Hear, Hear: The Turtle Beach Ear Force XP Seven Review
If you would have asked me a couple of years ago whether I could ever see myself gaming whilst using a headset, I would probably have laughed in your face. “What’s the point?” I would have replied, “Why would I wear one of those clunky, uncomfortable, dorky-looking things when the sound from my TV is fine?” Well, much like the things that you don’t realise you need until you’ve used them, gaming headsets have slowly worked their way into my setup. Thanks to a mixture of sleeping girlfriends, noisy housemates and rowdy merrymakers outside on city streets, I realised that if I wanted any chance of actually hearing what was going on in my games, I’d need to invest in a headset. Wow, did that change my perspective on things! I now have a headset hooked up to each of my consoles, ready for use as soon as the girlfriend retires to bed or when an especially early morning wakes me from my slumber, and I feel a desperate urge to game whilst the rest of the world sleeps soundly. Games have never sounded so good, and I would wholeheartedly recommend a pair to anyone looking for that little bit of extra aural indulgence.
And lo, the Turtle Beach gods did bless us with the Ear Force XP Seven, the official headset of Major League Gaming and frankly, a headset that blows the rest right out of the water. It should, though, as an MRSP of $279.99 stands between your grubby fingers and the Sevens’ surround sound enabled stab at audio greatness. The question lies, then, in whether the MLG endorsement or the almost $300 price tag should take more of your attention. Should a headset alone cost almost as much as a brand new gaming console? The Ear Force XP Seven stands a better chance than many at answering that question with a resounding ‘yes’.
The first thing you’ll notice about the XP Sevens is the size of the box. This thing was too big to even fit into my fairly sizeable rucksack, but there isn’t an inch of free space left inside the box itself. The headset and its control box takes up the bulk of the space, alongside a sizeable array of different cables, and perhaps the main selling point of the XP Sevens, the Audio Control Unit. This unit controls everything from the surround sound settings to the audio presets, and even features a handy belt clip on the back to allow for easy access at all times. The sheer number of buttons, knobs and switches (18 altogether) on the front and sides of the unit is enough to terrify anyone not used to this amount of input on their game’s audio output. Fortunately, the manual explains the essential functions of the unit rather well, and a short amount of time spent fiddling with the various settings is enough to find the particular levels that you would like. The only downside that I found in the unit was that most of the face buttons are touch-enabled (which is admittedly a pretty cool feature), and pretty sensitive – even a slight, accidental brush of a particular button can switch off crucial settings.
With all of these different settings and the fact that the XP Sevens are set up to run on multiple consoles—PCs, Macs and even cell phones and MP3 players—my main worry was that setting up the headset for each unit would be time-consuming and anger-inducing. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case, although some of the slightly mismatched labelling (particularly for the cables) in the manual did lead to one or two moments of head scratching. The cables are all provided in labelled bags inside their specified box though, meaning that you don’t have to worry about matching the shapes of individual connectors to the shapes of the cables shown in the booklet. All in all, my first set-up took me under five minutes, and subsequent switching from one console to another took less and less time the more I attempted it. The XP Sevens also use the Optical Cable to connect to your consoles as opposed to the Composite cables that many other headsets use, removing the issues that surround the HDMI port on certain Xbox 360 models that require you to buy an extra cable just to use your headset.
Aesthetically, the Ear Force XP Sevens certainly fit their price tag. The quality of the headset’s design is impressive, with a cool black and white stitched design running the length of the headset’s bar, and soft padding on the earpieces that make long gaming sessions comfortable as well as feasible. They also do a remarkable job of blocking out external sounds, which I realised only after my housemate vacuumed the entire house without me noticing whilst wearing the headset. The wires feature a cloth rather than rubber outer layer, which reduces the chance of fraying and practically removes the worry surrounding wires getting tangled or knotted. Even the Audio Control Unit has a decent weight to it and doesn’t feel fragile at all, meaning that potential drop damage should be kept to a minimum.
Of course, as with any headset, perhaps the most crucial component is how it actually sounds. Whilst I was impressed with the output of the XP Sevens, I can’t say that I personally noticed a huge difference between these and the headsets that I currently own (Turtle Beach Ear Force PX3 and Skullcandy PLYR2), even with the XP Seven’s surround sound capabilities. A range of games and movies were played and watched using the headset, including Call of Duty: Black Ops, Dead Island, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and The Dark Knight. Whilst the gunshots and explosions featured in the games sounded particularly potent, and I noticed little touches in the audio of The Dark Knight that I hadn’t noticed before, I didn’t notice a particularly huge leap in sound quality from my previously owned models. The surround sound capabilities are fairly subtle, but certainly helped me in determining where gunshots and footsteps were coming from, but surround sound in a headset just doesn’t seem to live up to the promise of the surround sound offered in a cinema or even in a large room, just because of the proximity of the noises.
The one complaint I did have with the sound coming from the headset—particularly with watching movies but also to a lesser extent from games—is that, during quiet periods, what little sound does exist becomes incredibly choppy and stuttered, almost as if the headset isn’t sure whether it should be playing sound or not. This isn’t a problem unique to the XP Sevens, as I’ve encountered it before on other Turtle Beach models, but when a headset costs as much as this one does, you still need to be aware that price doesn’t necessarily equal perfection.
Undoubtedly, the Ear Force XP Sevens is the best headset that I’ve had the privilege to use so far. Having spent a few days with it, though, would I recommend buying it? It’s a tough question, and honestly the answer depends on your circumstances. If you’re looking for a ‘be all and end all’ headset, one which works on all of your devices and one which you’ll be happy with for a long time? The XP Sevens may well be your ideal answer. Furthermore, if you’re a professional or hardcore gamer, looking for a potential step-up on the competition, the XP Sevens may well offer you that extra edge that you need to come out on top. If, though, you’re a casual gamer, looking for your first headset, or even a headset to complement or replace an existing model, I’d suggest thinking long and hard about whether the XP Sevens are the right choice for you. While they do offer a fantastic aural experience, they are a fairly significant investment, and the difference between these and a lesser-priced model just quite isn’t enough to warrant the extra outlay. They’re an awesome piece of kit, but at an equally extravagant price.
Final score: 4.5/5.0
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