With gaming increasingly becoming a globally interconnected form of entertainment, the need for a second, third or fourth controller for your games console is slowly turning obsolete. The surge in single player and online only titles flooding the market in recent years have left only a few good split-screen co-op/multiplayer games. Therefore it is obligatory to own a headset for communicating with friends, sat at their own consoles miles away. Whilst undoubtedly less sociable, it’s easy; we live in a world where journeys are ever shorter, messages are sent (and received) with a single click, and geographical distances matter less and less, and gaming is at the forefront of this technological evolution.
Luckily most console bundles include a headset, but in my opinion the factory headset Microsoft give you is a little substandard. Mine broke within the first year of use. I realise that many of you will have looked after your headsets better than I, but when the day comes that you accidentally sit on it, or spill soup on it etc, you might want to consider and upgrade.
A standard Xbox One headset (for example) is £19.99, its functionality: to enable you to chat to other players. In my opinion this is a hefty price tag for such a stripped down piece of hardware, its the most plastic thing I’ve ever seen. I went a bit crazy with birthday money and got a £64.99 replacement; a Turtle Beach Earforce XO4 Stealth, the name totally sold it to me… This is a mid-range product, with the high end headsets reaching above £200. With a £45 increase in budget (x3.25 original price) you’ve kinda got to be sure, so read on if these figures didn’t make you be sick in your mouth.
Another price worth noting, because Turtle Beach sure won’t tell you this; the headset uses power from your controller and therefore together they eat batteries like no one’s business! So you’ll need to buy rechargable batteries, if you’re on PS4 then this is your cue to laugh… … … Ok that’s enough now, pipe down.
Just to get this off the table, most alternative headsets provide in-game sound and chat audio from your party/lobby. Meaning that you can just put your TV on mute and listen to the game audio through the headset.
I can only reference the XO4 stealth here when I say: the sound quality you get from these far exceed most regular headphones. In fact, you can just use the universal headphone jack and plug them into your laptop/tablet/phone! Every sound is crisp and clear and above all bassy, giving the game an authentic immersive feel, especially because the in-game audio is often designed to give you a sense of directional awareness. Its sort of like having a personal surround sound system which only you can hear,. Your friends voices are amplified well, though the quality does depend on their mike as well.
The increased awareness and improvement in sound quality really give you a sense of place when playing with the XO4. The headset is sound cancelling, so all background sounds (minus hoovers and hairdryers) are cut out, leaving just the serene music of the RPG you’re playing, or the less serene death cries of Battlefield soldiers.
But it can be a little too immersive, meaning that when looking at the screen you can be completely unaware of the world around you. I have actually missed dinner before by accident when I failed to hear my name being called. Also it is inherently unsociable. The headset is practically useless if you are playing with someone on the same xbox, or if someone is spectating, because you can’t hear what they’re saying!
For those who love competitive gaming, especially shooters, sound plays a huge part in gauging distances and directions of approaching players. It is surprising how well minor sounds like footsteps are picked up, but on twitch reaction shooters, that knowledge is often enough to mean the difference between success and failure, especially when you don’t have the best reactions in the first place (ehem myself). Having your ears engulfed means that outside influences do not affect your concentration. It doesn’t necessarily make you enjoy matches more, but dying less is always nice right?
Initially I had issues balancing the volume of in-game and chat. Have the game too loud and you can’t hear Keith’s essential call outs; have the chat too loud and his incessant cursing down the mike could mask the footsteps of your approaching demise. Also keep in mind that some games have better audio awareness than others, in Battlefield Hardline every gunshot sounds like its over your shoulder, its terrifying…
Buy the right headset and you can wear it for hours on end without feeling discomfort. The factory xbox headset I found very awkward to wear, whereas my XO4 stealth hugs my head like a lemur, and doubles up as a pair of ear muffs in the winter!
In the summer however they will undoubtedly be too warm. Though long gaming sessions in July should be discouraged (ppffffttttt), you may find yourself forgoing the headset for a bag of frozen peas.
One of the coolest things about the XO4, and about many other gaming headsets is the fact it obviates the use of the TV for audio. For those who have new 1080p thin screened TVs with abysmal speakers this is a big pro for you!
My Mum absolutely hates hearing loud gunfire around the house (I have no idea why), so instead of just turning the sound down, I can mute the TV and stick my headset on instead, problem solved. So with games like Doom and Gears 4 on the horizon, whomever I live with need never be subject to the bloodcurdling sound effects.
Wear and Tear
The main reason I decided not to buy another factory xbox one mike was because my old one broke so quickly. On receiving my XO4 through the post I was astonished by just how bulky and well made it was. The wires are thick which should hopefully stop the internal connection from being severed.
However for all my talk of sturdy hardware, it is after all a well used piece of kit. So you really have to ask yourself whether you’re prepared to take the risk, because one slip of that soup bowl and £64.99 is what you’ll be paying for a replacement.
For me personally I’m happy I made the purchase, it is useful to mute the TV so that I don’t annoy everyone, the sound quality is incredible, and I love having the competitive edge over most (sensible) gamers. It’s a lot of money to spend on a non-compulsory accessory, but the jump in quality far exceeds the jump in price between that and the factory version. However if you don’t play frequently then I’d say spend it on more important stuff, y’know like food.