Friday, April 27, 2012

Turtle Beach Ear Force X31 Headset for Xbox 360 Review

I recently found the Turtle Beach Ear Force X31 Headset for Xbox 360 refurbished through Best Buy.  These headphones are often touted for use in multiplayer titles like Call of Duty or Battlefield for their combination of stereo sound direct to your ears as well as offering a microphone.  I've been eying one of these headsets for quite awhile, and when I was able to pick them up for about $30 online, I decided to give them a shot.  I've been using them for a couple of weeks now, and while there was plenty of good here, there was an overwhelming drawback that I can't get past.

First, the setup and how they work:

You have a transmitter that hooks into the Xbox 360 via USB port for power and connectivity on the microphone.  The transmitter can then be hooked up a few different ways depending on how you want to use it.  This could get people into a bit of trouble depending on the system they have.  These hookups for the actual sound are RCA (red and white 1-pronged plugs) that have a male and female end.  You can run your audio cables coming out of the 360 into them, and then plug Turtle Beach adapters into either your TV or stereo system.

The potential problem here is if you are using your Xbox 360 with HDMI carrying your audio, which is what I do with my living room setup.  However, this situation can be worked around as long as your TV or stereo system has RCA outputs.  In fact, this actually made my experience better, because I have my Wii, cable DVR, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 all running to my TV for video and audio.  I then use an optical out from my TV into my surround sound system.  But, my TV also has RCA stereo outputs and the Turtle Beach headset plugged into those beautifully.

The result was very cool, because I could turn down the stereo and TV, but the Turtle Beach transmitter has its own volume control and I was able to listen to my games and TV in stereo without making any other noise in the living room - which I'm sure my wife was particularly grateful for.  I was also able to use it in my bedroom with my Xbox 360 and smaller TV in there.  So from that standpoint, the headphones were versatile in that I could have so many audio sources going into it.

The headset itself is very comfortable and has some nice adjustments to it.  The pads around my ears did allow them to 'breathe' nicely.  Still, I'm not someone who is used to wearing headphones for prolonged periods of time, so I generally limited my use of them to about an hour.

The sound was pretty good.  Not as crystal clear as my surround sound system in the living room, but compared to my bedroom setup where I only use my TV's built-in speakers, the difference was actually pretty incredible.  I was easily able to discern where attacks were coming from and had a much better sense of immersion while playing games in my bedroom, without any crackling or popping.  There are a handful of settings for changing how much bass there is, and how the sound in general comes across with four different settings you can toggle through.

The microphone works really well - my friends said it sounded a lot better than the cheap $15 one I was using before.  The microphone only affects the Xbox 360, even if you have it hooked up to multiple sources like I did with the TV.  Also, there is an additional cable you plug in that runs from the headset to the controller you are using, which has a nice volume dial adjustment on it as well.

So this sounds like a great headset, right?  It is, and I'm going to miss it - because I can't really use it, it turns out.  While the headset's signal stays nice and strong, it completely screws up our wireless internet in our house.  At first I thought it was just coincidence the first time or two it happened.  Our ISP, Broadstripe, in no uncertain terms just plain sucks.  They have outages and slow internet all of the time, so I didn't think a lot of it when we had some dropped internet the first couple of nights I used the headset.


But then my son and I were playing Mass Effect 3 together (one HUGE perk about the 360 version of that game.  It comes on two discs.  At first, all that disc swapping annoyed me, but then I realized we could both play online multiplayer by each using a disc on different consoles in different rooms.  HUGE WIN!) - he was in the living room with the 360 that has wired internet.  I was in the bedroom with the wireless and using the headset.  We got through a match and a half, and then my connection dropped but he stayed on and active.

I then started to investigate using the iPad, my laptop, the PS3 in two different rooms - all wireless and all really struggling to connect to our router (which is in the living room, which is adjacent to my bedroom).  Even when our cable company's internet service sucks, I typically show a strong signal from my router - but none of these devices were doing that now.  I noticed that my wife's PC, which is wired to the router directly - like the living Xbox 360 - was getting internet just fine.  So I unplugged the transmitter from the Xbox 360 and in about fifteen minutes all of our devices were kicking along well again.

I did one more test two days ago.  It was late at night, almost everything was off so our router (which is usually stuck supporting a ton of devices - my 3DS, my son's 3DS, my wife's iPad 3, my laptop, my desktop, the kids' desktop, a PS3 or two... you get the idea) was really only supporting the bedroom PS 3 and my wife's iPad.  I decided to plug in the headset transmitter one more time.  About twenty minutes or so later, with my wife watching Hulu on our PlayStation 3 and surfing the web on her iPad - the signal quality degraded so much that Hulu would not run and she could not check her email.  I unplugged the transmitter and in about fifteen minutes everything was fine again.

So, I did some research and discovered that a lot of people have this problem if they are in areas that have a lot of Wifi devices (like in apartments) or a very strong router (like me).  Their suggestions were to disable the router and use wired internet (not really an option with all of the devices in our house), lower the router's signal output (which again greatly degraded how many devices we could use at a time), use the Turtle Beach headset in a room where the Xbox 360 is not within range of the router (which sort of defeats the purpose of playing online multiplayer if I can't get my 360 online) - but the Turtle Beach website is very plain in stating that this is not a defect of the headset but a limitation of Wifi in general.

While there is some truth to the matter, I have to say I've come away very disappointed, especially since I could not find any mention of this anywhere unless I started to really dig through their knowledge base online.  Overall, I really, really liked the headset and thought it was a great value, but unfortunately it is definitely buyer beware.  Considering how many people use these headsets and the overall positive ratings and reviews they get, my guess is most people will never have this particular problem with interference, but for me it is unfortunately an absolute deal breaker.