Xbox gamers with an ear for great sound who crave the convenience of wireless should take a moment to thank Turtle Beach: The company’s new Stealth 500x headset for Xbox One cuts all the cords without sacrificing the superb audio quality that one would expect from a $230 headset.
In the realm of true wireless audio for Xbox One, Turtle Beach is currently uncontested. Competing cans from Microsoft and from an assortment of third-party manufacturers all need to be hooked into a controller using a specially designed headset adapter. The 500x ditches even that, linking up with your console via a small transmitter that connects to the Xbox One via USB (for power) and optical audio/Toslink (for sound).
Setting it all up
Setup is simple and immediate. Plug both cords into the back of the console, then power it up along with the headset, which is pre-paired with the transmitter out of the box. All that’s left from there is a couple of console-side settings to be tweaked, which an included Quick Start guide runs through. Assuming you’ve got easy access to the back of your XB1, the whole setup process shouldn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes.
Firmware updates get a little more complicated. It’s worth noting that our headset and transmitter worked fine out of the box. But the 500x’s digital signal processor is powered by update-friendly firmware, and to access those updates you need to install the Ear Force Audio Hub software on a Windows 7 (or better) machine – no Mac OS support at all “at this time,” says Turtle Beach – then plug in both the headset and the transmitter (USB only). It would be a whole lot more convenient if these updates could be applied via your Internet-connected console.
Ear Force Audio Hub also lets you futz with which equalizer presets are accessible from the 500x. There are four top-level surround sound modes – Game, Movie, Music, and “Surround Off” – and each category has four customizable presets assigned to it. Using the Windows app, you can swap out, say, the “Sports” preset for Games and replace it with the “Footsteps Focus,” which is designed to help enhance positional audio (particularly for multiplayer shooter fans).
Features and functions
Adjusting presets on the software side is easy enough, but switching between them while you’re playing carries a bit of a learning curve. The 500x communicates which category and preset you have active with an arcane series of high- and low-toned beeps. One high-tone beep means you’re on Game Mode, for example. Four low-tones indicate that the fourth preset is active in whichever surround mode you’re in. There’s a handy quick-reference sheet in the box, and you should expect to refer to it frequently.
Turtle Beach’s new Stealth 500x headset for Xbox One cuts all the cords without sacrificing superb audio quality.
The act of jumping between presets highlights yet another issue with the 500x: Button placement. With the exception of game and chat volume, both of which are controlled independently by small dials on the sides of the left earcup, the 500x is managed by buttons set into the sides of each earcup. The convenience here comes at a cost: It’s very easy to brush a hand against the side of the headset and change a setting. The power button is slightly inset, but preset/surround mode controls, chat mute, and mic monitor controls are all susceptible to accidental changes.
The 500x does slip in some very welcome features. Independent volume dials for game audio and chat audio are always welcome, and the headset also features a handy Dynamic Chat Boost that regulates chat volume alongside game audio, to better ensure that you always hear that smack-talking 14-year-old. The mic monitor is hardly a new feature, but it’s always helpful for making sure that you’re not screaming into the mic at your friends.
While the headset’s wireless and virtual surround features are exclusive to Xbox One, an included cable allows you to wire the 500x in to a mobile device, or really any piece of headphone-supporting tech that sports an 1/8th-inch port. You can even plug the 500x into a PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 controller and get decent (stereo) game audio, though the independent game and chat volume adjustments don’t work on a PlayStation.
The comfort level could have been stepped up a bit more for a premium-priced headset like this one. The Stealth 500x’s stiff, fabric-covered earcups and head padding aren’t uncomfortable, but it’s a definite step down from the faux-leather lining on Turtle Beach’s slightly pricier (but wired) Ear Force XP Seven headset. They do start to break in after multiple marathon sessions, however, and the 10 to 15 hours of battery life definitely supports that sort of usage. The fabric covering is also friendlier to ear sweats than faux-leather, so it’s a better bet for marathon sessions.
How’s it sound?
The 500x more than makes up for its handful of design flaws in the audio realm. The headset delivers excellent sound in a range of different games. Our testing included everything from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to Dragon Age: Inquisition to WWE 2K15, and each one left us impressed. The bass response is surprisingly strong, yet nimble enough to take advantage of games with well-executed positional audio. You don’t need the Footsteps Focus preset to know if someone’s stalking you in Destiny.
While it’s possible to turn off the headset’s simulated 7.1 surround sound, the Game mode’s Signature Sound preset offers the best overall experience. Grand Theft Auto V‘s vivid audio mix comes to life in even simulated surround sound, with good separation between the game’s diverse and ever-changing set of sources. You can feel the rumble of a car’s engine even with the radio blasting, police sirens blaring, and bullets whizzing by.
Overall, Turtle Beach has a winner in the Stealth 500x. That’s partially a product of the absent competition – the 500x is literally the only option for true wireless audio on Xbox One at this time – but the headset delivers plenty of quality in its own right. Button placement on the earcups could use a rethink and the stiff, felt-lined earcup padding is a disappointing ding on the comfort side of things, but the 500x is a great premium-priced option for Xbox One gamers that crave convenience mixed with high-end audio.
- Great sound with a strong dynamic range
- Variety of presets to suit different listening tastes
- Doubles as a wired headset for other devices
- Lots of accidental preset changing due to poor button placement
- Managing firmware updates requires Windows 7 or better
- Preset switching is poorly communicated by high/low-toned beeps