Asus ROG Delta S headphones review

hcc_recommendedWhy should gamers have all the fun? These MQA-enabled headphones are good for more than just a Call of Duty session, says Steve May

High-quality Hi-Fi headphones or gaming cans? The idea behind Asus's ROG Delta S is that you can have both.

You might reasonably think the two hobbies are odd bedfellows, but this collab between Asus and MQA (Master Quality Assured) brings them together, potentially making the idea of a single pair of headphones to serve both not as preposterous as one might think.

Key to this synergy is the release of a new codec by ESS, the ES9281PRO. This low- powered USB solution features 'QUAD DAC' technology, which mean its four parallel DACs are each assigned a subset of frequencies to deal with, before they're combined to create a full-range soundstage.

Able to handle audio data rates up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, the ES9281PRO is also the first USB codec to include an integrated hardware MQA renderer. And that is very exciting news indeed.

MQA has slowly been gaining traction with audio streaming services, and promises studio- quality sound with precious little bandwidth overhead. Often described as a form of sonic origami, the MQA encoding process folds extra information into the signal, which is then recovered through a two-step unfolding process: core decoding, which is done in software, and rendering, achieved within a DAC. The ROG Delta S automatically detects an MQA stream and engages the render.

The design of these headphones is OTT gamer chic. The earcups adopt a distinctive D-shape and feature adjustable RGB lighting – you can choose from a static colour, strobing effects or rainbow swirls. This lighting isn't for you, of course. It's there to convince all your followers on Twitch that you know your fraggin' onions. As for the cups, these offer full swivel action and come with default soft leather/fabric hybrid cushions. These can be swapped for lighter alternatives, supplied, if your ears sweat. The headband, meanwhile, is light and fully padded.

Overall build quality is average rather than exemplary, but the headphones are perfectly comfortable and light for over-ears at 300g.

For gaming chit-chat, a microphone clicks into place on the left cup, which is also home to physical volume and lighting controls.

The headphones feature a captive USB-C cable, and ship with a USB 2.0 adaptor for hookup. This cable is relatively short at 1.5m, which indicates that these are envisaged as a PC gaming accessory.

Detailed Delivery
So, would you really choose gaming headphones when you want to listen to music? I reckon so. The ROG Delta S offer exceptional stereo imaging with a sharp (but not sibilant) edge that finds detail across the band. Mötley Crüe's Kickstart My Heart (Amazon Music HD) roars like a Harley tearing up Interstate 405. Wild riffing and talkbox complement rather than clash, and there's pace and musicality to the staging.

The 50mm drivers in each earcup are tilted up by 12 degrees, ostensibly to better align with the natural angle of your ears, and maybe this ability to focus goes some way to explaining the precision of their imaging.

Blur's Britpop classic Parklife, an MQA Master on Tidal, proves a beguiling listen. Damon Albarn's stroppy vocals on the title track sound entirely naturalistic.

If these have an achilles heel, it's a lack of bass. Hans Zimmer's insistent electro homage 1984, from the Wonder Woman 1984 soundtrack (Tidal Master), should land deep and resonate, but doesn't. Similarly, the Interstellar OST (Tidal Master) is suspiciously devoid of deep impact.

So let's be clear: these are not audiophile-grade. They are, however, appealingly multifunctional and confound expectations. MQA support sets them apart from rivals, the sound has admirable clarity and stereophonic imagery, and they're comfortable and inexpensive. And who wouldn't headphones with cool lights on?.

HCC Verdict

Asus ROG Delta S

Price: £190

We say: These MQA-enabled headphones are a good proposition for gamers and music fans alike, offering super detail and separation.

Overall: 4/5


DRIVERS: 2 x 50mm Asus Essence drivers with neodymium magnet CONNECTIONS: Wired USB-C/USB 2.0 BLUETOOTH: No Noise cancelling: No WEIGHT: 300g

FEATURES: ES9218PRO QUAD DAC; MQA compatible (renderer); virtual 7.1 via free Armory Crate app; multi-color RGB lighting; Soundwave Light mode; AI noise-cancelling microphone