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Hands-on: Turtle Beach Ear Force PX5 headset

11:00 AM on 02.24.2011 // Hamza CTZ Aziz

Turtle Beach's next headset -- the Ear Force PX5 -- stands in sharp contrast to their past headsets. The most striking element is that it actually feels like a good headset now. Previous Turtle Beach headsets were clunky and felt a little too plastic-y. The new model is a lot lighter, feels great, is easy on the eyes, and is a kind of headset I wouldn't mind wearing in a public setting -- as opposed to the old models.

Visual improvements aren't the only change, of course. Turtle Beach reworked the insides of the headset and the wireless transmitter by taking what people really liked and disliked about the X41 headsets, and improved upon it all.

The big addition -- and possibly a game-changer in the headset market -- is the ability to create custom presets to give you a crazy advantage in the competitive online arena.

Ear Force PX5 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, portable devices)
Manufacturer: Turtle Beach
Retailers: Best Buy, GameStop
MSRP: $249.95

First, let's take a look at the new tech behind the Ear Force PX5 headset. You're still getting Dolby 5.1 and 7.1 virtual surround sound, as usual. The big addition -- and a first for the headset market -- is the inclusion of two radios. One is for uncompressed game audio, and the other is a Bluetooth radio for wireless chat with cell phones and the PlayStation 3. Yup, you'll be able to sync up phones to take calls through the headset or even stream music over Bluetooth, all while playing games.

As for the wireless transmitter, it's largely the same as the last model, but it's now on a 2.4 GHz radio frequency for improved sound quality.

Here's the real big thing about the Ear Force PX5: you'll be able to store up to 18 audio presets that will give you an edge in competitive games. The example I was given was a Search and Destroy match in Call of Duty. You can play through the round with normal audio, and once it's down to you and someone else, you can simply press a button on the Ear Force to tune out sound that's outside of the footstep audio frequency.

Yes, you'll be able to fine-tune the headset to the point that you can only hear someone's footsteps, or whatever critical audio cues you need to hear. Users will be able to download the Preset Manager program from Turtle Beach, which lets you create custom audio settings. Best of all, this program is free. There's also a social website that Turtle Beach will be launching, where users can create, share and rate custom audio settings. Turtle Beach will also have 100 custom presets ready for download at launch.

On the headset are two buttons that allow you to change the current audio setting. On the left side, you can toggle between the nine custom channels. The right side of the headset has a main button that lets you hot-swap between your favorite audio setting and the last channel you selected.

To create these, Turtle Beach will provide a developer level version of the preset manager called the PX5 Advanced Sound Editor, which allows developers to create not only voices, but also custom presets for their own titles. Just as the consumer PX5 Preset Manager tool will be free, the developer PX5 Advanced Sound Editor will be distributed to developer at no charge.

On top of creating these game-changing settings, players can customize other features, such as drowning out people's heavy breathing or create a threshold in case you end up in lobbies with screaming kids. You can create the same settings for yourself, too -- perfect for those of you who can't help but scream in rage or joy.

Turtle Beach is working on a series of headsets, and this first entry in the product line will run you $249.95. The other entries will be revealed at E3. Turtle Beach has taken a very interesting approach to the headset field. Obviously, owners of these headsets are going to have a marked advantage when it comes to online multiplayer games thanks to the PX5. I'm curious to see how people will react to this extra advantage players will get.

If there is one thing to complain about, however, I want to point out that that the buttons that allow you to switch channels are annoyingly small. You might lose a few seconds searching for the buttons as you try to switch channels, especially as you're getting used to the headset, and sometimes you don't have even a second to spare when it comes to games like Halo: Reach or Call of Duty: Black Ops..

[Some facts about the headset were incorrect. Preview has been updated with corrections.]

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