The gaming headset market is seriously heating up, with the likes of SteelSeries having recently revamped its Arctis series, and companies like Sennheiser and HyperX continuing to launch great products. But there are still other competitors out there — like, for example, Dell’s Alienware, which recently unveiled the new Dell Alienware AW988 headset.
Of course, Dell is no stranger to gaming with the Alienware brand — but while the brand is top-of-the-like when it comes to gaming computers, you may not think of it for gaming headsets right away.
Does the Dell Alienware AW988 truly go up against the likes of SteelSeries and HyperX? We put the new headset to the test to find out.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Alienware AW988 is its design, and it’s quite a nice-looking headset. It’s sleek, with a nice rubberized finish, plus it’s solidly built with premium materials. There’s not much color on the headset — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially those that prefer a sleek look to a colorful one.
While you can tell that the headset is designed for gaming, it could also be very easily used for day-to-day use — though for things like smartphone use, you will need to use the headset with the included cable. That’s because of the fact that the headset only really works in wireless mode with the small USB adapter — you can’t connect the headset to your phone or computer through their built-in Bluetooth.
As you would expect from a gaming headset, the Alienware AW988 features a microphone arm, but it folds up nicely for when you don’t need it, which we quite like. On the bottom of the left ear cup, you’ll get a MicroUSB port, aux port, and tuner button, while the Alienware logo on that left ear cup acts as the power button.
On the bottom of the right ear cup, there appears to be a big hole — but it’s actually a spot to put the USB dongle when you’re not using the headset in wireless mode. The dongle clicks in satisfyingly, and is easy to remove when you need it.
The headset is clearly made from premium materials, which means it should last for years to come if you take care of it. There’s memory foam in the ear cups, and while there isn’t a ton of metal, it’s there where it counts, and the plastic used is strong and well-built.
In the box, apart from the headset itself, you’ll also get the wireless dongle, a MicroUSB charging cable, and an aux cable. There’s no case or bag here, but most won’t need one anyway.
Gaming headsets need to be comfortable — and thankfully this one is. As mentioned, there’s memory foam in the ear cups, and while there’s not quite as much padding in the head band, it’s still plenty comfortable.
Perhaps the only downside to the comfort level of the Alienware AW988 headphones is the fact that they have a relatively hard clamp. You’ll get used to that — we were able to wear the headset for hours on end without too many issues — but it’s still something to note. The headset is also a little heavier than some others, though not much.
Apart from that, we found the Alienware AW988 headset to be very comfortable. You’ll easily be able to wear it for hours on end, which is good news for when you’re getting stuck into a new game.
The sound performance of the Alienware AW988 headset is relatively good, though there are a few quirks to it.
For starters, the bass response is nice and thick. What that means is that it should offer plenty of oomph to explosions and gunshots, while during music listening, things like kick drums and bass guitars are heavy and powerful.
The mid range is slightly strangely tuned. The low mids are relatively warm, but they’re seriously overshadowed by the high mids, which shine through the mix far more prominently. That’s especially true in the “gaming” tuning — but that may be a good thing. After all, it’ll help things like your teammates’ voices shine through and be easily heard.
The high end is really well-tuned and crisp. Cymbals shine through easily, while vocal sibilance helps give vocals a nice shine to them. If you’re looking for a headset with plenty of detail and clarity, these are perhaps the way to go.
In general, the Alienware AW988 sounds great. It’s nice that you can tweak the sound profile a little with the EQ button, and you might want to do so — though the tuning that you land on may not line up with what you’re doing all the time. Safe to say, the Alienware 988 can easily go up against other gaming headsets, even at this price.
The headset connects to your computer a little differently than other wireless headsets, but we found that it was able to retain a good connection as long as you’re relatively close to your computer. When it comes to battery life, the headset is a little under some of the competition. The headset has a battery life of 15 hours, and when compared to the likes of the SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth, which has 28 hours of battery life, it’s not the best. Still, if you’re relatively good at ensuring that your devices stay charged up, it likely won’t run out of battery often.
The microphone built into gaming headsets may not always be the best, but the microphone on the Alienware AW988 isn’t bad. We would recommend buying a dedicated microphone for things like recording podcasts or Let’s Play videos, but the microphone on this headset is adequate for in-game use.
The Alienware AW988 may be pricey with its $200 price tag, but for those looking for a great-sounding headset it may be worth the cash — and it’s still far below headsets like the $330 SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless.
Is it the best option in this price range? Well, perhaps so. If, however, you’re willing to spend a little more cash, you might get a better headset. In particular, the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC doesn’t offer wireless support, but it’s more comfortable, lighter, and also sounds very good. The real competition, however, may come in the form of the SteelSeries Arctis 7, which offers wireless support, SteelSeries’ top comfort level, and better battery life. It may not be quite as crisp in the high-end, but ultimately we think it’s a better option.
Still, that doesn’t make the Alienware AW988 headset a bad option. In fact, because of its great sound-quality, we’re awarding the headset the Headphone Review Bronze Medal.
|Frequency response||20Hz – 20kHz||Active noise cancellation
|Driver size||40mm||Noise attenuation||No|
|Sensitivity||Unknown||Earpad material||Memory foam|
|Total harmonic distortion
|Rated input power
||Unknown||Battery life||1,200mAh (14 Hours)|
|Maximum input power
||Yes||Cable length||1.2m (4ft)|