Last year saw the release of the first round of headsets for the Xbox One game console. We tested and reviewed offerings from Microsoft, Turtle Beach, and Polk Audio. When it came to audio quality, the Polk 4 Shot blew us away. That was in spite of it being the new kid on the gaming headset block. The 4 Shot sounded great, but it was priced as a premium headset, and lacked some features we’ve grown to love from the competition. All of these points where the target of Polk’s next entry into the series, the Striker Zx.
Gaming headsets are so much more than a pair of headphones. They need to do a lot of things well. Of course they need to sound great, but they also need to be comfortable for long playing sessions. The microphone needs to pick up your audio well, but it can’t get in the way, and you certainly don’t want it picking up the audio of your entire room. They also need to be built strong enough to deal with the abuse of frequent use. Polk’s Striker Zx meets some of these goals, but falls short on a couple also.
First, let’s start with the audio quality of the speakers inside of the headphones. After all, it was the audio quality that really won us over with Polk’s 4 Shot headset. With the Striker Zx it seems as if Polk was gearing this headset towards action gamers. The 40mm drivers are tuned to be balanced more towards bass. Where the 4 Shots provided deep, rich, and punchy bass mixed with clear mids and highs, the Striker is most definitely tuned to emphasize the lower end of the frequency spectrum. The surround effect didn’t sound as accurate as what we experienced with the 4 Shot either. While playing Call of Duty we could easily tell if the action was coming from the left or the right, but we couldn’t discern whether it was coming from in front of, or behind us.
The new retractable microphone is in some ways an improvement over the 4 Shot, but in other ways a disappointment. The fact that the microphone easily stores away when you don’t need it, and it retracts when you do is great! You don’t have to worry about messing with separate cables. The other huge advantage the Striker Zx has is that it has a feature called microphone monitoring. This means that the sound the microphone picks up is then fed back into the headphones for you to hear. This is a great feature to have, because if you can hear yourself it should prevent you from talking louder than you actually need to.
Microphone monitoring will prevent you from yelling into the microphone. Unfortunately, due to the microphone’s short length you’ll need to talk louder than usual for your friends to hear you clearly. While chatting with friends, they told us that they needed to turn their volume all the way up to be able to adequately hear us. That’s a huge disadvantage to this headset as one of the primary reasons for using a headset is to keep the volume of your entire gaming session low.
Durability is another important focus area for any gaming headset. The Striker’s lightweight plastic gives a worrisome first impression about how long it might actually hold up. However, the headset is surprisingly durable. You can easily grab the headphones by both ear cups and twist the entire set without fear of it snapping. While lightweight plastics tend to be thin and brittle, the material in the Striker Zx is flexible in a way that we found reassuring. We have no doubt that the headset would easily outlast much of the competition in the durability department. The plastic is also of the matte, soft-touch variety, so it won’t be covered in fingerprints and scratches after a few gaming sessions.
Comfort is the last key area to get right in a gaming headset. Many gamers like to sit down for multi-hour gaming sessions. That’s only going to work if the headset you’re wearing is very comfortable. Unfortunately this is one area where we weren’t big fans of Polk’s Striker Zx. After a little more than an hour into any gaming session the area around our ears began to get uncomfortable. It’s possible that this effect was worse for me than the usual gamer due to my head being rather large. I’m not convinced that gamers with average-sized heads wouldn’t experience the same discomfort though.
Polk was able to successfully address some of the 4 Shot’s negative aspects with the Striker Zx. The clumsy microphone situation and lack of microphone monitoring are definitely fixed in the new headset. However, the compromises they’ve created to do so have created a headset that isn’t great for actually talking to your friends. The audio quality isn’t as good as that of the 4 Shot either, but that’s to be expected of a lower price offering. Also, the sound quality is still more than good enough for most gamers. Just don’t plan to use the Striker Zx as your go-to headphones for listening to your favorite music. We really like the looks of the Striker Zx, and really dig the bright color options. It’s nice to see them offer a more toned-down black variant for customers who don’t need their headset to be the loudest item in the room though.
The Polk Audio Striker Zx headset can be had on Amazon for $89.95. Would we recommend the Striker Zx? It depends on your needs. If you’re looking for a durable headset with acceptable audio quality for shorter gaming sessions, and you either don’t plan to chat much or don’t mind needing to speak up, then it’s a good headset for you. If audio quality is incredibly important to you, and you can do without the microphone monitoring, then we’d still recommend getting Polk’s 4 Shot. Now that it’s been out a while it can be had for less than $120.
Polk Audio is clearly a company that is learning from the feedback it is receiving from its customers. While they are still relative new-comers to the gaming headset space, they continue to move forward while introducing features that their customers are asking for. While Polk Audio wasn’t able to hit a homerun with the Striker Zx, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional base hit when the team has a solid foundation. We thank Polk Audio for providing us with a review device, and we look forward to seeing what is next for the company.