Just like music audiophiles, gamers want exceptional sound quality when they play games. Short of strapping on a VR headset like Oculus' Rift, sound is the next best thing to immerse players in their favorite video game. Turtle Beach has been in the industry for some time, providing an extensive lineup of gaming headsets.
This time around, the company unveiled its new reigning top-tier device, the Elite 800X for Xbox One. At $299.95, it comes packed with many features such as noise cancellation, two hidden microphones and multiple audio modes. That last feature is the entire crux of the headset, but it's also a point of concern, especially when you think about how much you really want to put down for a gaming headset.
What's In The Box
But first things first. We need to take inventory of what is actually contained inside the white box emblazoned with the company logo. Aside from the headset itself, there are also two smaller boxes inside. The first contains the necessary wires to connect to your Xbox One: an optical cable, two micro-USB wires (one is a transmitting cable; the other, a programming cable) and a 3.5 mm cord. Some of those wires connect to the content of the second box: a transmitter that pairs to the headset to deliver sound from the console. It also acts as a dock and charger for the headset so you don't need to leave it lying on some random spot on your desk.
Other contents from the box include a quick-start guide, a small pamphlet welcoming you to the company's Elite lineup, a reference sheet for the various audio presets, warranty information and a Turtle Beach sticker.
As for the headset itself, its exterior is made from hardened plastic with a matte finish. The top of the headband is made from hardened rubber and features the Turtle Beach name. On the other hand, its underside, the part that actually makes contact with your head, is made out of soft leather. The headband is flanked on both sides by two small metallic ends with the Elite branding etched onto the metal. The 3.5 mm jack is located below the left earcup, and a small light is located on the outer edge of both earcups to indicate if the headset is on, paired with the transmitter or another Bluetooth device, if noise cancellation is on or off, or if the mic is muted or not.
The controls are on the outer plates located on both earcups. The left plate features the power button, Bluetooth pairing and volume controls, while the right plate has the mic mute toggle, audio presets and chat volume. The earcups are made from the same soft leather at the underside of the headband, providing the same feeling of comfort for your ears. Small strips of green line the outer edge of the earcups as well as the side of the headphones to accent its primary use for the Xbox One. You can also twist both earcups so they lie flat on your chest when you put it around your neck.
Even though the headset itself is completely wireless, the initial setup to the Xbox One does require wired connections. All you need to do is connect the optical cable and the transmitter cable to the rear of the transmitter and then insert the opposite ends to those cables in the rear I/O of the Xbox One. After a couple of setting configurations in the console, you're good to go. The programming cable doesn't come into play that much except when you need to connect to your PC so that you can download the latest firmware updates for the headset via the Ear Force Audio Hub software.
The headset also comes with Bluetooth capabilities so you can set it up to work with your mobile device or tablet. If you prefer the wired connection, you can use the 3.5 mm cable. I was also able to set this up for PC gaming, and even though it was initially created for Xbox One users, it also worked with my PlayStation 4.
The takeaway here is that you can use it for almost any entertainment system you own, whether it's a console, computer or smartphone. If it has Bluetooth, optical or a 3.5 mm jack, the Elite 800X can work with it.
Before you actually begin to use the Elite 800X, you need to familiarize yourself with all of the presets available to you, which can be accessed by pressing and holding the Preset Button on the right side of the headset. Aside from Stereo mode, there are three other main presets: Game, Movie and Music. Aside from the Stereo preset, the other three selections all use DTX Headphone X surround sound. Depending on which one you choose, you also have between four to six modes to pick within each preset.
|Stereo Mode||Game Mode||Movie Mode||Music|
|Signature Sound||Signature Sound||Signature Sound||Signature Sound|
|Enhanced Bass and Treble||Racing||Horror||Acoustic|
That's a lot for a gaming-focused headset. Maybe it's a bit too much, even. Considering that tuning to Signature Sound seems to strike the perfect balance between bass and treble while still providing surround sound, I barely used the other settings in Movie, Music and Stereo. Some had so much bass or treble that it blocked out the other one, or certain elements such as vocals drowned out the rest of the instruments.
For Game Mode, I used two games on the Xbox One: Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Forza Horizon 2, to test out the various sound settings for gamers. Halo: The Master Chief Collection was an appropriate title to use because I could try out the Shooter, Superhuman Hearing and Footstep Focus, and obviously, the Racing setting was used in Forza Horizon 2.
The best way to describe the differences between each setting is to describe the changes in bass and treble levels. The Shooter setting increases the bass so things such as gunfire and explosions have a little more punch. If you're going to blast an alien with a powerful sniper rifle or mow down hordes of enemies from the gun turret of a Warthog, the increased bass makes each impact louder, as if each bullet or grenade was capable of shaking the ground.
Superhuman Hearing dramatically increases the treble and decreases the bass to almost nothing, allowing you to hear everything from ambient sounds of distant soldiers passing by to the click-clack of reloading of the assault rifle. Unfortunately, you won't have that same feeling as the Shooter setting, where each shot was accented with a powerful bass, but if you really want to take in the scenery and hear everything, the appropriately-named setting is your best bet.
It took a while to actually figure out how to describe the sound quality of the Footstep Focus setting, which I perceived as the same as Superhuman Hearing because the treble is once again heavily increased, but it sounds muffled overall. However, you are still able to hear footsteps somewhat clearer than other sound effects. Granted, the first few minutes of using it were really interesting, and I could definitely see its potential in multiplayer games. However, I'm not a big fan of it for long periods of time, because it detracts from the overall experience of the game. If you keep using this setting, you won't be able to fully take in the sound of a waterfall in dense forest or a large explosion from enemy tanks down the street. If you really care about your kill to death ratio in a game, this is a viable option, but don't expect quick dramatic results.
I then switched to Forza Horizon 2 to try the Racing sound. I expected an increase in both treble and bass so I could clearly hear the low rumble of a car engine when it's sitting at the starting line, as well as the high-pitch engine revs as it turns a corner gunning for first place. Instead, I got the sound equivalent of what it feels like to actually sit in the car. The engine still had a rumbling sound, but it wasn't as prominent as I thought it would be, considering I was driving a fully upgraded Shelby GT 500. The only sound that had a lot of impact was when I would hit trees, other cars or simply go off the beaten path and tear through the European countryside. I wanted the feeling of hearing the loud engines of my high-end cars as I reached top speeds and the squeal of the brakes as I made a turn. Unfortunately, I only heard a fraction of the sound compared to the normal Signature Sound setting.
The final setting was for Sports. As you would expect, it simulates being in the middle of an arena by providing deep echoes during gameplay. Needless to say, it doesn't exactly work in Halo or Forza Horizon 2, because you don't want to hear echoes of dialogue, gunfire and races. If you're playing the latest FIFA or Madden title it should provide more immersion, but I wouldn't recommend it in many other scenarios. Unless you like echoes.
Silence And Calling
I also tried out the chat and noise cancellation features on the Elite 800X. With the former, I paired my iPhone via Bluetooth while playing. I could also have used the same Bluetooth button after the pairing to answer and end calls with a single tap.
I was able to have a clear call with a friend while playing a game. Of course, this means that the game volume is slightly turned down while you talk on the phone, but Turtle Beach somehow managed to find the sweet spot where I was able to have a long conversation while still tuned in to the game. After I hung up, the game volume was automatically raised back to its normal level.
If you're playing games with a high volume on the headset, chances are you don't really need noise cancellation, but the feature is there for your convenience if you don't want any outside distractions whatsoever. For me, it wasn't the best experience. When I turned on noise cancellation, it felt like my ears continued to gain altitude as if I were flying on an airplane. I constantly had to mimic yawning to make my ears pop, and as soon as I turned off the feature, I was relieved. My ears did get somewhat accustomed to it after a while, but I still didn't like the feeling. Instead of focusing on the game's audio, I was too busy trying to get that annoying feeling out of my ears.
The Goldilocks Dilemma
Overall, the pros outweighed the cons for the Elite 800X. I enjoyed my time with it and it will continue to sit in my living room as my choice of headphones when I'm playing on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. It's a beautiful device, and its low profile transmitter only shows a lit Turtle Beach logo to indicate use or charging, which isn't a distraction.
However, I do believe that there were too many features on a headset that should have been a simpler product. I didn't use the other modes often, as I usually stuck to stereo for music, watching movies and shows and calls, and then switched to one of the settings on Game Mode. It seems as if the Elite 800X is the end-all, be-all of the lineup with its many features, but when you actually use it, you only end up utilizing one or two things from the headset and then stick with those.
Gamers might ask for all these features, saying what they currently own is not enough, but this headset goes to the opposite extreme end and provides you with something more than you expected. It's not a bad strategy, but considering that you won't always be switching between Movie, Stereo, Game and Music mode over the course of a day or even a week, it's not really worth the price, even if it provides all these varying options for great sound quality. Just like its Signature Surround, I'm hoping Turtle Beach finds the perfect balance of what players want and what it can offer to satisfy those needs.