Sharkoon X-Tatic Digital Review

Indybird - 2010-07-14 21:02:34 in Speakers/Headphones
Category: Speakers/Headphones
Reviewed by: Indybird   
Reviewed on: August 31, 2010
Price: $159.99

Introduction:

Audio plays a key part in the gaming experience, if most people know it or not. In single player, the audio immerses you into the scene, enhancing the story and game play. In multiplayer the audio works to your tactical advantage; hear the footsteps and gunshots of enemies. Most gamers settle for the stereo speakers on their TV or computer, or go for a basic headset. All of these options leave much to be desired when it comes to taking full advantage of audio in games.

Some users will go the extra step and buy a higher-end stereo gaming headset or surround sound speakers. Even still, they both have their negatives. The stereo headset may provide high quality audio, but it gives you no sense of 3D audio. The surround sound system on the other hand, may provide good audio quality and positional audio, but they are not only expensive but take up a lot of space. Only somewhat recently (as in the last three or four years), have we started to see surround sound headsets. Early models were somewhat lackluster, providing no real upgrade in 3D audio and were therefore considered a gimmick. However, like any other piece of technology, surround headset performance has come a long way in four years, and become a legitimate piece of hardware in gaming setups.

One of the most recent examples of these is the Sharkoon X-Tatic 5.1 Digital Headset. The major features introduced in this headset are an included sound processor, built in amplifier, eight individual speakers (four in each ear) and even Xbox 360 and PS3 microphone compatibility. Based solely on the features, this headset should appeal not only to gamers, but music and movie enthusiasts also. Let's see if the X-Tatic Digital is the perfect addition to a gamer’s audio setup.

 

Closer Look:

The Sharkoon X-Tatic Digital comes in very attractive packaging. The front has a black and green theme overall and is dominated by a large picture of the side of the headset. From here you can partially see the headset inside the inner plastic packaging. Around the back you find more detailed specifications and features listed in nine different languages. The side lists a few features and doesn’t show anything new from the front or back. Opening up the front of the box you get a full view of the headset, the SCU and more detailed features and awards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening up the packaging for the X-Tatic Digital is interesting, because Sharkoon had to pack a lot of accessories and components into a very small area. You find yourself with a handful of cables and small accessory boxes. As you can see, there are quite a few pieces to the headset system, so we’ll go through them individually.

 

The first thing you might want to check out are the manual and quick start guide. Both were very clear and easy to read (in nine different languages of course), but for the most part were not needed. In the power department you’ll find the AC adapter and three different region plugs (North America, England and Europe are included). Next are the console microphone connectors; an XBOX 360 controller adapter, and a standard USB A to B plug for the PS3. In the input/output department, you’ll find the detachable microphone, a single optical audio cable and an adapter to use the headset without the Sound Control Unit.

 

 

Now with the accessories out of the way, let’s take a look at the headset itself.

Closer Look:

The Sharkoon is a very sleek headset indeed - an all-black body with green and chrome accents. On the headphones you’ll find liberal use of the “Sharkoon” and “X-Tatic” logos. Each ear-piece has a black grill over them, giving them a very high-end headphone appearance. Each ear-piece has standard clicking length adjustment. The top of the headphones has a fake leather band that is very smooth and provides decent cushioning. On the inside rings of the ear-pieces, you have a felt-like fabric that is also very soft on your ears. Also, here you can see the mount for the microphone. The body of the headset is made of a high quality plastic and has an overall solid feel to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the inline controller, you can adjust the levels on the individual speakers, the overall volume and the microphone volume. Also here, are the microphone mute and the Xbox 360 microphone connection. The “Front”, “Rear”, “Center” and “Sub” buttons all light up. The color of each changes depending on what volume they are set at; red is the highest and green is the lowest. The headphone amplifier is contained within this unit.

 

 

The Sound Control Unit is the main difference between the X-Tatic and the X-Tatic digital. This unit acts as a sound processor supporting Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic II and fine-tuned surround sound adjustments. On the front you have a power LED, Dolby Digital signal LED, Dolby Digital Pro Logic LED and a Dynamic Range Control LED. On the left side you have the 5.1 analog output for use with other 5.1 headphones. These ports provide line-level outputs and require headphones with an amplifier. On the bottom you have two outputs for X-Tatic headsets, which allows for two people to listen to movies or games together. On the right are the volume, delay, Pro Logic and dynamic range control buttons, along with the DC in for the unit. On top is the USB microphone connection for PS3 and the optical digital input.

 

 

 

Here are a few shots of the inline control and headphone LEDs.

 

Installation:

Setting up the Sharkoon X-Tatic digital is a fairly simple process, as the audio and power connections are pretty straightforward. The headphones connect to the SCU via the analog cable and the SCU connects to the PC via optical audio cable. Both the headphones and SCU require power, and use a single power cable. If you are connecting to an Xbox 360, then you also have to connect the 360 microphone connection, or if you are connecting to a PS3 then you also have to connect the USB cable.

Once everything is connected, you'll find yourself with a lot of cables sitting on your desk. Being that the headphones require their own power, you have two cables running to the headphones and while the headphones have just over 11’ (360cm) of cable, you have to have the SCU within four feet of the headphones, due to the length of the double power cable. This forces you to keep the SCU and all of the input and output cables no more than six feet away.

 

Configuration:

Configuring these headphones is also very straightforward. On the PC you go to the sound control panel, set your digital output to 5.1 speakers and you're all set. For the consoles, you simply switch their outputs to optical and/or 5.1 surround.

Adjustments to delay and adding processing like Dolby Pro Logic can also be made directly on the SCU.

Specifications:

Headset:

Center Speaker
2 x 27 mm
Front Speaker
2 x 30 mm
Rear Speaker
2 x 30 mm
Subwoofer
2 x 40 mm
Impedance
32 Ohm
Microphone
6 x 5 mm (L x W) / unidirectional
Cable Length
360 cm
Connection
1 x 9-pin analogue plug

Sound Control Unit:

 

Features:

Headset:

Sound Control Unit:

All information courtesy of Sharkoon @ http://www.sharkoon.com/html/produkte/headsets/x-tatic_digital/index_en.html?id=2

Testing:

 

To test the Sharkoon X-Tatic 5.1 Digital Headset I’ll be playing a couple 5.1 surround sound games, 5.1 surround sound movies and some stereo music.

 

 

Testing Setup:

 

Gaming:

To test out the X-Tatic’s gaming performance, I started up Crysis, as Crysis will make full use of a 5.1 surround sound system. With highly detailed sounds ranging from leaves rustling to nano-suit noise, with a proper audio setup, you can experience a whole other dimension of immersion.

After a few levels on the campaign, some competitive multiplayer and then some specific 5.1 tests with friends on multiplayer, I am able to conclude that the positional audio on the X-Tatic is decent, but it definitely takes some getting used to. Though the rear speakers don’t sound like they are perfectly behind you, they definitely are distinguishable from the front speakers, and the same with the center. Once I had my ears trained to the headset's “front” and “back”, I was able to fairly accurately pinpoint the origin of fine sounds all around me. It essentially offered more of a tactical advantage in multiplayer, than it did immersion in single player.


Movies:

Now what 5.1 headset test would be complete without a movie testing? For this I watched “The Hurt Locker”, because of its top-notch sound design, for which it was award winning. Listening to this movie on the X-Tatic was also quite interesting. Though it was definitely not the same level of positional accuracy from a full-fledged 5.1 speaker setup, it did offer slightly more immersion than stereo. Bullets seemed to whiz by and explosions would take up my whole field of listening. Much like in Crysis, it took a little while to get used to the “placement” of the surround speakers in the headset. The only problem I had was the depth of the explosions; the X-Tatic seems to not be able to produce low frequencies very well.

 

Music:

Lastly, I put on various types of music to test the pure audio quality, including some classical pieces, some 70s rock and some electronic music.

I started with Camille Saint-Saëns’ "Samson and Delila". Here I was a little disappointed, as the X-Tatic had decent high to mid-range, such as the strings and woodwinds, but was severely lacking in the lows (timpani and string bass) and the highs (bells).

Moving on to the 70s Rock, I threw on "Us and Them" from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. I found the exact same issues here, a lack of deep lows and highs. Mid clarity was pretty decent, allowing the background voices to come through fairly clearly, but that was it.

Lastly was some electronic, and for that I put on "Propane Nightmares" from Pendulum’s “In Silico”. This song has a lot of bass, but has a generally full spectrum of highs and mids also. This song really showed the acoustic weak points of the X-Tatic. Mainly the bass was missing much like in the other songs, but I noticed that whenever the bass in the song kicked in, I would lose the low mids that the headphones could normally produce just fine.

Now despite the headphones below-par music performance, this weak point does not carry much weight in the overall testing, because these headphones are primarily designed for gaming, in which they performed fairly well.

 

Microphone Quality:

I tested out the microphone with in-game audio in Crysis and then with Skype. In both situations the people I was chatting with said that my voice was very clear, and even with all the background noise in my house, none of it came through during chat. Just for my own reference, I made some quick sound recorder recordings and I personally found it to be way above par, being clear, and not too quiet or too loud. 

 

 

During all of the testing, these headphones remained very comfortable, despite their weight. The cushioned felt-like ear-pieces and headband proved to be quite effective. The inline control was fairly easy to use, but I found the digital volume control to be kind of clunky. Also as expected, the cords did get in the way and I could never really get them situated in a good spot.

Conclusion:

After just over a week of use, I have to say I have mixed feelings about the Sharkoon X-Tatic Digital. It performed great in some tests, but not so well in others.

Where it shines is in its build quality and features. These headphones feel solid, and I’m sure would survive years of use. Despite its size, it also looks great, with the all-black body with chrome accents and LED lighting. It is not lacking in the feature department, either. You get a control unit with Dolby processing and great input and output functions, a detachable microphone for versatility and portability, individual speaker adjustment via inline an control pod, and of course eight speaker surround sound audio.

Make no mistake - the main feature of the X-Tatic Digital is its 5.1 speaker setup and I have to say, it works a lot better than most 5.1 headsets I’ve used. It does take a little bit of getting used to, but nothing that a few gaming sessions wouldn’t sort out. During online play the surround sound was a distinct advantage, and other players had no problem with my voice quality.

Now, I did encounter a fair few issues with the X-Tatic Digital, with some major and some minor. The minor issues I encountered were with the inline control pod and the power connections. During use I found the digital volume control on the control pod to be slightly clunky. The power connections simply got in the way and I was limited by the distance between the SCU and the headphones, because both were run from the same power adapter. A better solution would have been to run the power through the multi-pin headphone connector, allowing for the use of the full length of the headphone cable. Also, it would’ve been nice if the whole system could have been run via USB power, but that’s more of a wish than anything.

The major issues I encountered were with wiring and audio quality. Once hooked up, you have a lot of wires running all over the place, and it becomes very hard to manage. This is paired with the power connections issue, but it involves more than just the power connections. The SCU should have been more of a 'wire hub' than a control unit, so the unit itself and all of the wires connected to it, could be put out of the way, with all adjustments moved to the inline controller.

The next issue was sound quality. the headphones just didn’t produce the low and high frequencies very well at all. Though this was primarily noticed during the playback of music, a full range of sound is needed for games as well.

All in all, the headset was pretty decent. It will give you an edge in multiplayer gaming and you’ll look good while doing it, but poor design choices and poor audio quality keep this $160 headset from being the perfect addition to every gamer’s setup.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: