Friday, April 22, 2011

PX5 headphones bring 5.1 to ears near you

Turtle Beach PX5 headphones

Produced by: Turtle Beach
Available: NOW
Price: $249.99

I know sound.

No, I'm not trying to act like I'm an authority on the science of sound, but I am a purist when it comes to sound. I love films with deep bass that can make your heart skip a beat. I look for films that have great visuals and crisp sound effects. I'm actually in the middle of setting up my 3rd media room - aka Man Space - and have studied religiously how to set up my 5.1 system. I have watched men over 40 - even one in his late 60s also known as "Chip" - my dad, Willie Jefferson Sr. - turn into schoolboys as I pump up movies with mouth-dropping and heart-thumping sound effects. You know the movies - the lobby shootout in The Matrix, the Normandy beach scene and all of the battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan and the first "thump" when the characters feel the footsteps of a dino in Jurassic Park.

As I said earlier, I love listening to the rain in the background, the bullets that sound like they are zipping past your ears and the jarring sound of a car crashing. And nothing does it better than a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system. And for the record, I can't get by on the bass from a standard woofer. No, sir. Give me an automotive woofer - a JL - yes, a JL woofer to give me the bass.

I know surround sound. So you can imagine how I felt when Turtle Beach shipped me a set of their uber slick PX5 gaming headphones. The headphones are jet black with red trim - and have more functions than some smartphones. First, they are wireless - and have optical inputs so you can get some serious sounds. You shouldn't have to sync them, but it's important to get them configured and read the manual. You prolly won't be able to get them working properly without spending a few minutes with the manual. I tested them initially with my Slim Xbox 360 on Xbox LIVE with a friend. They worked great but cut off shortly. Even though everything was hooked up properly, I had missed a couple steps that I wouldn't have had I read through the manual.

The headphones can be used with just one optical connection, though my Vizio 42" LCD has an optical out so I was able to use the headphones with multiple sources. Sweet. The headphones also use two standard AA batteries. And here's my first major gripe. If you make a set of headphones that cost over $150, is it too much to ask to have some Duracell, Energizer or Rayovac packed in instead of some Dura-gizer or cheap batteries? With a good set of batteries, the headphones can go about 15 hours. Not bad - expect to be able to watch about 7 movies before replacing the batteries.

For movies, there is one other thing to realize as far as sound. The headphones are synced to a wireless base station and have an optical input. You can not hear DTS signals via optical and don't expect your headphones to get the DTS signals either. According to Michael Jessup, Category Manager at Turtle Beach, the PX5 only handles Dolby Digital 5.1.

"There will not be an update for DTS, but here is why," Jessup said. "The only system that does DTS is the PlayStation 3. And even though the PS3 does both Dolby and DTS, the DTS is only available over the HDMI port. All that comes out of the optical port of the PS3 is Dolby Digital. And also, it’s a matter of content as well. There are only a handful of games that use DTS. It is more a feature for Blu-Ray compatibility on the PS3."

However, with the headphones only able to do 5.1 and 7.1, don't worry - you won't be disappointed.

I tested the headphones with a host of video games and movies, as well as my Apple iPhone 3GS. The headphones do Bluetooth - and have a Bluetooth mode, but the sound quality suffers a bit. I did connect the PX5s to my PS3 via Bluetooth - and also used them with my iPhone - and the sound was good but not great. If I could only connect the PX5s via Bluetooth, I'd have a very hard time justifying the price. However, when the PX5s are connected to the transmitter, it's all good.

The movies I tested: (Blu-Ray, unless otherwise noted)
1. Man on Fire
2. Cars
3. The Matrix (HD-DVD)
4. Saving Private Ryan 60th anniversary Special Edition (DVD)
5. Transformers (HD-DVD)

The headphones come with 8 preset sound settings. Some of the settings work great with FPS games - one mode offers supersensitive sounds to hear players walking - and yes, the mode works great. The others presets include Flat, Dynamic Bass Boost, Bass Boost + Treble Boost (my personal favorite) and Footstep Focus (a great feature for shooter types, especially on multiplayer)

I watched a few scenes from the movies to see how well the headphones handled sound reproduction. I only watched Saving Private Ryan in its entirety with the headphones.

On Man on Fire, the scene I watched that stood out was when Creasy fired an RPG at a motorcade and kidnapped a law enforcement official. The surround sound had my ears ringing. The explosions rocked the headphones. The headphones even picked up the chirps of a parakeet in the scene, even with it off-camera in a few of the shots. Plus, you could hear some people walking past the window.

The next movie, The Matrix, was a real treat. The lobby shootout is one of the best scenes ever to test a surround sound. The PX5s didn't disappoint. They picked up every sound - and I love preset 4 - and the explosions, gunshots and bullets whizzing past sounded great. The other scene I watched - when Neo was manning a Gatling on a Huey - was intense. I thought I was watching it with my own surround system going.

I had to test the PX5's out on Transformers afterward. I only needed to watch one scene - the firefight with Scorponok. The bullets were whizzing past beautifully - the 105 blasts from the gunship Spooky rocked. The explosions, the horrible background music with the operator, all of it sounded wonderful.

The last movie I'll mention is Saving Private Ryan. If you've seen the movie, you know the landing scene is one of the most intense moments ever caught on film. And the PX5s made every sound seem like it was real. The sound reproduction, the deep, rich bass from explosions in the distance was impressive. Every firefight with the PX5s made my heart jump.

As far as video games, I tried to use them on the SOCOM 4 multiplayer, via Bluetooth and the transmitter, but it didn't work. Meh. I did get a chance to use the PX5's on Crysis 2, Homefront multiplayer and with Test Drive Unlimited 2 and on Xbox LIVE.

For Crysis 2, the FPS modes of the headphones were impressive. You can literally hear footsteps getting closer to you, giving you a slight advantage in multiplayer modes. In the single-player campaign, not only is the game beautiful, but it's filled with sweet sounds. You can hear the wind howl, the sounds of incoming helos, the deep voice of the character saying "Cloak engaged" boom in your ears. The firefights really came to life.

For a change of pace, I popped in Test Drive Unlimited 2 and put on some tracks from the 360's hard drive. The sound in the game was unreal. From the sounds of you letting the top down on the Ferrari California, to the way the radio sounds different when you roll down the windows or up. Plus, the shifting reverberates beautifully.

There were some sour spots with the headphones. First, be wary of any other wireless devices close to the transmitter or headphones. According to the developers, you may have to move the PX5 and the transmitter away from devices such as wireless routers.

Depending on the wireless traffic and how heavy it's flowing, you may notice pops and hisses. It wasn't consistent, but if you are going to drop over $200 on headphones, you'd expect it to be nearly flawless.

The Bluetooth mode was somewhat limited. Though I could pair it with my iPhone 3GS, the mode was very basic and you can't use the 8 preset modes with it. Bummer.

The other gripe? You would expect these headphones to have a cable to hook up to an MP3 player. Nope. You have to buy that separately. You'd expect a cable like that to be standard. And it doesn't use a standard cable - it's a special one. Fortunately, I had a cable - it's one from another headphone I am reviewing to hook up to the Xbox 360 controller and it happens to fit. Even with the cable, the headphones do an OK job.

My recommendation? Stick with using the gaming headphones for watching movies and playing video games in 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound without bothering a soul.

The verdict? 8.5 stars (out of 10 stars) You know, with this economy, dropping a few Benjamins on a set of headphones is something that isn't impulse. It requires some serious thought. I have to say, hands down, I am a purist with sound, especially with movies and video games. To be able to play with the music and sound cranked up, without disturbing a soul, makes these a must-buy. Though I wish the headphones worked great with Bluetooth and MP3 players, for gaming and movie watching, they are solid.

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