Late last year I went on the hunt for a set of gaming headphones. As luck would have it, our gaming editor had a set of Turtle Beach’s X12 sitting on his desk waiting to be reviewed. Spotting an opportunity, I struck a deal that had me borrowing the X12 for a couple of weeks in exchange for the review writing duties.
It turned out the X12 passed muster, so I bought a set for my kid as a Christmas present and wrote the review. Case closed, I thought. Wrong. Somehow, I have acquired four new models of gaming headsets for review.
One of the headsets in question is the Sennheiser X 320. Now, I’ll admit that, were I forced to choose headphone products from just one company for the rest of my life, I would most certainly pick Sennheiser –there’s just something about Sennheiser’s sound signature that suits my taste. With that said, I don’t necessarily think that everything the company makes is gold. A lot goes into making a successful headphone and things get even trickier when you’re talking about a gaming headset. Also, considering the X 320 are not wireless, yet go for about $150, Sennheiser needs to offer something pretty special in the X 320 to earn my buy-in. Read on to see how Sennheiser does gaming with the X 320.
Out of the box
Sennheiser has wisely developed attractive product packaging that won’t rip people’s hands to shreds as they attempt to open it. Extra bonus points are awarded for the fact that the plastic case can be reassembled if necessary. A good start, for sure, but there’s a hidden strategic move being made here that we have to call out: These headphones have been packed in such a way that you don’t really see the wires. They are artfully coiled and tucked out of the way, which keeps shoppers thinking about how they look rather than how they work; a smart move on Sennheiser’s part since, as we’ll soon discuss, using a wired headset with an Xbox 360 is a really pain in the butt.
In the package along with the headphones we found an Xbox talkback cable and some RCA piggy-back cables.
Features and design
Over the course of this review, we’ll be drawing comparisons between the Sennheiser X 320 and the previously reviewed Turtle Beach X12. The reason for this is that the basic design and function of the two is essentially the same (both are an open backed, circum-aural design, cloth-padded, self-amplified via USB power, offer individual game audio and voice audio volume controls and feature a bass boost option) yet the X12 sell for about 1/3rd the price. For this section, we’ve put together a quick list of the notable differences between the two:
- The Turtle Beach X 12 feature microphone feedback so you can hear your own voice during game play. The Sennheiser X 320 do not.
- While Turtle Beach’s X 12 are designed to be compatible with the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3, Sennheiser’s X 320 are only meant to be used with the Xbox 360
- Rather than place the voice mute switch on the in-line controls, the Sennheiser x 320 mutes the microphone when it is swiveled upward–a pretty slick feature
- Instead of a standard 3.5 mm mini-plug input jack, the Sennheiser X 320 use 2.5 mm plugs everywhere. This could make picking up replacement cables a hassle
- The X 320 do offer a clip on the rear of the in-line control where the X12 do not
Fit and comfort
The X 320 have cloth-lined ear pads and a similarly finished headband pad. While the material used on the ear-cups is much softer to the touch than the material used on the Turtle Beach x12, we do wonder at its durability. Unfortunately, we won’t have the headphones long enough to put any significant wear and tear on them, so our concerns are based only on speculation.
We’re not wild about the quality of padding on the headband either. It appears thick and gives easily enough when grasped, but when the headphones are being worn, it doesn’t feel very plush. Fortunately, though, the sensation doesn’t worsen over long periods of use. We eventually managed to forget about it, a good thing if you ask us.
What we weren’t able to get past was the limited articulation of the ear-cups and fixed form of the headband. We never managed to get a fit that felt balanced because the ear cups couldn’t pivot upward enough to exert even pressure around our ears. The fixed shape of the headband forces the ear cups to angle upward unless the two ear-cups are stretched far enough apart to even them out. Those with wider heads may not run into this problem. For most of us, however, the Turtle Beach X12 felt right at home on our head while the Sennheiser X 320 just felt awkward.
Otherwise, the open-backed design, light weight and cloth covered ear-pads of the X 320 made long usage sessions quite comfortable and sweat free.
Because of the way Microsoft designed the Xbox 360, routing game audio to a gaming headset when using HDMI as the primary connection is either a hassle or involves additional expense. With the HDMI cable in place, there is no room for the component/av dongle that comes with the console. To work around this, users will either have to purchase a special dongle that provides analog and digital optical output alongside the HDMI output or use a set of provided RCA piggyback cables to tap the analog audio output from a TV (which can stand to considerably degrade the sound quality in many cases). Either way, the process involves a lot of wires and little 2.5mm jack connections. This makes for a frequently tangled mess, especially where kids are involved. Unless you go wireless, there’s just no getting around it.
We had some pretty lofty expectations for the X 320’s sonic performance and they were met effortlessly.
We started out by listening to some music test tracks to get a firm grasp on the fundamental differences between the X12 and the X 320. Compared to the Turtle Beach model, the Sennheisers generally sounded more natural and better refined. Bass was deeper and more tightly controlled, midrange was more open and realistic and treble had better extension while fleshing out more detail– all aspects that are easily appreciated when listening to music.
That’s all fine and good, but this is a gaming headset, so we disconnected from our fancy audiophile DAC and moved the listening party over to our Xbox 360 where we set about playing a few multiplayer rounds of COD: MW3 and later indulged in some Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
Our gaming audio experience with the X 320 supported the observations we made while listening to music, though this time the sonic queues came from explosive gunfire, grenade detonations, close and distant footfall, careening cannonballs, rambling rubble and clanging swordfights. The Sennheiser X 320’s superior bass made every sound effect more bombastic, it’s accurate midrange added drama to soaring cinematic soundtracks, and its extended, detailed treble revealed every subtle nuance while making the whole experience sound that much more “real”.
The realism factor was bolstered by a very convincing surround effect created only by the stereo headphones working together with great synergy. It was easy to distinguish footfall coming at us from the front versus an enemy approaching from the rear and when objects moved around us, we were able to track the associated sounds, which matched the visual representation of the object spot-on.
There is no doubt about it, the Sennheiser X 320 is the best sounding gaming headset we’ve tested yet. Yet, we’re preoccupied by the fact that there’s much more to a gaming headset than just sound. It needs to feel good while wearing it, provide some thoughtful, practical features and remain accessible to a broad audience of potential users.
The Turtle Beach X 12 are more comfortable, sound very good, offer a useful microphone monitor feature, can be used with PS3 or PC, and cost ⅓ the price of the Sennheiser X 320. The Sennheisers do offer superior sound, a clip on the control module and a slick microphone that mutes when swiveled upward, but we’re not sure how many gamers will see an additional $100 in value from such slight differences.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for truly high-end sound in your gaming experience, you aren’t likely to find a better sounding hard-wired headset than the Sennheiser X 320. Just be prepared to pay for it.
- Excellent audio quality
- Convenient “flip-to-mute” microphone
- Microphone sounds clear and cancels noise well
- Control module comes with security clip
- Awkward fitting
- Not equipped to work with PS3 or PC
- No microphone monitoring in headset
- Pricey for a wired headset