Wireless controls were once a dream of ours, and it took forever for them to become a reality, but now they're the standard. We're to the point where things with wires just feel weird. Wireless headsets? Well, that's been a bit of a rough journey. Despite having plenty of wireless technology available for these headsets, it seems that there are too many factors and standards to contend with to have just one good wireless pair.
I've been using the Turtle Beach Ear Force XP 400 headset for a bit, and I think we might finally have a decent, reasonable solution for those looking for a good overall wireless gaming headset.
Turtle Beach Ear Force XP 400 Wireless Headset (Xbox 360, PS3)
For a headset packed full of wireless technology, the XP 400 are surprisingly light. They're over-ear models with reasonably soft pads and a nice, cushy headband, so they sit on your head nicely. The ear cups fit over my head properly, though with my head shape, maybe they could have fit a bit tighter. I don't think the big-headed gamers out there will have any issue with these.
They're sturdy feeling, and look nice in solid black, with green and silver trim accents. The boom mic, which comes out from the left ear, can be spun for height, and its bendy arm can be adjusted easily. It can also be removed if not needed, which is great for those wanting to use the headset for wireless music listening.
The headset features an internal rechargeable battery that can be charged with the included 12 foot USB cable. No silly batteries to change.
The left ear cup features only three buttons: one for power, another to adjust the tone, and the third to switch on/off a limiter. While the power button is backlit to show status, the tone and limiter buttons give no visual feedback, meaning that you'll have to rely on audible beep sequences to know how they're set. Two dials, controlling mic monitoring and overall game volume, are also on the left cup The right cup features a Bluetooth pairing button, a mute button, and a button toggle for chat volume.
Given that you can't see these buttons while wearing the XP 400, you might fumble around a bit controlling levels the first few uses, but they're laid out smartly enough that you'll be fine in no time.
Microsoft's proprietary chat connectivity has been a pain in the ass for headset makers. Sony, on the other hand, uses an open Bluetooth solution, so only basic, one-time pairing is needed to connect. In making a headset that would work with both consoles for chat, their solution was to use Bluetooth for both. Turtle Beach's fix was to make a Bluetooth chat adapter that plugs into the bottom of an Xbox 360 controller. This little unit pairs with the Bluetooth side of the headset for the chat side of the audio.
But what about the game audio? That all comes over WiFi, sent wirelessly by the transmitter unit. This unit is powered via USB, meaning that it can be plugged into any free port on your PS3 or Xbox 360. The sound comes into the unit via a digital optical cable, which all PS3s and newer Xbox 360 systems support. Those with older Xbox 360 models will have to get an Xbox 360 Audio Adapter Cable, which adds an optical output. For your convenience, this unit also features an analog input so that you can connect a music source. An optical output port lets you 'pass through' to send a copy of the digital output to an audio system.
If you already have an audio system, check if your receiver features a digital audio output. Mine does, which made connection to the transmitter unit very simple -- receiver out --> transmitter in. This also let me choose which game system I wanted to use with the receiver's selection dial instead of having to disconnect and reconnect audio cables.
I put the XP 400 through its paces, playing plenty of Xbox 360, PS3, and PC games this past week. Hours of 5.1 surround audio was spit into my ears by the headset's drivers, and I didn't have a complaint at any time. I would caution that those looking for an exaggerated low end might not find it here with the XP 400. It's not lacking, but outside of the bass boosting tone choice, the low end output is more reasonable than rocking. And while we're on tone selection, the setting that lets you crank both the low and high end might sound nifty at first, but it wore on my ears after a bit. I got the most enjoyment on its default setting, as everything was even, clear and deep.
The surround setting can be switched off from the transmitter unit if you prefer boring old stereo sound. There's also a button that lets you step through different surround angle modes, though none of them seemed to sound any better than the default mode.
In game chat (and phone calls, for that matter) all came through loud and clear, and I received complements on both consoles for the quality of my voice coming through. No problems at all.
My only real beef is with the initial pairing, which you should only have to do once. It took a few tries to connect the headset to the transmitter unit, and having to pull the manual out every time to decode the headset's blinking light patters to ascertain its status was frustrating. Bluetooth pairing to the PS3 for the first time also took a few tries, though it should be said that the pairing with the Xbox 360 chat adapter was trouble free.
One key takeaway was how comfortable these are. One evening I wore the headset for 4 hours straight, and never had any issues with comfort. Between the fabric on the ears and headband, and the light overall weight, the comfort level is quite high with these. I've been wearing them all morning today, both playing games and taking phone calls, and have had no problem letting them sit on my head while working.
Turtle Beach says you can expect 15 hours of battery life out of the built-in rechargeable. While I play a lot of games, I've never played for that long in one sitting, so I can't speak to total play time, but I can say that this battery stays charged for a long time. It also holds a charge nicely, so you don't have to feel like you have to keep capping it off.
The Turtle Beach Ear Force XP 400's cost might feel a bit high at about $200 street, but you're getting fully wireless chat and game audio in 5.1 Dolby Surround in a comfortable set with a 15 hour battery life. You're certainly getting what you pay for. If you don't mind working through the initial setup, and you're okay with learning some light blink and audible beep sequences for settings, the XP 400 headset will do your ears right. Recommended.
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