ASUS ROG Theta Electret Review
In the test: The ASUS ROG Theta Electret Headset is a very unusual set with strengths, but unfortunately also many weaknesses. The exotic technology ensures brilliant mids and highs. The bass falls by the wayside. None of the materials for the mussels are convincing.
I’ve already tested one or the other headset or headphones, but I’ve never experienced one like this one. To call the Asus ROG Theta Electret exotic would be an understatement. Let’s put it this way: I’ve never had to struggle with a set as hard as this one. Rarely fights been so worth it if it worked, and the shock was seldom more tremendous at first.
- Audio that is well-tuned, clean, and crisp
- Earcup cushions that can be swapped
- Excellent construction quality
- Comfortable for lengthy periods of time
- Cabling obstructs the view.
- It was quieter than I had anticipated.
- The audio from the microphone is a little bit messy
Asus Theta Electret Headset: The exotic gaming giant
The “ROG” in the title says that this is a set from the Asus gaming line. You have to add that to a certain extent because precious little is indicated here otherwise. The monstrous packaging goes a little bit in the direction of the look, but the large, to be honest, quite chunky set is matt black. If it weren’t for the silver logo, it could just as quickly be any hi-fi device. Not even the “Republic of Gamers” lettering on the top was colored and seemed to want to hide more. At least the silver metal hanger got a bit of a cyber tribal design.
What amazes me is the weight. Sure, on paper, the Theta Electret is a monster at 550 grams, but it doesn’t feel like it, especially not on the head. The very comfortably padded bracket cushions the mass well distributed. The pressure is there, but discreetly and even after a three-hour session, the weight didn’t bother me in any way. To my great surprise, as I said, but yes, apparently, you can efficiently distribute half a kilo on your head. First of all, however, I had to exchange the synthetic leather upholstery for the fabric variant that came with it. I wouldn’t have survived an hour with the former. They are almost anti-breathable. On the other hand, the soft fabric upholstery is a dream and, thanks to the soft material, is glasses-friendly. This will become a real problem later during the audio sample.
But first of all: it sits, fits and with fabric also has air. So what is there exotic now on my head? A headset that was designed with one thing in mind: at least an Asus Essence STX II, or better still, a monster like an Essence One III. Whereby, if I spend 1500 euros on a D / A converter/headphone amplifier, then I’m probably looking at other headphones again. But yes, the Electret has no USB connection, no integrated D / A conversion, it stands or falls with your hardware behind it, and that must expressly not be a mainboard sound card. Not even one of the usual standards. Even my otherwise competent all-rounder Sennheiser GSX 1000 doesn’t have much to report here, and that’s because of how the Electret is structured.
Asus Theta Electret Headset: What does Electret mean?
To explain this, the first thing to mention is the electrostatic headphones – there are also boxes, the concept is the same. The most popular brand – and frankly the only one I’ve ever held in my hands – is Stax. The Japanese have been building electrostatic headphones since the early 1960s, and those who want to buy one have to be prepared for more significant expenses. Not only does the entry-level “cheap” model cost 500 euros, but you also need a power supply unit for a similar price. Electrostatic devices are exotic for big wallets. The constructions are also significant; the rectangular surfaces need space for headphones and speakers. A constant flow of current creates an electrostatic attraction between so-called charged stators and the membrane on the technical side.
Electret headphones don’t need this because they use a dielectric material to maintain a quasi-permanent voltage and thus maintain electrostatic attraction. “Quasi” because there are losses over time, and this attraction becomes weaker and weaker, to the point where the headphones simply don’t do anything anymore. It takes a while, sometimes Stax-Electrets from the 80s still do their job. So this is not something that you have to worry about much here now.
More importantly, pure electrostatics or electrets have significant problems with bass reproduction. Solving these is the high art of the headphone maker and why these devices are often a bit more expensive – the “good” Stax is in the middle four-digit range. The Asus set avoids this problem by being a hybrid: You have a neodymium membrane, which you find everywhere for bass reproduction and an electret construction for mids and highs. Unfortunately, that seems to be a sporadic mix. I found an AKG K340 that tried this mix 20 years ago. With relatively moderate success, there are a few enthusiasts, but only if the AKG has been modded. Otherwise, the bass was rather muddy, and the treble dropped early. At least that’s how they say, have.
Back to the ROG Theta Electret. You can see when you remove the cushion – which is done quickly but turns into a lot of fiddling when you put it on – the round neodymium bass driver at the bottom and the typically rectangular electret membrane at the top behind the plastic grille. This is certainly not the size of a Stax listener but is only responsible for part of the sound. Unfortunately, the set could not be entirely opened because it was not only screwed but also glued. They wanted to make sure that nobody gets too close to the sensitive electret membrane, maybe better that way.
The cable is rather unusual. Not that it is wrapped in textile. Unfortunately, that happens too often and scrapes shirt collars as ever. No, the analog connection itself does not split into two jacks, one for output and one for input. Instead, you only have a combination jack, which is an advantage on cell phones or the DualShock – not that the set would sound like anything, but it works. Otherwise, rather than that, I had to buy a splitter cable to operate the Theta Electret on any sound card. It didn’t cost much now, eight euros, but that’s one more reason that it should belong in the much too big box from the outset as an essential accessory.
Asus Theta Electret Headset: The setup determines the sound – and is anything but easy.
This is where things got complicated. As I said at the beginning, just forget about the jack output on the laptop. Forget a 50 Euro external sound card. It works, the sound is solid, but the mix of the sound doesn’t get going. The bass driver doesn’t get going, and the rest remains flat and lifeless. You should have a decent card like one of those Essence cards mentioned or an excellent old Sound Blaster ZxR. Minimum. I got better results with dedicated headphone amplifiers like the little musical Fidelity and the headphone output of decent amplifiers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an Asus Essence One or one of its successors here, but I suppose they have more than enough power to get the Electret going.
But even with devices that are comparable in themselves in similar price ranges – for example, the Musical Fidelity vs. a Project Head-Box 2 – with very different results, quite apart from very different device classes. In this respect, I can save myself from analyzing individual music or sound examples universally because the theta electret at another source simply sounds too different to keep any statement relevant, unless you are using precisely this source.
The bandwidth I had, in the end, ranged from unusable – cheap sound cards – to interesting with weaknesses – Project Head-Box and astonishingly a borrowed Teac DU-505 – to brilliant. I had the latter on the musical Fidelity, my old Sony TA-F 870ES, and, most importantly, the Sound Blaster ZxR. Unfortunately, while the other devices displayed the highs and mids brilliantly and thus played out the strength of the electret driver, the bass ratio simply did not fit. The bass was simply not there, and even with equalizer tutoring, it just couldn’t be balanced out properly.
But also, with the other three devices, it quickly became apparent that thunder-bass is not the strength of Theta Electret, at least not in the sense of the usual gaming headsets. I have rarely heard such a clear, but at the same time almost non-existent, bass sound as on this set. It is the sheer brilliance of a live thunder, in which a higher being turned the control down so far that nobody feels disturbed. Not even the listener himself. The curve shows a dramatic, clearly audible drop in the lower Hz numbers. This is a bit surprising because, actually, the neodymium bass driver shouldn’t have any problems or even exaggerate if that were the goal. But apparently, they wanted to completely simulate the sound behavior of electrostatic headphones, and so this is not a listener for people who like bass. I don’t like bass that exaggerates, but to be honest, this is a little too little, even in the best-case technical scenarios above. Only with an excellent old hi-fi equalizer did I get where I wanted to go. But that’s a lot of effort to tease out a few more basses.
Asus Theta Electret Headset: Shallowest depth, highest heights
In addition, I only got these results myself with the synthetic leather upholstery. Since these quickly became too warm for me, I switched to the comfortable fabric upholstery, and I’ve never heard such a dramatic difference between the two materials. The light fabric cushions seem to directly absorb the bass and keep it to itself. There were practically no lower frequencies. The imitation leather version appears to reflect this to the ear and pack it where it should be. For an hour or so, because then my ears just fell off, it got so warm. And no, these tests took place before it was summering outside. Now, to endure the faux leather of the Electret at 35 degrees? Simply unthinkable. This headset is a tough case no matter how you turn, turn, connect, or equip it.
On the other side of the sound spectrum, you have pure joy. An unbelievably wide soundstage opens up to the crystal clear mids and highs, which are pure joy. So if the whole space around the ears in the huge mussels wasn’t in vain, the Theta Electret could even compete with far more expensive hi-fi battleships here. I used it to play a few MS-DOS classics with midi sound, and the result was so brilliant that I knelt on the floor and wept with happiness. Not really, but it was perfect. Orientation in modern games is no less good. The boom of the explosions in a Destiny 2 or CoD: Black Ops 4 may be missing, but you can hear precisely the directions.
All directions. Steps, explosions, distances can be easily assessed. Of course, it is also not exact surround in the sense of dedicated speakers, but the clarity and brilliance of the mids and highs help you with practically all game-relevant things. And if something does explode, at least the bass doesn’t bother … I can’t gloss over it. Sure, if you want to play better and rely on sounds to orientate yourself better, catch opponents, or be warned in good time, there is hardly a better set.
For music and film, then, I really can’t get much out of theta electret. In almost every type of music, the soft bass curve is so important that something is simply missing, and everything sounds somehow incomplete. It is no different with films. A pure talkie like Frost / Nixon works excellent, but inception just loses with a lean bass. I’ve tried many non-gaming things with a lot of setups with the Theta Electret, but I was never delighted in the end.
But where the theta electret won again was communication. We live in a time of virtual press events, I had a few more slack and zoom calls across the globe than usual, and with each of them, the other side understood me crystal clear, even if without too much dynamism, as I was told. Recording tests seem to confirm this, but ambient noise is filtered well. Only the very loud typing on clattering mechanical keys was too much and still got through quickly. On the other hand, breathing noises remain on my side when I push the conveniently positioned microphone a little lower without significantly changing the quality of the speech. It may not be the best mic on the market, but it does its job very conscientiously and solidly. Only the control for the mute is surprising: While the rest of the work was almost flawless, here you have one of the haptically cheapest slide switches of all time.
Asus Theta Electret Headset: What Are the Competitors?
Well … there aren’t any. At least not directly comparable. AKG had something ages ago, but that’s a question from eBay and a lot of patience to find one. The K340 is so old and obscure. Then there are Stax and other purely electrostatic headphones, but these are not headsets either, and their price is entirely different.
On the other hand, you have tons of gaming headsets in all price ranges. Here the Beyerdynamic MMX 300 would be a competitor in terms of price for around 300 euros. Sennheiser’s GSP 550 is equipped with 7.1 for 250 euros, and there are dozens more. All of them have to live without the brilliant highs and mids of an electret solution, but they have to offer sensible bass. So yes, in its eccentric existence as an exotic, Theta Electret is essentially the only one on the market.
Asus ROG Theta Electret Headset Review Conclusion – They built it because they could.
I’ve rarely struggled with a set like that. I wanted to love it and for months kept throwing new technology on it to say: “You can do that, I know that you can do that, you can make me an electret believer! ” But it wasn’t meant to be. Sure, the brilliance and breadth of the high and mid-range are unmatched in this price range, but the sound spectrum goes down, and I have the choice between almost nothing, but my ears can live – fabric upholstery – or not much, and my ears fall off – synthetic leather. For nearly 300 euros, that’s honestly the point at which I have to put my arms down. If you have the chance to borrow the set when your setup offers plenty of options for good correction and high output, then you can get something like a holistic and then also an excellent sound image out of the theta electret. But to be honest, that’s a little too much effort for a perhaps slightly better result than good listeners with average drivers deliver.
I have no idea if anyone at Asus believes in this technology and wants to improve it for a Theta Electret 2.0, but somehow I can’t imagine that. Instead, it feels like a quirky vanity project from a tinkerer who may have been a fan of the old AKG. It definitely has its strengths, but the compromises in construction hold it back, and deciding whether I want to die of heat or have no bass is, unfortunately, the death knell for me for a headset that I wanted to love at all costs, but easily could not.