It’s not every day that a gaming headset comes along that can surprise you.
Panasonic’s new SoundSlayer Wearable Immersive Gaming Speaker System (WIGSS) isn’t a headset in the traditional sense, but it does subvert expectations — the marketing is a bit much and problematic. While the neck speaker design has already been done by brands like Bose and Sony, it’s certainly novel in the gaming space. But even for that, it’s clear the technology isn’t ready yet. Panasonic expects you to make many compromises to enjoy it, which ultimately doesn’t deliver a great experience.
Announced in August and launched in October for $200, the SoundSlayer WIGSS speaker is compatible with virtually all modern game consoles and PC. The low-impedance (6Ω) device uses a four-speaker array, with two speakers on each side, for surround sound; there’s also a pair of microphones for online chat.
The horseshoe design looks bulky, but it’s actually lightweight and comfortable to wear for long periods; two large rubber pads on either side keep it in place on your shoulders even as you stretch or move around. It’s a weird speaker that attracts attention (it got ours!), but there’s one big caveat.
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Hope you like wires
If you’re waiting for the hammer drop, here it is: the SoundSlayer WIGSS is not wireless. You need to plug in its non-removable USB cable to the device you’re connecting to. The USB cable provides power and transmits audio. (At least the cable is braided, which is important to me, a person with three cats who just love to chew on cables for fun.) Also, the cable is fairly long at 4.9 feet (1.5 meters), so it’s not like you have to be within arms reach of the connected device. Still, that’s no excuse. With so many wireless headsets available, dealing with one cable is enough of a pain. My PC is to my right, but the cable is on the left side of the speaker, which meant having a long cable draped across my body as I played; it was frustrating. But it gets worse for Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S users.
For some reason, connecting to an Xbox via the USB only powers the SoundSlayer WIGSS; you need an additional aux cable to relay sound. That’s a dealbreaker in my opinion, especially on the Xbox Series S, which only has one front-facing USB port. When I wanted to use a wired controller, like Razer’s Wolverine V2, I had to make a choice between the two. Yes, the Xbox has USB ports on the back, but who wants to go back there all the time? It’s annoying if your console is cozy in a media cabinet. While an aux cable is included, there’s no way I’m using a personal speaker with two cables. As an Xbox Series S owner, the compromise is not worth it.
I would be more forgiving of the wires if the SoundSlayer WIGSS was priced like a budget wired headset ($100 or under). But it’s not — the SoundSlayer WIGSS is $200. For the money, Panasonic should have made it wireless, while offering wired as an option for higher fidelity sound/lower latency.
It gets one thing right
The SoundSlayer WIGSS’s saving grace is sound quality, but there’s a jumbo-sized asterisk that comes with it. When you’re playing a game at around 50 percent volume or louder, it really does feel like you have a surround sound system in your house.
I could hear footsteps approaching and voices shifting from side to side as I walked around in games. Sound booms as if it’s all around you. In games like Back 4 Blood, I could pick up distinct sounds and their approximate location amidst the chaos, such as zombies growling nearby, gunshots, or my teammates speaking.
“To me, every mode sounds almost exactly the same.
The downside is that the surround sound effect is dramatically reduced at lower volumes. At high volumes, though, I was able to hear the speaker in my living room from my bedroom that’s about 16 feet away (even with the door closed). There’s no way around the sound disturbing others (partner, roommates, pets, etc.) — they’re open-style speakers after all.
While Panasonic does deliver on surround sound immersion, the different audio modes, which are supposed to enhance different types of content, don’t. The SoundSlayer WIGSS has three gaming modes (FPS, RPG, and Voice) as well as cinema, music, and stereo modes for enjoying non-gaming content. To me, every mode sounds almost exactly the same. Whether it was a shooter with RPG mode or an RPG with FPS mode, the difference in audio tuning quality is so unnoticeable that I didn’t find it worth switching modes at all.
As much as possible, I tried to match modes with the right genre of games, but again, they all sounded similar. RPG mode is the default; FPS mode has a bit more bass, most likely to make explosions and other loud sounds pop; Voice mode seems to boost mids and highs to make voices sound clearer and rise above other audio elements. Judging by Panasonic’s repeated mention of Final Fantasy XIV Online in its marketing materials, the SoundSlayer WIGSS was perhaps designed for MMORPGs.
The SoundSlayer WIGSS was co-developed with the sound design team that works on Final Fantasy XIV Online; the three gaming modes are supposedly tuned for the game. According to Panasonic, the speaker is “optimized for use with Final Fantasy XIV Online” and it “provides an unparalleled audio experience within the world of Hydaelyn.” So, of course, I downloaded the game and tested the various modes.
I switched between the three different gaming modes, but I couldn’t pick up on significant audio differences, especially in RPG mode. Voice mode produced clearer dialogue (of which there is a lot) but it’s not like the voice acting was muddled to begin with. I did the same with New World, another MMORPG, switching between modes to look for audible differences. Again, I couldn’t find any. The amount of spatial depth you get with the WIGSS was about the same in both games.
My main issue is that RPG mode doesn’t seem to provide any meaningful audible boost as Panasonic claims. I compared RPG mode to FPS mode, which Panasonic claims “provides accurate audio location.” FPS mode does provide precise audio location, but I wouldn’t say it’s more accurate than RPG mode, both of which I tested in Apex Legends.
With all the mentions of the Final Fantasy XIV Online in marketing materials, there’s no specifics of how exactly the neck speaker is “optimized” for it. When I reached out to Panasonic, the company said, “the sound modes, although created through joint development with Square Enix, are not specific to any game.” This muted response doesn’t inspire much confidence in the sound mode tunings.
Listening to music with the SoundSlayer WIGSS is also not always ideal. I hooked up the SoundSlayer WIGSS via the USB cable to my computer and specifically played Kanye West’s “Blame Game,” which has a section where sound fades from the left to the right channel. When the song got to that section, the single-channel parts were removed entirely from the audio. It’s strange that this device can play multi-channel content but not single-audio channels. It was even more puzzling when I changed the sound mode to stereo, which should have sent separate signals to both the left and right sides of the speaker. Connecting the aux cable to my computer fixed the issue, but it’s one more tick in the cons column for me. I enjoyed using the speaker to listen to music at first, but I stopped after finding out I needed both cables to do so.
Headsets are still king
I wanted the SoundSlayer WIGSS to knock the socks off of me, if only because the form factor is so interesting.
With a hefty $200 price, wired experience (two for some devices), and sound modes that don’t feel like they actually enhance many games, you’re better off sticking with a pair of gaming headphones. Don’t get me wrong: the personal surround sound experience does deliver to a certain extent, but it’s not a replacement for a real surround system or even a soundbar with Dolby Atmos support.
The SoundSlayer WIGSS is outdated on arrival.
Sony released a wireless neck speaker two years ago for the same price, and — unsurprisingly — it flopped. But at least there’s a new version with Dolby Atmos and 360 audio support. Unfortunately, for Panasonic, the SoundSlayer WIGSS is outdated on arrival. The only thing the SoundSlayer WIGSS slayed was my hopes of it being a worthy alternative to gaming headsets.