When I first got the box of goodies that contained al the items I’ve been reviewing over the last few weeks, I sat down for an hour and decided in which order they were going to be done. I had no particular order for the headsets when I laid it all out, but it looks like in the order of going through the Carcharias, the Ferox and then the Siberia V2 I was going on an ever-increasing curve of ear-exploding fidelity. I didn’t intend to save the best for last, but that’s how it turned out. And by far, the PX5 left me the most impressed. Let’s get into why.
I suppose we begin at the start of why I picked these to be last, at least subconsciously. When I mentioned to my family years ago that I struggled to hear conversations and some sounds in games and movies because of my proximity to the TV, they eventually got me a pair of wireless headphones made by Phillips. For the weeks and years that passed, I guess there’s not a day that went by when I didn’t use them. I washed dishes in the kitchen while also catching up on Pretty Little Liars playing on the TV in the lounge. I could spin in my chair as much as I wanted and didn’t have to worry about cords. The batteries the thing uses are so damn strong that they only began to give me longevity issues three weeks ago. For the R600-odd my parents paid for them, they were a bargain.
Over time, though, the cushions have lost their softness and have begun to feel a little firmer. The bass gets less responsive after a week of heavy use and given that a lot of gamers now expect to use the same headset on both a PC and console, especially for those of you weirdos that keep your consoles right next to your PC connected up to the same monitor, it helps if you don’t have to plug and unplug things every now and then. They don’t have a microphone, something I’m sorely lacking once I got into multi-player games. They’re the same set of cans I fell in love with on Christmas 2009, but my needs have changed since then.
The PX5 seems to remedy that, at least when you check out the box. It says it’s designed for the PS3 and Xbox 360, although some of you will be able to hook up your PC as well. As usual, the cardboard box, the plastic packaging, the orange inserts and the other paraphernalia are all recyclable. Its eye-catching, but not cheesy or screaming for you to look at it. Picking it up, it feels rather heavy and that’s all due to the headphones themselves, weighing in at one kilogram and there’s a good reason for that – its wireless!
Picking it up it feels solid and good and then you crap yourself when you twist the speakers – they’re designed to do this actually. I know that many headbands get bent out of shape after years of taking them on and off and Turtle Beach seem to have some intelligent designers because you put them on by twisting them and letting them slide over your head and turning back to their normal position. The hinges and rotating platform are made of plastic, but it feels firm and unlikely to break so long as you don’t give them to someone with a violent disposition towards headphones. The PX5 fits comfortably on my head and I gave it to my family to test as well. In the end, I had to wrestle them from my dad because he likes them waaaay too much.
The ear cushions are the biggest surprise. I felt them when opening the headset and taking them out of the box and I though they were going to be uncomfortable because they were too firm and didn’t feel soft. The material isn’t anything like the Steelseries Sibera V2, my current benchmark for comfort in headphones, but it’s a non-issue once you put them on. The whole thing is so comfortable and light and the cushions aren’t stuck in, you can actually adjust them for the position of your ears by rotating them on their sliding base. I’ll also say this right at the start – they seal around a hearing aid completely. Hearing aid on, hearing aid off, it made literally no difference at all to how they fitted on my ears and head. That’s the first win I can give to the PX5.
The second win is that the PX5 has no buttons on the receiver – its all on the headphones. There’s the power button by the flexible microphone with removable boom on the left-hand speaker (which is a great idea because you can’t accidentally hit it) as well as the controls for game volume, a jack for connecting up to your Xbox controller for in-game chat, a button to swap between eight pre-loaded equaliser presets (yes, those are adjustable) and there’s a USB port, for connecting to your PC to configure presets as well as update the earphone’s firmware. Wait, the list goes on! There’s buttons on the right-hand speaker to control the mike volume in-game, lowering in-game volume whenever someone says something, and the usual mute button.
Because the PX5 works with the PS3’s Bluetooth authentication system as a compatible wireless microphone, there’s an option to switch between Bluetooth sources by clicking a small circular button to switch to the PS3. “Switch from what, exactly?”, I hear you say? Well, that bit comes later, but lets just say its one of the many abilities that endear the PX5 to me personally. There’s also another preset button to swap between configured profiles for the amount of volume that is lost when you or someone else is chatting. They’re all labeled and pretty self-explanatory, but this was the first time I had to dig into a manual to understand what the hell was going on.
The PX5 comes by default with two AA batteries and lifetime is quoted at 16 continuous hours before you need to get new ones on. Oh, you see rechargeables in the picture above? That’s because I put them in myself. Its not a train smash if you have rechargeables on-hand, but its a little disappointing that this wasn’t a built-in feature. The ones Turtle Beach puts into the package are a pair of industrial-strength PairDeers Alkalines rated at 1.5v. PairDeers are expensive, so far as I know, but they’re really only worth that first sixteen hour’s use. After that, you need to buy something better.
The transmitter comes with its own stand and acts as both the receiver for audio signals and a Dolby DTS-Passthru device when you make use of the optical in/out ports. It connects to the Ps3 via a optical cable, while it supports the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii via the RCA ports. The front of the device has some status LEDs to note which mode it’s in, a button to control the DTS-Passthru mode and a headset jack along with volume control. That part’s pretty interesting because you can plug in another headset so that a buddy can join you with his headphones. I tested it out originally with the Ferox speakers and it worked quite well. At the back of the transmitter there’s also a volume adjuster to change how loud the line-in volume is.
So naturally, we started with the PS3…
The first day i got the PX5 I hooked it up to the PS3 and started up the pairing process for the headset to match it to the transmitter. I couldn’t understand why I was missing the timing initially so I had this weird idea of putting it on my head first. Then I pressed the pairing button on the receiver and held in the power button on the headset. I crapped myself when a voice, out of nowhere, said “Powering on, PS3 mode. Pairing…”
The headset talks to you for everything, from telling you what number preset you’re on to whether you’ve muted the microphone. To save on batteries, the headset automatically turns itself off after idling without any incoming sound for five minutes. When it does, the voice says, “Powering off.” Pressing and holding in the button for five seconds turns it on again. Pressing it twice switches between Xbox and PS3 mode, which tells the headset where the line out for the microphone goes to. Switching between the mike presets plays a “beep” and “boop” for the two modes when you press the button. Pressing the volume buttons for the mike levels also plays a little “beep.” The voice also tells you when the Bluetooth pairing is successful or if it’s failed. Its pretty damn cool.
There’s more to that though. The headphone uses Bluetooth for pairing so Turtle Beach allowed another device to use it – your phone! You can pair the headset to your phone and it works like a handsfree kit. While you’re playing, your phone’s ringtone plays into the headset at a low volume, but loud enough to hear it. When you take the call, the headset’s microphone pairs to the phone and switches off it’s pairing to the PS3 to take the call. When you disconnect the call, the mike pairs to the PS3 again and your chat session continues. It works the same way with the Xbox controller, only this time because you’re using a cable the mike only pairs to your phone when the call comes in, saving on battery power. Its really nifty.
That is sweet, man…
Totally. The sound the PX5 makes is absolutely gorgeous. I had no distortion and no loss of clarity at any volume level. Tone and pitch range was lacking in a few areas but I discovered that’s because my presets were still on the default setting. I liked number five, which boosts up both bass and treble but sacrifices the high frequencies for the extra bass. Because the speakers are still two 50mm drivers but mimic surround sound through some black magic. That means that it’s pretty similar internally to the Siberia V2 and my experience is that both are more or less evenly matched, but the PX5’s virtual surround just makes things sound so much better. I sat down with them late one night and put in GT5. I never expected what my ears heard.
I’ll admit, it brought a tear or two to my eye. I had been missing out on a whole world of sounds, from the whine of the V10 in the Lamborghini Gallardo to the crunch of my Citroen rally car crashing into the side of a building. Everything had its own sound and individual volume and I could hear other cars on the track behind me and when they were passing on my left. In the cockpit, I could hear when my Ford Escort Cosworth changed gears or when the rear tires on my BMW M3 were losing grip, causing my car to scrape against another. It was magic.
I tried again with Far Cry 3 and Vaas’ rants in the beginning of the game were completely audible, although I think he speaks way too fast for some people to follow when he goes on rants. With the Siberia V2 I discovered that when plugged into the console via the RCA ports that it wasn’t capable of amplifying individual sounds, it merely amplifying all of them at an equal and higher volume. With the PX5, my footsteps were soft, reloading the gun was a soft but audible “click!” but gunshots were loud enough to pierce my ears if I had the volume way up. Playing Mirror’s Edge, I could also hear sounds move around me and I could pinpoint if an enemy was on my left or right and whether they were behind me or not. Again, it wasn’t true surround sound, but it was close enough.
But that’s not the only thing I tried…
My motherboard has an optical out port and I knew this when I bought it long ago. Optical out may be a deprecated technology, but it has its uses in various products and the small size of the connector and cable makes it easy to squeeze in so long as you have space on the PCB for it. I plugged in the transmitter and set the default to the Optical out port. Although not many motherboards support this, it’s pretty cool how versatile the PX5 turned out to be, at least in my case.
Once I had it set up, it was the same experience as on the console, just that now I could listen to whatever music I wanted and I could even pair my microphone to the PC by using a Bluetooth adapter I had laying around. Everything worked as I expected and I tested the same tracks as the other headsets. Linkin Park’s “In my remains”, Maroon 5’s “Moves like Jagger” and Marylin Manson’s “Lamb of God” all sounded good and I could pick out individual instruments and sounds. There was no distortion at high volume levels all the way to 90% (which was the highest I could go without exploding something) and with preset #2 I had all the pitch range and bass I could want. It’s the equal of the Siberia V2, if just a little better because of the virtual surround and much better because of the lack of wires.
Unfortunately, while I know the headset is programmable and has customisable presets, I wasn’t able to get hold of the audio software due to server issues. It keeps timing out on my activation link and I’m still waiting for Turtle Beach to get that fixed as I write this. But I did check out some of the downloadable presets that other reviewers noted and there’s some presets made by various game developers like Visceral Games for Dead Space 2, as well as other presets made by the community that fix certain issues that users, deaf users for example, would have with pitch response or bass levels for music. That said, the default ones are perfectly fine for both games and music.
Speaking of games, I tried out those too. Borderlands 2 sounded great. Gunshots were loud, explosions sounded like explosions and there was enough bass to make me happy. My other regular titles like Portal 2, Bastion and Crysis 3 were all great and better than the Siberia V2. I had no volume or pitch issues and there was no distortion either. I literally can’t find anything bad about the PX5’s performance aside from the fact that I can’t adjust the balance levels from within Windows’ sound mixer. I know that the desktop wasn’t the PX5’s main destination but it’s a boon that it works as well as it does. Hell, even my anime was a great experience.
So, why should I buy this?
Well, there’s two main reasons. Three, actually. One, it’s a wireless headset with a range of about ten meters using Bluetooth through two walls. The mere fact that it’s not possible to strangle yourself, or have animals trip over any cords, bringing down your console with a crash, is worth some serious consideration. I remember when I first held a wireless Dualshock controller, that freedom to move wherever and still have signal just blew my mind. I can’t go back to a corded world anymore.
Two, it pairs to your phone and acts as a handsfree kit and means you don’t have to stop playing while you’re making that order for pizza. That is pretty awesome. The third is that this is immensely customisable. If I had the time and know-how, I could actually fine-tune one of the equaliser presets for my pitch loss. That’s pretty cool. Turtle Beach could make it even better if they allow for voice customisation. Imagine GLaDOS doing all the prompts, or have Marcus Fenix yelling out the presets. Or the Call of Duty fans who could replace the beeps and boops with reloading sounds from different guns. I’m sure the community could come up with a way to hack it in themselves, but providing the functionality from the get-go would be awesome. Reason number four is because there’s an option to morph your voice.
That’s right, you can disguise your voice so now you sound just like Jigsaw from the SAW movies. You can troll all your friends or the noobs in online matches. You can strike fear in the hearts of your parents when you phone them using the voice morpher and read out the grocery list. You can get Telkom to give you faster service when the voice makes your claims of being in the mafia all the more believable because you sound like death itself. The ability to massively troll everyone is, again, worth some serious consideration.
In the end, I couldn’t award it full marks because it lets me down on two things. The lack of a rechargeable set of batteries does mean that investing in the headset actually costs R300 more because you need to get a good set of batteries with a wall-mounted charger. The price is also a factor that makes getting a pair of your own a difficult job. R2500 is steep no matter which way you look at it and there are cheaper wireless sets available, although they’re not as featured. Some may consider the features like the voice morphing or the customisable presets a little superfluous and I’d agree. I made it clear with the Siberia V2 review, though, that going into the high-end range of headphones, manufacturers try everything they know to differentiate their product. Adding features might be seen as a cash-in, but they certainly do work. None of the things I found on the PX5 was fluff, apart from the boom on the microphone.
I think I could heartily recommend it without any “if’s”, “ands” or “buts.”
Buy one for yourself: Turtle Beach PX5
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