Serious gamers these days aren’t just looking for the true HD experience to enhance their game play they are also paying close attention and a lot of money for a better audio experience. Many of us have shelled out for a sweet window shattering surround sound system but there are often circumstances that don’t allow for the blasting of full game audio. I work shift work for example and do much of my gaming at night and really can’t be waking up the neighbours or disturbing my better half when I feel like playing Call of Duty at 1 am. I still want the advantage of playing in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound at anytime as well as having a microphone for chatting so I’ve been checking out the latest in high quality gaming headsets to complete my rig. Recently I’ve had the chance to try both offerings from industry leaders Tritton Technologies and Turtle Beach
What You Get:
Tritton’s Ax Pro gaming headset is the company’s most recent release and is built from the success of their previous model the Ax 360. The Ax Pro offers up a true 5.1 surround sound experience with Dolby Digital decoding and eight individual speakers (4 in each cup) which claims to improve 3D positioning. The Ax Pro features a detachable mic for online chat and independent controls for both chat volume or mute and full control of the different sound levels in the game. This is a wired headset however it is also versatile being compatible with the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, PC and Mac or virtually anything with digital optical or 3.5mm analog 5.1 outputs. All needed cables are included along with some extra head and ear pads which were nice. The Ax Pro’s receiver is capable of handling two simultaneously connected headsets.
Turtle Beach’s Ear Force X4 may have a silly sounding name but is one of the more well known brands on the market. The X4 is wireless and it also features 5.1 Dolby Digital decoding, separate controls for chat and game volume and a detachable microphone. The X4 is specifically designed to work with the Xbox 360 only however the receiver/transmitter has digital optical input and output which allow connection to a home theatre system as well as regular analog left and right inputs from something simple such as a TV. The wireless headphones have an automatic shut off to prevent battery drain and incorporates a bass boost feature. The X4 also features mic monitoring which allows you to hear yourself in the audio so you don’t end up shouting when using the headphones. The X4 is capable of handling multiple headsets simultaneously.
When comparing these two headsets the obvious difference is one is wired and the other wireless. While you may feel encumbered by having to deal with wires, no matter what anyone tells you going wireless sacrifices sound quality and this definitely rings true here. The X4 uses infrared to transmit sound to the headphones and at first it sounds fairly decent on full batteries and if you are directly in front of the transmitter. As soon as the AAA batteries start to drain (and they will rapidly) you can noticeably hear hissing during quiet parts of your game. Tritton’s Ax Pro has none of this, in fact power isn’t a problem, it comes with two adapters which you must plug in. While it may be a power hog the Ax Pro delivers consistently crystal clear sound over the Ear Force X4.
Another distinctive difference in sound between the headsets is the bass. The X4 offers an on/off bass boost switch on the headset and the Ax Pro has dedicated subwoofers in its 8 speaker set. With the ability to increase the subwoofer sound individually from the other speakers (front, center & rear) using the illuminated controller, the bass increase is substantially more skull shaking. The X4 fails at providing much more of an actual bass boost than your average cheap MP3 player.
In regards to the 5.1 surround sound both headsets performed well. Using Call of Duty again for example, I could hear enemies approaching from all directions which of course gamers recognize as a distinct advantage. I have to say the Ax Pro edges out the X4 in clarity though because of the dedicated 8 speakers. Both headsets have in game chat of course and each has a detachable mic though I preferred the X4’s flexible mic compared to the Ax Pro’s moveable but rigid boom mic. Each headset’s chat performance measured equally with separate volume controls delivering coherent sound between players and game audio. The X4’s mic monitoring feature which mixes your own voice into the audio so you don’t end up shouting when wearing the headphones is a great idea although is barely noticeable, at least according to my spouse. This feature could use some improvement.
Design wise each headset has big comfortable padded cups, the Ax Pro’s faux leather ones are huge and fit over and around the ear completely immersing you, the X4 has comfy cloth pads. The Ax Pro is heavier than the X4 and you will feel it after extended periods of gaming. With weight though comes durability and the Ax Pro looks like it can take a beating, I’d be afraid to drop the X4 for fear of it shattering. I also liked the overall design style of Tritton’s headset which features their illuminated logo.
If you like the free roaming convenience of having no wires attached to you aside from what goes into the controller then Turtle Beach’s Ear Force X4 may be for you. It is by no means a terrible gaming headset but I would hardly call it premium and priced at $200 that is asking a lot for what you get which is basically line of sight wireless range with OK sound.
Serious gamers and audiophiles will no doubt be happy with Tritton’s Ax Pro for many different reasons. Consistent quality sound that is completely adjustable to your preference, noticeable bass boost and easily the biggest advantage: compatibility with all consoles and systems. This makes it a substantially better value at a price point of only $160 beating out the X4 easily.
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