Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS ReviewIndybird -
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To test the Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS I’m going to test it in games, movies and then finally music. Even though the DSS is primarily designed for games and then movies, the music will test the device's pure digital to analog conversion quality. I’ll be testing the DSS using the Turtle Beach Ear Force Z2 I reviewed recently. For a soundcard, I’ll be using the Razer Barracuda AC-1. It provides 5.1 and 7.1 output via optical S/PDIF cable and supports Dolby Digital Live.
- Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE
- Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P
- Motherboard: ASUS M4A89GTD USB3
- Memory: Mushkin Blackline 996782 PC3 12800 2x2GB
- Video Card: Palit Geforce GTX 260
- Power Supply: OCZ 700W Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 750GB SATA
- Optical Drive: Lite-on DVD-RW SATA
- OS: Windows Vista Ultimate 64-Bit
- Sound Card: Razer Barracuda AC-1
To test out the DSS’s gaming performance, I started up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for PC. Since Windows should be set to 5.1, the game defaulted to this also. The first thing I noticed was that the sound on the previously mids-strong Ear Force Z2 was pretty even. I can only assume it comes from the added simulation of having more speakers, but I’m not actually sure. During intense gaming I couldn’t really distinguish front from back. Having the simulated center speaker, however added to the "direct-front" sound and added a slight dimension of frontal audio.
Next, I put on “The Hurt Locker” to test the Ear Force DSS’s movie performance. “The Hurt Locker” has won several awards for sound so this made it an ideal choice. While listening to the movie I found that the DSS slightly enhanced the stereo image of the movie, but I really could not hear the difference between front and back. This is surprising because, unlike during Call of Duty, I could not even hear a "front" center speaker; everything simply sounded left-right the whole time.
Lastly, I'm going to test out the pure digital to analog audio quality with some music tests. For reference I use Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Delilah, Us and Them by Pink Floyd and lastly Propane Nightmares by Pendulum. Each of these songs have distinct qualities which make them great as reference tracks for testing audio equipment. All three songs are played straight off of their CDs through VLC media player. To start, I put on Samson et Delilah. Here I noticed very little difference over the base headphones. Some subtleties like chimes in the background seemed to be picked up a little better, but nothing major. Moving over to Pink Floyd, I noticed some slightly stronger differences. As I noticed during the movies, stereo sections of the song seem to stick out a little more. After some more careful listening, the DSS seemed to "shift" parts of the music more to the sides or into the middle. Now, though this tinkering with the stereo image might seem sacrilegious to some, I found it added an an interesting new depth to the listening experience. This tendency of the DSS will likely be a matter of preference for users. Finally I threw on Propane Nightmares by Pendulum. Much like Samson et Delilah, this song didn't seem to be affected much by the DSS. Vocals seemed a little more "centered", but other than that I could not pick out any differences.
In the end, most users will most likely end up using the "Dolby Bypass" option on the DSS for listening to music. When this is enabled, all audio processing is disabled and the stereo sound is sent directly to the analog stereo output. This provides the most true-to-recording listening through this device.
Overall I found the Ear Force DSS slightly improved stereo imagery, but did not really contribute to a surround sound experience. On a similar note, I don’t quite understand the purpose of having Dolby Pro Logic IIX on a device that simulates 5.1/7.1 on stereo headphones. What you are essentially doing when you turn this on is up-converting stereo audio to 5.1/7.1 which is then simulated back over stereo headphones. Through all of this processing you are going to lose a lot of the original stereo, especially due to the inclusion of a "center speaker". The addition of the "Dolby Bypass" already solves the issue of stereo audio through the DSS, making me wonder even more why Pro Logic IIX is included.