It’s always great to see innovation in the gaming headset space, not least because it’s increasingly hard to come by. Driver technology might improve, or new materials created that increase comfort, but largely a set of cans, or earbuds, look and behave mostly as you’d expect.
Not so the Drown gaming earphones, a pair of moulded in-ear, wired earbuds that utilise a direct path to your ear canal while providing their own audio cavities within the earpieces to enhance the audio you’re listening to. There’s little like these out there and targeted at gamers at the moment, and despite their odd appearance, they might just be the headset you need to enliven your audio or give you a competitive edge when gaming online.
The Drown earphones call the tech ‘tactile audio’, and it utilises three audio pathways to help convince player’s brains that the audio they’re receiving carries realistic weight and timbre. A major part of that is the way the audio is sent to the listener, and Drown’s earphones come with four sets of seals to secure them within your ear and direct the sound directly into your ear canal.
It’s worth trying all of the seals out. They’ve been designed to cover the widest array of ear shapes, and while they might all vaguely fit, there will almost certainly be a pair that fits properly. The difference in the audio you’ll receive is immense, and once you find the correct one the whole, slightly strange experience suddenly makes sense.
You fit each seal by placing them within your ear lobe and twisting them into place. They each have a tab that ‘locks’ them into place as well, ensuring that not only do you get the best acoustic seal, they won’t move about in a way that would affect the audio. Once you’ve got it right they’re surprisingly comfortable, and you can then pop the body of the earphones into the seal and you’re all set.
Putting them in and out takes some getting used to. Even with great big L and R logos on the seals and the earphone body, their unusual design means it’s still not immediately obvious which way round they go. I found it easiest to look for the audio ‘hole’ and having that facing downwards while putting them in. The cabling has an ear loop to run over the top of your ear as well, helping with the process, and to keep them where they’re supposed to be.
There are no controls on the earphones themselves, instead there’s just a socket in the left earpiece to attach the microphone arm to, and a standard in-line volume control on the cable as you’d see on most mobile headphones. Thanks to the 3.5mm jack, you’ll be able to use them across a range of different platforms, from mobile phones through to PS4, Xbox One, Stadia and Switch.
The flexible microphone boom arm is a no-frills affair, but the chat audio it picks up was reported to be clear and responsive. Attaching by a jack to the main body of the left earpiece it will stay exactly where you put it, even if there is a whiff of call-centre chic to how you end up looking.
There’s also a standard mobile-style microphone hidden away in the in-line control that will do the job if you’re on the go or looking for a quick solution. You should always be able to find the mic arm at least, as Drown’s earphones come with a smart hard carrycase where you can keep them safely hidden away.
Depending on the fit, they naturally skew towards the warmer, airier end of the audio spectrum. Due to their unusual setup, I normally found they needed just a little wiggle in each ear to achieve the right audio balance and to pull out the details from the top end, which isn’t something I’ve often experienced with a headset, but once I had them settled correctly they didn’t move until I wanted them to.
There’s a natural level of reverb to the Drown earphones which might not suit some listeners, but they add an enjoyable amount of life to musical audio across the board, especially enhancing atmospheric synth-wave like Gunship or live band performances. It’s an effect somewhat similar to Dolby Atmos for music, just without the additional processing, leaving you with a cleaner and clearer signal to wrap around your ears.
I came to love the audio response from Drown’s earphones. Providing you’ve got the right input signal, they’re capable of warm and powerful bass that doesn’t overwhelm the details from the tops, and this is a pair of earphones that sound good no matter what you’re putting through them. When the marketing spiel is talking about three audio pathways into your brain it seems nonsensical, and it might well be, but the simple fact is they sound excellent.
Gaming is similarly impressive, and the way they deliver audio works especially well when combined with a game with directional audio. Alongside many games of PUBG one of my favourite uses for the Drown earphones was combining them with my Oculus Quest, where their design not only made for a perfect fit, but added real depth to every crack of a gun in Pistol Whip and extended the immersion of the incredible Tetris Effect.
Thanks to the in-ear seal, the Drown earphones also offer excellent passive noise isolation, preventing anything from the outside world distracting you from whatever it is you’re listening to. That works both ways too, and there’s little to no audio bleed from the headset to annoy those around you, even with them cranked all the way up.
The only problem that I came up against was that switching between the different seals managed to unclip the internal workings of the right earpiece. It definitely caused a few moments of panic, but it snapped back together with no problem, and at no point during our further testing was there any sign of weakness from either earpiece.