Turtle Beach Call of Duty: Black Ops II Ear Force Tango HeadsetPlatforms: Sony PlayStation 3 | Microsoft Xbox 360
For a gamer sound can vary from completely unimportant to absolutely essential depending on the situation at hand and their point of view. For someone playing Football Manager sound off, music on and away you go is the norm. For a new The Legend of Zelda or Dark Souls the music is one of the best parts - the familiar tunes when first finding the Master Sword or meeting Ganon, the fear and dread as you move through Sen’s Fortress with music in the background and the sound of your armour, movement and weaponry dominating alongside your own beating heart. In many games the narrative is key and the voicework superb, especially in recent years as the cult of the game star (Nolan North, natch) has grown. In the world of HD we must remember we have high definition, surround sound, adding subtle nuances to the way we play when we hear someone or something coming at us from behind, or a rocket whistling up and to the left.
To this end it’s not just important to find a suitably high quality speaker option, forgetting the time of bedroom CRTs and their tinny sound output, but also essential in many cases to play the game and/or experience it at its fullest. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a multi-speaker surround sound setup at all, and fewer still able to commandeer that system ahead of the rest of the family - be they the young child, or the new Father. This is where headsets come into play. We’ve been lucky enough to try a variety here at The Digital Fix and each time we have been reminded how fantastic a good quality headset is. Now we’re fortunate enough to be able to try out Turtle Beach’s Ear Force Tango, a Call of Duty inspired black and orange headset styling, which in terms of functionality is at the top of the tree on paper, covering all major entry-level requirements such as the virtual 5.1 surround sound and wireless connectivity. The main point of interest though to many is likely to be the complete adjustability of the sound output to deliver whatever is wanted. Explosive bass? Easy. Crystal-clear clarity of dialogue? Gotcha. What about amplifying low-level noise? Simple. In fact, many of these things are available out of the box in presets, as we’ll see later.
On getting home with your lovely new Tangos and starting the unboxing procedure it’s clear this is a very stylish and well presented set of headphones. You have the curved earcups, the black leather with orange trim and the headset itself sits on top of the wireless receiver cum sound decoder, allowing for somewhere both to place your headset when not in use but also deliver Dolby Digital surround sound to your chosen console. The looks taken care of then, the weight is surprisingly little. The decoder/receiver unit feels a little lightweight and although this smacks of low quality in terms of feel, it does the job and isn’t designed to be regularly picked up so it’s hardly an issue and probably not even a reality. The actual headset is a delight. Whilst lighter than other offerings it still feels enough in the hand and although you know it’s on your head it never once weighs on the user. It’s always comfortable and this is further enabled by some seriously soft earcup padding. The size of them is sufficient for normal sized ears to sit snugly within and this in turn ensures the focus and delivery of sound is towards the ear rather than polluting the air around. For all lengths of play session from a few minutes to a few hours the comfort here was unsurpassed by anything else we’ve used.
Connection of the Tangos to your chosen device (they work with Xbox 360 and PS3) is via a digital optical connection for the sound, with a USB connection for other transmissions. This is all setup between the RF transmitter and the console, leaving your headset free to receive glorious 2.4/5GHz dual band wireless signals for the actual expression of any sonic output. Excitingly there’s the possibility of dual bluetooth pairing of the headset meaning that in addition to your console you can connect it to your smartphone - or PS Vita - for example. In practice it’s a painless experience and very quick to setup and then you can listen to music from your phone or make and receive calls even whilst playing if you so desire. The sound quality is fantastic - as is the audio received by those at the other end of the phone when you speak through the microphone during a voice call on your phone.
The headset contains 50mm speakers making use of the industry-standard neodymium magnets to deliver the requisite amount of flux. The sound output is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, although this is virtual as opposed to having multiple discrete speakers in each earcup as some competitor products do. The first thing we noticed on pairing up the speakers with our PS3 was the absolutely non-existent audible noise. Sure it’s a digital connection so there shouldn’t be anything from that, but often when volume is whacked up high the simple mechanics of the headset can create some aural disturbances. Now, the volume is limited as per EU directives (although it can be delimited using the Advanced Sound Editor) and this might be a factor but it’s surprising still not to have any issues at any time. When playing games such as God of War: Ascension or Bioshock Infinite the sound came across loud and clear whether it was bombastic explosions or simple dialogue. The basic entry-level experience was great and just what you’d hope for from a top of the range headset. One key point of difference the Tangos bring over other headsets is the sound customisation capability. There are various presets - where you can maximise bass, or treble - or both - or focus in on low-level noise, like footsteps around you so that you get the soldier before they get you in online Call of Duty. In practice these do what they say on the tin and really add some oomph to proceedings, but all at the downside of losing balance from the soundtrack meaning that other noises disappear, or become less well expressed - dulled, flattened or absorbed into one another.
This did present itself as a problem on testing. We played a few scenes from some catalogue blu-rays to try and discern if this headset was any better or worse than other audio output options. Specifically we compared it to the Tritton Pro 5.1+ headset which differs from this in that it has discrete 5.1 surround sound, rather than virtual - plus what you get is what you get rather than fiddling about with all the settings. We tried a like for like test whereby we used the ‘Main’ preset on the Tangos as well as testing the high bass/high treble, high bass/low treble and low bass/high treble settings (where mentioned) compared to the Tritton Pro 5.1+ headset.
Chapter fifteen of Transformers: Dark of the Moon sounded excellent. The breadth of sounds from guns, to bangs to dialogue and lots of directionality was superbly demonstrated. On a like for like comparison to the Trittons though it seemed like the sound was in a narrower range, with not everything clarified and distinct from other noises. Every sound was squashed up more closely so that it wasn’t all identifiably caused by action a, or action b. The lobby sequence in The Matrix was up next. The thing here was that you could get fantastic bass notes coming through when set to output high bass (big bangs); excellent treble notes when set to output high treble (bullet casings landing on the floor), or superb bass and treble notes when set to output both. When set to output the normal soundtrack however with the headset set to the main preset, a lot of noises were clearly missed and couldn’t be heard, e.g. the twisting of the officer’s shotgun by Trinity. This was evident because they were there when the settings were different, and through the Tritton headset when comparing like for like. Any sound in the scene could be expressed as good as ever, but not all at once. The final cinematic test was 300 and the “This is SPARTA!” sequence early on in the film. When the characters onscreen were silent the baseline noise was imperceptible - further confirming the brilliant lack of noise this headset delivers - but when rewatching with various settings it was also clear that once more sounds were missing at times. When listening to the scene through the Tritton Pro 5.1+ headset the full flavour was far better, giving a more rounded experience with a more complete selection of sounds and a better quality overall. In each case here what we think is happening is that the virtual surround sound, whilst offering a suitable representation of the film’s soundtrack, just doesn’t have the required separation or directionality needed to ensure crisp, clear sound across all frequencies. It gets distorted or mixed together and this dampens the audio. Fundamentally any aspect of sound being output can be improved by playing with different pre-sets and optimising for a specific type of noise, e.g. an explosion. However when watching a whole film you will want to hear all the kinds of sound on that soundtrack. The main pre-set (the jack of all trades) provides the best solution here and in absolute terms it is excellent, but compared to the Tritton Pro 5.1+ it dissapoints.
Having such an issue with films is one thing but the main use of this headset will be for gaming. Going back to games having learnt the above and doing the same comparisons confirmed this issue to be one afflicting games too. Based on our original thoughts it’s really not a problem if you were to choose this headset but if you want the crispest, clearest and natural sound as intended by the manufacturers of your chosen game this is not the best absolute solution unless a specific focus is required, such as online Call of Duty where clarified and amplified low-level noise is what you think will give you the best boost (it does work very well by the way but don’t expect it to make you a super online soldier if you’re starting at a very very low level to begin with!).
Of course, it is possible that any or all of the above can be eliminated by playing about with the Advanced Sound Editor software available from Turtle Beach, allowing you to view and edit all parameters of this headset. Yes, all of them. It’s all very complicated though. There’s an in-depth manual that comes with the software (all obtained from the website) and it goes into detail about how you can increase the audio level, reduce the noise, filter certain frequencies and so on. How to do this is not in scope of this review. If you are a sound engineer your prayers are answered by this. If you have any knowledge about sound and how to change the raw output into the specific result you desire then again you’ll be mightily impressed with this editor. It’s easy to get going - simply connect your headset via USB to a PC, download the software and launch it - from there on you’re taken through initialisation and eventually you can start to play around. It’s quite overbearing and most folk will make do with what they have in existing presets, or apply new presets uploaded to the website by others around the world. Given they can upload any settings and this can affect the global sound, the game sound or the chat sound, there’s good reason to see what people have shared and use that to enhance your pre-existing suite of eight presets. The eight from Turtle Beach would more than likely suffice for most though given you can use them to change bass, treble or focus on footsteps and low-level sounds which would aid particularly in your online shooter of choice.
What Turtle Beach have delivered here is a mainstream gamer’s headset, expressed as it is via the behemoth that is Call of Duty, that allows the sound enthusiast to have a field day thanks to the various options it provides in hearing whatever noises you want to. It looks great and feels fantastic on the head for hours on end. Its wireless capability combined with the lightweight feel means you don’t have to worry about or even think about the thing on your head and as long as you stay within ten metres or so and don’t add more than one wall between you and the base the sound will stay up as well. There are some annoyances. There’s a Sergeant or some such announcing when the headset powers on, or powers off; when you change to preset four or preset main. This gets old pretty quickly. It really gets annoying when you hear it because the headset’s randomly decided to switch off because you haven’t done anything for five minutes, or the PS3 restarts a game and the headset only recognises the game going off. The microphone boom is non-detachable and pretty big. Really though there’s nothing here which would ever put you off getting what is probably the finest wireless headset around today. It doesn’t have the best quality sound but what it does have is in discrete terms absolutely brilliant. Combined with the build, the feel, the looks and the wireless bonus it’s clear why this is at the very top of the Turtle Beach range and one of the top all told when looking at the holistic package.