Review: Tritton AX Pro gaming headset

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Short Version: Tritton’s AX Pro headset makes gaming exponentially more immersive. At $160, you get eight-speaker Dolby Digital surround, which makes the AX Pro a good choice for gamers who want to step up to a serious headset without breaking the bank.

Long Version:

I began reviewing the AX Pro headset without knowing its actual price. I would have pegged it at around $250, yet it sells online at most places for around $160. So we’re off to a good start so far. The whole getup comes in a big orange and white box; there’s the headphones, a detachable boom mic, two power adapters, a Dolby decoder box, some extra earpads, and a myriad of connector cables.

Being a meat and potatoes kind of guy, I set about to simply plug the headphones into the jack on my desktop computer to do an initial audio test. Well, that’s not how it works – I ended up having to plug one connection of the split headphone cord into an AC adapter and the other connection into an adapter that split the audio out into front, rear, bass, and microphone plugs for a multi-input sound card (I don’t have an optical sound connection on my desktop, so I couldn’t use the included optical cable).

Once I made my way through the initial gauntlet of wires – which actually wasn’t that bad, just far more than I’m used to for a set of headphones – I tested the headphone portion with some first person PC shooters, mainly Halo 2 and Counterstrike, along with high-bitrate music files and some HD television and movie files. So far so good. Everything sounded “nice” but not unbelievable by any means.

Then I hooked the headset up to my Xbox 360’s optical connection.

Ho-ly crap. What a difference an optical cable and a higher-end sound setup make. It was like I was playing all my old games again for the first time. Bioshock freaked me right the hell out, Tiger Woods PGA Tour ‘09 sounded identical to a real golf course, and one of my new favorite games, Guitar Hero: Metallica (review coming soon), was like night and day versus playing it through my TV speakers. It felt like I was at an actual Metallica concert.

So long story short, this headset is best utilized if your PC has an optical connection or on an Xbox 360 or PS3. It’s not gonna shine all that much on a dumpy desktop like my HP Slimline or most notebook computers, unless yours has an optical connection.

Now for some of the drawbacks. First, if you can’t stand cords you may not like the AX Pro. The optical setup I’m using now consists of the headset plugged into the included Dolby box, which has the optical cable going out to the Xbox 360.

The headset portion has its own AC adapter and the Dolby box has its own AC adapter. Then, there’s the microphone wire that goes from a jack on the headset’s inline remote to my Xbox 360 controller. I tried to play Guitar Hero standing up and it was NOT fun having all those wires hanging off of me. This headset is best for first person shooters where you can sit down and let the cords run all over the floor.

Second, the microphone is just average. It’ll pick up extraneous noise from time to time and it’s not really adjustable once you plug it in to the headphones. I always felt like it was a little too far from my mouth so I ended up yelling. People on the other end of multiplayer games said I sounded fine, though. The mic just feels a little cheap while everything else is so nice.

However, if you can get past all the cables and can make peace with the rather pedestrian microphone – two things that aren’t really major flaws – then there’s really little else to complain about. Just make sure you buy the AX Pro for the correct system. It sounds fine when hooked up to the analog jacks of a computer’s sound card. It sounds amazing when hooked up to a console’s optical port – much more expensive than a $160 headset.

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Second take: Devin here. I also got to take the AX Pros for a whirl, and I found them much the same as Doug. I didn’t have an optical connection handy but I figured out the 5.1 outputs on my soundcard pretty quickly. If you’re considering a 5.1 headset, it may sound silly to say so, but make sure you’ve got a 5.1 capable sound card. I though the AX Pros did a great job of positioning the audio in both movies and games (I played a little Left 4 Dead, some Team Fortress 2, and Crysis: Warhead). I did feel, though, that it overemphasized the high end. That’s great when a machinegun is rattling off rounds by you, but it can get overwhelming sometimes. It seemed out of balance with the mid and low ends — but if you’re really dedicated to a 5.1 headphone solution you can just EQ it out. The headphones themselves were pretty comfortable but they were quite heavy and inflexible. Having to plug them in separately was a pain too and added to the cord mess, but it’s worth it when you really get wrapped up in a game and you know it’s because you’re surrounded by sound.

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Product Page [Tritton.com]

[Update: There are other, cheaper versions for ~$90 that utilize only one interface — USB, analog, that sort of thing. If you don't want to use a set for your 360 AND your PC, that might be a better deal.]

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