Monday, 25 January 2010

Turtle Beach Earforce X1 Gaming Headset

With the remnants of my Christmas and birthday money I figured I'd treat myself to a Turtle Beach headset. After all, the majority of my XBOX time is spent playing Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer and everyone says that to experience the game properly you need Turtle Beach! Their exponents promise great things from them, not least of which is being able to hear when someone is coming up behind you, something I could really use! Let's just say that my deaths outweigh my kills by quite a significant amount, which really isn't ideal! So in my hunt for non-hacking, non-glitching ways to get the edge and try to improve my stats I figured I'd give a set of these bad boys a try.

What you get in the box is a well made set of over the ear headphones with a built in mic that is substantially larger and much more positionable than the standard XBOX one. You also get a profusion of leads which enable the X1's to overcome the biggest problem with gaming and headphones. You see, if you want to get the 3-D sound experience without shelling out for a home theater sound system, or you just want to play late at night, then headphones are the obvious answer. Unfortunately, if you've got a set of headphones on for the game sound, what are you going to do with the XBOX headset? How can you talk to your mates over the in-game chat? Answer: You can't wear two sets of headphones at once, so it's one or the other buddy! The way the X1's get around this is by a clever system of interconnecting leads.

The headset itself terminates in the traditional green and pink (speaker and microphone) jacks traditionally found on any PC compatible headset, which means that the Turtle Beach's are PC friendly straight out of the box. When connecting to the XBOX though, the green jack plugs into the end of a stereo splitter lead. First up, you take the red and white audio leads that run from the console to the TV and you unplug them from the back of the TV, then you plug the stereo splitter lead into the red and white sockets on the TV and then plug the red and white leads from the console into the back of those. So now you've got the audio signal coming out of the XBOX going straight to the earphones and straight to the TV, so you get no sound quality loss by going through the TV's headphone port. The second clever bit is that there is now a third cable that connects between the X1s and the XBOX controller in the same way as the regular XBOX headset does. You've got seperate volume controls for the voice chat and the game volume so you can get the balance just how you like it. Also, the quality of the mic and the fact that the live chat comes through the X1's built in amplifier means that the usually weak and crackly voice signal comes through loud and clear.

The first time I used them I played on the Favela map, (a small section of a shanty town in Rio de Janeiro), and the overload of sound had me playing like a total n00b for a while as I adjusted to my new and vivid aural surroundings! What was once just a cacophony of gunshots and explosions was suddenly enriched by myriad ambient sounds! Birds singing in the trees, dogs barking at all the noise, the distant murmur of traffic as the rest of Rio went about it's daily life in the background. I was quite shocked at the depth of sound design I'd been missing thanks to not wanting to turn the TV up too loud.

Overall the sound quality is very impressive. It's a little bass heavy, which I personally like, but which may not be to everyone's taste. You end up feeling totally immersed in the game as all outside distractions disappear once you have the headset on and the volume up. Since getting the X1's I've even started watching DVD's through the XBOX, something I would never normally do as the machine itself is so loud it would ruin the movie, but the X1's not only drown that noise out, but enhance the movie audio to the n'th degree. I saw Transformers 2 in the cinema and was very much underwhelmed by it, experiencing it again with the X1's I was (almost) blown away!

It's quite astonishing the difference fully realised audio can make to the gaming (or movie) experience, and if you can afford one I would thoroughly recommend getting a Turtle Beach Headset. That is the key issue here however - if you can afford it. They aren't cheap. The X1's are the bottom of the range and don't actually offer positional 3-D sound as I thought, (though the high quality stereo is still very useful), they weigh in at a hefty £50. As you head up the range and go wireless with surround sound you are looking at over £200 in some instances! Availability is something of an issue in the UK as well as they are an American product aimed mainly at an American market. I had a lot of trouble finding one online, with many reputable retailers having them listed but all of them were currently out of stock. Good old Game came to my rescue though. You may be lucky enough to find a set in your local Game shop (ask at the counter, they don't seem to want to put them on display for some reason), or failing that the Game website seems to have an abundance of them.

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