Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles have caused nothing but bother for those who want to use gaming headsets when they play. It could be for any number of reasons that having your own personal bubble of sound is preferable, so when the PS4 and XBO launched and broke or confused compatibility at launch, the headset manufacturers had a tricky problem to get their heads around.
If you already have a headset, or are looking to buy, you’ve probably already checked the manufacturer websites for their compatibility. Turtle Beach, in addition to adding support for lots of older headsets, have also brought the PX4 to the market, including everything you need to get it working with the PS4 out of the box, while still keeping PS3 and 360 compatibility.
It’s an intriguingly positioned headset, as it is visually and functionally almost identical to the PX51, but comes in at an RRP of £149.99 rather than £229.99. Amazon and Game have already dropped that to £99.99, while the PX51 is still at £199.99.
The primary difference is with the wireless transmitter, which is now a small box, rather than a combined base station and headset stand, and loses some of the extended functionality, like programmable audio processing and the niche defaults like footstep boosters. The core functions remain intact.
This takes power via a lengthy USB cable that can plug into your console or a USB power brick, and uses a standard optical audio cable to get sound from your console. There’s also an optical passthrough output, so it can live inside an existing set up, and an additional 3.5mm analogue input which will only work if there’s no optical signal, for limited multi-device use.
Game audio support is effectively universal and pretty straightforward to set up, but chat is trickier. Bluetooth is used for PS3 chat, and also means this can connect to PCs or smartphones too, but 360 uses the 2.5mm Talkback cable that connects to the controller.
Sony have borrowed the 360′s chat system,but use a 4 pole 3.5mm jack instead, and it’s with this £5 cable that they provide the PS4 support out of the box for the PX4. The same cable is also used to add support for older Turtle Beach headsets.
In reality, this all means that the PX4 is bringing together existing technology, bundling in all of the necessary components and coming to market at a lower price point than before. That’s no bad thing, of course, and they have a well refined headset and flexible system.
The headset feels really well built and has a really compact design. The ear=cup size is just large enough to fit my fairly large ears, but even with little leeway in this regard it never got uncomfortable. The fabric pads were just breathable enough that my ears got warm but not hot and sweaty, and I was happy to sit through entire films or play games for several hours at a time while wearing them without pause.
They’re also quite light, which helped make these lengthy sessions unremarkable, but the device contains a sizeable rechargeable battery that is rated to 15 hours. I would always notice my DualShock 4 running out of battery a long, long time before the PX4, but when it did start the beeping to indicate a drained battery, I was able to plug in with the long USB cable and keep using it as it charged.
All the time, they’re able to push a nice and punchy sound, which feels much more dense than the open back Sennheisers I’m used to. That’s largely down to these being closed back headphones, but it’s a nice change, and does help to emphasise the bass in particular. The closed back style also means that very little sound gets in or out.
In addition to the natural design advantages, the audio processing options allow you to boost the bass and/or treble further, with another setting letting you limit the maximum audio volume, to save your hearing for later life.
Surround sound is handled by the wireless transmitter, which processes the signal and mixes it down to a virtualised surround sound for the stereo speakers in the headphones. What’s useful is the ability to change the angles of the virtual front and rear speakers, to try and find the best positioning for your ears.
Unfortunately, I found that quite a tricky thing to determine, and I’d struggle to close my eyes and definitively point the direction that a tank is coming at me from, or where that spray of bullets started. It’s only when I let my brain take in the visual information from the TV screen, that it can put things together and I’d know better where the sounds are coming from, than with just plain stereo.
It’s also quite tricky to get all of this set up, and really requires that you find the full manual from the Turtle Beach website, as it’s not included in the box. There are various beeps to the headset buttons, patterns of blinking lights on the transmitter, and it’s only with instructions that you can figure this all out. Although more expensive models will talk back to you as you alter settings, once you have the PX4 set to your liking, you only really need the volume wheels and the chat cable.
The chat functionality is a bit of a mixed bag mixed bag. On PS3 it uses Blutooth and though it’s quite easy to set up and has separate volume controls, it suffers from poor quality audio, because Sony have only exposed the high quality settings to their own Bluetooth devices. When compared to the standard Sony Bluetooth Headset, the shift in quality is very noticeable and I found myself sometimes putting the chat audio through the main audio output of the wireless transmitter. Depending on the game this could lose me separate volume control, and still doesn’t help those that have to listen to me!
The situation is far better for PS4 though. The chat cable means the audio is piped through the controller, and this is a much better experience at a higher bit-rate and quality, at the cost of making your wireless headset quite obviously wired. You’re at Sony’s mercy once more, as they’ve inconveniently nested the chat volume in the PS button menu, or it can be found deeper into the Settings app,
For a chat quality comparison, here are some short sound samples from various set ups to illustrate:
However, the main downside for me has been something on a more individual level, and something I believe to be inherent to wireless headphones. With the still youthful ear canals of a 20-something, my hearing is sensitive to certain frequencies that older ears generally don’t pick up on. I can often hear the whine of electronics, such as an idling USB power brick or a HDD struggling for power, and in the PX4′s case I hear a gentle white noise or humming when they are turned on.
This has been tested with two separate headsets and I isolated it to my hearing, but I find it’s something that nags at me a little when game audio dies down and I navigate a near-silent menu system, or even just when I turn the headset on for the first time.
It doesn’t scale with the game audio though, so as soon as tanks start rolling by, the rattle of gunfire fills the air or some nice evocative music picks up, it might as well not be there. Quieter genres might suffer a little more for me, but this is something that’s very much on a person-by-person basis and, as I’ve already said, is inherent in wireless headphones. The older you are or the more abuse your ears have taken, the less likely you’ll be able to discern this white noise.
Overall, this is quite an impressive bit of kit. It combines some great audio with decent surround sound simulation, and has the flexibility to tackle almost any situation and set up you throw at it, letting you plug it in to anything that has an optical audio output.
While a fully cabled headset would offer similar audio quality at a lower price, taking the wireless technology into account means the PX4 is a great headset at its price point. Stacking up against the more expensive PX51 within Turtle Beach’s own range, there are also surprisingly few compromises, and the value just gets better once retailers have decided to cut prices.