The one-year mark has been surpassed by both Sony and Microsoft’s machines now and with those twelve months has come a swathe of new peripherals catering to this new generation of console owners.
Gaming headset titan, Turtle Beach, has been shoring up its console range recently, with entry level and flagship models being introduced to its product lines for both major consoles. Our review of the entry-level Ear Force XO One headset found few faults, though conceded that the product’s cost was weighing in at the upper end of the scale for its price point.
Whilst satisfying its basic functions aptly, the XO One had little pizzazz; a spit and sawdust product focussed on utility rather than extravagance – on function over frills. Beating an entirely different drum is Turtle Beach’s all new flagship model designed for Xbox ONE, the Ear Force Stealth 500X.
The set carries as a feather in its cap the accolade of being the first set for Xbox ONE offering full 7.1 Surround Sound wirelessly, and this will surely pique the interest of fans of being ahead of the curve, though competitors have started to emerge at the top end of the headset spectrum. Astro have released their wireless A50 headset; compatible with Xbox ONE and also boasting full 7.1 audio, though this set is pricier than the 500X. Wireless is surely the future, but there’s a nagging thought that it’s a costly investment for rather meagre returns.
Beyond its lack of wires, the 500X has more features stacked to justify its purchase. The 7.1 DTS Surround Sound delivers rich, textured and absorbing sound through some surprisingly lightweight yet sturdily put together tin cans. The manufacture and design lacks any obvious flaws, though at a UK cost of £199.99 (and $229.95 in the States) the set’s looks could have been given a little more polish to match the price tag. That said, others might appreciate the understated subtlety of the headset’s appearance; not everyone’s as keen as I am on peripherals that look as though they hail from Cybertron or might do well in taking out the Death Star.
Setup is simple, but there are a few cables that will need tucking away to maintain a tidy gamestation. ‘Wireless’ is something of a misnomer, the wires simply being removed from the player end and jammed in as extras at the console end. The Audio transmitter connects via USB and digital optical cables into the Xbox ONE. Fortunately the box is pretty dinky so should comfortably find a home in all but the most cramped of setups. As always the case with Turtle Beach products, everything required to get everything going is supplied and, conveniently, the headset and transmitter come paired right out of the box. Also included is a cable to connect phones or mobile gaming devices for any multitaskers out there, you talented folk!
With a soft, breathable mesh covering the earcups, it’s clearly a case of comfort is king with this design. The generously padded headband comfortably takes most of the weight, with little to no hang felt upon the ears beneath the weight of the earcups. Soft and sufficiently cushioned, the set is perfectly suited to gaming marathons of epic proportions, and as they’re wireless, you won’t even need to take them off as you make the mad dash, legs numb with pins and needles, when nature inevitably calls. Perhaps going wireless is a worthy investment after all…
Beyond the 7.1 Surround Sound, which is impressive enough on its own, the 500X comes with all-important mic monitoring, ensuring you’re fully aware of what’s being piped through cyberspace to your teammates. Also included are a range of equalised presets and surround modes to cater for a decent range of applications. There are surround modes for gaming, films and music, each offering its own subsets of filters and EQs which alter the source audio before transmitting it to the headset, depending on type and genre. Within the games presets, presets are available specifically tailored by Turtle Beach’s sound technicians for shooters, racing and sports titles. The changes are nuanced, yet detectable to a sharp ear, the shooter preset particularly effective in drowning the player in the chaotic symphony of war.
The sound itself was a source of wonderful surprise. Where experiences with other headsets and the intermittent cutting and clipping of sound had led me to creating some sense of an internal benchmark for what sounded good and what didn’t, the level of clarity delivered by the 500X proved fantastic, challenging my conceptions about console headset audio.
Using the 500X for hours on end was a joy. In one evening I crunched through the better part of a HBO boxset, enjoying being able to hear the subtler aspects of the audio track that are sometimes lost when listening through inferior headsets or speakers. The sound envelops you and the clarity and definition of the audio ensures that the sound of crickets and the crunch of distant footfalls upon beds of autumnal leaves are not lost on the listener, ensuring too that the intended atmospheric features of the TV show, film or game are delivered with as much fidelity as possible.
Topping off an evening of testing was a particularly chaotic session on Titanfall, followed by the burning of some rubber on Forza Horizon 2 and a jaunt through Revolutionary Paris in the bug-bedevilled Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Initially sceptical of how effective the range of preset modes might prove, pleasant surprises awaited me after shuffling through the available range in different games. The difference each setting makes to the audio experience is immediately clear, paying particularly bulky dividends with the racing genre; the engine’s purr becoming a growl becoming a roar, the 500X forces you bodily behind the wheel.
The equaliser presets are brilliant, though when wearing the set, with the interface for swapping between them on the side of the earcup, cycling through can be of difficulty. Another niggle is how the headset communicates current settings by making a series of high or low tone beeps. With so many settings available to use, this makes it a must to have the included preset reference card to hand if you’re one for flitting backwards and forwards between games and movies. This is somewhat clumsy design, though short of having a system of visual indicators on the transmitter box, it is perhaps an inelegant solution to a tricky problem. Irritating too is the need for an update via Turtle Beach’s website, which requires access to a Windows-based system, with no official option for Mac users currently available.
What’s for certain is that for consumers happy to shell out the notes for a high-end product, there’s great satisfaction on offer in return. The audio is some of the best I’ve experienced with a console headset and the comprehensive presets on offer allow a decent measure of fine-tuning for users leaning towards the audiophile side of the spectrum. As everyone knows, audiophiles are rarely pleased, but any gamer would count themselves lucky to call the Stealth 500X headset their own.