Over the past few years, we've seen a noticeable spike in the amount of surround-sound headphone solutions aimed at the video game market. Turtle Beach has led this initiative most recently with the X41s, which do a solid job at recreating a surround-sound effect using standard headphones.
Since the rise of this type of product, we've received countless questions asking if it is possible for a standard stereo pair of headphones to output a surround-sound effect. Though it's certainly not ideal--and can be a bit of a pain to set up--the Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS is the closest you'll get to 7.1 surround sound with standard headphones.
The DSS processing unit is tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but by the time all is set up, the little box will have plenty of cables protruding from two sides. It's cumbersome, but we're not sure Turtle Beach could have approached the concept in a less cluttered execution.
Setting up the DSS can get a little complicated. Since the product is designed to deliver surround sound over standard headphones, the sound processor must receive the digital audio signal directly from the source. In the case of video game consoles (and any other source fed into the unit), a digital optical cable must run from the console's output to the digital-in on the DSS box. Turtle Beach includes a 6-foot wire, but in our case, we needed a much longer one. We're glad to see a digital-optical cable is included, but it's not exactly fair to think the average gamer sits 6 feet away from their television.
Unfortunately, there is no option for AC power on the DSS (save for buying a USB to AC adapter) so the included 6-foot USB cable must suffice for out-the-box operation. You can power up the DSS using any available USB port; we used a port on a laptop.
Finally, for those with a headset, an optional USB connection can be made (using a PS3 or PC) to ensure the microphone audio is carried directly to the console or computer. Of course, with this option, the powered USB cable must also be the chat connection as well. For those using just the DSS with analog audio for Pro Logic decoding, an included 3-foot 1/8 inch male-to-male audio cable needs to be attached to both the DSS and source.
It sounds complicated, and it is. When all is said and done, it's possible to have up to four separate wires coming out of the tiny DSS box.
Once hooked up, the DSS allows for input and output volume adjustments as well as a complete bypass of Dolby Digital decoding. A series of blue LED lights on the DSS' top signifies a digital connection and which Dolby sound format is being utilized. There's also a bass booster on the side of DSS, which we felt added significant oomph when turned up about halfway.
So, how does the DSS perform overall? It's a mixed bag. First-person shooters, such as Modern Warfare 2, seemed to create the best experience, but action games like God of War III ultimately fell flat. To be totally sure these results were not because of poor sound design, we hooked up our X41s and got much better surround sound. Moving along to sports games in our testing, we found NHL 10 immersed us in the "oohs" and "ahhs" of the crowd, but FIFA World Cup 2010 left us with a shallow, disconnected atmosphere.
That said, we were impressed at how well the DSS was sometimes able to create a surround-sound experience with a standard set of headphones. However, because the results seem to change from game to game, it's tough to recommend a device with such inconsistent performance.
Priced about $80, the Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS isn't affordable enough to take a chance on. For those serious about surround-sound gaming, we highly recommend checking out the company's X41 wireless surround-sound headphone solution, which can be had online for as low as $150.