Ear Force PX5 Programmable Headset (with Bluetooth)
Gaming headsets have certainly hit their stride in the market since the scene exploded a few years ago. Since then we've seen and reviewed countless headsets and headphones, all ranging from stereo to surround sound, digital, audio, wireless, wired, and everything in between.
From the get-go, Turtle Beach has remained a heavy hitter, consistently delivering solid-performing headsets for the gamer who wants to experience all the sound and detail video games provide without waking up the neighbors.
The PX5 marks the company's most prestigious effort yet, addressing nearly every concern and complaint gamers have voiced. Aside from a few quirks, the PX5 is truly a fantastic wireless surround sound gaming headset that offers an insane amount of customization along with a few new ideas we're really excited about.
For anyone who has used the Turtle Beach X41s, the PX5s seem like a much sturdier pair of headphones. That said, sturdier doesn't necessarily mean heavier. The headset's weight feels just right and the padded adjustable headband provides tons of cushiony comfort.
Each earcup is littered with buttons and switches. The left earcup sports an adjustable and detachable boom mic complete with wind screen along with the main power button. Along the cushioned cup you'll find a USB port, Xbox chat port, the presets button, and a game volume dial.
Looking over to the right earcup you'll find the "main" button, a mic mute, a Bluetooth LED indicator and its function button, and a Bluetooth volume switch.
The transmitting base that also doubles as a headset stand is back, a sort of cable modem-looking device that provides all the connectivity for the PX5. Up front is the power button, headphone jack, bypass button, along with a healthy amount of LED notification lights. Here players can tell if what they're hearing is being played in Dolby Digital or Pro Logic II.
Around back is where the connections are made. Turtle Beach offers two types of connectivity, analog and digital audio, with the former not available for pass-through audio.
The PX5 headset mostly resembles the Turtle Beach X41 set, but with a major overhaul under the hood. However, the setup process is nearly identical. The PX5 comes with a transmitting base that requires power via the included USB adapter (though you can purchase a USB to wall adapter separately). We used our Xbox 360 to power the base, but it also worked with a free USB port on our cable set-top box.
For entertainment setups that utilize an AV receiver, the PX5 can act as a pass-through, eliminating the need to unplug optical cables each time the headset is used. Though this worked, we did notice an occasional drop in audio when we were using the PX5's base as an audio pass-through. When we bypassed the PX5, the drops in audio went away.
For those curious about what exactly is included in the box, Turtle Beach offers up the PX5 headset, a pair of AA batteries, an Xbox Live chat cable, a USB cable, the RF transmitting base, a USB power cable, and a 6-foot optical audio cable.
The enormous number of audio presets and handful of buttons on the PX5 can certainly be daunting, but for the hard-core gamer, it's the ultimate in customization. There are 18 default slots for presets, all of which can be edited using Turtle Beach's preset editing software that can be downloaded from the company's site. Using the included USB cable, users can then transfer the new presets directly to the headset and use them in games.
The software itself is primarily straightforward, but having a light background in equalizer adjustments won't hurt. Unfortunately, the software won't yet work on Macs, but in our opinion, the default presets included with the PX5 are beyond sufficient.
That said, the potential for downloadable custom presets is huge. Turtle Beach has been in touch with developers about creating presets for specific games and offering them up for consumption. We would love to use presets created by a game's developer to enhance the overall experience.
Speaking of those presets, Turtle Beach has seemingly thought of every gaming situation in their own design and bundled them in with the PX5. They range in everything from modes that highlight footsteps, to dynamic bass and treble boosts. Both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are given nine modes each, equaling the 18 total we mentioned above. Best of all, they work quite well, with an almost astonishing level of acuteness.
At times it felt a bit unfair, as we could hear enemies much earlier than before. For fans of Call of Duty's online multiplayer, we should disclose that this mode netted us the best results by far.
Each preset--in addition to vital headset information--is presented via a voice prompt, something we wish all multifunctional headsets offered. With the PX5, gone is the need to count LED flashes; the headset just tells you what's going on.
New for the PX5 is a Bluetooth module that can connect to any two devices. We've never seen this sort of functionality in a gaming headset before, but now we're not sure how we survived without. Specifically when used in tandem with a smartphone, the PX5 makes for a seamless game-to-call transition that eliminates what used to be an awkward conversation. When taking a phone call, one button answers the phone which in-turn mutes the chat audio and devotes all focus to the conversation.
The Bluetooth feature can also be tethered to a PS3 for chat or a music player for wireless audio. You'll need to use the included Xbox chat cable for Xbox Live sessions, but Turtle Beach offers a $30 accessory to eliminate the need for a wired connection.
We also really liked the mic-monitoring feature on the PX5. We've used countless headsets that don't allow for the ability to hear one's own voice back through the earphones--having it there is a much more satisfying experience. The PX5 can even disguise your chat voice if the situation calls for it.
The PX5 uses two AA batteries for operation, one pair of which is included. Ideally we would have loved a rechargeable solution here, but Turtle Beach claims such an implementation would only provide limited play time. We're not totally convinced of that, but in our two-plus weeks of testing, we never had to change the batteries. As always, we recommend having a pack of rechargeable batteries anyway--not just for the PX5, but for all your gadgets. The amount of money saved in the long run is staggering.
In terms of performance, the PX5 headset is up there with some of the best-sounding systems we've tested. Audio is crisp and clean and bass is rich and full. We preferred using the bass booster preset in our trials with the PX5, but of course these preset options will vary by preference.
As with any device that utilizes the 2.4Ghz band, there's always the threat of interference from other devices. The PX5 is no exception, as we did experience a significant amount of disruption caused by our wireless router. That said, we found that changing the router's wireless channel did improve reception, but we'd definitely recommend keeping the two devices as far away from each other as possible.
Furthermore, we were a bit surprised to find that the system suffered severely when line of sight between the transmitter and headset was blocked. Even something as light as a curtain seemed to give us static, so we'd also recommend keeping it in plain view. When we tried placing the transmitter base behind our plasma TV, the results were almost useless.
We played a handful of games in our testing, with titles like Portal 2 and Dead Space 2 giving us the best results. Of course, this is more of a compliment toward the respective game's sound designers, but the PX5 was able to surgically decipher each title's delicate score and deliver it with breathtaking detail. A huge home theater system is great, but being able to capture everything in a more personal living space creates a much more immersive experience.
Aside from a few distractions, the PX5 is an exceptional set of wireless gaming headphones. While somewhat expensive at $250, they not only provide excellent solutions for gaming, but also for any other source, surround sound or not. It's these features coupled with Bluetooth functionality and preset customization that really make for an impressive value.
Though we're not sure the PX5 headset is for every type of gamer, the DIY-conscious hard-core gamer will be very well served.