RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jan 8th 2008 at 05:02:19 PM by (James)
Posted under Sharkoon Xtatic, headphones, modern gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, PC, 5.1, surround sound,

Ed Note: Damn, this one hell of a well written, thorough review. I encourage you all to read this up.

I haven't listened to any Pink Floyd since quite a while before I re-ripped it at 320kbps. I'm now listening to some of it through the headphones I got for my birthday in November. It sounds so good.

The headphones are called Sharkoon X-tatic 5.1, I think rebranded as Tritton AX360 in the USA. I got halfway through writing a review of them but moved on, as I always do. I'll discard that one and start fresh...




Pardon the poor quality pictures. They were taken before I got my new camera.






I first heard of the Sharkoon X-Tatics a few months ago when I was reading up on sound systems to compliment the Xbox 360. At first I dismissed them as something for other people due to their price. Roll on a certain persons birthday and I suddenly became interested in them. Not many places seem to stock the X-Tatics. The cheapest I could find was a PC parts site I often use.  At 60 inc. VAT they certainly werent cheap. And that was without postage! Lets just hope a high price equates to a high quality.


The Sharkoon Xtatics tout to be compatible with games consoles, hence my main reason for buying them. This is because they are Dolby Digital certified, meaning it can output 5.1 channels of sound (No duh) through Dolby Digital or Dolby Pro Logic decoding. But bear in mind Dolby Pro Logic is only 2.0 channel sound twisted to make a surround "effect". It can also be used with 5.1 channel analogue inputs, so it can output surround sound from a PC, particularly useful considering most PC games dont use digital surround sound.

So what do we actually get for 60+?

The features list on the back of the box describes the following:

  • 5.1 channel / 8speakers headset
  • Subwoofer with vibration
  • 4-in-1 volume control (separate volume adjustment for each channel)
  • Automatic signal detection
  • Suported sound modes:
   -Stereo
   -Dolby Pro Logic
   -Dolby Digital 2.0
   -Dolby Digital 5.1
  • TD (Time Delay) / DRC (Dynamic Range Control)
  • 3 Headsets Connectable
  • Detachable Microphone
  • Automatic stereo/Dolby Pro Logic/ Dolby Digital signal switching
  • Xbox/Xbox 360 and Playstation 2/Playstation 3 compatible
  • Xbox Live compatible




In the above picture we see the following:

1) Instruction booklet
2) Analogue Input connection (For use with PCs)
3 & 4) 2.5mm Microphone extension leads of different lengths, and a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor.
5) Digital Coaxial Cable
6) Optical TOSLink Cable
7) Detachable microphone





This is the control box. It decodes the signal and sends it to the headphones. In the first picture are the buttons for changing settings such as power, overall volume, time delay (TD) for surround or centre channels, changing a two channel signal into a Pro Logic signal, and Dynamic Range Control (DRC). Dynamic range control reduces the difference between low and high frequencies. Time delay changes the amount of time difference there is between certain channels, adding to the surround effect. Also in this picture on the far right is the power socket, and connections for two headphones on the left.

In the second picture are the digital coaxial socket, the optical TOSLink socket, a switch to swap between them, and the analogue-out sockets for a third set of headphones.

On the cable going to the cans is a volume control for Front, Rear, Centre, and "Vibration". I like to turn Vibration (aka bass/subwoofer) up on the headphones while listening to a music track with deep tones to make my eyeballs shake. It's quite an odd sensation.

But what are they like to use?







They're quite heavy but I don't notice them after a while. When I go back to my old stereo headphones they feel so light and cheap in comparison, and the difference in sound quality is very noticeable. Why are they heavy? Well they have a total of eight speakers to create a surround sound effect. That's two front/centre speakers, two front/side speakers, two rear speakers and a pair of larger speakers to handle bass. As can be seen in the above picture, the cans and headband are very well padded, which makes these comfortable to wear for prolonged periods. You can blast your ears out then take them off and hear almost nothing from them (And not just because you've deafened yourself).

The first thing I tried was a DVD Setup disc to test each channel. To be honest, I was rather underwhelmed by the surround effect at first. It's only when listening to a moving object that you can notice the rear speakers making a difference. Not much good for individual tests then.

After some playing around with the time delay settings I got some distinction from the side and rear channels during games.

Playing Gears of War was good, once I tuned my ears in I found it easier to tell where sounds were coming from. The trouble with surround headphones is that they move with your head so you can't turn your ear towards the sound. While it sounded good in single player, I played online with CaptainNintendo and I had trouble hearing what he was saying because Voice Chat on the Xbox 360 comes through the same speakers as the game sound. This is a common complaint. Messing with the sound effects volumes helped a little but it was still hard to hear him over the action.


Conclusion

If you want a very good pair of stereo headphones, there are probably others for less money that are equally good. If you want a good surround setup, buy some dedicated speakers and amp. If you want a surround setup that no one else can hear, you don't have an awful lot of options. The Sharkoon X-Tatics are just one of a few. While they produce very good sound quality, I'm not sure if I can recommend them mainly due to their high price and dissapointing surround effect. The surround is there, it's just not good enough to say I can really notice it. I would probably give them an overall score of

8/10



So there you have it. My first in depth review of anything, plot holes and all.





Late Edit: I knew I would lose momentum and forget some stuff. There is a little niggle that's actually quite annoying. When swapping between signals (Optical or coaxial) The master volume on the control box is reset, so it often becomes very loud. A quick push of one of the volume buttons on the box changes the volume to what it was before. That seems a little odd.


I also tried them out on the PC using the analogue connections. This bypasses the control box, going straight from the PC to the cans. I had a go in Half Life 2 with similar results to Gears of War. Once I tuned my ears in, I could tell the difference between front and rear but not by a great deal. Seeing as I don't really play PC games, I went back to using coaxial  to the control box for use on the PC.

Any silibance I've noticed has been due to the low bit rate of the music I've listened to. I never really paid much attention to bit rates because I thought it sounded fine at a lowly 128kbps on my cheap hardware. Now I have a good quality means of listening to music, the distortions show up more. I ripped most of my CDs again at 320kbps and the quality difference is huge!

So we eventually ended where I started. Clever, innit?


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Comments
 
Very thorough. Nice job on the review!
 
Nice review, James.
 
Awesome review Smiley I've looked up the Tritton AX360, $150, looks like a really great deal.
 
@c1326: I wouldn't say it's a "really great" deal but they're pretty good headphones. It's just that you don't get an outstanding surround experience, which is what they're marketed for.

If you want headphones for consoles there isn't an awful lot you can do besides having a 3.5mm jack on your tv. That isn't likely to give good quality sound. If you don't have that jack you would at least need something to control the volume and maybe an amp. These headphones provide that and with a very good quality.

Something else I should have mentioned in the review is the length of the cable from the box to the cans. It's a good 8 or 9 feet - plenty of distance to sit away from the TV.
 
Well really great when a pair of decent wireless stereo headphones with no surround are $100, and most wired surround pairs are hundreds more than the AX360's. Tongue

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