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Turtle Beach Ear Force X-51 review: Turtle Beach Ear Force X-51

The Turtle Beach Ear Force X-51 headphones offer true 5.1 surround sound for PC gaming, but we expected better sound quality at this price.

Nathaniel Wilkins
3 min read
Several manufacturers offer headphones that utilize digital signal-processing technologies to simulate 5.1-channel surround sound, but Turtle Beach's Ear Force X-51 is the first model we've tested that actually is a 5.1-channel headphone. Each earpiece incorporates four separate drivers that deliver discrete front, center, rear, and subwoofer signals from appropriately equipped PC sound cards. The X-51s even include a detachable microphone to enable communicating with other players in online games. What's more, the X-51s' interchangeable cord design allows it to double as a standard set of stereo headphones. In concept, the X-51s ($79.95) are ingenious, but in practice, they're not quite there.
The X-51s are a midsize set of 'phones featuring leatherette-covered circumaural (ear-cupping) earpieces and an adjustable headband. During testing, the X-51s proved reasonably comfortable at first but tended to make our ears feel cramped and overheated during long listening sessions. The 'phones, which collapse to roughly the size of softball, can be stored in the included drawstring carrying pouch. The hardwired segment of the X-51s' cord is approximately 4 feet long and terminates in a proprietary plug to which either of two interchangeable cord segments can be attached. One of the segments, measuring approximately 7 inches long, terminates in a standard 1/8-inch stereo miniplug, suitable for connection with any portable audio device, such as an MP3 player, an iPod, a portable DVD player, and so on.
The other segment, which is approximately 7 feet long, provides the only way to fully utilize the X-51's surround capabilities. It has an in-line module with center, rear, front, and bass level controls and terminates in four color-coded miniplugs that connect to a 5.1-channel PC sound card's audio outputs and microphone input. With some sound cards, such as our Creative Audigy 2 ZS Pro, which has its audio outputs on a PCI card and its mic input on a separate box, you may need an audio extension cord (not included) to fully connect the X-51s. There's no digital connection option available.
The X-51s did a marginally better job of creating a convincing surround-sound experience than some competing models that use surround-sound simulation technology, but the 'phones definitely fell short of delivering the pinpoint localization you'd get from the rear speakers in a 5.1-channel multimedia speaker set. For instance, in Half Life 2's deathmatch mode, when we exploded a grenade directly behind our character, the sound wasn't as localized as it was when we conducted the same informal test with 5.1-channel multimedia speakers. That said, the ambient environment was generally enveloping. The microphone worked as advertised, successfully enabling communication with other players.
The X-51s delivered middling treble and midrange performance along with only average bass output--a surprise, given the 'phones' built-in dedicated "subwoofers." Explosions in Half Life 2 lacked truly percussive punch, and in the Jurassic Park DVD, the giant T. rex's footsteps were hardly what we'd call thunderous. Tweaking the headphones' bass control made little difference. Dialog from Jurassic Park sounded clear with the X-51s' center channel cranked up. When we fired up Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days," the soundstage didn't have as much depth as we've heard through the more musical and airy-sounding AKG K-66 'phones. On another note, the X-51s could play only moderately loudly when connected to an Oregon Scientific MP210 portable MP3 player, which lacks the iPod's comparatively muscular output wattage. Perhaps Turtle Beach's powered version, the Ear Force HPA headphones ($99.99), would output more bass and have more volume on tap.
In the final analysis, the Turtle Beach Ear Force X-51s are a decent product that we'd consider purchasing for $39, but not for $79.

Turtle Beach Ear Force X-51

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 5