, and whether it was Gunship through Deadmau5 by way of Fleetwood Mac and everything on the League of Legends playlist, they acquitted themselves admirably. They’re Hi-Res certified so you can make the most of that Tidal or Amazon HD subscription too, and be pretty certain you’re hearing every element of a track, whatever genre that might be.
Thanks to their portability, which is helped by the handy little travel case included in the box, I could easily see myself carrying the Cetra around with me to keep the tunes spinning without the need for powering up a set of wireless headphones. With the ANC to boot, they’re a great choice for a commute.
That said, they’re not going to match the active noise cancellation you find with a pair of top-end Bose or Sony headphones, but at less than half the price you probably shouldn’t expect that. There’s the tiniest hint of that tell-tale ANC hiss, but it’s not the other-worldly sense of being cut off from the outside world you might get elsewhere. You’ll still be able to hear louder noises around you, but in a busy café while listening to music there wasn’t much bleed-through, and I couldn’t hear the sound of my own typing, or the person chatting next to me.
There’s also an ambient mode, which basically turns the noise cancellation feature around on itself, and allows you to hear what’s going on around you clearly without removing the earbuds from your ears. It’s a great little addition, and something that’s surprisingly useful when you’ve got the headphones in just need to have a quick chat, or listen out for a car or two as you’re crossing a road.
Gaming’s where it’s at though for the Cetra, and pulling out my Switch – to the clear admiration of all, I might add – I was ready for some Overwatch, and to sully any admiration by annoying everyone around me with some frantic button pressing. The crisp and clear audio delivery works really well here, and I was able to successfully track where gunfire was coming from, or when an Ultimate was just about to pop off. Similarly I spent some time with Darksiders Genesis via GeForce Now, and the fantastic soundtrack and meaty combat sounded spot on.
It’s worth noting that the Cetra didn’t play well with my Macbook Pro’s EQ and audio enhancements while the ANC was engaged, and it took a bit of fiddling to disengage everything. However, they sounded fantastic with Dolby Atmos for music when listening on my Note 9, so your experience will likely depend on what kit you’re using. The Cetra are tuned really well out of the box though, so whether it’s music, video or games everything legitimately sounds like it should.
The main downside to the Cetra (beyond the glowing ear-pieces) is how cheap the controls feel in relation to everything else. The earbuds are weighty and solid, the USB-C connector is gold plated to ensure a good connection, but the in-line controls are light and plasticky. Sure, they won’t weigh the earpieces down, which will benefit you in the long run, but they lose some of that premium feel every time you interact with them. At £100 a pop that’s disappointing.
Besides that there’s the ROG Armoury II software, where you can tinker with the Cetra’s EQ settings, utilise virtual surround sound, add extra bass, and a number of other things. However, there’s no version of the software for Mac or mobile, and my PC doesn’t have a USB-C port.
If it wasn’t for the adaptor I had lying around I’d have been flat out of luck to do any sort of digging down into the headphone’s further capabilities. Just be aware you’ll need to fit the criteria if you’re hoping to customise your experience with them, and surely a headset designed with mobile in mind should cater for that audience?