Turtle Beach XP400 Surround Sound Headset Review

The path of the audiophile is a slippery slope of expensive equipment and increasingly snobbish tastes. A newer, better pair of headphones is just another step in the path towards aural madness. There is always room for improvement, and that's never been more true than in the genre of surround sound gaming headsets.

Between Turtle Beach, Tritton, Astro, and several other names, there are dozens of options for the gamer trying to get immersive surround sound without a disruptive home theater. There are many factors to consider, from sound quality, to features, wireless vs. wired, and cost. Each set comes with pros and cons, and I've yet to try one I'm completely happy with. Enter Turtle Beach's latest effort: the XP400s.

The XP400s are the headset manufacturer's confusingly-named update to the XP500 and PX5 headsets. A lower number typically indicates less features and quality, but here the better word would be “streamlined.” Before getting my hands on the XP400s, I owned a pair of PX5s and had a stint with the Astro A40s—the two top gaming sets on the market. So how do they compare?

XP400s vs. PX5s

The PX5 headset is probably the most feature-rich gaming headset available. These wireless surround sound headsets feature programmable presets and fully customizable sound. By plugging them into a computer you can replace the default sound presets with ones designed specifically for the game you're playing. A free program lets you go into the detailed settings of each preset and make your very own tweaks.

While that is a great feature in theory, the stock presets work fine. The customization is interesting, but ultimately a time-consuming gimmick. Settings like “Footstep Mastery,” which isolate the sound of enemy footsteps above other sounds, make everything else sound so terrible it isn't worth it.

The XP400s lack customizable presets, but Turtle Beach smartly selected the four most useful presets from the PX5s. Default, Treble Boost, Bass Boost, and Bass/Treble boost are really all you need. In terms of sound quality, the differences between the two headsets are negligible—they both sound great and offer crisp, clean, full sound.

The big difference in sound quality comes from the XP400's best feature—dual-band wireless. The PX5s operated on the 2.4 GHz wireless band, and despite Turtle Beach's efforts to prevent it, they were heavily susceptible to wireless interference. Popping and crackling were a common issue for me, and in a house full of wireless signals, they were sometimes very frustrating to use. Conversely, in my time with the XP400s, I had to walk out of the house with them before I even started to hear a pop or crackle.

Shortly after the PX5s were released, Turtle Beach introduced a Bluetooth puck that plugged into Xbox 360 controllers, allowing for fully wireless sound and chat. The XP400s come standard with this accessory, and it really hammers home the streamlined nature of this headset. The PX5 Bluetooth feature required constant fiddling, while the XP400s simply work right out of the box.

My only concern with the XP400s vs. the PX5s come from how they are powered. While the PX5s took two AA batteries, the XP400s use an internal rechargeable Lithium-Polymer battery. Battery life is advertised at 10-15 hours, and after a weekend of regular use they're still going strong. Unfortunately this won't last forever, and the question over time will be what to do when the internal battery starts to lose its effectiveness. It's a long-term issue that's worth considering before your purchase.

XP400s vs. Astro A40s

I'll admit I only spent a few days with a pair of wired Astro A40s, but my experience was surprisingly disappointing. I had high expectations for them considering their clout in the tournament scene, but ultimately found the sound quality baffling. Bass is a wonderful thing, but like anything else, too much of a good thing is no good. The A40s are fun in an explosive shooter, but in a loud, dialogue-heavy game like Dead Space 2, the excessive bass drowns out much of the important sounds. The result was a feeling of playing the game underwater.

The XP400s don't have as much bass power behind them, but it's more than ample and it doesn't matter when the overall sound is much cleaner. The crisper sound makes it easier to identify the positions of sound effects in the environment. In Battlefield 3 it was easy to identify the positions of incoming gunfire. With the A40s the explosions rocked so hard I had no idea what was happening.

If there's one complaint I have with the XP400 sound quality, it's in their tendency to distort from very low bass sounds. This was a problem with the PX5s as well, and it really only happens when you turn on either of the Bass Boost presets. It's a rare phenomenon, but it's something I wish they'd worked on when improving just about every other aspect of their headset. If it happens to you, turn down the game volume and turn up the headphones and it usually stops.

Final Verdict

The audiophile in me knows a better game headset will come along, but for now I'm wearing my new favorite pair. The XP400s fix most of the issues of previous Turtle Beach models while maintaining the sound quality that makes them so good. The bass distortion is a problem I really wish they fixed, and I'm a bit worried about that internal battery, but the pros outweigh the cons by a large margin.

The Turtle Beach XP400s are available now and retail for $219.95. While I think I covered all the major points here, if you have more questions, please leave a comment below and I'll try to get back to you.

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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