Turtle Beach Ear Force X-52 PC Gaming Headphones Reviewhardnrg - February 13, 2008
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First I wanted to make sure the headset channels were set up correctly. The next step was to tune the EQ so the headset sound was optimized and balanced nicely across all the speakers. The EQ testing was done with a selection of familiar music, so they are all stereo sources. Once that was done I could move on to testing 5.1 sources, firstly pre-encoded 5.1 from movies, and then real-time generated multi-channel sound from games.
- Processor: Intel Core2 Quad Q6600 @ 2.4 GHz
- Motherboard: EVGA 680i A1
- RAM: 2x1GB Geil Ultra PC2-6400 @ 4-4-4-12-2T
- Graphics Card: Point of View 7800GT 256MB
- Power Supply: PC Power & Cooling 510 SLI/Express
- Hard Drives: 4x Hitachi T7k250 250GB SATA2 (RAID-5)
- Optical Drives: NEC ND-3500 DVDRW
- Sound Card: Realtek HD Audio (ALC885, version R1.47 drivers)
- Sound Card: Creative Audigy2 ZS with LM4562 op-amps and audiophile power capacitor and bridged output stage (kX drivers, version 22.214.171.12438j)
- Sound Card: Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic with LM4562 op-amps, audiophile power capacitor and bridged output stage (Creative drivers, version 2.09.0007)
- Operating System: Windows XP Pro SP2
A selection of music was played through Winamp to assess the sound quality and aid in adjusting the EQ. Some of the main music albums chosen for their production quality, frequency range, and content are as follows (with genre and audio format):
- Metallica - Black Album (Metal, FLAC)
- Camille Saint-Saëns - Carnal des Animaux (Classical, FLAC)
- Nicky Blackmarket - Rollin The Basement Sessions (Drum n Bass, 192kbps MP3)
- DJ Dean - Tunnel Trance Force Volume 19 (Hard Trance, VBR 192-320kbps MP3)
- Ian Brown - The Greatest (Indie/Breaks, 160kbps MP3)
- Infected Mushroom - Vicious Delicious (Psy-Trance, FLAC)
- Röyksopp - Remind Me / So Easy (CD Single) (Electronic/Lounge, FLAC)
- William Orbit - Strange Cargo III (Ambient/Breaks, FLAC)
- Duran Duran - Essential Duran Duran (Night Versions) (New Wave, FLAC)
- James Holden - At The Controls (Progressive/Tech-House, FLAC)
I gave the Realtek 3D Audio Demo a whirl to confirm the headset's speakers were set up correctly. I smiled as the sound source went behind my head and it sounded a lot better than the Medusa headset, not tinny as hell and horrible sounding.
For Creative cards you don't have the prompts, so you just set the sound mode to 5.1. I'm using the X-Fi in Game Mode here, you could also use it in Entertainment Mode, but Audio Creation Mode doesn't upmix stereo sound (like music) to all the channels because it doesn't have the CMSS feature. Here I have the CMSS mode set to Stereo Surround which just sends the same signal to all the speakers except the subwoofer.
The Realtek automatically upmixes stereo sources to all the channels including the subwoofer and you have no control over it. So all I could do was change the EQ to make the Ear Force X-52 sound more like the type of sound you can get from high-end headphones, home audio separates, or in a nightclub. Luckily I have experience with tuning all three by ear, so I came up with the following EQ curve on the Realtek.
There was a little bit of analog distortion when driven at high volumes, and it sounded like the headset speakers were struggling from the rather aggressive low-frequency EQ adjustment. This is because the Realtek doesn't seem to have any bass crossover and you are throwing the full frequency to the smaller speakers, making them cry a little bit. Also, it sounds like the Realtek itself is struggling to provide a signal without distortion.
Onboard audio sucks in comparison to pretty much any soundcard and the Realtek was beginning to make me feel sick, so next I tried the headset with a real soundcard, the modded Audigy2 ZS using the kX drivers. The Audigy2 ZS had a similar EQ treatment, but the bands are at different frequencies, so the curve appears a little different. The kX driver's EQ has a Precut level control which eliminates distortion introduced by the EQ adjustment, an instantly noticeable difference to the Realtek, giving a higher quality signal that could be heard easily on the Ear Force X-52.
I wasn't quite satisfied with the resulting sound achieved on the Audigy2 ZS, so I set the Ear Force X-52 up on the best soundcard I have, the modded X-Fi XtremeMusic. This is where things started to get interesting! Here is the EQ curve for the X-Fi. Notice also that Bass Redirection is being used as a 2-way crossover so that the subwoofer gets frequencies below 60 Hz, and the rest of the speakers get everything above 60 Hz. This results in a HUGE improvement in sound because the sub handles the very low bass, and the rest of the speakers aren't subjected to the massive booming bass from my music collection and EQ adjustments!
I've been listening to music on the Ear Force X-52 (connected to the X-Fi) non-stop since I got back from work about five hours ago. Normally I would listen to music on my speakers or one of my sets of headphones, but how the X-52 is set up right now, I feel like I could listen forever. It's very enjoyable listening to music on this headset, but only on the X-Fi. Most people won't be as picky as me, and may not even care about EQ adjustment or having a real soundcard, but if you get this headset, try it with EQ and Bass Redirection both disabled, and then try my settings. The difference is like going from the crappy earbuds you got with your phone, to a pair of $150 headphones! (The last three sets of headphones I've bought range from $200 to $300).
The sound produced now (with my adjustments) is extremely clear across the whole frequency range, the bass is slightly over-emphasised, with the subwoofer vibrating the earcups on my ears and head for the lowest bass notes. But, the bass is not distorted at all, and not booming in my ears, the sub is really just working away happily giving me a bit of an eargasm to be quite honest haha! The in-line volume controls on the headset cable are set to:
- Front: 6
- Rear: 4.5
- Centre: 4.5
- Sub: 10
I wouldn't normally set up headphones to vibrate on my head, but this EQ setting gives the best quality sound, and I think the sub-bass vibration will be ace for movies and games giving you a visceral bass sensation in addition to what you hear. If the headset performs this well for 5.1 sources, it's going to be incredible. For Creative cards you need to disable the CMSS upmixing when watching movies or playing games with 5.1 audio otherwise the front channel sound will be added to the other speakers, messing up the 3D positioning.