More often than not one gets stuck into gaming concerned about the graphics or gameplay, or even the interface or controls of the game. Sometimes the lack of control makes you look at buying third-party controllers or perhaps a bigger and better screen to spot those sneaky snipers camping on the edges of the maps.
We are worried about what we can see, how it looks, if the controller feels right in your hands, and if the button layout is the way you want it to be. Seldom do we think about what we hear or even if we can hear an enemy sneaking up behind you.
When I started playing Battlefield 2: Bad Company multiplayer online a few years ago, I was shocked at how rusty I became in first-person shooter multiplayer. I started reading more about the multiplayer aspect of the game, and tried to learn how to improve my game and ultimately not end up at the bottom of the score sheet at the end of the round. There were the usual things (as mentioned above) but then I stumbled upon probably the most valuable piece of the puzzle I have found thus far: Sound! Getting a good quality headset will add a whole new dimension to your gameplay and can set you apart from the rest.
Turtle Beach has been in business since the late eighties but only in recent times released a wide variety of headphones, including the Ear Force line of multi-channel PC and console gaming headphones. Turtle Beach produces arguably one of the best gaming audio peripherals on the market and today we will be looking one of its top range of headsets, namely the Ear Force XP500.
This headset is primarily designed for the Xbox 360 although it is a newer derivative of the very successful PX5. These two models are the best Turtle Beach products available at the moment and offer wireless Dolby 5.1 surround sound with Bluetooth wireless chat functionality, and eight adjustable presets (which we will get back to).
In the XP500 box, you get the wireless headset, wireless transmitter, USB power cable, optical cable and a USB cable you can connect to your PC to adjust the presets in the headset. At first glance you can see the quality build of the headset: The ear cups are not only height adjustable but can also swivel. An extra feature with this headset is that you can twist the ear cups to either allow you to lay them flat down on a surface or hang them around your neck, allowing you to still hear the sounds without it covering your ears. The headset comes with a removable microphone boom which can be rotated and is fully flexible.
The headset is powered by two AA batteries, which is the biggest weakness of the headset – I would highly recommend getting your hands on a set of rechargeable batteries for this purpose. The headset will warn you if the batteries are running low which leads me to another nice feature of this headset: It ‘talks’ to you. When you power the unit on or switch it off (achieved by pressing the power button on the outside of the left ear cup) a female voice speaks in the headset saying things like ‘powering on’ or ‘powering off.’ Also on the left ear cup you will notice the volume wheel, a preset button and an optional input for the wired chat cable you would connect to your Xbox 360 controller.
On the right ear cup you have a button to mute your microphone, a Bluetooth control button used to switch on the Bluetooth chat mode or pairing devices, and a chat volume button. This headset comes with a separate chat dongle that you plug into your Xbox 360 controller that will allow you to chat wirelessly with your friends. Another great feature is you can pair the headset with any Bluetooth device allowing you, for example, to pair the headset with your phone so not only would you be able to answer you phone while you play games but you can also listen to background music while you game. Sadly you can only connect one device at a time so you will have to choose between the wireless chat or other devices. If you really want both you can buy the extra chat cable and use that between your headset and the Xbox 360 controller.
The presets are what undoubtedly set this headset apart from other models in the Turtle Beach range. You have eight different presets to choose from and you can even modify them to suite your needs by simply using the supplied USB cable and adjusting them from your PC. One of these presets is to amplify footsteps which will be very useful for those camping snipers that would like to hear if someone is near them.
The wireless transmitter uses 2.4 GHz technology and is conveniently powered by USB. So you can power the entire transmitter by simply plugging it into your Xbox 360 eliminating the need for external power, which makes for fewer wires around your setup. The transmitter allows for an extra stereo headset to be plugged in allowing a second person to hear your game sounds. The audio is fed from your Xbox 360 via the supplied optical cable allowing quality sound and also offers a unique optical pass-through option, which lets you send the audio output to another device, like an amp for example, giving you the best of both worlds. An extra analog input is also available for you to connect your TV or iPod to the transmitter and you can use your headset for more than just gaming.
Using the headset you are immediately immersed in quality audio. The Dolby 5.1 quality is amazing and you can understand why Turtle Beach is so highly rated and one of the best in its class. Playing games like Battlefield 3, your situational awareness improves greatly and not only can you hear the enemy better but you can identify the origin of the sounds directionally. You will hear footsteps better, you will hear which side the enemy is shooting from and enjoy true surround sound.
Using the eight different presets you can pick the best for your gaming needs, too. The in-game chat is clear and of great quality and has easily adjustable volume for when your friends get a bit excited, but it doesn’t take away from the game sound.
The head band on the XP500 isn’t the most comfortable compared to other headsets and it’s not the lightest headset on the market, although not a brick either. The ear cups are very soft and made from fabric so your ears do not get as hot as with other over ear headsets. The main problem initially seems to be a bit of a pinch on the top of your head where the head band can press down a bit.
I must report however this is only really noticeable on long gaming sessions and has become better over time – I suspect it’s to do with the form in which the unit is shipped to you. The other common problem with the Turtle Beach range is the very faint static noise when there is no game sound. This seems to annoy some users but frankly it has never bothered me, just be aware of it should things like that annoy you.
The Turtle Beach Ear Force XP500 is certainly the best headset I have tried on console and with all the features like the wireless chat, Bluetooth and especially the adjustable presets, it’s difficult to find something that tops this unit. The price of the XP500 is what is going to put a lot of people off buying this unit, however, as they are fairly pricey compared to other lesser spec units.
The quality of the headset, the superior sound and extra features do put this unit head and shoulders above the rest, however, and if you’re into multiplayer or competitive gaming I would strongly recommend this headset if you can afford it – it will add a whole new dimension to your gameplay. If you cannot afford the XP500’s I would also highly recommend you look at the Turtle Beach X42’s.