This is for sure: if you're a gamer seeking a primo wireless surround sound headset, now is a very good time to buy. It's been less than two weeks since Astro Gaming's A50 wireless surround headset impressively traversed the Engadget review gauntlet, and now the crazy kitties that are Mad Catz and Tritton are up for a turn. It's taken the duo well over a year and a half to get its full range of Microsoft-licensed Xbox 360 headsets off the ground, with the flagship Warhead 7.1 Wireless Surround Sound Headset set to hit shelves in just a few days.
Aside from packing some innovative and exclusive features for Xbox 360 users, it stands as the only totally integrated wireless headset for the system -- for the first time you won't need a pesky controller-to-headset cable or a controller-mounted Bluetooth dongle for voice chat. We've been fortunate enough to get an early look at this $300 Dolby Headphone-enabled headset, so join us past the break and we'll let you know whether it's been worth the wait -- or whether it's too much, too late. %Gallery-161720%
In case it wasn't clear, Tritton has gone out of its way to ensure that the headset matches the Xbox 360 -- from two years ago. One of our biggest pet peeves is dealing with overly glossy gadgets, and the Warhead takes the cake in this area. From the second we pulled the cellophane off the headset and transmitter base, they immediately started picking up fingerprints and dust. Worse yet, this is the first time in memory that we've ever been able to scratch a gadget by trying to wipe it clean with a microfiber cloth. So while the gloss is certainly showy, we wish Tritton would've stuck with the matte finish used on the rest of the headsets in its lineup.
We're especially glad that Tritton's usual orange coloring has been kept to a minimum.
Make no mistake, though: we're otherwise really digging the design. Tritton has always had a way of making its headsets look like they're straight out of some sci-fi flick, and the Warhead is no different. All around the headset you'll find exaggerated angles reminiscent of some sports cars. Then there's the base, which could honestly pass for a scale model of a futuristic missile launcher. We're especially glad that Tritton's usual orange accents have been kept to a minimum; you'll only find them on the driver filters inside of the earcups. Instead, there's a variety of silver detailing, which looks great alongside the black finish. Still, the faux-metal bits on the headband and buttons do feel kind of cheap.
Speaking of the sort, the headset doesn't nearly feel like a $300 offering, especially compared to its competitors. That's not to say that we had issues with the build quality during testing, and this is indeed an improvement over the older AX Series. Even so, it's telling when the $70 AX180 from years past feels more robust than the Warhead. Basically, we hoped for a bit more of a premium feel.
A little off topic, but interesting nonetheless: the top of the headset is embossed with the Tritton logo and not the Xbox 360 logo as has been shown off since the headset was first revealed. It's a bit surprising considering this is an official Xbox 360 headset, but according to Tritton it was merely a minor design decision by it and Microsoft. What's in a name, anyway?
Setup and layout
Grabbing everything out of the box (styled like that of the Xbox's packaging), we were mainly left with some instruction manuals, the headset itself and its combo base / transmitter, a battery charger and a headset stand. In addition to that, you'll get more than enough cables for hookup: a TOSlink optical cable, a TOSlink adapter for older Xbox systems, stereo RCA cables for older TVs and an AC adapter with a trio of international connectors.
Setting up the Warhead with our matte Xbox 360 Slim was a pleasingly simple task. Connect and plug in the power adapter and then hook up the optical cable, and it's pretty much ready to go -- save for some pairing woes that required us to unplug everything. Now that we've discussed getting the base plugged in, let's take a tour of the layout there and on the headset. Starting with the base, the back side features inputs for power, a 3.5mm line-in jack (sadly, you can't bleed in your PMP with the TOSlink feed), an optical input and a sync button. On the sides, it has wings to support the headset. These work decently, but it usually takes some finessing to get the Warhead to fit inside -- we'd have preferred a solution that supports the headband instead.
Moving to the front, you'll notice several lights. Up top, you'll find indicators for Dolby Headphone, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and Dolby Digital -- these let you know which surround sound simulation, if any, is currently being pushed to the headset. Below that, you'll find lights for three of the headset's four EQs consisting of none, music, game and movie. Naturally, we'll detail all of this further in the sound section. Continuing down is the familiar Xbox 360 quadrant, which lets you know which controller the base is currently paired to for voice chat (it supports up to four Warheads), as well as if the battery is low or if it's searching for a headset.
This leads us to why the base doesn't conveniently plug into the Xbox 360 for power like the A50 -- that's because it serves as a charger for the Warhead's two 3.7V 1,800mAh batteries. You read that right, two high-capacity batteries. Tritton rates them for about 12 hours each, but we managed a whopping 17 hours of use on one battery playing music with voice monitoring enabled. This is hands-down the best battery life we've seen in a gaming headset, and we hope the competition is taking notice. Best of all, because the headset is an official accessory of the Xbox 360, you'll get a battery readout in the Live dashboard just like you would with its Bluetooth headset.
We managed a whopping 17 hours of use on one battery.
Getting back on topic, pulling off a magnetic cover on the front of the base reveals a slot that can charge one battery at a time. Sliding in the cell locks it in place, where a swipe of the lock lets it pop out so that you can grasp it with your fingers -- it's usually an easy task, but sometimes the battery doesn't pop out enough to get a grip on it. The convenience here is something we wish other headsets offered. Think about it, you never have to stop playing for more than a few seconds! Our main complaint is that the magnetic cover completely detaches from the base and is small enough that we could see it eventually getting lost. Lastly, below the battery slot is an indicator light for wireless connectivity, while another on the right lets you know when the battery is charging. All of this information provided on the base is greatly appreciated, and we admire how the lights on the base match those on the Xbox 360.
And now, at last: the headset itself. On the outside of the left earcup you'll find an input for the unit's detachable microphone. The feature is nice to have, especially if you somehow manage to bust the boom mic somewhere along the line. The mic is similar to the one used on the AX series, but thankfully it offers more flexibility to ensure the exact placement you want. The boom also features a convenient mute switch near where it connects to the headset, while the mic portion has a light that illuminates red to remind you when it's indeed muting your vocals. The right earcup features an easily removable magnetic cover that houses a single battery pack, making it a breeze for quick swaps. On the inside of the left earcup you'll find another Xbox sync button, and on the inside of the right one you'll find a power button.
That leads us to the main buttons you'll be using, which are conveniently planted where your index fingers and thumbs would naturally land on the earcups. Specifically, you'll find a resistive volume switch for voice chat on the back of the left cup which can be pushed in to turn Selective Voice Monitoring on and off, while the same button on the right earcup controls the game volume or mutes it. Moving to the front, the left earcup has a click button that allows you to switch from the optical input or the stereo input on the base, while the right cup controls the four EQ options that are available. All in all, we're fairly satisfied with the clicky feel of the buttons. If we have one niggle, it's that the main volume switches remind us of the cheap volume dials found on lower-end headsets.
Aside being quite attractive, the Warhead's aggressive style ethic makes for a much more comfortable fit than Tritton's earlier helmet-like headsets, such as the AX720. All of the expected features are here: the headband easily adjusts for larger and smaller heads, and the earcups articulate vertically and horizontally for contoured fit –- not to mention that they fold flat (ear pads facing down), so you can rest the headset against your collar for nomming breaks. The circumaural earcups are large enough that we never felt like our ears were being pushed down like with Turtle Beach's headsets, but it's not the same free-floating feeling offered by the even larger cups on the Astro A50 and Sennheiser PC 360 -- it sits at crossroad, if you will. Those with larger ears should take note, however, that there is no padding in front of the earcups, which could case cartilage cramping depending on your anatomy. The Warhead is the least flexible of the bunch, due to its build materials, but it still had enough flex to contour with this editor's noggin. Some may take issue with its clamping force, but we merely found it to be snug rather than tight –- much like the PC 360.
The Warhead is very comfortable for long gaming sessions, but it still lags a bit behind what we've used from the competition
Thankfully, the earpads are removable, but they are of the faux leather variety which is a bummer if you prefer velour. Unlike previous headsets from the company, these types of pads aren't included as a secondary option. That said, we're happy to report that the earcups never made our ears too sweaty, as the pads did seem to breathe better than most faux leather variants we've used in the past. You won't find memory foam inside of them either, but rather surprisingly comfortable plush padding. The headband pad is a bit odd, as it's a piece of loose rubber skin with a pad behind it, but it worked well at keeping the headset from sliding at all.
Overall, the Warhead is very comfortable for long gaming sessions, but it still lags behind the competition. The Warhead is just comfortable enough so that it won't cause any irritation, but it still feels a bit heavier on the head than we'd like. To be matter-of-fact about it, it falls slightly short of crossing the line between something we don't mind wearing on our head versus being so comfortable that we want to.
Sound and wireless connectivity
Alright, the section you've been waiting for: audio quality and wireless connectivity. Starting with the latter, a key feature found on the Warhead is its 5.8GHz radio chipset -- like Astro's wireless offerings. In case you don't know, the Xbox 360 uses the more common 2.4GHz frequency for its radios which handle the likes of WiFi and the console's controllers. Unsurprisingly, it's not uncommon to see reports of many 2.4GHz wireless headsets having audio hiccups when placed near an Xbox 360. As we anticipated, placing the unit near our Xbox didn't give us any noticeable connectivity issues. Naturally, moving a decent distance from the base caused some audio to drop -- just like every wireless headset we've tested. As long as we were using the base in the same room with our headset, we didn't have any issues with the connection.
With Dolby Headphone enabled, the directionality offered by the Warhead in games like Modern Warfare 3 is top-notch.
As is usually the case, the Warhead is merely a stereo headset that uses a mixture of Dolby surround sound technologies for a Dolby Headphone-enabled 7.1 surround sound simulation. If you're curious about how this works, hit up the more coverage link below, as this review mainly focuses on how the simulation sounds.
Notably, the Warhead is the only headset in Tritton's lineup to use 50mm drivers. Tritton is very proud of this, but big numbers don't always translate into great sound. To throw it out there from the start, the Warhead 7.1 sounds very good, but it's no match for what Turtle Beach and Astro Gaming are offering. Compared to the A50 we have on hand, the Warhead lacks the crisp fidelity one might expect in this price range -- and it's especially noticeable during music playback. There was also a bit more signal noise with the Warhead, but nothing that wasn't drowned out by in-game audio. It's not to say that it sounds terrible in comparison, but as with the fit, the audio quality falls short of the competition.
With the EQ set to "none" (stereo without surround sound simulation), the sound is a bit sloppy, light on tightness and punch -- fortunately, enabling any of the other three settings (which all enable virtual surround sound as well) mostly fixes this. The music setting allows for deeper bass, while the game option drops the bass down so that the highs and mids are a bit more noticeable, and it seems to compress the signal a bit more for some extra punch. The movie setting seems to drop out a bit of the midrange to let the highs breathe easier, making for a slightly wider sound. We'd say in general, the highs on the Warhead seem a bit veiled, but this is apparently Tritton's preferred tuning so that effects like gun shots sound fuller. Overall, we can't help but make the common note that it almost feels as there was a dampener between our ears and the headset, making for muddiness instead of crispness.
This is mostly noticeable with music and movies; in gaming, not so much. Notably, the headphones have a fairly wide soundstage reminiscent of the AX720, so with Dolby Headphone enabled, the directionality offered by the Warhead in games like Modern Warfare 3 is top-notch. Still, every time we moved up to the A50, we felt closer to using a proper speaker system than having headphones on.
You're likely wondering about the microphone at this point. What enables the Warhead to provide completely wireless chat with the Xbox 360 is a special security chip that can only be offered by Microsoft -- notably, this means you won't be able to use the microphone outside of your Xbox 360. Tritton also notes that this should provide better audio quality for chat than anything else on the market. In game, we never had any issues with people being able to hear us. The microphone does sound pretty good, although if there is any difference in audio quality compared to other headsets, it's marginal, a bit less staticky at best.
There's one last notable point about the mic, and that's what Tritton calls Selective Voice Monitoring. This isn't the only headset in its lineup to offer the functionality, but it is something that only Tritton currently offers. Basically, if you don't want to hear yourself in the headset you don't have to, whereas other headsets from the competition don't give you the option. We very much enjoy voice monitoring when it's included in headsets, and the implementation here is very good -- in fact, we think it's actually a bit too sensitive. When using SVM, a lot of background noise is also fed into the earpieces, which can make for some muddiness in the audio. In the future, we'd hope that the volume can be adjusted, but overall it works well. It saved us from ever feeling a sore throat from shouting.
Since we were never without battery power while using the Warhead, we basically had to force ourselves to stop playing MW3 long enough to write this review. The Warhead is a solid offering from Tritton, proving the company has finally caught up to the latest generation of gaming headsets. The sound it produces is respectable, the fit is fairly comfortable and all of its features prove to be extremely useful and enjoyable. What's more, the Microsoft collaboration has paid off handsomely: the on-dashboard battery readout is welcome and the exclusive integrated wireless chat functionality makes the Warhead the most convenient headset available for the Xbox 360. If there's one downside to the chat functionality, it's that the feature missed its chance to be a complete game changer, since Turtle Beach's has offered its wireless chat puck even before Microsoft and Mad Catz inked this exclusive deal.
The Warhead 7.1 offers the best overall user experience we've seen in a gaming headset for the Xbox 360.
So here's where that leaves us. If audio quality / personalization and cross compatibility are your foremost considerations, we'd still recommend headsets like Astro's A50 or Turtle Beach's XP500. But if you're willing to let go of a little fidelity and EQ customizability, the Warhead 7.1 offers the best overall user experience we've seen in an Xbox 360 headset.