Turtle Beach enters the mobile headset market with something awesome, and something not so awesome.
A couple months ago Turtle Beach released their new “M” line of mobile audio products. I got a sample of all three of these devices at GDC, but only received the M5 cans to review. I was also surprised to find that I was sent the XP300 headphones as well, the entry model to the new line of premium, Bluetooth-enabled headsets that Turtle Beach released for Xbox/PS3 gamers. Why would I bother testing a line of console-gaming cans? Read on to find out!
Earforce M5 Mobile Gaming Headset
As mentioned above, there are three different headsets in Turtle Beach’s M series. The M1s are a pair of earbuds for $60, the M3s use non-ear-encasing cups and are sold for $40, and finally there’s the M5 series, which plays to the standard headphone form factor for $50. While I was only sent the M5s to review, I experienced all three products at GDC early this year.
I used the M5s to play a variety of games on my iPad 2, from games like Horn with less-than-stellar sound, to Dead Space, a game specifically developed to take advantage of connected headphones. In either case, whether it be a AAA game or just listening to music, the M5s are far from impressive.
The physical design is very light. The cups use the newer mesh padding, which helps keep your ears cool during use, and they swivel to allow a comfortable fit. Other than that, the actual headset has a very cheap feel to it. Lighter isn’t necessary badder, but in this case it just feels like there’s not much hardware under the hood (which is probably true).
The sound itself doesn’t lend itself very well to music, but performs decently for games. The low-end driver is fairly weak, meaning any type of hip hop or other beat-driven music tends to sound a bit hollow. For most iOS games this is not an issue. However, for shooting games, the punch of firing weapons and nearby explosions is definitely lacking. I assumed I would be able to boost the low-ends, as I have with every other TB headset I have owned in the past, but this is not the case. Because this is a very basic headset, there are no on-board EQ controls or sound field settings like TB’s console offerings. In fact, the included microphone only comes with a button to answer and end calls. There isn’t even any on-chord volume control.
I recognize that the M5s are a $50 headset, and so I’m not overly surprised by the lack of a high-fidelity sound experience, but I am disappointed that that same love that has gone into Turtle Beach’s generally quality console headsets didn’t make it into their mobile line. On-chord volume/track control, EQ, and bass boost options would have at least rounded out the M5 with some advanced features TB fans have come accustomed too. While not a completely incompetent set of speakers, the M5s are a weak attempt at emulating the look of console-grade headphones without offering the same sound quality and features. I may have not received the M1 ear buds to review, but just from experiencing them at GDC I can tell you that they are by far the best product in the M Series line-up. The M5s aren’t the worst headset you can buy, but they aren’t very good either. If you’re going to go with Turtle Beach for your mobile gaming needs, I would invest the extra $10 for the M1 ear buds instead of the M5 cans.
XP300 Wireless Stereo Gaming Headset
Ah, the Turtle Beach console gaming headset. This is where it all started. I still remember the days when Turtle Beach was a leading sound card manufacturer. You know, back when sound cards were actually sold separately? While they never disappeared, Turtle Beach faded out as a well-known brand for many years until they released their first console headset just a few years ago. I’ll admit that I have owned three different models of TB headsets for my Xbox gaming needs, and haven’t had the best experience with them. From static and interference to features outright not working, my past with TB has been a bumpy road. I acquired the X41 headset a year or so ago when it was released, and for the most part I’ve been happy with it. However, if there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s the damn chord that plugs from the headset to the controller for chat support.
The XP line of headsets alleviates that issue by integrating impressive dual-pairing Bluetooth technology, and this where I became interested in getting my hands on this headset to review here at TouchGen. Not only does the XP300 pair with your Xbox 360 controller via a Bluetooth dongle that attaches to it, it can also pair with your iPhone at the same time. That’s right, you can now talk to people on the phone and shoot your friends online at the same time. Technology!
The XP300 is the “low-end” model in the series, but with a $170 price tag it sure doesn’t buy like one. Yeah, it’s a pricey piece of audio equipment, but unlike the M Series of products, the XP300 is chock-full of features and hardware such as dual band wifi, dual-pairing Bluetooth, EQ and “Sound Field” adjustment, and even independent game, chat, and monitor volume control. For a stereo headset (without the Dolby Surround of the higher end models) the XP300 does a fantastic job emulating 3D sound. I’ve used this headset for many hours of Battlefield 3 fragging and iPhone chatting, and I’ve yet to experience any audio lag or static. This is probably due to the XP300′s ability to switch between channels in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies on the fly to eliminate wireless interference.
All that said, the real reason you’re reading about the XP300 right now is it’s wonderful iPhone connectivity features. If you’re like me, wearing any set of noise-canceling gaming headphones makes you pretty much oblivious to the world around you. My phone, my friends, my wife… they all fade away as I enter into the world of all-encompassing game sound. I have missed many a phone call while playing games with my X41s, and this simply won’t do.
The XP300 has solved two problems with my current gaming setup. First, I no longer need to deal with attaching that damn cord from my headset to my controller to chat. The Bluetooth attachment on my controller allows it to be paired to my headset, and the headset in turn connects to the wireless audio signal that comes from the small wireless box that sits next to my Xbox. I am now totally cord free, and it feels good. Shockingly, the chat audio while using the XP300 actually sounds better via Bluetooth than chat via my wired X41 headset.
The second “problem” is one that I didn’t realize I had until I got my iPhone paired to the XP300s. Phone calls come through loud and clear from my iPhone. The process of pairing my iPhone was a little rocky, as the instructions provided, while seemingly specific, don’t really provide the full details on getting the headset paired. That said, once everything is up and running, it works like a charm. While I’m playing a game, when a call comes through the game audio ducks down (but not out), and I can answer the call by tapping the Bluetooth button on the headset. The audio quality isn’t any better or worse than talking to someone on an iPhone, and I like the fact that you can adjust the background audio to be as loud or quiet as you want.
The limiting factor of the iPhone pairing feature is that phone calls are the only communication that will send a signal to your headset. Texts or other notification sounds don’t go through. As someone who receives about 1000x more texts than I do phone calls, it would have been nice to be notified when I receive those. Also, there is no way to stream music from your iPhone, which would have been an awesome feature. It’s limited, but it works well for what it is.
The XP300 series has plenty of other audio related features, such as multiple “tone” and “sound field” settings. The latter lets you adjust the positional location of audio within the headset itself. For instance, one setting makes audio sounds like it’s all around your ears, while another setting will give the feeling that the sound is focused more directly into your ears. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a pretty cool feature. Hey, more options is always better than less options. A final feature I should mention, one that was not expected but quite welcome, is the addition of a rechargeable battery in the headset. No more plowing through expensive AAA batteries. The XP300 has a built-in battery with a charging cable that connects to your Xbox via USB.
While Turtle Beach’s mobile line of audio devices is deeply lacking features, their XP line of console gaming headsets is full of features to the point of bursting. I really wonder what else could possibly be added to these headsets in the next line of products, as for the first time with a Turtle Beach headset, I am perfectly satisfied with what the XP line offers. The XP300 isn’t perfect, with the difficulties getting things paired and the lack of support for a wider range of Bluetooth iPhone features, but as the “cheapest” product in the XP line, and a stereo headset without Dolby Surround or optical audio support, it certainly delivers. It’s a shame you can’t use it to play iOS games!