Turtle Beach is a well-known producer of high quality audio products. I've followed them for years, since my first PC sound card. At E3 2005, we had a wonderful time trying out their new line of gaming headphones. So I was very excited to receive a set of Ear Force AXT headphones for review. Until I tried them.
The Ear Force AXT headphones are meant to be used with Xbox and Xbox 360, but they were obviously designed for the Xbox. At a MSRP of $79.99, the Ear Force AXT is a real contender among high-end, but not super expensive, headphones. The headphones feature four speakers in each earcup, which allows them to create very nice surround sound effects. The headphones also utilize an additional amplifier to power the surround sound, which makes them real loud. There is also a microphone attached to the headset that allows for voice chat in online games, and the marketing slant on the Ear Force AXT is that you shouldn't have to give up good audio in your game in order to chat and play online.
All of this sounds absolutely wonderful. And almost none of it works right.
I cannot express my sheer disbelief at the Ear Force AXT headphones and how terribly designed they are. The first thing that made me suspicious was the inclusion of female-to-female RCA adapters. These little adapters allow you to connect the male RCA ends of the Ear Force headphones to the male RCA ends of the Xbox or Xbox 360 composite audio out cables. That means that to connect the Ear Force headphones to your Xbox, you must use the adapters, and any audiophile will tell you that adding an extra adapter or extension cord between your components is sacrilege and adds to noise in the line.
Still hopeful that perhaps the interference wouldn't be too terrible, I continued to unpack the headphones and quickly discovered the nightmare of actually using the Ear Force AXTs. The first issue is plugging it into your Xbox or Xbox 360. The audio out plugs on the console are attached to the video out, which means that they are tucked back into our GF! console switcher, buried behind the audio receiver, television and other consoles. Getting to this thing is not something that we like to do often (we prefer the set-it-up-and-leave-it-there approach).
After taking apart the console center, we managed to attach the headphones to the Xbox (we tried these with both Xbox and Xbox 360), and we did require the aforementioned adapters. In addition to plugging into the Xbox, the Ear Force headphones amplifier must be plugged into an AC outlet. Since outlets on the plug strip are highly valued in the GF! offices, we had to plug it into the wall, creating a great "V" of cables stretching across our test area, creating a precarious situation endangering our precious consoles.. We put up some of those yellow caution signs we usually use for warning people of wet floors.
The cords are also very short. That means you can either slide the couch up closer to the TV, or squat on the floor. Either way, you'll be closer to your game than you're probably comfortable with. This setup is completely unacceptable, and had I actually bought these headphones, I would have been packaging them up for return already. But wait: It gets worse. There is another cord involved.
To connect the microphone to the Xbox, you must plug another cord into the controller. On the original Xbox, this is not so bad-the headset dongle that comes with your regular Xbox Live headset contains volume and mute controls, and the Ear Force microphone plugs directly into it. However, if you don't currently own an Xbox Live Communicator for the original Xbox, then you'll need to buy one to make your Ear Force headphones work. On the Xbox 360, you must use yet another adapter to plug the headset mic directly into the controller. Because the new Xbox 360 headset has the mute controls built directly into the plug, when using the Ear Force AXT headphones you give up all control over the mute. But that's OK: Everyone on Xbox Live wants to hear you curse and sigh and cough as you play, right?
Xbox 360 owners also give up the benefits that the wireless controller offers. With two short cords connecting you to the back of your television, you won't be playing from more than a few feet away from the Xbox 360. And you can forget about the benefits of not having cords to trip on, as I described above.
After figuring out all of this, I was starting to get depressed. I felt that if the comfort and sound quality were good enough, maybe it would all be worth it. It wasn't.
The headphones fit OK if you have a very large head. On some of our reviewers, the headphones slid down to where the earcups didn't match up with their ears. On others, they were right on. An adjustable headset would have helped, but there is no adjustment possible with the Ear Force AXT headphones. The earcups are nicely padded. And the microphone is quite positionable.
Fortunately, my head was just big enough to fit the headphones relatively comfortably, although I spun them off a couple times by turning around quickly to stop people from tripping over my spiderweb of cords. The amplifier dangles from the headphones on one side, which makes you feel more lop-sided than a single earpiece. The amplifier's cord length from the headphones is so short that unless you're laying on the ground or sitting at a desk, it's almost impossible to support them. So you're left with the odd feeling of wearing one very large, very heavy earring.
Still, what about the sound quality? Poo. I'm sorry, that's not a technical term. Let's try this one: Awful.
The audio is muddled and, oddly enough, the headphones cannot get very loud before they start breaking up and getting noisy. The bass is completely muddy, lacking any semblance of a crisp boom. In addition, high frequency sounds are dull and muffled. There is no crack or pop as you'd expect from the sound of videogame warfare. And don't even try listening to music with these things (which is especially grievous given the Xbox 360's emphasis on media capabilities). In addition to poor sound quality in games, I found it incredibly difficult to understand other gamers on Xbox Live. The voices got completely muddled in the low-end sounds making it nearly impossible to coordinate or strategize with my team members, let alone carry on a conversation with my online friends. Other gamers had, apparently, no trouble understanding me, so at least the microphone seems to work OK.
The one aspect of the Ear Force AXT headphones that works as advertised is the surround sound support. The four speakers in each ear do work well to create full 360 degree audio, allowing you to hear enemies approach from behind or to locate the action on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the surround sound capabilities are pretty much pointless in light of the terrible audio quality.
It appears to me that the AXT version of the Ear Force headphones were created as a modified version of Turtle Beach's PC-targeted headphones. The AXTs seem to have been created as an afterthought, with little or no consideration given to how console gaming differs from PC gaming. The many-corded experience works much better with a PC (although the sound quality is still just as cruddy).
I have rarely been so disappointed by a product as I am by the Ear Force AXT headphones, and I have only given a few products such a low score. I cannot recommend these headphones for any reason. At the $79.99 price point, there are many better options for your gaming pleasure, and at any price, the hassle involved with these headphones is not worth the price. Avoid these at all costs.