Turtle Beach Ear Force i30 review

Great noise cancelling, solid Bluetooth connectivity and sound quality, and a bundle of unique extras make the i30 a solid choice at $300.
Great noise cancelling, solid Bluetooth connectivity and sound quality, and a bundle of unique extras make the i30 a solid choice at $300.
Great noise cancelling, solid Bluetooth connectivity and sound quality, and a bundle of unique extras make the i30 a solid choice at $300.

Highs

  • Great noise cancelling
  • Solid Bluetooth connection
  • Solid bass and well-resolved treble
  • Lots of extras

Lows

  • Not as dynamic as we’d like
  • Only one color

With the introduction of its Ear Force i60 and i30 “media headsets,” Turtle Beach, best known for its PC and game console headsets, made a strategic move toward taking itself a cut from a loyal and enthusiastic Apple fan base. Both the i30 and i60 come with glossy white shells, a distinctly Apple-esque unboxing experience, and pictures of attractive, grinning models enjoying the headsets with various Apple devices situated next to bullet-pointed marketing copy including, “Made for Apple.”

As far as we’re concerned, this was a smart move for Turtle Beach. We’ve always maintained that the company made some of the best-sounding gaming headsets around, and have longed to see some of its hardware tweaked for a broader audience. With the recently reviewed Ear Force i60, we felt Turtle Beach nailed all the touch points necessary to make it feel like an Apple accessory. With the i30, we expected more of the same, but because it is designed with portability as key design point, we felt compelled to give it a rigorous test run. After all, unlike the i60, the i30 has lots of like-priced competition from some pretty popular purveyors.

Out of the box

To get a close look at the i30’s unboxing experience, please check out our video below. In the box with the headset, we found a luxurious, suede-like carrying pouch, a USB charging cable, a headphone cable for wired operation, some product literature and a Turtle Beach sticker.

Like the i60, the i30 come off as well built, but aren’t so hefty that they feel cumbersome or burdensome. The soft, black leatherette material used to cover foam padding on the ear cups and headband looks a little old-school, but feels good enough for long-term listening sessions. On hot days, we can see these pads getting a little slippery, just like any headphone using the same material.

New i30 owners would be wise to keep the quick-start instructions that come with headset around for a few days as they get used to using the i30. The headset sports identical button patterns along the rear edge of the left and right ear cups, with icons identifying only the power and Bluetooth buttons. Even with those icons, however, it isn’t clear how to turn the headset’s active noise-cancelling feature on or off, or force the headset into Bluetooth pairing mode, let alone adjust EQ presets or engage various voice morphing modes.

Features and design

Until recently, it was difficult to find a full-size headphone combining both active noise cancellation and Bluetooth wireless capabilities. Fortunately, we’re seeing more and more of these now, and the i30 are positioned to stay competitive. Not content to fill that particular need, Turtle Beach added in some EQ presets (flat, bass boost, treble boost, bass and treble boost) and voice-morphing capability. As a non-gamer, this author has never really appreciated the intended purpose of voice morphing, but we can’t deny it was fun playing pranks on office workers by engaging “deep voice” mode and what we’ve come to refer to as “chipmunk” mode. Practical? Of course not. Fun? You bet!

You could conceivably wear the i30 all day and never have to take them off to get any business done.

Otherwise, the i30 pretty much nail every necessary feature. They can be hardwired to run if the battery ever clonks out (or for use with non-Bluetooth devices,) noise cancelling can be engaged or defeated on the fly, EQ presets offer distinctly different sound signatures, and built-in voice prompts let you know exactly what the headset’s status is. You can even turn the built-in, invisible microphone on or off.

One particularly smart feature is the i30’s ability to be paired to multiple devices at once. This actually came in particularly handy in the office and while on business trips. We routinely connected to our laptop so we could easily switch between video and music playback, and maintained a connection to our iPhone so that we could answer any calls as they came in. You could conceivably wear the i30 all day and never have to take them off to get any business done.

Comfort

Looking at the i30 – even holding them in your hand – you wouldn’t think they were a particularly comfortable headphone. Yet, we have few complaints to list here. We’re partial to cloth ear pads, but there wasn’t anything uncomfortable about the i30’s. Also, the clamping force and headband work well to keep the cans in place without too much pinching. We prefer a little less pressure on the area around the ears, but, then again, the headband was virtually undetectable during out tests. In short: We give the i30 a pass on comfort.

Noise cancelling

The i30 surprised us with ample noise-cancelling capability, which we found effective at reducing both office noises and droning airplane engine noise. We were unable to make broad comparisons, but we did alternate between the i30 and Phiaton’s Chord MS530 and found the i30 was slightly more effective in our office environment than the MS530, but more evenly matched in the air. With that said, we did notice a little more “hiss” that is typical of an active noise cancelling circuit, though it was unperceivable with the least bit of music playing.

Phone calls

We’d describe the i30’s phone call clarity as “typical.” Bluetooth chips use different standards for music and voice transmissions and, not surprisingly, voice calls don’t get the primo treatment that music does. Voice calls were certainly intelligible, but lacked the clarity you get from a hard-wired headset with a premium microphone.

Audio performance

We didn’t care a whole lot for what the i30’s EQ presets did for the headset’s sound quality, but others will feel differently. For us, the “flat” setting was, by far, the most neutral of the four EQ options, with plenty of bass punch and enough sparkle in the treble to dazzle, but not enough to make you wince.

The i30 sound almost exactly like the i60, which is to say they delivered what we’ve come to expect from Turtle Beach: a brilliant, exciting, high-impact sound that neither tries too hard, nor sacrifices too much. One of the things we appreciate about Turtle Beach’s approach is that its headphones never sound harsh, chintzy, or forced. The i30’s treble and midrange is capable of adding detail to subtle sounds like footsteps, breathing, cymbals and brass overtones, but it’s never so aggressive that it makes you want to take a break. The midrange, while a bit bold at times, delivers clear, intelligible dialog in movies and plenty of the meat we long for in music instrumentation, both acoustic and electric. Bass is ever-so-slightly on the forward side, but it’s not the sort of reckless bass you tend to get with designs.

The i30 could stand to be a little more dynamic. There’s a finesse involved with executing the wide swings between quiet sounds and loud ones that the i30 don’t pull off as well as other $300 headphones.

Conclusion

Turtle Beach may have gone out of its way to brand the i30 as “Apple friendly,” and we’ll vouch for that, but it is also true that they are compatible with nearly any Bluetooth-enabled device. We’d appreciate some more color options, but you can do worse than the Apple-white hue the company has gone for here. More importantly, though, the i30 deliver solid performance across the board. Great noise cancelling, solid Bluetooth connectivity and sound quality, and a bundle of unique extras make the i30 a solid choice at $300.

Highs

  • Great noise cancelling
  • Solid Bluetooth connection
  • Solid bass and well-resolved treble
  • Lots of extras

Lows

  • Not as dynamic as we’d like
  • Only one color
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