It wasn’t too long ago that only two features mattered when purchasing gaming headphones: comfort and audio performance. Now there’s surround sound, various equalizer presets and even headset apps to take into consideration. While most gamers are content with lower-end models, sound design has become more complex in video games, and having a traditional stereo set no longer delivers the best experience. With spatial awareness being more imperative, competitive gamers are seeking more advanced options to improve their skills and gain the advantage in multiplayer matches. That’s where the Turtle Beach Elite 800 wireless gaming headphones come into play. At $299.95, the Elite 800 are a hefty investment, but after a week of rigorous testing with dozens of different game genres, as well as movies and music, it’s hard to imagine going back to a typical low-end, or even mid-range, set.
While many of the high-end headset companies advertise Dolby Digital 7.1 (or 5.1) as their main selling point, no headset can technically deliver a genuine surround sound experience. Because there are only two speakers on a headset, the surround sound is simulated, so it comes down to how well each manufacturer can replicate a multi-speaker entertainment setup. Turtle Beach released several impressive surround sound headsets recently, and while all of them excelled in providing impressive spatial auditory performance, the Elite 800 goes above and beyond in taking the DTS Headphone: X surround technology to a whole new level.
"The Elite 800 are a hefty investment, but after a week of rigorous testing with dozens of different game genres, as well as movies and music, it’s hard to imagine going back to a typical low-end, or even mid-range, set."
The Elite 800 are advertised as PS3 and PS4 gaming headphones, but with a little tweaking, they can be used on all consoles, as long as the optical and USB cables run through either a receiver or an HDTV with the appropriate inputs. As with the SteelSeries H Wireless, the downside to using a receiver is that the mic becomes obsolete. Gamers with multiple consoles need to make a choice. Either sacrifice the mic and use the headphones on all devices, or connect the Elite 800 to only one console if using the mic is a must. Another factor worth considering is that sound quality is notably better when running the headphones via a receiver or HDTV. I’m not precisely sure if there’s some kind of processing happening when running the audio through the console, but the latter option offers cleaner sound.
The Elite 800 are wireless and they come with a stylish transmitter/magnetic charging stand. The cleanly designed stand tucks away inputs for Digital In/Out, Power and Chat USB, Programming USB and a Pairing Button. The Turtle Beach logo displayed on the front changes from blue to red depending on the usage. The LED displays no other info, and the sleek buttons on each ear cup control all volume and equalizer adjustments. At first, it feels like usability has been sacrificed for the sake of style. It takes some time to learn what each sector on every ear cap does, and some buttons reveal secondary uses by holding the area down for a few seconds. Once the various button uses are memorized, it’s nice to have easy, fuss free access to all settings on the actual headphones. iPhone and iPad users can also download an Ear Force Audio Hub app which helps monitor battery life and all other features.
"Playing around with each mode is a lot of fun, with each preset being strikingly different depending on the media in use."
The Elite 800 has some of the most diverse equalizer presets of any surround headset to date. Gamers can cycle between four sound modes: Game, Movie, Music and Surround Off (stereo), and each mode has its own equalizer preset. Game mode delivers Shooter, Racing, Sports, Superhuman Hearing and Footsteps Focus modes, while Movie mode emphasizes genres, like: Action, Horror and Drama. Music Mode can be tuned for Stadium, Acoustic or Dance, and surround can be set to Natural, bass Booster, Bass & Treble Booster and Vocal Booster. Lastly, each mode has its own Signature Sound option, which delivers audio as intended by the creators.
Playing around with each mode is a lot of fun, with each preset being strikingly different depending on the media in use. Superhuman Hearing in Game Mode, for example, emphasizes little details in environments, allowing gamers to hear precisely where the threat is coming from. Footstep Mode highlights low frequency sounds even more, although there aren’t too many multiplayer games where footsteps are even audible in the first place. While the modes are fun to mess around with, the most balanced and most useful setting is the Game Mode with Signature Sound. This setting has the most well balanced frequencies and works well whether you’re playing games, watching movies, or listening to music.
"Yes, they cost nearly as much as a console, but much like any good piece of tech, they’re a worthy investment that’s meant to last for years."
In terms of build quality and comfort, the Elite 800 is one of Turtle Beach’s most impressive products. The headset is sturdy and beautifully designed with a nice matte surface covering most of the device, excluding the shiny replaceable speaker plates. The transmitter reflects the simplistic aesthetic, although it’s a shame that its surface is super glossy, attracting fingerprints every time it’s touched. The Elite 800 are extremely comfortable, but much like the SteelSeries H, it takes a day or two to loosen them up. After a week of nonstop use, it’s easy to go for hours before even realizing they’re on.
"The Elite 800 are without a doubt Turtle Beach’s most impressive surround sound headphones yet."
The headset isn’t completely without problems. The Elite 800’s main issue is the lack of info on the transmitter. There’s a voice that speaks every time the settings change, but unless the app installed, there’s no way of telling what’s currently configured. Oftentimes this leads to constant switching between settings just to verify the correct mode is on. The wireless signal also tends to reset every now and then, requiring manual syncing between the transmitter and the headphones. To be fair, these are miniscule complaints for what is an otherwise superb headset.
The Elite 800 are without a doubt Turtle Beach’s most impressive surround sound headphones yet. Yes, they cost nearly as much as a console, but much like any good piece of tech, they’re a worthy investment that’s meant to last for years. They’re currently being sold as a Best Buy exclusive, and I can only hope that each store carries a demo for users to try out. Once you hear the Elite 800’s remarkably powerful driver, it’s difficult to go back to anything else. They may not be for casual gamers, but those seeking optimum gaming experience will undoubtedly get their money’s worth.
Review by: Tin Salamunic