The slowride for headsets comes in many forms, colors and prices. Strict music listening headphones of the 60s and 70s were the pinnacle of those who could not afford the high end hi-fi speaker sets of the vinyl era. Couldn’t drop 5gs per speaker back when minimum wage was $1.25/hr; not a problem. Save some cash for a nice pair of Koss Pro 4AA, sit in your dad’s recliner, and drift off into the pre-MTV age of listening to music. Fast forward to the 80s and 90s, and a rebalance on price and access to what people accept as normal for speaker sets, even for your backwoods hillbillies to be able to afford speakers for their wizard picture machine and wax spinning echo maker, came into being.
Headphones have since fallen to the wayside except for mp3 players and headsets. One needs mobility while “attempting” to sacrifice little on sound quality. The other, known for its good looks and snazzy comebacks thanks to Judy one of the Time Life Operators, is used for its ability to not only receive but to send sound through magical tin cans strung together at speeds that shake the imagination when compared to your pappy’s day of the telegraph, van de graaff, and spiral graphs. Used for Skyping, chat roulette, and other various conferencing business, headsets are a staple of the multiplayer game industry. Whether it’s highly competitive FPSers, MMOs, Koreans battling each other on GOMtv, or casual PUGs full of trash talk that your mother hopefully never finds out about, headsets have become a great communication peripheral to complement multiplay of any sort.
Recently while attempting the legendary difficulty in Halo: Reach with a friend, it became quite apparent that Xbox supplied headsets are of poor quality. Even though we had trudged through and completed one of the hardest campaigns in a while, the experience wasn’t the best as far as teamwork communication was harder to decode than a Sherlock Holmes Dancing Men Cipher. After some frolicking on the interwebs it became apparent that choices for the Xbox specifically were few and far between. The main reason for the limited choices, even though the system has multiple usb ports used for many other peripherals, is that the headsets have to be plugged into the tiny 2.5 mm headphone jack on the wireless controllers. A simple rule to follow without delving deep into hi-fi electronic theory, the larger the plug/port, the more data and consistent signal can be transmitted/received. Being stuck with a crappy 2.5 mm port contributes to why few companies have attempted to mass produce a choice for a third party headset and makes sifting through the spare choices worse than finding good acting in a Bert I Gordon movie.
If you’re using different devices to make up for quality issues, wanting to improve your multiplayer communication experience, sick of putting up with mediocrity, or have already thrown your headset into a Will it Blend video, the idea of purchasing a third party headset has probably popped into your head.
Turtle Beach sets are among the most plentiful and vary quite a bit in reviews and prices for different models. Some common problems arose after reading all the reviews and trending the data. Early models are prone to physically breaking, hard to find due to discontinuations, or uncomfortable to wear for extended periods much like the women of America’s Top Model. Most recent models have changed from the wired usb powered types to using an IR plugin into the Xbox directly in order to keep the leash on Ol’ Yeller. Using this type of wireless signal can lead to issues with the latest TV and other similar entertainment technology since both use arrays of signals within the same frequencies. Many of the recent models are prone to annoying feedback from other devices’ background noise. Other companies such as Madcatz have no complaints but are on the rich and famous side of price soaring into the region of a standalone Xbox.
Eventually I landed on the company Sharkoon. At the time what I had found was the chance to pre-order a new headset: the Sharkoon X-tatic SP. A different model, the X-Static Digital, had been out for some time but fell into the “high in price” category. All of the previous reviews of the X-Static Digital were good and sounded better than any of the Turtle Beach. So I took a leap of faith and pre-ordered the Sharkoon X-tatic SP crossing my fingers to the point of blisters.
After 100 hours of use I was quite surprised as to how well the Sharkoon X-tatic SP held up to my expectations for the $60 price tag on Amazon. Here’s a quick list of pros and cons for the headset:
Sound Quality - The ear speakers are very solidly designed and output high and low ranges with excellence. Whether it’s the vibratos of David Crosby’s Laughing or the precise quiet footsteps of an enemy running around the corner in Call of Duty: Black Ops, the SP delivers. The foam around the ears is very good at external noise cancellation to the point that I could not hear a frustrated wife talking from three feet away while listening to music or gaming. The microphone also outputs sound with distinct clarity on Xbox and PC due to a small amplifier.
Comfort- With eight hour spans of wearing the headset I was surprised to find that my head didn’t have the feel of a giant’s hand crush when taking it off. The foam material around the ear is a bit more durable, quiet when moving the headset around on your head, and side pressure against the head is light. The only thing that is a bit of an issue with comfort is that if sitting at maximum range with the headset for extended periods, one’s neck with begin to be sore from a slight pull from the cord. Nothing like having a sore neck of all things to remind the player to take a break from gaming.
Usability - One very nice feature for the SP is its ability to be used with Xbox, PS3, or PC with proper adapters and a slight flick of a switch. This cross-console/PC option is a bonus but may be unnecessary for those specifically looking for an Xbox headset.
Price Tag - It’s a price some people would complain about, but after researching which headsets are worth their weight in gold, the Sharkoon X-tatic SP redeems itself beyond the going Cash for Gold rate.
Corded Anchor - It is not wireless. This saves the user from noise feedback since there is not a wireless signal but much like the dreaded nightmares of the Game Cube cord length, you may feel like you’re sitting in the front row at the movie theater with a 70” TV and a 10 foot length of the cord. With the Xbox, an extra wire connected to the controller adds to a corded mess for those who enjoy moving around to duck, bob, and weave from digital effects as they play.
Mic - Without having mannequin heads of all shapes and sizes, and even more depressing since Ted Danson’s head isn’t readily available for comparisons, the length of the microphone didn’t exactly end directly in front of my mouth. This gives the headset a more Bluetooth feel and may pick up on ambient sound a little more than some prefer especially when mommy’s yelling to finish your homework. Sensitivity threshold is slightly higher than I would like in order to stay quiet while gaming at night. Also since the mic is detachable, this creates another piece to the large mess of parts on this headset.
Availability – This is of course like most of the capitalistic world of today available online but brick and mortar attempts at tracking down this headset may be rough as Gamestop seems to be one of the few stores to carry the headset. Save on gas and order online.
Overall the Sharkoon X-tatic SP is a great addition to any multiplayer gaming experience. For a reasonable price, reliability, sound quality and comfort the SP will not be a disappointment until you hear what people are actually saying to you.
Fleetwood Mac – Dreams