It’s officially time to retire the term “gaming headset”. The antiquated label evokes notions of a device limited to a specific medium, when, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The top-tier headsets released by gaming audio companies these days offer hi-fi sound for music, movies, and gaming. Add to that a wealth of features like 5.1 Dolby surround and wireless connectivity, all at a competitive price, and you’ve got a whole lot more than a mere gaming accessory.
Turtle Beach is one of the companies leading gaming headgear out of the basement and into the real world. Recently, we spent a generous amount of time testing (read: having a lot of fun with) the company’s XP Seven headset which provided gorgeous, accurate sound, and more sonic control than anything we’ve encountered outside of a recording studio. But since the XP Seven is built specifically for competitive gaming, it’s necessarily constrained by wires; and, let’s face it, we’re too spoiled for all that analog attachment these days.
Enter Turtle Beach’s latest wireless release, the Ear Force XP510. The XP510 (offered at $290) is a veritable media-holic’s dream, offering dual console connection, two different types of wireless connectivity, and comparable audio features to the XP Seven, all accessible from its onboard controls. Of course, someone has to make sure all that crazy tech works correctly — and that’s our job. Here’s what we found after extensive testing.
Out of the box
Like the XP Seven, the XP510 comes in a thick black box, sheathed in a layer of fluorescent cardboard. Pulling open the book-like cover, we got our first glimpse of the black and green headset, its tortoise shell ear cups and thick headband sunken beneath a protective layer of plastic. Removing the headset from the box, we discovered a wireless transmitter, instructions, stickers, and a box of accessories including a chat mic, a 3.5mm cable, various USB connection cables, and, possibly the best surprise: a wireless chat dongle for Xbox.
Features and design
The XP510 is constructed of solid black plastic and accented with sleek lines of metallic green. The wide headband is cloaked in a thick layer of padding, with a coat of supple leather running along the top, and a soft underbelly of cross-stitched fabric. The “Turtle” in Turtle Beach is reinforced aesthetically, not only by the color scheme and shell-shaped ear cups, but also with soft touches like an amphibian-esque patch of hexagons cast at the base of the headband, which provides grip while extending the ear cups for size adjustment.
Each of the XP510’s ovular ear cups connect to the headband on a pivoted axis, rotating a full 90 degrees to rest against the chest in the gamer style. In a clever use of ergonomics, the ear cups attach at a slight angle, allowing them to slip perfectly over the ears for a snug, yet effortless fit. Encircling the 510’s 50mm dynamic drivers is a good 1/2-inch of fabric padding, accented at the base by a thin strip of leather.
Surround effects were well displayed, bringing a tacit realism to the game that was exciting during heated conflicts…
The headset’s Wi-Fi transmitter connects to your Xbox 360 or PS3 via an included optical cable and USB power cable. A quick guide directs you through pairing, but ours came pre-paired and, thus, prepared for action. The transmitter also includes controls for altering the position of surround sound angles, but since it was difficult to tell what was actually being adjusted, we ended up just leaving it as is.
The 510’s left ear cup holds the majority of the headset’s onboard controls, including the main power button. Holding the power button down prompts a pleasant female voice to exclaim, “Powering on.” As it turns out, the voice acts as an auditory guide through most of the headset’s settings and does a decent – if not tenuous – job of leading you through a barrage of options.
To the left of the power button is a mode button which, with cues from your new robot friend, cycles through the “Game”, “Movie”, and “Music” modes. The modes are useful for optimizing sound for music and movies
Across from the mode button are EQ preset buttons for both the main game sound, and for chat. Similar to the XP-Seven, there are 9 EQ presets that alter sound, including gaming-specific enhancements like “footstep focus”, which lowers ambient game noise so you can hear enemies sneaking up on you. You can even program your own presets through Turtle Beach’s Advanced Sound Editor, which also accommodates firmware updates (more on that later). Aside from the presets, chat includes even more enhancements like voice mods, chat boost, and “sonic silencers”, which bring chat volume forward and eliminate background noise.
The left ear cup also holds the primary volume dial, a customizable dial, the swivel extension for the chat mic, and an input for the included Xbox chat cable.
On the headset’s right ear cup are buttons to control Bluetooth volume and pairing, and a mute button for the chat mic. Holding down the pair button prompts your wireless device for a code, defaulted at “0000”. Once paired you can listen to music and take phone calls while still interfacing with your console via the Wi-Fi transmitter. To add another layer of options, you can also connect to your PS3 via Bluetooth.
Turtle Beach estimates an impressive 15 hours run-time per charge of its built-in batter, allowing you to spend a seriously unhealthy amount of time with complete wireless autonomy.
Helping to extend that unhealthy level of inertia provided by the XP510’s long battery life is the fact that the headset is extremely comfortable. Like, fall asleep in your headphones comfortable. While it was clear when looking in the mirror that the 510 isn’t built for style, the headset caressed our face like a soft pillow, allowing us to wear it for hours at a time with little to no discomfort.
We tested the XP510 via the Bluetooth wireless connection to our iPhone 5. It was clear after about three songs that the excellent sound signature we’ve come to enjoy from Turtle Beach headsets continues with the XP510. The headset’s 50mm drivers bring a ruddy warmth and organic color to music while allowing an impressive amount of clarity and nuance in the higher frequencies. Moving through an assortment of genres, we were treated to bellowing 60Hz hip-hop grooves and velvety bass tones, reedy brass and pristine acoustic guitar, and thick, well defined percussion.
Aside from a slight lack of definition in the upper midrange, we have very little to complain about. For the bulk of our music evaluations, we found ourselves simply wrapped up in the XP510’s clarity. We also found it convenient to be able to listen to our own tunes, or field phone calls via Bluetooth while gaming, though call quality was mediocre at best.
For the gaming portion of our testing we used the headset’s Wi-Fi transmitter connected to an Xbox 360. Unlike the Bluetooth connection, connecting via Wi-Fi allows use of the full gamut of the available EQ presets, though we found the “main” preset worked best for us.
We began testing with an old favorite, Red Dead Redemption. As soon as we were inserted into the vast, Wild West environment, we were almost disoriented by a wide array of natural audio cues, voices, and bar music as we climbed down the steps of the Armadillo saloon. We spent a long time exploring the dirt roads and small towns of the game, enrapt with fine details like footfall moving from sand to shale as we cautiously tracked a bounty. Equally impressive was the XP510’s super-accurate surround sound, leading us off the trail in all directions in search of adventure.
Switching to first person shooters like Call of Duty, we enjoyed the deep boom of grenade explosions, the frantic melee of bullets whizzing overhead in the thick of battle, and the gritty, metallic ring of magazine clips inserted into our rifle while reloading, displayed with a tactile sharpness that almost hurt our teeth. Surround effects were well displayed, bringing a tacit realism to the game that was exciting during heated conflicts, and using the 510’s enhanced EQ presets helped save our skin more than a few times during online play.
To test the 510’s movie chops, we cued up JJ Abrams’ film, Super 8, on Netflix via our Xbox. The movie is presented in 5.1, providing a prime slate for the XP510’s immersive surround environment.
With the possible exception of live Call of Duty gameplay, the XP510’s audio control was most useful during films. The noise gates that help to tamper loud moments in the “Game” mode seemed to be overly active for movies. We found that “Movie” mode provided a much more refined listening environment with the EQ set to “flat”. Once configured, the headset presented a nice balance of vivid explosions and shattering glass, countered by articulate footsteps and the subtle lip sounds delivered with dialogue in quieter scenes.
It was in those quiet scenes in Super 8 as well as our softer meanderings through the open environment of Red Dead Redemption that we encountered the one issue we take with the XP510. Like many battery powered headsets, the 510 is programmed to power off when it has remained unused for too long. However, we found that the sensor that is used to determine a lack of use is not sensitive enough to register quiet movie scenes or game scenarios.
It was mildly annoying when the headset shut off after about 5 minutes of wandering in the desert of Red Dead Redemption. But hearing the voice chime “goodbye” in an almost mocking tone during the emotional climax of Super 8 was nothing short of infuriating.
Additionally, we experienced some trouble while activating the syncing of the headset’s Bluetooth connection with our iPhone 5, occasionally having to reconnect to fix the problem.
To counter the issues, we were advised by Turtle Beach to download a Preset Manager from its website and update the firmware. We’re not going to take you through the entire rigmarole we endured to get the new firmware onto the headset — we’re guessing the fact that we have a Mac didn’t help — but thanks to exceptional service from Turtle Beach, we eventually accomplished the update. However, the auto-shutoff issues remained.
Were it not for a couple of quirks, we’d be over the moon for the XP510′s brilliant sound quality, stellar surround sound and nearly-flawless wireless functionality. The 510 offers seamless transitioning from music, gaming, movies, and phone calls – or any of the two combined – exhibiting an incredible level of audio performance and control.
Still, when you pay almost $300 for a headset, you expect smooth sailing on all fronts. The occasional Bluetooth issue may have been unique to our test model, but the sensitive auto shutoff function appears to be a miscue and could present real problems for movie lovers and serious gamers alike (think RPG’s here). The problem may be resolved by Turtle Beach further down the line. As for now, the headset’s quirks give us pause.
- Warm, smooth low end
- Brilliant upper register
- Accurate, immersive sound stage
- Feature packed
- Dual console connection
- Extremely comfortable
- Occasional Bluetooth connection issues
- Annoyingly sensitive auto shutoff
- Mediocre call quality
- Complex setup/EQ customization