Tritton's Warhead 7.1 Wireless Surround Headset does something no other third-party Xbox 360 headset does: it allows players to use voice chat without plugging a wire into the controller.
How much is that convenience worth to you? Don't answer yet, I'm not finished.
Microsoft isn't exactly keen on handing out their top technology to outside companies, so when it comes to wireless voice, it's been the official Microsoft wireless headset or nothing. It's the same deal as the company's wireless controller technology. In the nearly seven years the Xbox 360 has been around, the only company that Microsoft has allowed harness that tech has been Mad Catz, the same company that owns the Tritton gaming audio brand.
And so we have the first third-party wireless headset for the Xbox 360. Rather than deliver a bare bones product at a hefty price to offset whatever it cost to secure that wire-free technology, Tritton went all out, layering on shiny features until the headset's features listed glowed with the light of a thousand suns. If you're going to go expensive, you might as well go all the way.
The most eye-catching feature of the Warhead isn't the glossy black headset. That's more of a dust and smudge catcher, the price we pay to see our reflection in our gaming hardware. No, it's the base station, the ebon monolith from which the sound signals from the Xbox 360 are beamed into your ears as if by magic.
This gleaming tower atop my entertainment centre is more than just a place to rest my weary headphones at the end of the day. It's a transmitter that utilizes proprietary technology to skip the crowded 2.4GHz band used by common household electronics and ride the wild 5.8GHz, free from outside interference. Indeed, in all the hours I spent ignoring my children and wife-creature in the name of headset reviewing, never once did I catch even the slightest smidgeon of interference.
Nor did I run out of battery life, thanks to the small plastic panel housing an additional battery for the unit, constantly charging thanks to the wonders of DC power. Not that the battery in the headset was in constant danger of running out. I played for at least 10 hours on a single charge before swapping them out of sheer anxiety over my sound potentially dropping out.
Warhead 7.1 Wireless Surround Headset Specs
- Price: $US299.99
- Wireless Frequency: 5.8GHz
- Wireless Range: 33ft / 10m
- Ear Coupling: Circumaural (Over-the-Ear)
- Xbox 360 Audio Input Type: Optical and RCA
- Frequency Response: 25Hz–20kHz
- Speaker Diameter: 50mm
- Magnet Type: Neodymium
- Batteries: 2 Rechargeable Battery Packs
The rear of the base station is home of places to plug things — the DC power cable, the optical audio cable and the standard line 3.5mm line in jack for those without optical capability. It's this minimalist rear end that serves as the entirety of the Warhead's installation process. Step one: run an optical audio cable from the Xbox 360 to the base station. Step two: hit the sync button on the headset or on the base itself. Step three: there is no step three, you're done.
The box comes packed with additional adapters and plug parts, should you need them, including an optical plug adaptor for folks with older Xboxen and a collection of wall plugs from every nation. You shouldn't need much more than that. This really is the easiest-to-install third-party Xbox 360 audio device I've encountered. If you've ever opened up an Xbox 360-compatible headset and spent hours staring at confusing cables, herein lies salvation.
Now let's take a look at this dusty, smudgy bastard.
The Warhead headset proper is a striking figure, sleek and black like a portable Sony product before anyone touches it. And like a Sony product, as mentioned, dust and fingerprints love it like it donated them a kidney just before zero hour. Again, this is to be expected, especially in a home like mine containing a pair of toddlers and a magic creature made entirely of smudge and dust.
It really is a beautiful piece of work. All gleaming darkness with shining silver accents. It looks deadly an unpredictable. The orange cloth lurking within the confines of the faux leather ear cups is a bit garish, but no one is going to see that unless you've got sentient beings living in your ears, and those aren't the sort of sentient beings anyone solicits opinion from.
The unit is much lighter than I expected it to be, which makes it far easier on my pointy bald head but doesn't feel as reassuringly sturdy as one would think a $US300 headset should feel. The ear cups both rotate freely to a limited degree, surely more than is really necessary. It's all a bit jangly, but when it's on your head it all comes together quite nicely.
Where the base station is home to glowing LED indicators and that familiar Xbox 360 light ring, the control of the Warhead is in the hands of the head wearing the headset.
On the right side we've got the volume control (push in to mute/unmute); the power button, which also syncs the headset with the base station; and the Dolby mode selector, which cycles through game, movie and music modes for both digital and stereo inputs.
In lieu of any real involved equaliser control, the Warhead presents those three presets for three different Xbox 360 audio situations. We've got the low frequency-loving music setting, punching up the bass to a satisfying degree. Movie mode focuses on the high frequencies, favouring vocal clarity. And game mode keeps things in the middle, safely delivering as much clear sound as its 50mm drivers can handle. You can, of course, mix those up as you see fit. Think of them as aural serving suggestions.
The audio served up is quite lovely and intricate, especially during multiplayer gameplay sessions in titles like Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Battlefield 3, where hearing where your enemy is incredibly important. Dolby does its best impression of a physical 7.1 surround setup, though of course it's no substitute for the real thing. There's only so much ear trickery a bundle of plastic, wires and metal can perform.
The warhead makes extra-fine sound go into your ear holes, which is good as that's part of what you'd be paying it to do. It's not quite as crisp as some of its competitors — it's not the apex of listening pleasure — but it's near the top, hanging out with the sherpas and getting dizzy from lack of oxygen.
Besides, what's on the left ear cup is why we're here, right?
A detachable mic plugs directly into the outside middle of the Warhead's left side, forming the bond that connects to the various controls assembled on the surface of that oddly-angled cup. Here we find an independent mic volume control (handy); the button that links up the mic with the controller (necessary); a button for swapping between digital and analogue input (yup); and the control that turns on and off selective voice monitoring.
What is selective voice monitoring? Why my friend, it's the ability to control whether or not you hear your own voice when you talk. It's one of those features I never knew I wanted until I had it.
Speaking of which, the detachable mic also features a mute button at the top, which sets off a red LED at the bit you can see so you know your words are not travelling to people's ears.
It's a fine mic, with features that go above-and-beyond my wildest Xbox 360 microphone dreams. How does it sound? Well, it sounds like crap, but that's Microsoft's problem. You could hook a $US3,000 studio microphone up to it and the audio reaching your friends on the other end of the internet would still sound like you were being actively strangled inside a tiny cardboard box. If it helps, my own voice sounded warm and lovely in my ears, thanks to the wonders of selective voice monitoring.
The Tritton Warhead 7.1 Wireless Surround Headset indeed does something other third-party headsets just cannot do, granting the Microsoft-level power of wireless voice to the Xbox 360 playing masses. More than that, it delivers premium quality 7.1 surround sound, something not even Microsoft's first-party hardware does. That makes it a product without peer, mainly by merit of not being tethered to your controller or having to spend a half-hour behind your television rerouting audio signals. That's more than enough to warrant a sexy video trailer for a sound delivery device.
It's easy. It sounds lovely. It's convenient. It's powerful. It costs $US300.
As far as features go, that last one is a biggie, but I can't base my review of a product on the asking price. Money means different things to different people, and to assume that everyone reading this is in the exact same financial situation as I am would be... well, it'd be rather depressing.
So to answer the question "Is the Warhead worth $US300?", I cannot answer that question.
Now were you to go back to the headline of this review and change it to, "Is the World's First Truly Wireless Xbox 360 Headset Truly Worth My Attention?" I would (a) be amazed at your editorial powers and (b) tell you yes — yes it is. It does what it says it does with a simple flair that's a success whether or not the Warhead fits your budget.
Okay, you can answer now.