Reviewed: September 9, 2004
Thereís no doubt about it, the Xbox Live community is thriving and here to stay, and along with it comes plenty of possibilities for third-party hardware. One of the core components of Xbox Live is the Communicator, or the headset that you use to communicate with other players online. While I have no real problems with Microsoftís headset (the one that comes in your Xbox Live Starter Kit) or any of the other headsets Iíve tested in the past few years from other manufacturers, one thing has always been constant. Iíve had to put something on my head.
Nyko has risen to the challenge of delivering a heads-free communication device that fits any dual-port Xbox controller. While this still doesnít resolve my problems using a wireless controller (that doesnít have those ports) the Nyko SpeakerCom is a fairly clever device that fits a certain niche in the online gaming world.
Aesthetics - 7
The SpeakerCom is a tiny device, only slightly bigger than the Communicator module that came with your Microsoft headset. In fact, you will need that module to make this device work. The module plugs into the SpeakerCom and that assembly then plugs into your controller.
The device is molded in black and transparent green. The mute button is a slightly different shade of green and a green and red LED indicates your mute status. A small orange dial on the left side controls the volume and a pair of triggers, one on each side of the SpeakerCom, serve as your mic activation. More on that in a minute.
Durability - 9
The SpeakerCom is small, light, and very solid. The only thing that you might ever break would be the talk switch, but you would have to mash them really hard or perhaps step on your controller if left on the floor. This device is built to last.
Performance - 6
Does the SpeakerCom do what itís supposed to? Yes. Does it do it right? Not exactly. With the exception of a few games that require you to press a controller button to talk, most online games keep the mic open at all times allowing you to freely chat while you play. I can spend hours playing ESPN NFL 2K5 and catching up with friends while moving the ball downfield. I can issue orders to my men in Rainbow Six 3 offline or plot elaborate strategies with my human team online.
The SpeakerCom mucks this all up by requiring you to push and hold the talk trigger while speaking (same principle as a walkie-talkie). This means that whenever I want to talk either my left or right index finger is going to leave a potentially important button on the controller. Even worse, on games where you are required to use a controller button to speak (like the white button), you are going to have to coordinate two button presses at the same time. Not only is this counter-productive, it just screws up most any game you might want to play with the SpeakerCom. And donít try to tape down or use a rubber band on those talk triggers because when you are talking the speaker is disabled.
Now assuming you can overlook this major design flaw, the SpeakerCom delivers a surprisingly powerful sound for such a small speaker. People in the next room will hear the four-letter trash talking banter if you crank this sucker up. Naturally, the SpeakerCom offers none of the privacy afforded by a headset. If anyone is in the same room they are going to be privy to your conversations. And from what people on the ďother endĒ tell me, the microphone does a good job picking up my voice, (and anyone else in the room) even at normal conversation levels.
Value - 6
At $24.99 the SpeakerCom is coming in right around where a good headset would cost. I suppose if you have a hang-up about having something on your head, or your ears are sensitive then this is the device you have been waiting for. For me, the SpeakerCom performs less than adequately when compared to those similarly priced headsets. It might get the job done for casual conversation but it loses any potential value when you try to play a game.
Overall Ė 6.5
When I first heard of the SpeakerCom I had high hopes for something innovative that would replace my headset, and while Nykoís speaker and mic combo does everything it sets out to do, the lack of a voice-activated microphone (or just a mic that is open all the time) is a deal-breaker for this gamer. My trigger fingers are too valuable to be feathering a talk switch at the expense of tossing a grenade or firing a few rounds from my M4.
After using the SpeakerCom for several weeks in games ranging from action, strategy, racing, and sports, I found myself talking less and less, especially with people I didnít know. And when I did play with people on my friendsí list I simply reverted back to my headset so I could keep an open channel without interrupting the gameplay.
And that's my biggest complaint; the SpeakerCom actually discourages conversations. Casual gamers might get a kick out of this clever device, but anyone who takes their online gaming seriously should probably avoid, at least until they redesign the unit for heads-free and hands-free communication.