Looks can definitely be deceiving. It’s easy to understand how some would think that the Audeze Penrose and Mobius are the same headphones. Both are aimed at the gaming market and share the same shell and design aesthetic and very similar drivers.
I guess one could level the same criticism against the audiophile lineup of Audeze headphones as well because on the surface, everything from the original LCD-2 to the newest LCD-5 flagship all share similar design cues.
The LCD headphones have been around long enough that generational differences do exist and we can see the evolution of the design if we look closely, but with the Audeze Penrose using exactly the same externals, the changes are harder to pick out and require a bit more time to appreciate.
Gaming or Music?
The Mobius was Audeze’s first gaming headphone and was targeted primarily at PC gamers and introduced 3D audio and head tracking to the Audeze lineup.
In games that use “look down, shoot down” technology, having a headset that tracks head movements essentially adds another controller for gamers and frees the hands for other functions which can be a huge advantage in competitive play (the concept of which still boggles my mind).
Yes — head tracking can be turned off and the surround mode as well, leaving Mobius with the option of being used as a pair of stereo wireless headphones for music and it does a good enough job that a lot of people bought Mobius to own as their primary pair of wireless headphones.
The Mobius suffers from a split personality; gamers most often use Mobius as a wired headset as Bluetooth is not reliable or fast enough to carry all the information needed while gaming, and music listeners mostly use AAC or LDAC wireless for the convenience of it.
Since the release of Mobius, the evolution of gaming headsets has seen wired give way to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connections. This provides the speed and reliability of a USB connection with the convenience of a wireless headphone.
Another issue is that games increasingly use VR glasses and whole body movement devices that tether the player to the PC or console are becoming less acceptable.
The other complaint Audeze received was that the Mobius was primarily designed for PC gaming and with none of the code baked into the PlayStation or Xbox to support the surround or head tracking features when used with consoles. In that scenario — you were limited to two channel audio support.
The Penrose and Penrose X are Audeze’s response to these changes in the market since the release of Mobius. Make no mistake, the Mobius is still around and the Penrose is not a replacement, but may be hint of things to come.
Blue Pill or Red Pill?
The Penrose is a Wi-Fi gaming headphone operating over a 2.4GHz network that provides a high bandwidth, high reliability, low latency connection between console and headphone.
The reason there are two Penrose models to select from is because of differences in the electronics needed to support the two most popular consoles. The Penrose (blue trim) is designed to work with Sony’s PlayStation 4 and 5 while the Penrose X (green trim) is designed for Microsoft’s Xbox X, S and One series.
Both are compatible with Windows PCs and Apple Mac .
Since the Penrose models were largely aimed at console gamers, the head-tracking feature was not incorporated as most consoles are incorporating that into VR headsets.
The surround functionality of Mobius was also dropped as both consoles have options for this in the base, so again this would have been a duplication and would have required coding in the game to support.
These deletions from the Mobius feature set allowed Audeze to add 2.4GHz wireless support and still price Penrose and Penrose X at $100 less than Mobius.
$100 is a big difference in price when you consider the audience.
Construction on the Penrose is mostly composite materials that help to keep weight manageable. There are reinforcements at the high stress points and the construction reflects the abuse that gaming headphones are sometimes subjected to.
Pads are easily replaced with a plastic frame that snaps into recesses in the cup for a very positive lockup. Taking into account that many gaming headsets rack up hours faster than the average headset, replaceable pads and headband pads are an important feature if the product is going to deliver longevity for the end user.
The controls are all on the left cup with the power /mode button positioned on the top front followed by the boom mic port (3.5mm), then the USB Type-C port, a 3.5mm auxiliary port, and the mic and headset volume dials.
There are a few design details that require explanation before you get all excited about using the Penrose with other products.
The mic port is recessed into the ear cup and indexed for the mic that ships with the Penrose; finding a third party replacement may be difficult.
The USB port is only for charging and firmware updates; it will not pass any audio.
All is not lost on that front because Audeze have provided other options; one can use the 3.5mm auxiliary connector, 2.4GHz Wi-Fi via USB dongle, or Bluetooth.
I found that all options worked about equally well with the best possible sound being from the 3.5mm connection connected to a DAC/amp. Using Bluetooth or wireless that relies on the internal DAC and amplifier does change the signature a bit with slightly less clarity and less detail compared to the 3.5mm directly from something like the Kann Alpha or Questyle CMA15.
Audeze noted that even the 3.5mm jack passes through the DAC and amp inside the Penrose so, either improvements were due to using a different source to feed it or were wishful thinking on my part.
One thing I found quite odd when using the Wi-Fi connection to a PC is that in order to take advantage of the EQ and functions in the app, the Penrose must be connected to the PC both by the wireless dongle and by a USB connection.
This seems a bit odd as apparently the dongle is an audio only device with no ability to pass data to the app. Another annoyance is the source switching as I found when listening via wireless to a PC, I could not take a phone call without first switching to Bluetooth mode and losing the connection on the PC in the process.
I have since been told that leaving the Penrose in Bluetooth mode would allow both sources and the mistake was placing it in 2.4 mode rather than leaving it in BT mode (so that one is on me, I was able to test this and prove that it did indeed function per Audeze).
The Penrose is not only the least expensive planar magnetic gaming headset on the market, it is also the least expensive Audeze model currently available so it represents the budget entry point into Audeze headphones.
But does it deliver the sonic fireworks that Audeze headphones are renown for?
Yes and no.
The transient response and layers of detail we expect from Audeze are on full display with the Penrose. The overall sonic signature is pretty balanced which I think was a smart voicing decision considering that the audience is going to use it for both gaming and music.
Planar magnetic headphones are fantastic at delivering a huge soundstage, but it’s largely absent with the Penrose.
On tracks like the Cowboy Junkies’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” the hauntingly beautiful echoes and spatial cues are noticeably absent and the lack of soundstage depth makes for some odd placement within the soundstage.
Despite the lack of soundstage size, the Penrose manages to be a good listen for a lot of synth pop, hip-hop and other genres that don’t deliver a huge soundstage for the most part. Movie content was good with little or no latency issues and good low end response when explosions and car crashes took place during the films.
I’m not a huge gamer, but in my limited time with the Penrose attached to the PS4 it performed quite admirably and was a considerable step ahead of any of the gaming headphones I had on hand with the possible exception of the Master & Dynamic which costs nearly double. I had no issues with stutter, sync, or separating team chat from background soundtrack and spatial and directional cues were well presented.
The Audeze Penrose are an interesting headphone with some operational quirks. Gamers will definitely love the sound quality with their favorite titles and it offers a level of sound quality not often found in the gaming market.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive point of entry into the Audeze ecosystem for music, I’m not sure it’s your best option but Audeze doesn’t bill it as such with models like the LCD-1 taking on that role. The tuning is similar to the more expensive options but it doesn’t deliver the trademark Audeze soundstage which is one of the best reasons to buy one of the larger LCD models.
If you are looking for a gaming headset that can also be used for remote work when on Zoom, Webex, or Microsoft Teams — the Audeze Penrose is an excellent wireless option that also delivers a solid 14 hours of battery performance.