Destructoid review: Tritton’s AX Pro headset

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I have a hard time hearing female voices. The disability has its advantages, especially when my girlfriend is nagging me about cleaning up the office. (She always says something like “waffle den mellow bison.”) I blame my hearing issue on Trent Reznor and Jimmy Urine. I’ve been in too many crowded, smoky, and most importantly, viciously loud auditoriums because of their amazing vocals and bands.

And yeah, this has a point: I have to turn my surround sound system up a bit louder than my neighbors would like. At night, I need a good gaming option. That’s why I decided to take on the review for Tritton’s AX Pro gaming headset. I’ve been through a few others, so I was curious.

Of course, it would be folly to tell you if I enjoyed it or not, so go ahead and hit the break for the review.

AX Pro Precision Gaming Headset
Company: Tritton Technologies, Inc.
MSRP: $159.99

It’s 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. My office is cluttered with plastic peripherals. I’m sitting on a folding chair in front of a make-believe drum set, using the D-pad to select “March of the Pigs” by Nine Inch Nails. After a few screens flash by, the sexy synthetic sounds blare from my 5.1 surround sound system. I get into the groove and bang on plastic drum pads with wooden sticks. I get angry — Trent always does that to me — and I start bashing with the sticks. A furious cacophony of sound emits from the room, penetrates the floorboards, and floats into my neighbor’s apartment.

Because it’s 9 PM, the neighbor has a pointy object at the ready. He begins banging on the ceiling. Like an office worker’s lunch bell, I get the hint and stop what I’m doing. I don’t want to, but Rock Band doesn’t hit the spot when the beat grows soft.

This is the reason why I need a headset. I’ve been turning off games that require theatrics for over a year now, each time lamenting my weak carpeting, floorboards, and the boom of my awesome subwoofer. It was a blessing when Tritton offered us an AX Pro headset for review. I can’t help but to think it was a blessing for my neighbors as well.

I’m going to squash the big, hairy ape in the room immediately: I’m not an audiophile. I like big sound, I like noises in my periphery and I enjoy the experience I get from the mixture of good gameplay and presentation. But I haven’t taken the time to dissect sound, learn jargon or bother with the ticky-tacky improvements made every week in the world of audio technology.

I’m a videogame enthusiast who appreciates good sound. I know what I hear and I believe I can convey that to you. Because of my past experiences with Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 2.1, Dolby 5.1 and Dolby 7.1 surround sound systems, I should be aware of what I don’t hear. Just to be cautious, I’ve broken down my review of the AX Pro headset into five different games, all of which I’ve thoroughly played with my capable surround sound system blasting. Before I dig into the games, I want to hit the basics of the AX Pro headset: its design and comfort, its wiring, and its microphone. Go!

The AX Pro comes in a big box because it’s a huge headset. After digging out the contents, I pulled back my hair in a ponytail and put the contraption on my head. It felt heavy — my neck is strong — but comfortable in the possible pressure spots: the crown and my ears. A nice spongy material covers those zones. The material is firm, but has the flexibility to contour to your head’s shape. I’ve had the headset on for over fifteen hours and I’ve yet to discard it for the sake of comfort. (If you’re not down with the spongy stuff, the AX Pro also comes with faux-leather fixings. I found those pieces entirely too rigid and definitely not ideal for extended use.)

The headset is a silvery gray and the bulk (there are five speakers inside each earphone) is hidden by stylish contours. On the sides of the headset is an orange logo that lights up when the headset is powered. I don’t mind the aesthetics, but you’re probably not going to find your future husband or wife by looking cool with these things on.

In addition to extra ear caps, the AX Pro comes with an astounding amount of wiring. Two power adapters, an audio controller, a communication recoil cable, fiber optic cable, a USB cable and a G9 adapter are included and needed for the two applications — the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 — that I used the headset for. I realize the wiring is a necessity, but it can become burdensome. At one point, and thank god this was the last game I played, I managed to tangle a wire with my MadCatz Street Fighter IV FightStick. As I removed the FightStick’s USB wire, the headset toppled from my TV stand and smacked my coffee table before rolling onto the floor. (Durability isn’t an issue. After this tumble, the headset worked just as well as it did during the review.)

I have one complaint with the wiring: both the fiber optic cable and the USB adapter are woefully short. Depending on your setup, this could become a problem, as both are used to hook into the PlayStation 3. If it is an issue, you could always buy new components, but digging into your pocketbook again may not seem like the best scenario. Every other wire, including the headset’s, are wonderfully long and up to task.

A quick note: the volume of the headset can be controlled with the Audio Controller and by a handy gadget connected to the main cord of the headset. It can get painfully loud — it’s denoted by red LEDs — and you can fiddle with the settings for individual speakers or as an entire group by pressing individual buttons.

As with most third-party microphones, I expected the worst when I started communicating over Xbox Live. Reports from other users, friends that I could trust, said that I sounded clear throughout the multiplayer matches and private chats I participated in. To make sure, I sent messages to a second account that I have. I found, much to my surprise, that the AX Pro’s microphone — it’s detachable and optional — sounded better than my official wireless microphone and the stock Xbox Live microphone that came with my Xbox 360 Elite. The thing that got me, and it’s an inevitable problem, is that you’re being assaulted by audio of the game and other players at the same time. A separate volume toggle on the sound adjustment gadget allows you to turn down other players completely, but that really isn’t the point of a team-based game like Guerrilla Games’ Killzone 2 or Epic’s Gears of War 2.

With that out of the way, let’s hit up what I heard in the games. I’ll bold the titles, just for clearer reading. After I finish with the games, I’ll sum up the product and score it.

Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360)

I played through a random level towards the beginning of the game — a level that I knew had a steady mixture of action, explosion, and cut-scenes. I apparently picked the right one. The first cut-scene came in loud and clear on the microphone’s blue “mid” level range — a sweet spot, as I found out through volume adjustment in this first game. As the camera panned between characters and violent explosion, I heard Dom clearly through the left-hand side, then the center, then the right, while the subwoofer in the headset pumped the pyrotechnics happening around me. As I got into the game, I found that the directional sound of the enemies — the grunts and foot shuffling — was perfect. Because of proximity, I’m guessing, I was able to hunt down the baddies better than with my typical surround sound setup. (And I have to say, as an aside, that the game’s pistol emits a much more powerful, guttural sound with the headset strapped on.) Everything seemed so much closer, so much more powerful than with the surround sound system pumped to a level easy on the ears. The headset certainly added to the experience with its smooth directional sound.

Dead Space (Xbox 360)

Dead Space, I believe, is the best relevant game with sound. I wasn’t disappointed. With the headset on, I heard the skittering of monsters much more clearly and directionally. It made the game that much more frightening as I could clearly discern where the monsters were without seeing them. I rarely jumped when I played the game with the lights off and with my surround sound, but I found myself practically falling off the couch several times through the course of the level I was playing because of the enhanced awareness.

Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360)

As I hit my favorite level in scenic Kijuju, I became frustrated with the noises around me. First, though, let me point out that my awareness of the level was increased ten-fold. I could hear the background laughs, groans and giggles of zombies with amazing clarity. My problem wasn’t with the big noises or even the flavor of the game — it was with the footsteps. With an AI Sheva stomping around and multitudes of zombies around every corner, I began to lose my sense of directional sound. I think that this is a problem with headphones in general. The part that makes it great — being right next to your ears — is also its weakest link if sounds aren’t differentiated enough in the game. Sheva’s steps sound exactly the same as a zombie’s, and its damn confusing.

Street Fighter IV
(Xbox 360)

My favorite song, “Indestructible,” was made even better by the crisp sound of the AX Pro. When I got into the game, I was actually surprised by what I was missing in terms of the background noises. I could clearly pick out dogs barking or people murmuring as I bear-hugged opponents and proved my status as the greatest Zangief player ever. (Go ahead and challenge me, bub.)

Killzone 2 (PlayStation 3)

Unfortunately, I believe I had my first problem with the headset while playing Killzone 2. I was in a particularly busy level — explosions, firefights, and dying from the control suckiness — when I started noticing little crackling noises in my left and right ears. Perplexed — I initially thought it was a power generator — I chose a different mission with a lull in the action. The crackling noises continued.

It would be unfair to completely pin the noise on the headset, but it’s certainly something that I didn’t notice while playing the game with my surround sound system. It’s completely possible, even though I checked the area thoroughly, that an electrical barrel or some sort of power unit was pumping in the background. The crackles weren’t rhythmic, which gave a natural clue that it wasn’t the environment.

Just to make sure, I decided to try thatgamecompany’s Flower and then Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4 for limited amounts of time. I didn’t hear the crackling noises.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to dismiss Tritton’s AX Pro headset. All sounds — the silky music of Flower, the guttural bang of a pistol, the cackle of zombies, the skittering of monsters, and even the rumble of patrons in an arena — are discernible, clear, and directional. The design and comfort of the headset are superb and certainly fit for extended play. Hell, even the microphone is up to the task for Xbox Live use. My problems with the headset stem from (1) it not being a surround system, which, you know, isn’t fair to rate it for that and (2) the awful mess of wires and the shortness of the fiber optic and USB cables.

But if you’re in the market for a gaming headset, don’t overlook Tritton’s AX Pro. It delivers. Just don’t trip over a wire when you have everything rigged.

Score: 9 out of a possible 10

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Brad BradNicholson
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