Mad Catz have really been developing the Tritton brand this year. There have been a raft of new products released, from the Xbox 360 exclusive Warhead, to the Ghost Recon branded headset we tested earlier this year, all the way to the newly released stereo Kunai headset designed for PlayStation Vita and PS3. We at The Digital Fix are lucky enough to have been able to try out a rather special unit, the Tritton Pro+. The Pro+ is the successor to the AX Pro and the reason it’s special is because all feedback of the AX Pro has been taken onboard, digested and regurgitated into what is described as the only true 5.1 surround sound headset for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Whilst this is a little bit of marketing speak (the AX Pro is also a true 5.1 surround sound headset), the point is this is designed to be a better all-round piece of kit than its predecessor and benefits from a few extra years research and development on the incorporated technologies delivering a vastly improved performance. That’s the plan anyway - the question is, does it?
Firstly, we need to give a little background on why this headset delivers true 5.1 surround sound, as opposed to false surround sound, or what is commonly referred to as virtual surround sound. Games and films these days have a multitude of soundtracks - made all the more manageable thanks to higher density discs (which also allow for the inclusion of audiophile-tastic high bitrate lossless sound - that’s a story for another day) - allowing the user to choose between the simple stereo, 5.1, 7.1, Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks. The difference between Dolby Digital and DTS is that they are multichannel audio technologies developed and owned by different companies. Folks will have experienced both of these in all likelihood when visiting a cinema, and probably through their own living room surround sound solutions, for both films and games. WIth headsets the typical default is Dolby Digital. There is a licensing cost associated with each technology which needs to be balanced with that of the headset, as well as the cost of developing/including the relevant decoder with the earphones. In this case Tritton have gone down the Dolby Digital route. It’s more common, covers pretty much every game and film these days and although personally a softer sound which overplays bass versus the power of channels, is still a fantastic way to hear any film or game.
The true surround sound comes from the fact that Tritton have recreated a living room multi-speaker arrangement by including multiple speakers in each headphone, separated according to the required directionality, and differentiated by frequency response to ensure the sound itself is different - this means the bass does sound like bass and so on. Therefore if a game or film is playing a 5.1 soundtrack, what is output by the media player goes into the Pro+ decoder box and is transferred as is to the ears. Now, the caveat here is that the decoder only does Dolby Digital, meaning you don’t get full on True HD sound and some quality is lost versus what you might hear through your multichannel amp. But what won’t be is the original directionality of those 5.1 channels. This is as opposed to virtual surround sound when the sound mix comes from the media player and is passed through individual speakers in each ear with some funky algorithm applied with the intent of making your brain think there’s directionality. This means the Tritton Pro+ has the upper hand - it can deliver a less altered soundtrack, which should make for better hearing. Of course, there are consequences of this which could bring some issues - can the brain really tell the difference in something when the directionality is only a few millimetres? Can the extra cost of the headset due to the additional speakers be worth it? Does the brain actually digest the different strands of information ultimately? Does it actually sound good or is it too much?
In the box we have a very impressive set of specifications as well as all the kit you’d need to utilise this headset to the full on the 360, PS3 or indeed home PC. Tritton have been so kind as to provide the following:
- Cable Length: 12ft
- Xbox LIVE Port: Yes
- Ear Coupling: Circumaural (Over-the-Ear)
- Audio Input Type: Optical
- Frequency Response: 25Hz–22kHz
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <1%
- Speaker Diameters: 30mm Front & Rear, 23mm Center, 40mm Sub
- Number of Speakers: 8
- Magnet Type: Neodymium
- AC Powered: Yes
- True 5.1 Surround Sound Headset
- Decoder Box with Dolby Digital Technology
- In-line Audio Controller
- Removable, Flexible Microphone
- 2x Xbox LIVE Connector Cables
- USB Cable
- Optical Cable
- Digital Audio Adapter
- AC Adapter
So what we have here is a true 5.1 surround sound headset with superior comfort, sound quality, flexibility and connectivity. It seems everything has been provided to make this a wonderful experience. So, what of its actual performance, starting with the comfort?
This headset is really impressive when it comes to comfort from start to finish. The design of the unit has clearly been well thought out. It sits fully over each ear to start with, meaning there’s no squeezing or catching of skin or discomfort at all from when first positioned to the end. There’s no movement in any way either around the ear thanks to the weightiness of the speaker units. The over the head adjoining part is fully adjustable for those with oversized noggins and it’s all nicely padded. It can be difficult to get the right distance from ear to ear so it sits snugly and without movement at all times, but again, unless you’re headbanging during a Rock Band moment it’s unlikely to move due to its weighty feel. The earpieces themselves are incredibly flexible, too. You can move on the Y axis as well as the X thanks to swivel mechanisms in place for all shapes of head and positions of ears. It’s not a big thing but it provides that much more individuality in terms of positioning that it’s unlikely anyone would ever feel discomfort. Over long periods of time nothing changes. It all feels as good as the moment you started your extended play session. There is a certain thermal increase which can be felt but nothing overt meaning that you won’t suddenly want to stop in case of burning or anything. Of course, as the headset fits over the ears completely it helps with the audio immersion and adds an extra barrier to unwanted noise.
The headset is wired, of course, which whilst meaning it’s always working and always powered up - plus there’s no issue of any interference - there is the problem of what to do with the wire, as opposed to tripping over it. In practice it’s not a problem. It was a big concern of ours that we didn’t have the freedom of a wireless headset and whilst you can’t continue chatting with your buddies whilst you take a nature break (umm, would you really want to? Ed.) it never gets in your way thanks to the generous length of cabling provided. Twelve feet is more than enough for most living rooms or bedrooms and ample to allow you to keep moving around and fidgeting when affected by pins and needles during a particularly heavy arena battle without fear of messing anything up. In fact, it’s possible to wrap it around your legs unintentionally when shifting from side to side and still not have any issues. The headset connects to the decoder box by a connection which needs a physical depression to be released though, so if you do have length issues the box or your head will always go flying before the music stops.
The connectivity is excellent. The decoder box connects to a power source and then this connects to all devices via optical cable (PS3) or otherwise. Cables for the 360, PS3 or PC are included so there’s no issue. The headphones themselves connect via some oversized USB-like port which fits snugly in the front of the decoder box. Depending on the output you’re getting - surround sound, Dolby Digital and so on you get different coloured LEDs informing you what’s going on. There’s a lovely power and volume button there too, but more often than not you’ll use the in-line module for volume. This is a wonderful little thing which allows you to control overall volume (as indicated by colour where red is high and white is very low). It is also easily clippable to a trouser pocket or something similar. You can even use it to determine if you can hear your own voice through the headsets when speaking - useful to get the volume right for your friends, we guess. It’s also possible to adjust the level of each speaker independently of others (well, the front, centre, rear and sub, anyway). This is really useful if you want to focus on dialogue onscreen (centre), or are particularly sensitive to bass.
The sound quality the headset delivers is immense. The signal to noise ratio is gigantic on a console that unless there is no sound being output by the machine, and all around you is silent, you will hear no noise from the headset. So yes, the noise level is clearly low too, but the key is that any signal far outweighs anything even at the low volumes. This does make for wonderful moments in anything and everything you play but also ensures the clarity of each and every channel, and its power, subtlety or whatever, is always passed onto the listener. Be it softly spoken dialogue in Uncharted 2’s stealthy opening, to the bombastic bass laden sounds of the explosions scattered throughout your chosen FPS ( Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in this case), or wonderful dynamic range in any given action sequence in Resident Evil 6 you are always going to enjoy the sound, hear everything and register the variety of channels talking at any one time.
Movies are one particular area that these headphones really stand-out from the crowd. As they deliver a fantastically high quality sound, and have 5.1 discrete channels they’re basically perfect for movies. We tried the “Madness? This is Sparta” scene from 300, the lobby sequence from The Matrix and the awesome flying thing shooting at the real people as they enter the big city in Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. They were all brilliant. Sounding as good on blu-ray through this headset with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound decoded from the uncompressed full HD audio soundtrack as they did the first time they were experienced in full-on home surround kits. In fact, given the total immersion, they may have been better. This total immersion can annoy some, as it does feel somewhat peculiar and ‘unreal’ but if you get it, there may be no other way you’ll watch (listen to) a film on your own again.
If you’re wondering about the downsides, the majority are subjective. It’s a big headset - no more so than any other full on surround sound kit but it’s a choice you need to make versus the more traditional multi-speaker arrangement. It does warm a little but some will hardly feel it. The wire is a presence and despite its length is heavy, might get in your way and is something to think about versus your wireless earmuffs. The discrete surround sound is second to none in our opinion but virtual sound does a good job and for less cash at times, all other things being equal. In our tests connectivity with a PC worked out of the box but there was an incessant humming which meant for any long-term use it just isn’t an option. For a console this is fabulous but PC - and it may have been our review unit or cables - it is not a suitable purchase. Ultimately the headset is a decent amount of money by anyone's expectations but provides the ultimate in 5.1 surround sound - quality, channel discretion and comfort, all wrapped up in a lovely ball of usability and consumer related focus since its predecessor.