There are a number of Surround-Sound gaming headset around from the likes of Turtle Beach, Astro and Tritton, however if you want to use them on your console the pickings are slimmer. The excellent wireless X41 from Turtle Beach are probably the best of a batch of “Xbox 360 Ready” headsets – but they are simulated surround sound. The X41s and the Astro A40s use Dolby Headphone – the market standard in simulated surround sound over stereo. True 5.1 headsets are a rarer beast.
To allow for discrete 5.1 audio you need more than two speakers (at least 6). The HPX-2 headset from Turtle Beach is one of the few headset in the world that has multiple drivers in each ear. 4 on the left and 4 on the right provide a centre and sub-woofer driver for both ears, front and rear left audio in the left ear and front and rear right audio in the right. This is a huge sacrifice in individual driver quality and size to provide more distinct placement of audio.
A Dolby Headphone enabled amp allows you to enjoy surround sound using the highest quality headset you can afford. You can lose critical positioning (especially directly behind you) however atmosphere is not lost.
The important choice when choosing a surround sound gaming headset is audio quality vs positional accuracy.
The caveat with discreet 5.1 audio headsets (like the HPA2) is that they are for PC only.
Or are they?
The difficulty with consoles comes from the fact that they only output surround sound in Dolby Digital via an optical cable. All 5.1 headsets are designed to be connected to separate analogue jack connections. Common for PC sound cards but completely absent from all video-game consoles.
What you need is something to convert the digital audio into analogue. This is what “Xbox 360 Ready” headsets provide inside their boxes and why they claim to be so ready. If you want to use a different headset you can use your hi-fi or even your PC’s soundcard, but a device like the A40 amp can be far more appropriate. If you don’t have a suitable beefy hi-fi or PC you will probably want something a little more affordable too.
There are a fair few of these devices around but quality can be an issue; so it is rather convenient that there is something perfect for the job – the Creative Extigy.
Currently discontinued (eBay it is then) though still readily available, the Extigy is made by PC audio leaders Creative and it is a USB-powered soundcard designed for Laptops. Originally released in 2002 – it has apparently never been bettered. Essentially an external Audigy 2, it allows you to convert a Dolby Digital signal, via optical, into analogue 5.1. The conversion is done with only a minor delay (the best I have experienced for such a process) and automatically – and you don’t even need to connect it to a Computer. For around £40 it really can’t be beaten.
Another useful feature, particularly so in this case, is its separately amplified microphone input. Combined with a clever bit of wiring this enables you to hear you team mates and enemies on Xbox Live clearly, even when everything is exploding around you. Whilst Xbox-specific headsets are designed with the Xbox Live communication system in mind, PC or vanilla headsets are not.
Without a system like this you are forced to use the Xbox’s own gameplay audio/chat merger which is woefully inadequate.
USB Power adapter
Although you don’t need to plug the Extigy into a PC you do need to power it via its USB connection. You can use any USB-to-mains plug adapter for this. If you haven’t got one they are extremely cheap on eBay.
The HPA2’s amp also requires USB power. It is highly recommended that you power the HPA2 amp with a USB-to-mains plug adapter, even if you are using it for a PC/Laptop. If you power it from your Computer’s USB slot you will likely receive a lot of interference from your headset.
Xbox Live Chat cables
You will need (minimum requirements):
- Datel Xbox Chat adapter
- 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter
- 3.5mm stereo to dual-mono splitter cable
The Xbox 360 Controller requires a mono input from your headset’s microphone and transmits a mono output from Xbox Live chat. This output needs to be connected to the microphone input on the Extigy. The volume of this can be amplified to your preference and will be audible in your left ear.
You may be able to use a different configuration of cables (leave a comment if you do) and you can get far cheaper headset adapters from eBay. The Datel is the cheapest solution with mute and volume control from my research though. At the end of the article I have included some pictures and descriptions of 4 different setups.
The image below shows you an example of how to connect your headset to your Extigy and Xbox 360 Controller. (Have a look further down the page for my actual setup).
There is a shopping list at the end of this page with all of these cables as well as eBay search links to buy them.
Turtle Beach Ear Force HPA2/HPX-2
The HPA2 package from Turtle Beach is a combination of their adaptable HPX-2 headset with an in-line 5.1 USB-powered amp. The HPX-2 is one of the most highly rated gaming headsets. It is frequently suggested as a replacement for the A40 headset, and is compatible with the A40 amp with a simple $10 adapter cable – the HPX-1.
Unfortunately Turtle Beach only offer the HPX-2 and it’s associated cables to the USA. So finding what you want can be quite difficult here in the UK. I luckily managed to find the HPA2 package at ExpansysUK for a very reasonable £65. The HPX-1 lead is available for £10 from limexb360.co.uk. Lime is probably the most comprehensive place to go for all Turtle Beach headset and accessories – though they may not always be the cheapest.
The headset itself has a quality build and should be comfortable for a wide variety of head sizes. They look stylish and there is simply nothing to complain about. The in-line amp has individual volume controls for front, rear, centre and the sub-woofer. It is of reasonable quality and providing you give it USB power as outlined above you will experiencing a minimal amount of hissing – though it is still there.
The sound quality to me is superb, but I am hardly an audiophile. I am sure those with more experienced ears will be able to pick at this, but I cannot.
Overall this headset provides a great audio experience, and by all accounts the best “true” surround sound available via a set of headphones.
Xbox System Settings
|You need to make sure that you have Dolby Digital enabled in the Xbox 360 dashboard to get surround sound out to the Extigy.||You also need to make sure that your chat options are set up as above so that you can here your friends clearly.|
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Once it’s all up and running you can begin sound-whoring with the best of them. I bought this setup with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 in mind and I couldn’t be happier. With the “War Tapes” audio option enabled you can completely immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the battlefield. I find myself acquiring out-of-sight targets much easier and sniper/anti-sniper tactics have never been simpler, thanks to an increased awareness of bullet trajectory.
When it comes to surround-sound headsets your options are clear. If you want Wireless get yourself some X41s, if you want the best audio quality then pick yourself up the A40 amp and drop a few hundred more on some Sennheiser or something. If you want discrete 5.1 audio and don’t mind cables, then the HPA2 and Extigy combo is the only way to go.
I have taken some pictures of my exact setup to try to a help a little more.
|Click on the picture to see the full-size versions.|
All the items I have used are:
- Turtle Beach HPA2 headset package (Google) (eBay)
- Datel Headset Adapter (Google) (Amazon) (eBay)
- 2.5mm (Male) to 3.5mm (Female) (eBay)
- 3.5mm stereo jack extension cable 1.5M (eBay)
- 3.5mm stereo to 2 3.5mm mono splitter cable (eBay) <-Direct link
- 3.5mm stereo jack cable 0.2M
- Toslink digital optical cable
- Creative Extigy (eBay)
- USB power adapter [for HPA2] (eBay)
If you use a different configuration these cables may be useful too:
- 3.5mm stereo jack cable 1.5M (eBay)
- 2.5mm stereo jack cable 1M (eBay)
- 3.5mm stereo female-female coupler (eBay)
- You may also need some USB Extension cables (eBay)
I have tried to make sure that the searches on eBay are as accurate as possible, to make sure you get the right devices and cables. Don’t forget to sort by Price (and P+P) to get the best deal.
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Xbox Live Headset connection setups
Check the comments below for some more helpful advice. Ask if you need any further help.