You've all seen (and no doubt poked fun at) the official diagram for Hori's Switch voice chat headset, and you may well have tried out the rather irksome, smartphone-based voice chat system Nintendo has created for its leading console. For the full experience you really need one of Hori's headsets, which come complete with an in-line remote for controlling audio and a mic which is built-into the headset, enabling voice comms with other teammates.
Hori's cheaper and more abundant headset, the Gaming Headset Air Stereo, arrived in Nintendo Life Towers this week and we've been putting it through its paces to see if this wired nightmare really is as bad as we'd expected. (Spoiler: lots of wires are involved.)
Retailing for around £30, the Gaming Headset Air Stereo is a little less visually alluring than the more expensive Empera Hook HDP / Splat & Chat Headset Hori released to coincide with Splatoon 2. It's made from plain black plastic and has foam earpieces. The band is adjustable and the speaker units can be folded inwards, presumably so you can wear them around your neck more comfortably when not in a game. On the left-hand earpiece there's a microphone mounted on a metal arm which can be twisted, bent and generally manipulated so you have the perfect distance between your mouth and the mic.
As we've already established, this headset isn't wireless. A cord from the headphones ends in a standard 3.5mm audio jack so you can, if you wish, use them as an ordinary pair of headphones. However, the magic happens when you introduce the bundled in-line remote, which takes the audio from the Switch itself and the voice chat from your smartphone and runs them both through the headset. In the opposite direction, your voice is piped through the cable to your phone and the other members of your team.
The remote includes a switch for toggling your mic on and off as well as separate volume dials for game and voice chat audio. Also including in the box is a second extender lead, which allows you to use the headset when your Switch is in docked mode, next to your TV. It's worth noting that if you're an iPhone 7 user then you'll need to dig out that fiddly 3.5mm headset adapter as the Hori headset can't connect to your phone without it.
When you've got all of the wires plugged in and voice chat is up and running, it does feel a little odd to have so many wires dangling everywhere – even if you're a child of the '90s and remember the days before everything went wireless, it's a strange and rather restrictive sensation. Every movement runs the risk of tangling or pulling the cables, and if you need to get up for a toilet break, you'd better make sure you extract yourself fully from the jungle of wires which cover most of your body - if not, you run the risk of dragging your Switch and your expensive smartphone along the floor with you.
We've probably exaggerating that slightly, because after a while the wires cease to be a major issue, and while Nintendo seems to have over-complicated things with its Switch Online application, there's definitely something to be said for having a second screen during play. For all of its faults, the headset works well enough, and you also don't have to worry about it running out of battery power.
The key issue here is that while the setup undoubtably does what its supposed to, Nintendo has over-complicated it unnecessarily. Granted, including Bluetooth audio in the console would have increased its production cost, but the tech is so common these days that it wouldn't have broken the bank, and would have avoided the disgruntled reaction the majority of the gaming world has had towards all those wires. The entire time we spent with Hori's headset we couldn't help but wish for a solution that didn't involve so many bloody cables, and it's a real shame that Nintendo wasn't a bit bolder with this aspect of Switch.
Nintendo has stated that Hori's headsets are just one solution for voice chat on Switch, but given that the console lacks wireless audio capabilities we honestly can't see how any other device can make this process any more streamlined. Bluetooth dongles are on option, but then you've got the issue of connecting up to your smartphone at the same time to get voice chat. In short, the setup Nintendo has chosen means using voice chat on the console is always going to be something of a pain; perhaps an updated Switch system will solve this problem in the not-too-distant future.