As the latest generation of consoles dawned, peripheral manufacturers faced an uphill struggle to get their products ready and compatible with the new hardware, the new possibilities and the new limitations. Some of these problems persist – with racing wheels a notable sticking point – but gaming headsets have matured a great deal since last year, moving beyond quick fixes for compatibility.
Turtle Beach’s wireless PX4 was a decent initial foray onto the PS4, generally retailing at under £100 and essentially taking their existing headset designs and making sure it had a cable so that chat could be handled via the DualShock 4 – a necessary workaround as chat via USB was only patched in on day one, but one that meant it wasn’t truly wired. Right off the bat, the PlayStation focussed Turtle Beach Stealth 500P is a clear improvement, designed to support PS4 and PS3, with PS Vita and mobile via a 3.5mm cable.
A lot of the improved functionality comes by way of the diminutive USB dongle, little larger than your average USB flash memory stick. This now handles chat via USB, eradicating the need to plug into the DualShock 4 for chat, as well as accepting an optical cable from around the back of the console for audio – meaning it doesn’t have the absolute convenience of the official PlayStation headsets’ USB dongles.
Set up was nice and simple, on both PS4 and PS3, though the optical cable means that this is really a solution for one machine at a time. However, on top of this, it was instantly recognised when I plugged it into a PC, and in theory you would even be able to get it working with an Xbox One, using the dongle to transmit the optical audio wirelessly while plugging into the controller with an audio adapter and the provided 3.5mm cable – don’t hold me to that, though.
The headset now comes with DTS Headphone: X 7.1 virtual surround sound encoding, which did a great job of giving me positional sound when in game. However, while there are presets, I did find this to be a rather bass heavy headset, almost to the point where I felt I was losing some of the definition and detail in the upper registers. It’s certainly more bass heavy than the PX4, while the PS Gold headset was almost the polar opposite, with comparatively very little bass – though this is adjustable via an app and specific settings.
It really depends on the kind of sound that you’re after, and is well suited to action heavy shooters, with big explosions and constant gunfire. Personally, it was all a little bit to much for my tastes and I’d have preferred something closer to the middle ground of the PX4s. There are also presets that do shift the balance for movies and music, as well as bass boost (in case you want even more), bass and treble boost and a voice boost mode. You can even eschew surround sound and play in stereo mode.
The headset itself has moved on significantly since the PX4, with a much more premium look and feel all around. The matte plastic of the headband is pleasantly understated, with a blue rim on each cup and the centre of each cup a plain gloss plastic with the Turtle Beach logo. Fabric has been replaced with faux leather, with small holes pricked in the earcup padding presumably to let heat dissipate.
Extended to its fullest, it is certainly tighter on my head that the PX4 and other headsets that I have tried for comparison, but not unpleasantly so. The padding is fairly rigid, but soft enough that after a few minutes the tighter clamping that’s focussed above my ears isn’t something I’m thinking about, and the headband as a whole stretched out over time. I was happy to wear this for hours at a time, without much thought.
With the all plastic construction and choice of compound, and the rather compact design, it perhaps doesn’t feel as sturdy in hand as it actually is. Some of this might also come down to the weight, which at 250g is a noticeable 50g lighter than the Playstation Gold or PX4 in your hand, not that either of them is particularly heavy.
The more minimalist design is accentuated by the greatly reduced number of buttons. The right cup plays host to independent game and chat volume wheels, a presets button and a mic mute button. The power button is nowhere to be seen, disguised instead as the Turtle Beach logo in the centre of the faceplate. Pressing these buttons now has a woman’s voice giving you feedback on what you’re changing with the headset, which is a marked improvement over the bleeps and bloops from comparable headsets and a great feature to have filtered down from higher end models.
When the headset is on, the two logos on each cup periodically flash blue – this is more rapid when searching for a wireless signal or a steady red when charging. With the microphone removed, this is probably the clearest indication that it’s a gaming headset, beyond the blue rim to each cup and knowing the Turtle Beach brand.
That microphone is the usual style of flexible boom mic, easily placed to the corner of your mouth to get the sound of your voice and as little pop or hiss as possible. While removable, the 3.5mm end is also moulded in such a way that it cannot be inserted the wrong way around, while the microphone itself eschews the fuzzy tip of before for a small plastic pill with a tiny hole. You can check our expanded microphone comparison audio here:
The microphone is one of the best and worst things about the headset, though. Thanks to the positionable boom, it’s of a much, much higher quality than the 500P’s most obvious direct competitor, the PlayStation Wireless Gold headset, but the microphone itself is particularly sensitive to being positioned in the wrong place, so I was often told I was quiet by party members and had to re-position it.
That’s particularly minor in comparison to the microphone monitor, or sidetone as it is commonly known. This is no longer user controlled, but automatic and always on when the mic is active, cleverly allowing you to tell roughly how your voice will blend with game audio for others in the chat. For me the monitor disappointingly added a particular live wire sound at a set pitch and volume though.
Muting the microphone kills the buzzing, so this is the first thing I do as soon as I’m playing single player, and it’s mitigated by the fact that game audio of any decent volume will drown it out entirely, but whenever there is a lull in the action or I’m sat in just the party, it’s there and can be quite annoying. However, while I cannot discount it as an issue, it can also be down to my particular hearing, as I was able to hear it on two separate headsets, the second of which was tested specifically by Turtle Beach. On the plus side, the static noise I could hear on the PX4s has all but vanished.
The absolute standout feature of the headset comes with the battery life, though. While the PX4 was rated for 15 hours and managed this with aplomb, the 500P is said to last a similar length of time but I recorded a quite astonishing 19 hours of use before it died. Compared to a PS Wireless Gold headset, which lasted bang on 8 hours – similar to a DualShock 4 controller – this is quite astonishingly much more than twice as long.
Just as with the PX4s, I find it difficult to give an out and out recommendation for the Stealth 500P. There are a number of upsides to this headset, from a new design to truly wireless chat and some outstandingly long battery life. It’s a big leap forwards since last year, but once again there are just a couple of points which will come down to personal preference and the sensitivity of your hearing.