Turtle Beach Ear Force X41 Headset Review
As someone who's always lived in rented apartments where television volume becomes a concern as early as 9pm, I'm on a continuous quest to find the perfect set of gaming headphones. From wired and wireless, to stereo and surround sound, I've had my head book-ended by more bulky ear-cups than I care to remember. Until recently, I was pretty satisfied with my Tritton AX360's, but the tangle of wires it takes to keep them humming began to grow tiresome in this tether-free age.
Thankfully, Turtle Beach hates wires too, and their new Ear Force X41 7.1 headphones forgo the snaky black coils entirely. But, even cooler than the wireless convenience, these ear canal-bathing babies sound great, actually delivering on their back-of-the-box boast of “The Ultimate Xbox 360 game audio experience.” But more on the ear candy in a sec; first, let's get the less exciting, but equally satisfying features out of the way.
For starters, the X41s earn points for using an RF rather than infrared signal to deliver the wireless goods. This means line-of-sight with the receiver base is not required. It might not sound like a big deal, but, if like me, you own two cats that consistently perch themselves in front of electronics hoping to steal some of their warmth, you know the value of this tech—Whiskers can curl up in front of the X41 base with nary a hiccup to your audio experience. The X41s are advertised as an Xbox 360 headset, but you can use them with other devices as well since they can be converted to standard headphone/mic ports. And with an additional USB adapter (not included), it can work on the PS3 as well.
The X41s are very comfortable. The padded band that sits on your skull may look a bit chunky, but your noggin' will thank you for that extra cushion after a marathon Mass Effect 2 play session or a long night of fragging friends in Modern Warfare 2. Speaking of online gaming, they're also outfitted with a detachable mic and settings that properly balance a game's audio with your buddies' trash-talking. You can individually set the volume on the game and your chat, and they'll even auto-increase Xbox Live chat when the game's sound spikes. So, you'll not only hear every explosive detail behind the rocket-propelled grenade that just ripped your torso in two, but also the taunts of the player that launched the killing blast.
Headphones are often marketed at hardcore gamers and online players, but they're perfect for any gamer—even the most casual ones—who want to get the most from their games' audio. Many big budget productions pour as many resources into delivering great sound as they do to craft eye-melting visuals, so it's a shame to hear all that hard work filtered through two stereo speakers. While the ideal solution is still a full 7.1 surround set-up, the price tag, wire-running, and living room real estate required make this an impossible option for many gamers. The X41s, despite having all 7.1 channels crammed into ear-cups, do an impressive job of separating the sound.
My first few days testing them were spent playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and I was continually impressed by the crisp, clear audio hitting me from all sides. There's a noticeable differentiation between front and rear sounds, and even variations that fall between the two can be picked up. One of the cooler moments came while I was exchanging gunfire with enemies during a rainstorm, while trudging through a shallow stream. Of course, the gunfire thundered in my ears—the surprisingly robust bass boost guaranteed that—but I could also isolate the sound of the falling rain and my splashing footsteps. Amping the immersion even further was the occasional reload cue punching through the other ambient sounds. Admittedly, Bad Company 2 would sound good through two tins cans attached by a string, but not only did the X41s not rob the game of its original audio appeal—a problem I've experienced with lesser sets—but they actually enhanced it a great deal.
The explosive nature of a shooter's audio makes it a perfect pairing for this type of technology, but I achieved similarly satisfying results with less aurally robust titles. Playing through Resident Evil 5's new DLC yielded the well-separated sounds of creaking floor boards, moaning zombies, and labored breathing. And even the kid-friendly effects and bouncy score from How to Train Your Dragon got a nice boost from the X41s.
I've spent countless hours with multiple sets; just ask my wife, who spends a good portion of her life yelling “Take those off so I can talk to you!” And the X41s easily deliver the most convincing surround sound I've ever experienced through a headset. The fact that they're also comfy and wireless is icing on the cake. Even the battery life—about 10-15 hours—is satisfactory. My only real complaint is the occasional interference that'll yank you from your otherwise immersive audio state. But even that seems to be alleviated by moving the receiver away from any routers you have (a little tip I learned from the all-knowing Internet.) At $200, the X41s will be a too-steep investment for many gamers. However, if you're serious about audio and spend most of your game time with headphones on, then your ears—and neighbors—will thank you for this investment.