When it comes to gaming hardware, style has to follow substance, not the other way around. The hardware has to work well before it can look good, or it's not worth the money you pay. Cougar's Phontum gaming headset, then, ought to sound stellar, because I legitimately love the way it looks. But at its $50 price point, we're down into the budget range of gaming gear. Functionality is already a dice roll. We were pleased with the similarly-priced Corsair HS50 headset some time back, so how does Cougar's entry stand up for the cash?
Style and build
The Phontums are a great-looking pair of headphones. Appearance is always going to be subjective, but Cougar's style does it for me here.
The black-and-orange color scheme whispers "gamer" rather than screaming it, while the general style calls to mind high-end headphones rather than headsets. The big, cushy earcups look comfortable and soft, and the grille work on the outside of the earcups gives them a nice audiophile look.
The headset turns into a bit of a mixed bag when you pick it up. The Phontums' material choices are fingerprint-resistant and feel durable. The headband is made of some pretty substantial metal that feels like it won't break unless you really work on it, and the headband is all one piece of material onto which the earcups clamp. That means there aren't a bunch of swivels or other fiddly bits to break off.
The earcups, however, are made of a sealed leatherette material that gets sweaty with prolonged use. There's a secondary set of earcups that you can lock onto the headphones in place of the default cups, but they're just the same material with less cushioning instead of a different (and more breathable) material. They are quite easy to swap, though.
While I appreciate the durable feel of the headband, the orange cushioning on it is just barely thick enough to be comfortable, though the material does feel soft and wasn't painful to wear. The downside of the simple headband-and-earcup-mounting system is its lack of conformance to one's head. It'll flex inward and outward enough for just about any size noggin, but that's about all the comfort customization you get.
The earcups themselves have just enough swivel to work with, but you're not going to be laying them flat on your shoulders between gaming sessions. It's possible to adjust the vertical position of the earcups on the headband, but there's no way to lock that adjustment into place.
The detachable mic bends on the same metal gooseneck-style boom that we see on many other headsets, and it holds its position well. The headphone cord has a tangle-resistant nylon wrap, and console gamers will appreciate that the cord is only about 3' long. PC gamers will want to make use of the included 6' extension cord, though.
Cougar made a weird ergonomic decision with its extender. Wired headsets usually feature an adapter to turn the four-pole jack into discrete mic and headphone cords for use with PCs, but these adapters add maybe 8" to the overall length of the cord. The extension cord also serves as the adapter here, and it triples as the home of the Phontum's in-line controls. That means the control unit will sit in your lap while you're playing instead of in your chest region. The control unit doesn't have any kind of shirt clip, either.