Summary: Looking for a nice 5.1 headset that's compatible with PS3, Xbox 360, PC? If so, you may want to consider Tritton's AX Pro 5.1. The headset features independent volume control for game chat, support for Dolby Digital decoding with eight integrated speakers, and a wealth of adjustable controls. In this article, Tom takes a look at the AX Pro 5.1 and came away fairly impressed. Read the pros and cons in today's review!
Surround sound gaming is one of those things that can easily make a good game even better, especially if done correctly. Thankfully, the current generation of developers seems to understand this, as we have seen a decent level of support for surround sound in many of the latest games. Being able to hear positional audio accurately can really make a difference not only in terms of game play, but especially in immersion factor. Hearing the grunting and groaning of a Boomer in Left 4 Dead around the corner has saved my butt more times than my horrible aim. Of course, audio fidelity and surround accuracy is only as good the equipment being used to play it. Today, we’re going to take a look at the Tritton AX Pro GA611 5.1 gaming headset to see how well its 8 speaker powered circumaural headphones handle some of today’s common games.
The AX Pro is a true surround headset with support for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, including voice support on all three platforms. The AX Pro includes a small breakout box that decodes Dolby Digital over TOSLink, and includes many configurable options for adjusting surround output, such as time delay and dynamic range compression. Unlike other surround headsets which can only feature 2 speakers per cup, 1 for the LFE, the AX Pro features 4 speakers per cup or 8 in total. In theory, this should give you more accuracy in terms of surround sound and directional audio.
The headphone wire features an inline volume control for both voice and audio. Users can even adjust each channel independently of each other, should you find one channel is too overbearing. The front of the volume box contains the individual channel buttons for volume adjustment, each one lit-up thanks to a backlight LED. On the side of the box there is the customary microphone and audio mute buttons, while the backside has a handy little volume guide for the volume LED’s. Tritton also included swappable leather ear cups and headband, allowing the user to cater the headset to their taste.
The headset also sports a small clip that hangs on to any loose articles of clothing, keeping the box from shifting during long game sessions. Finally, the bottom of the volume box contains a 2.5mm jack for connecting a cable between the headset and the Xbox 360 controller. The headphone wires end in a split that contains a plug for an AC adapter and a 9-pin male mini-din connector. The mini-din connector can either plug into the decoder box or into a small adapter cable that supports 6-channel direct connectivity. The use of an AC adapter on the headphone is somewhat perplexing, as it apparently only provides power to the LED’s on the inline volume control. As the Dolby Decoder box also requires the use of an AC Adapter, you are going to have to clear some room on your surge protector as these adapters easily take up two plugs on any common power strip.
For voice functionality, AX Pro provides a detachable boom microphone that is unidirectional and easily screws into place. The mic plugs in and out quickly and seamlessly, allowing you to go from solo gameplay to multiplayer in a few seconds. When using the decoder box on PC or PS3, voice is transmitted over a standard USB connection, while 360 users will need to use the supplied 2.5mm wire to connect the inline volume control to the Xbox gamepad. While the mic lacks vertical adjustments, I found that its position was just perfect as it was always able to pick up my voice with good clarity regardless of distance to my mouth. Also, its position puts it just out of eyesight, which helps you forget it is even there, so there is no chance of bumping into when brushing by your mouth.
The Dolby Decoder box itself only has one input in the form of a TOSLink optical connection. The box does support 6-channel direct output, so you do retain the option to connect it to a standalone speaker system if you wish. Next to the optical input is a USB connector that provides voice support for the PS3 and PC when using the decoder box. The bottom of the box features two mini-din connectors, while the side panel provides users with buttons for adjusting time delay and Pro Logic II options. The top of the decoder box sports 4 LED’s that give the user information on the current audio mode: Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, and if Dynamic Range Control is enabled.
Included with the AX Pro is just about everything you will need to connect the system to your gaming platform of choice, whether it is the PC, the PS3, or Xbox 360.
PC – Left 4 Dead, Unreal Tournament 3, Call of Duty 4, F.E.A.R. 2
As far as surround sound performance goes, the AX Pro did not disappoint me one bit. In fact, it’s easily one of the best surround headsets I’ve used so far. Games like Left 4 Dead, Unreal Tournament 3, and Call of Duty 4 had all 6 channels rendered with an excellent degree of spatialization and channel separation. The direction of sound was easily distinguishable, whether it was an in-bound chopper strike in CoD or a hunter trying to sneak up behind me in L4D. Thanks to the dedicated LFE speakers, the headphones also had a good deal of bass to further enhance explosions and gunshots.
Gears of War 2 also exhibited excellent sounding surround audio, with gun shots and explosions seemingly coming from all directions. Voice communications was excellent as well, with my online compatriots reporting that my voice was crisp and remarkably clear. For comparison, I booted up Left 4 Dead while using a pair of Sennheiser HD280’s with CMSS3D enabled on my X-Fi Professional sound card. CMSS3D is similar to Dolby Headphone, which provides virtual surround sound to a 2 channel output. While the audio quality was better with the Sennheiser’s, the surround sound quality was more accurate when using the AX Pro, thanks to its 8 speaker powered audio capabilities. Overall, the Tritton set provided us with better positional audio than a stereo set with 3D virtualization.
For fun, I also tested the AX Pro with a few scenes from movies that I know have some excellent examples of positional audio. From Batman Begins, I watched through the ‘winged backup’ and Batmobile chase sequence and was impressed by what I heard. The flying rats were heard from all directions and the car crashes exploded in my ears in spectacularly accurate surround. The Siege of Barad-dur from the opening sequence of The Fellowship of the Ring was also accurately portrayed in terms of audio. The swirling sounds of battle were heard from all directions, while voices were clearly depicted coming from the ‘center channel.’ While I still prefer a dedicated sound system for movies, it’s impressive that the AX Pro is easily up to the task of faithfully rendering film surround.
While generally audio quality was good, we did run into one particularly annoying issue in regard to the decoder box. When listening through the Dolby box, we heard what sounded like interference during quiet segments of games and movies. We connected the headset directly to our PC via the adapter cable and did not hear the same noise, so we are left to conclude that the noise is being generated or introduced during the decoding process by way of the decoding box. While subtle and barely audible, it was still loud enough for us to take notice and take us out of the moment. Thankfully, I rarely find many quiet moments during games to really listen for the noise, but it’s still important to mention.
Excellent Surround: The AX Pro features some of the best surround sound we’ve heard from a gaming headset yet, thanks in part to its true 5.1 configuration. Featuring 4 speakers per ear cup, the AX Pro allows for some truly accurate positional audio without the need to wake up the neighbors. Explosions boom and the direction of enemies is easily distinguishable thanks to the excellent channel separation and audio spatialization.
Decoder Box Noise: I was disappointed that the decoder box seemed to introduce noise somewhere in the Dolby decoding process, as it would take me out of those quiet gaming moments when it was most pronounced. I tried everything I could think of to determine the source of the noise, but ultimately, removing the decoder box was the only thing that prevented it entirely. While it’s only pronounced enough to be audible during extreme moments of silence, it’s still somewhat annoying to hear.