When I reviewed the Turtle Beach PX5 headphones I was astounded at just how good they felt and sounded. Coming from a pair or wireless headphones from Phillips, it was like magic. I had similarly good experiences with the Steelseries Siberia V2 headset and as a bonus it was compatible with the PS3. The majority of the headsets I’ve reviewed recently have been made with console use in mind and so it was the same with the PX21 headset. Lets dig into the review and see if Turtle Beach has another winner on their hands.
Opening the box for the PX-21, there’s a crapload of red-coloured plastic inserts designed to hold everything in place. Inside it’s just the headset with the super-long 4.87m cable and in-line volume controls, cables to connect up the headset using RCA jacks to your console, a cable to connect up your microphone to the Xbox controller and the usual paper fluff of user guides, warranty information and a pamphlet telling you to buy more stuff!
The headset is light, weighing just 233g without the cables included. The tops of the speakers are covered in my long-standing enemy – glossy-coated plastic. It looks damn impressive out of the box and I love the contrast the labels create on the black background. Sadly though, it collects fingerprints like nobody’s business. Like the wireless PX5 headset I tested a while ago, the earphones can twist inwards, making it easier to put onto your head without bending the headband and also making it easy to rest them on your chest when you’re not listening to anything.
The Microphone is stuck on the outside and isn’t retractable. I consider this a bit of a disappointment, because the Steelseries Siberia and the Turtle Beach PX5 units I reviewed had retractable designs, making it less of a nuisance when packing them away. The PX21’s microphone does redeem itself by being very flexible, though. The rotating base feels sturdy and I’m sure it won’t break easily.
The top of the headband is covered in a soft-touch fake leather – YAY! This was my biggest complaint by far when I reviewed the Razer Carcharias. It scratched within the first week that I was testing it and it annoyed me immensely. The PX21’s headband feels really nice, almost luxurious. Indeed, its probably the one bit of class on this unit and probably my favourite part.
On the inside, the headband is filled with a felt-covered padded cushion…cushion-ey thing that feels comfortable enough. It does get a bit itchy after several hours of use and I imagine that those of you who are bald may not like it either. There’s not a lot of padding available but considering this isn’t a very heavy headset, this isn’t a drawback, at least as much as it would be in a heavier kit like the PX5.
The ear cushions are covered in the same felt-like fabric and they’re rather oblong. This seems to be an effort on Turtle Beach’s part to cover and fit any ear size, but this wasn’t to my immediate benefits. I have large ears that I grew into during school. Although the cushions, once slightly adjusted (they rotated on a base), do fit over my ears, I actually have to fit my earlobes inside the cups, rather than have the speakers just rest on them. It does dampen out external sound, but some people with sensitive ears may not like it.
The in-line volume controls are stuck onto the headset and cannot be removed. That’s a good and bad thing in some ways – for good, it means that when playing on the console from the couch, you can just rest the controls on your lap and they’re always within arms reach. Its the same for the PC, although the bad thing is the tangle of cables that needs to go somewhere. If used as a PC headset, you’ve easily got more than two metres of cable more than most headsets designed for desktop use. The fact that it’s also not detacheable means that the headset is less versatile and will only work for consoles or computers.
There’s a fair amount of control options here. On the top from the left, you have the microphone mute slider, the Bass Expander slider and a bass adjuster (no treble, sorry lads). Moving down to the bottom, there’s a plug to control the microphone using the Xbox 360 controller, as well as volume controls for in-game chatter from your teammates and the game volume itself. On the desktop, you control the volume for everything using the Chat slider. The crocodile clip on the back works very well. I can do the Harlem Shake in front of the console without it falling off.
The controls are USB powered and connect up to your device using a USB 2.0 port and a 3.5mm RCA jack. The extra power allows for the various sound controls and has another job as well – boosting top-end volume. The in-line controls boost particular frequencies at all volume levels. I found that I could comfortable hear music and watch movies at 10-15% volume. At the top, it’s an ear-splitting volume that can be reached and to test it I had to hold it away from my head. At max volume, the headset turns into a very low volume set of stereo speakers. Whether that’s an intended use is unknown, but it does work for allowing a small group of friends listen to the same song, even though it sounds like its being played through a tin can.
I would not recommend listening to anything at max volume with this headset. I’m already deafer than I’d like and I’d like to warn any buyers in advance – anything over ten minutes at full volume is unhealthy.
What’s this? Where’s the drivers?!
Well, here’s the odd thing about the PX21. There are no drivers for the desktop. None, nada. Turtle Beach relies on the in-line controls to work its magic and that’s all you really have. Its a benefit on the console though, because you get a small range of adjustments that do help to get you comfortable with the audio quality.
But I will admit, not having controls on the desktop, or an app to control the default equalizer levels like the PX5 was capable of is a drawback. On the desktop, the Bass Expander slider didn’t do anything for me. The bass slider didn’t work either. Perhaps that’s a quirk of Windows 8 but I tried it on Windows 7 as well and it was exactly the same. Perhaps my unit has an issue or there’s software out there that I’m not noticing, but for the desktop there wasn’t the customisation I’d gotten used to from the PX5.
Hooking up the earphones to the PS3 using the RCA adapter and linking up the microphone was a cinch, though. Everything was properly recognised and I didn’t have to meddle in any settings to make it work.
“Call me Booker” ” I will, Mr. Dewitt, when we’re not getting shot at…”
Because it’s more console-orientated, I picked testing the PX21 on my PS3 first. The sound quality, first off, is good. Bass is deep enough, treble levels are high enough for clarity and it doesn’t sound tinny. The adjustment options on the in-line volume controls do work. Switching from the Bass expander on an off, however, only seemed to serve to reduce overall volume to compensate for the increased bass. When turned on, there’s no way to adjust the bass levels using the knob, which is a pity.
I had a similar issue with the PX5 in certain presets. I noticed that the default ones, especially presets #2 and 6 weren’t doing anything besides dropping the volume and treble levels while adding to the bass. The PX21s are a better bet in this regard because you only have two modes – on and off. Less confusion is good.
Performance in Gran Turismo was good. I can hear the meshing of gears, the warbling of the boxer motor in my Subaru BRZ (Hey, I’m learning how to drift!) and that addictive supercharger whine is there. It’s not in the same league as the PX5, and it performed more or less equally to the Siberia V2. I appreciated the boosted volume levels offered by the in-line controls
Then there was Bioshock Infinite. I don’t care what others say, this is one of the finest shooters I’ve played in a while. At every turn in Columbia the game assaults your eyes with stunning visuals. Sound is equally top notch and there were smaller things to pick up on that added to the experience. Again, performance here was good – explosions sounded great, I can hear Elizabeth clearly and I don’t have to put on the subtitles to follow what’s being said.
Desktop performance was a bit muted
However, the experience wasn’t the same on the desktop. When plugged in and testing with my usual music tracks, it felt like something was missing. The deeper bass levels were there but the bass expander didn’t appear to change anything. There was an emphasis on bass volume and there was a clear loss in the quality of the mid-tones. Ultimately, it performed to a level less than I expected coming from the excellent performance on the PS3.
For music I test out a few songs – Linkin Park’s “In my remains”, Maroon 5’s “Moves like Jagger” and Marylin Manson’s “Lamb of God”. I also listened to Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” and in all four songs there was a loss in clarity and an over-emphasis of bass. Manson’s voice sounded less gruff and I couldn’t make out the sound of the lead guitar as clearly as on other headsets. In My Remains is one of my favourite songs from Linkin Park, but while I can hear things nicely, it felt a bit muted. Once I set the equaliser in Windows Media Player to “Speech” things were a bit better, but it wasn’t very good. Raising the volume helps a bit, but exaggerates the bass levels as a result.
In games on the desktop, it was a similar affair. Bass was over-emphasised and treble was lower. The crack from my sniper rifles in Borderlands 2 and Crysis 3 didn’t have the punch I’d become used to from the tiny explosions in your ears that the PX5 gave me. Although it wasn’t apparent on the console because performance was good enough to mask it, on the desktop it was plain that the PX21 only produced sound in stereo. I expected some attempt to create a surround sound environment, even the smaller 40mm drivers may not have enjoyed the same amount of volume.
Mind you, it was still serviceable. Maybe I’m just spoiled… Wait, I can’t be a jaded hack this quickly!
See, the trouble is here that I’m deaf. I could easily be missing something that someone with proper hearing ability could pick up. Maybe the lack of mid-tones is a side-effect of my disability, but that that makes no sense to me because my pitch losses are in the low and high-end frequencies. To find out, I handed the headphones to my family to test them at the same time. My parents couldn’t get comfortable with the ear cups and my dad in particular commented that the sound was a bit muted.
My brother, who’d been using them while I was busy with my review on the Razer Anansi, said that he could get used to it, but he noticed the difference. He preferred the Razer Carcharias. There was another weird thing as well – the volume on the left speaker was higher than the volume on the right. Why this is so is a mystery I’ve yet to solve. Perhaps its impedence from the wiring or maybe I was just deafer than usual when swapping the headset around but I can tell you that none of the other units I’ve reviewed so far had a similar issue.
I’m also a little suspect about some of the materials if the headset is in use daily by more than one person. I mentioned earlier that the ear cups can be adjusted for the angle of your ears, but they’re covered in a similar material as the top of the headband, but it’s a bit thinner. After a week swapping it between three people, I noticed a small tear in the lining.
Bummer man! I also discovered that the ear cups that go around your ears don’t lose their shape over time. That’s good durability there, but together with the strange oblong shape, it also has the side effect of not accommodating a hearing aid properly. When I tried with mine the front of my ears was nicely padded and close-off, but the back rested on the hearing aid’s arm and created a gap big enough to slide my index finger into. As a result, sound leaked out to the back and volume was much lower. Bass levels also appears to suffer. So if you have a hearing aid, this probably isn’t the right pick for you.
Wearing glasses is also a little uncomfortable after more than two hours. The cups go right over your ears and exert a small amount of pressure on your temples. Without glasses, it’s a snug fit. With them, it causes the frames to press in slightly.
So where could the PX21 be improved? Well, Turtle Beach could take away the oblong shape of the ear cups and move to a more round or oval design to accommodate devices like hearing aids. The ear cushions are a snug fit without glasses, but they could do with some squishy-ness. Perhaps filling them with something softer would alleviate that. I also think that they should keep the in-line volume controls detacheable. I can use the Steelseries Siberia headphones on the console, the TV, the desktop, a laptop with the in-line controls and without and, bonus points, plugged into my cellphone. The mess of cables you have to carry along with the PX21 pretty much means you’ll put it in one place and leave it there.
In a nutshell, the PX21’s performance with console games was good and I think anyone would be satisfied with performance there. However, on the desktop, there’s something lacking that Turtle Beach could address with some driver and equaliser software as well as expose the Bass Expander feature so that it benefits fans of the Master PC race as well. All in all, a good effort, but after having experience the PX5, I know they can do better.