Cambridge is home to a famous university, several colleges and a number of prestigious businesses. But is its supply of modern tech as great as its tradition? Our Mystery Shopper searches for a PC headset priced between £40 and £60…
"Good morning,” rang the greeting as I walked into Maplins. I smiled at the cashier, looked around and quickly found the aisle I was looking for – PC and Console Gaming.
Models started at £11 for an Xbox 360 headset and topped out at the £170 Sennheiser PC 350, with headsets clearly divided into console and PC selections.
Having barely scanned the shelves, with no clue how to decide which headset would be best for me, a Maplin employee popped up and asked if he could help.
I explained that I was after a headset, and he called his colleague over, assuring me that she was the person to talk to. The fact that he didn’t try to patronise me and fob me off by pretending to know was refreshing.
His colleague was even more impressive. She didn’t bombard me with buzzwords, but instead asked what the headset was for and what my budget was.
“I recommend Corsair products to most people,” she said, explaining that a bigger budget didn’t necessarily mean a massive jump in quality, other than a slight increase in mic fidelity, and that design and comfort preference should be my first buying focus.
The staff were friendly, knowledgeable, and cleared up all of my confusion. The range was excellent and prices seemed fair and varied enough to suit most consumers. I was particularly impressed that I was immediately referred to the best person for the job.
CURRYS/PC WORLD MEGASTORE 9/10
I gazed around the massive store, looking for the headset row.
A staff member strolled up and offered his help. I explained what I was after and he instantly pointed out the separate sections for standard headphones, gaming headsets and general use PC headsets.
“Which are you after?” he said. I replied that I was after a headset for general use, including games and movies.
“You’ll probably want a gaming headset then,” he said, guiding me down the row. As we walked he explained the advantages and price range of each type of headset.
He asked for my budget and told me that £60 was probably unnecessary to spend, relative to jumps in quality.
“I’d recommend the Roccat Kave 5.1 myself,” he said.
He told to me to ask if I needed more help and left me to examine the boxes. The range was expansive, from an £11 Creative headset up to the £250 Monster Inspiration Titanium. Many of the products were on sale, and two sets were available to try with a sports game demo.
The headphones row was equally impressive. Confusingly, a few headsets with mics were with the headphones, but were absent from the headset aisle.
Super helpful and honest, the customer assistant made looking at headsets easy and enjoyable – and his enthusiasm for the technology was contagious.
Although the only staff member was serving another customer as I walked in, he immediately turned his attention to me and offered his help when he had finished.
I had already scanned the rack of headsets – which consisted almost entirely of Turtle Beach products – and promptly asked him whether they had any products from other brands.
“We largely do Turtle Beach,” he replied. “But we have some Tritton products too.”
Many of the Turtle Beach products were on sale, with the X12 down from £50 to £35. The Tritton model was the Trigger Stereo Headset for Xbox 360, also on sale at £36.
“I have the PX22 myself,” my assistant said, when I asked if he had a recommendation. “I love it, and tell all my friends to get it.”
The PX22 was the most expensive headset, but his enthusiasm and knowledge seemed genuine, explaining how the headset was MLG approved and “top of the mid-range”.
His enthusiasm and friendliness continued as we chatted casually about gaming; it never felt like he was just buttering me up for a sale.
With lots of Turtle Beach stock, but a limited range of other brands, GAME was excellent for friendly and knowledgeable customer service, but I struggled to know whether I would be better off with another headset brand.
JOHN LEWIS 6/10
John Lewis was, as I expected, packed with customers. I fought through to the Audio and Visual section, and began to scan for headsets.
Headphones were easy to find– ranging from the £12 Logitech h110 to £300 for the Sennheiser MM450-X, Bose QC151I and Bose QC3II – but what about finding a headset with a mic? I struggled, eventually finding some scattered among the ‘Computer Mice’ section. The most impressive looking set was the Logitech h540, but they were lacking a price tag.
Having been ignored by the gathered chatting staff members, I approached one and asked if they had any other headsets. He did seem to know that the choice was lacking, and looked up the missing price of the h540 – £45.
He told me to check online to see if John Lewis had any more, and then suggested that perhaps contacting PC World or Logitech itself might be more helpful for me.
With limited range and the suggestion to look elsewhere, this John Lewis shopping experience didn’t match the clear and neat presentation of its store.
HMV, like the Currys/PC World store, had a long and varied row of headphones to try on – ranging from £12 Hello Kitty headphones up to £350 Beats Pro.
I walked around the headphones, desperately searching for a headset.
Eventually I wandered into the gaming aisle. It took several walks up and down for me to notice there were some headsets – seemingly dumped on the floor.
Within the Xbox 360 section sat a single £50 Sennheiser x320 headset. On the PS3 side there was a slightly bigger range consisting of a pair of products – the 4gamers CP-N2 for £50 and the Pulse PS3 headset, which was knocked down to £80 from £130.
As the customer assistant in the headphones section had disappeared by the time I found the headsets, I asked for help at the till. The woman explained that they were lacking stock because the impending launch of next-gen consoles meant distributors weren’t supplying them with PS3 and Xbox 360 accessories, and that I should wait for a resurgence in products in mid-November. But considering I was looking for a headset that day, that was hardly the news I wanted to hear.
With only three products, which seemed to have just been abandoned in the gaming aisle, HMV’s headset offerings were a little disappointing. The cashier did explain why stock was lacking, but that didn’t help me in my quest for a headset.