A Wireless Headset That Changes Channels and Gets Out of the Way

How do you review a product for something that isn't there, and isn't supposed to be there? That's the distinguishing trait of the Turtle Beach X32 headset for the Xbox 360. It's identical in nearly every way to its X31 predecessor, released in 2009, except for one. A big one.

It's the frequency at which the wireless transmitter broadcasts. As gamers' entertainment rooms are increasingly jammed with wireless signals—principally from their wireless internet routers—gaming headsets have been found to suffer. Typically, they all broadcast in the same 2.4GHz spectrum. If your router is in the same cabinet as the headset transmitter, you can bank on pop, cutouts and other interference. Trust me, it's not your batteries. Your options are to move the console or move the router, because most transmitters (including the X32 and its predecessor) use a standard headphone cable, making an extension cord prohibitive to the point of not worth the bother.

Turtle Beach Ear Force X32 Wireless Headset
Price: US$99.95
Product Specifications:
• 2.4/5Ghz Dual Band Wi-Fi transmitter
• 50mm diameter speakers
• EQ settings: Bass Boost, Treble Boost, Bass & Treble Boost
• Sound field expander: Off, narrow, wide
• "Chat Boost" +10dB gain to chat audio at maximum game volume
• Requires two AAA batteries
• Auxiliary stereo 3.5mm line input jack
• Game stereo 3.5mm line input jack
• Power requirements: 5VDC @ 180mA max

Turtle Beach's X32 now uses a dual-band transmitter than broadcasts between 2.4 and 5 Ghz to avoid interference with other devices. After spending a week with this headset's transmitter literally right next to my router, I can verify that I hear nothing. Well, I can hear solid audio of course—and a little background hum. But this is key because even with the luxury-upon-luxury PX5 headset (which broadcasts at 2.4 GHz) I had interference trouble until I moved the transmitter out of the entertainment center and onto my desk. That required one long-ass set of audio component cables which, fortunately, its transmitter accepts. It's not an option on cheaper models.

In everything else with the X32, you're getting the X31's functionality. You're also still not getting Dolby Digital Surround sound. That's $50 extra in the X42 model—which also upgraded to the dual-band transmitter. So those who are looking for a set of cans while they watch streaming Netflix (or piggybacking the signal from your cable box, as I tried briefly) should consider that. You can use the DSS2 Dolby Surround Sound Processor with this unit, but that's another $80. So if that kind of sound really matters, just get the X42.

The X32 is still a workhorse model at a decent price. The hundy it will set you back is not cheap, but is well worth the investment considering the stuff usually shoveled at you off the shelf for $15 to $20 less. Its versatility extends only to audio; this model's chat works only on the Xbox 360, through a cable connecting the unit to the 360 controller. If you don't care for chat, the X32 works with any audio piped into your television or monitor through component cables. I used it with my PS3 and didn't miss anything, but I typically don't use in-game chat unless I am playing with someone I know.

You can hear what you're saying and not yelling over the mike like you're talking on a cell phone to grandma.

The same "Chat Boost" feature, which raises chat audio to match sudden bursts in game audio, is resident on this model, but will require a little tuning if you're a particularly chatty gamer. Jamming the chat volume up or close to the max will produce distortion, as the manual warns. The microphone supplies solid audio and pipes it into your headset, so you can hear what you're saying and not yelling over the mike like you're talking on a cell phone to grandma.

You get a good chunk of volume in the over-the-ear cups. My test is a fan that I have on an end table behind my couch. With a soundtrack playing in-game, I couldn't hear it. The headset comes with three equalizer presets on top of its flat audio. Touch the tone button once and you get the bass boost you're probably looking for. As for battery life, power saving features such as cutting out the audio when the signal is lost, or powering down altogether after five minutes with no audio altogether, helps prolong the juice from two AAA batteries. I played it for a week and didn't come close to running it out.

The lack of Dolby Surround will disappoint audiophiles, though that option is available at a price. For those who just want rich sound without tethering themselves to a console, and want the convenience of putting the transmitter wherever the hell they like it, it's worth picking up something that's designed to get out of the way of your wireless router even when it's sitting right next to it.