Turtle Beach Elite 800 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Surround Sound Headset PS4Overview -
Turtle Beach is both a leader in the headset market and on the cutting edge when it comes to the both the PS4 and Xbox One. The company has recently embraced DTS Headphone:X 7.1 as a means to deliver headset surround sound, and the feature is offered in several Turtle Beach headsets. With the new PS4 focused Turtle Beach Elite 800, the company has put forth a new flagship product. The Elite 800 is packed with features and is clearly meant to house all of the company's latest innovations and current tech, not the least of which is Active Noise Cancellation. The headset also sports Bluetooth, a premium wireless rechargeable form factor, a charging stand/cradle, downloading DTS presets, Android integration via an app, 3.5mm analog device support, invisible mics, swappable speaker plates and more. The headset even includes special "Elite Membership," which comes with a handful interesting benefits, most notably an extended warranty.
With so many features on board, along with other capabilities, (like the unadvertised Xbox One support), Elite 800 promises a lot, but is it worth the price of admission?
The Devil's in the Details
Ever since the Elite 800 was announced, it has looked like a winner. I mean, just look at that sleek bit of kit, with its premium curves, defined but too pronounced logos, and its own special charging bay that while doubling as the receiver, sits like an elegant sheath. And yet, immediately prior to reviewing the Elite 800, I had some big concerns. Even with all of the fancy features, could the Elite 800 be that much better than the Stealth 500P in its primary application, surround playback of PS4 games?
You see, I suspect that much of the tech, including the 50mm drivers and the incorporation of DTS Headphone:X 7.1, is shared between the 500P and Elite 800. I don't really object to this out right, after all the 500P sounds excellent. It is inevitable though, for users to expect more from the Elite 800 in this one area, and not just in all areas aside from audio playback.
Making It Better
What I quickly discovered about the Elite 800 is that in spite of being a stable mate of the 500P, the Elite 800 can boast of more than additional features and ancillary upgrades. The Elite 800 takes the 500P's excellent DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound playback and goes to another level.
One of the biggest features that Turtle Beach trumpets with the Elite 800 is the Active Noise Cancellation, which I will cover further down. When it comes to making the most of the DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound, what makes the set one to beat on top of its solid set of drivers is one rather old technique, passive noise cancellation.
Normally, when reviewing headsets, I leave the form factor for the latter part of the review, but for the Elite 800 it's a big part of the sound. Those plush ear cups envelop the ear in a way that maximizes audio reproduction. As such, the surround sound playback gets a quieter ear cavity to work with. The results are amazing. For anyone looking for a headset just to watch movies or play games without any chat component, the Elite 800s are a godsend. This isn't to say that the headset can't handle going online, far from it. But it's in the quiet solitary experience, when no other player is chirping from within the headset that the excellent audio reproduction can best be appreciated.
What's Old is New
This is the kind of the surround sound that enthusiasts hunt for, the kind that makes old soundscapes sound new and alive. The going joke when playing 'Destiny' is that the game is so repetitive that players can quote the Ghost's, Speaker, Vanguards, etc. lines verbatim without having any idea what they mean on account of having blocked them out for so long. Well, when putting on the Elite 800 and going solo, the torrent of stale game audio seems to have leveled up. That extra bit of quiet achieved with the form factor is a difference maker. With that in mind, it is extra important to use two hands when donning and removing the Elite 800. Pulling the headband with one hand is like to give the ears a bit of a tug not good for the ears or for the ear cups.
The headset ships with a full array of DTS Headphone: X surround sound modes, but more can be loaded via the Windows app. Right now, I the number of game specific DTS surround sound presets is not long ('Tomb Raider,' 'GTA V,' and 'Call of Duty are some examples), but I expect that will grow over the next year. For now, the Signature Sound surround sound mode is my current mainstay, but as Turttle Beach produces more game specific modes to coincide with new game releases, new modes should be worth checking out as part of the new AAA game experience.
Headset of Thrones
As quick movie and game crossover example. I checked out both 'Game of Thrones: the Complete Third Season' on Blu-ray and 'Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series – Iron From Ice. ' on the PS4 for a certain Red Wedding. Without going into too much detail, what I was looking for was to be able to hear everything going on in just the right audio surround mix. What's key is the mix of in-scene music along with murmuring, and center channel dialogue. This is a etting that moves moment by moment, with quiet distant sounds in the outside air (again mixed with local sounds like dialogue) to din-filled rooms, with toasts and other proclamations that move the soundscape from loud and busy to so quiet you can hear a lone speaker's every syllable.
This is still two driver sound, but not two channel. It won't make the user turn their head looking for the sound in real life the way that a proper home theater will, but DTS knows how to make the most of the two drivers. Hearing 'The Rains of Castamere' off in the distance is just as rich as being able to locate an enemy by sound in an FPS.
Teammates in Space
I was testing something with the headset when I discovered a great new way to exercise the DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound. In 'Destiny' one of the few audio options allows the user to route chat to their system speakers rather than the headset. This is common for games, but with a headset like the Elite 800, which connects to the PS4 via optical, the headset will still playback chat that has been routed this way.
Bear in mind, this 'Destiny' option is not the ideal way to set up the headset, but it's something fun to try out for owners. When the chat is routed to system speakers only. The game will playback teammates chat spatially. That means the further away the teammate is, the quieter they are, and that chat only is heard in the direction of that teammate. As my fireteam ran around, I could track their position blind and with ease. A cool quirk in the game, but also a grand way to test out the headset's surround capabilities. Of course, for normal play, chat ought to be routed to the headset evenly.
Active Noise Cancellation
Before getting into other core or just nifty extras, I want to tackle the fly in the ointment. Turtle Beach has gone all out, and in their wisdom, decided that their flagship product needed Active Noise Cancellation.
Active Noise Cancellation uses science to compensate audio playback for noisy surroundings. A mic set-up on the headset picks up noise and attempts to compensate for it. In an office setting, like at a game studio, this can be a great way to isolate whatever the user is doing audiowise such as listing to music or gaming from the surrounding din of people chatting and doing other noisy things. Active Noise Cancellation is often favored by those that spend an inordinate amount of time on planes and trains. Of course, the Elite 800 isn't ideal for travelers. It can lay flat and has mobile applications, but I would cringe to think of taking one near the sardine can setting of a commercial flight. Ultimately, I have to guess that Turtle Beach thought those in a noisy dorm or other varied domestic situations needed optional active noise cancellation. Right now, in my dedicated office, it's quiet, and the feature can seem superfluous. That may change in the coming year.
Fortunately, it's easy enough to toggle Active Noise Cancellation on and off, and at times, I be playing a game, when for whatever reason the outside world gets a little noisy. At such times, the Active Noise Cancellation delivers. It's not miracle worker, but it can keep that outside noise from getting overly bothersome.
Dual Invisible Mics & Chat Performance.
I used to be skeptical about invisible mics, but these days, it's a different story. In fact, I had high hopes for the Elite 800's dual invisible mics based off of my experience with the Turtle Beach i60, and thankfully, those expectations were well met. Boom mics are great, but I definitely prefer a set-up like the Elite 800. There's no need to worry about mouth breathing or ever having to adjust the mic positioning, as the mic pickup works well, exactly like I expect a marvelous piece of tech to work. There's a little more to it though.
Beyond the difference between a boom mic and invisible mics, the Elite 800 sports Turtle Beach's Mic Monitoring, which unlike other models, can be configured. (This is done through the app; more on the app later.) What's key to know, however, is that activating Active Noise Cancellation will disable Mic Monitoring. (When Active Noise Cancellation is toggled off, then Mic Monitoring will resume.) Something that I quickly discovered had a major impact on chat (good and bad) are the mic presets, (Quiet Room, Normal, Loud, & Outdoor). It's really important to have the right one set to maximize chat performance, but thankfully, this can be cycled by holding down the Mic mute button. (Or in the Android app.) Frankly, even without these presets, the mic set-up is excellent at transmitting what the user is saying and not background noise, but these presets take that ability to a much more extreme level. It's a great luxury to know that when another person or animal comes into the room and starts speaking or making noise other online players don't have to hear about it.
The headset also has Dynamic Chat Boost, which helps to keep to chat audio audible even as games gravitate between normal and explosive sound levels. As I pointed out earlier, there is a tradeoff for all of this great chat performance. Though the headset has the classic and wonderful separate volume controls for chat and for game volume, it's hard to appreciate nuanced surround sound while someone else is talking. Still, presuming that there is a normal amount of talk, say while playing co-op in 'Far Cry 4', the user is getting a nice mix of delightful (and useful) surround sound peppered with clear exchanges of chat.
USB Transmitter/Magnetic Charging Stand
The Elite 800 connects to the PS4 (PS3 and PC) via a USB transmitter that hosts optical connections and doubles as a charging stand for the Elite 800. The USB to PS4 connection gives the transmitter power and carries the chat signal while an optical cable to the PS4 (with a second port to allow optical pass through to another device) carries game audio. Users should know that like with other recent DTS Headphone:X 7.1 Turtle Beach devices, the signal is first converted to Dolby Digital 5.1 (Bitstream Out, Dolby in PS4 settings) before being transmitted in DTS Headphone:X 7.1 to the headset. It's all part of an audio chain that starts with a game's rendered sound and ends at the ears.
The transmitter has a special USB port for use with Windows app. Through that app (which works in Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 and is different from the Android app), firmware updates and new audio presets can be downloaded.
I was extremely dubious about the magnetic charging part of the transmitter prior to use. I'm used to using my wireless headsets until the battery is low and then jacking in to continue playing while tethered via USB to a power source. The Elite 800 can still do that, but I've found that setting the headset in its cradle (it's kept standing there thanks to strong magnets) whenever I'm done playing keeps the battery ready to go. Only a few times, during marathon gaming days, have I felt the need to plug into USB while playing. The USB transmitter/stand currently resides above my PS4.
Ranking near the bottom in terms of features has to be the headset's controls. The Elite 800 supports swappable speaker plates and as result, eight substandard buttons. There are four buttons on the outward side of each earcup, arranged at the compass points. The north and south points control volume, game volume one the left, chat volume on the right. These buttons work fine, but it is the two pair of east and west buttons that can be both unsatisfying to click and cluttered with functions.
The worst of these is the preset button. One button to cycle through four surround presets (by holding the button), each with 4-6 EQ presets (single button press) is a recipe for annoyance. Just imagine playing the Vault of Glass Raid in 'Destiny' and accidentally clicking the preset button once, (which is all too easy, especially when setting the headset down on table) say from Game Mode: Signature Sound. It's going to take five clicks to get back. Cycling Surround modes is worse. (It's much easier to use the Android app, which is detailed further down.)
The headset needs at last two more buttons, one for cycling backward through DTS Headphone:X surround modes and DTS presets, and one dedicated to cycling through mic presets. As is typical (in a good way) for Turtle Beach headsets, an electronic voice signals whenever a button is pressed and what the function is. This voice prompt will also say "battery low" when it's appropriate to do so. The exception is the mic mute, which is signaled but with a high or low tone.
One the plus side, the Elite 800 lacks the strobe light of the 500P. Instead there is a small LED.
Xbox One Usage
While it might not say "Xbox" anywhere on the box, Xbox One usage and set-up is specified in the manual. To be used on the Xbox One, the Elite 800 needs some help. Specifically, the irksome Xbox One Wireless Chat Adapter is needed, and the Elite 800 must be connected to this controller bound accessory for Chat functionality. This has several side effects.
The receiver base connects to the Xbox One via optical, but since the USB doesn't carry chat, it need only be powered for the base to work. Surround sound performance on the Xbox One is fantastic, but chat is another story. The chat volume control on the headset is inactive on the Xbox One (as it is with all cable connected or Bluetooth connected devices). Chat volume is controlled on the Xbox One adapter, and it is extremely important to turn the Chat/Game volume mix on the adapter to full Chat.
Chat performance is still helped by several of the Elite 800s features, but since it's being transmitted through the controller, voices tend to get very synthetic, which is easier to notice when being played back on the Elite 800. Despite this limitation, using the Elite 800 is still really enjoyable. A future revision or variant that is fully wireless on the Xbox One would be a slam dunk for Xbox One owners. (Turtle Beach's Ear Force Stealth 500X is fully wireless, but is quite different from the Elite 800.)
I've had a few readers ask about using the Elite 800 with the Xbox 360. Well, I have good news. Though it's in no way supported by Turtle Beach in any of the documentation, the Elite 800 does work with the 360. I've tested out the Elite 800 with an old Xbox 360 Elite and everything works fine. The transmitter connects to the 360 through optical (the 360 super slim needs a special workaround) and the Digital Output needs to be set to Dolby 5.1. For chat, a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable (preferably with a volume control) connects the 360 controller to the Elite 800. (I had this one on hand.) Then in Preferences on the 360, voice needs to be set to either headset or speakers only. (If set to headset only, the chat audio will be a mono signal that only plays back in the left ear, but this way lets the user use an inline volume control.) The surround sound game audio sounds excellent, and the chat is quite usable.
The Elite 800 supports Bluetooth with one major scenario in mind, gaming wirelessly while having a phone connected via Bluetooth. That means being able to take calls, get audio notifications and listen to music, books, or whatever from the phone while gaming. Volume control is handled by the device, but simple functions like answering or ending a call, pausing or advancing (next track) music can be done through the headset controls. The Elite 800 handles these scenarios without a hitch, which allowed me to listen to 'The Hot Zone,' a fascinating book about the Ebola virus, while hunting in Kyrat.
As someone who regularly is glued to my desk and occasionally has to take phone calls or skype calls that last a few hours, I can appreciate a headset that can handle that kind of duty even without factoring in gaming or surround sound. In other words, the Elite 800 is great to use just as phone headset when necessary.
As with the mics, Bluetooth performance and controls function much like the Ear Force i60, but there is a major caveat. Whereas the i60 candle handle two simultaneous Bluetooth devices, such as a phone and a tablet, the Elite 800 can only handle one at a time. (More on this limitation/feature below.)
Ear Force Audio Hub – Android App
Along with the other Bluetooth capabilities listed above, when connected to an Android device (4.0.4 & up), there is an app that offers a deeper level of control over the headset. This can be really helpful when it comes to dealing with the myriad of audio presets (especially if loading custom ones via the Windows app) and for adjusting specific phone related volume levels. When I was using an iPhone, this Android exclusivity was pretty annoying, especially since the headset can only support one Bluetooth device at a time, making my attempts to use an Android tablet and an iPhone all for not. Fortunately, it is easy to see headset battery level on the iPhone.
Switching over to a new Moto X and suddenly the app is a lot more useful. Most of these settings don't require regular adjustment, but it's nice to be able to access them. Also helpful in the Android app is battery level, though I rarely worried over it.
As alluded to several times in the review, the battery life of the Elite 800 is excellent. Turtle Beach specifies 10 hours, but that really depends on if Active Noise Cancellation and/or Bluetooth is being used in addition to normal wireless. Even when using everything, the battery life was never an issue for me. The range isn't as good the 500P, but the Elite 800 can handle 20ft through walls just fine. Bluetooth range is strong as well, but like with other Bluetooth devices, the headset ought to be within 20-30 feet of the Bluetooth device.
Earlier I mentioned that unlike the i60, the Elite 800 can only be actively paired with one Bluetooth device at a time, but in exchange, the Elite 800 can handle both an active Bluetooth device and a corded device simultaneously. This is something that i60 can't quite do, and is obviously crucial when using the Elite 800 on the Xbox One while also using a Bluetooth paired phone. Likewise, using the Elite 800 with the Wii U means being corded to the GamePad. The i60 can will switch back and forth between corded Wii U sound and Bluetooth sounds, but the Elite 800 can handle both at the same time. That means that with the Elite 800, I could play 'Super Smash Bros.' on the Wii U while listening to music from my phone and even take calls. (Don't knock it until you try it.
The Elite 800 can playback audio in corded mode without power, but needs to be powered on to use the mics, Active Noise Cancellation and so forth. This seems very much like a feature for a portable (airplane use) headset, and yet there is no carrying case.
Not happy with packing the Elite 800 with tech, the purchase includes membership into Turtle Beach's "Elite" program. Buyers need to go and manually register using the headset's serial number. I only recently registered, but the most obvious benefit is a 2 year extended warranty and what sounds like priority warranty service in the US and Canada. One of the hardest thing to cover review is how a headset will hold up over time, but this warranty looks loads better than most.
In contrast to how it's presented, the membership not only includes some speaker plates and a t-shirt, but users get to pick from a long list of choices and can even get a hoodie instead of a shirt. I really dislike most of the speaker plates, but managed to find two sets that I liked.
Build Quality, Comfort, Squelching, and Cables
As I stated early in this review, the Elite 800 is meant to be a premium product, and though plastic pervades the bulk of the headset and transmitter, the premium feel is delivered. The plush, memory foam earcups and head padding make sure that the parts of the headset that contact the wearer's head feel nice, almost like fine leather, but still synthetic.
The build quality seems primed to survive years of use. There's a heft to picking up what is an extremely well balanced set of headphones that gives what might be false courage. I would be afraid of something heavy resting on this headset, even if it would easily survive repeated drops to the floor.
Just as I feared, with all of this tech built-in, the Elite 800 checks in at a whopping 13.09 ounces. That is close to a pound, and many lighter headsets make their users pay for weight above 10 ounces. What's staggering though, is that because the headset is so well balanced (in terms of weight distribution) and has the right mix of earcup and headband design, the weight never feels like an issue.
While the considerably lighter (2 ounces less) i60 tends to press on my soft spot just enough to become noticeable after several hours, the Elite 800 has no such issue. Who knows, it may even be building neck strength on a very unconscious level.
Again, the swappable speaker plates detract from an otherwise top shelf design.
Finally, I'm happy to discover that the squelching issue of the 500P is nowhere to find in the Elite 800. I can power on and off at will without any kind of loud noise issuing from the headset.
One more thing to know about the Elite 800 is that in addition to the headset and transmitter, the box also includes a nice array of cables. Along with some documentation, two mini USB cables, an optical cable, and a nice 3.5mm cable round out the box's contents.
Turtle Beach's Elite 800 has a serious asking price that isn't helped by the inclusion of Active Noise Cancellation. Even so, the performance when it comes the DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound and the invisible mics is top notch. The Bluetooth feature is a must for those gamers who want to be able to take calls, listen music and so forth while gaming or watching movies on an array of devices in addition to the PS4, including the Xbox One & 360. Somehow, the Elite 800 is actually comfortable to wear for hours, and the battery life when used with the primo charging cable is never an issue. There are several other nice features and even the very bonus Elite membership to consider, and if not for the less than ideal, control-affecting, swappable speaker plates, the Elite 800 would have a perfect rating.
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