Turtle Beach Ear Force i60
- Street Date:
- October 25th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- August 14th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Turtle Beach
- Turtle Beach
In spite of its marketing focus, the Turtle Beach Ear Force i60 is as compatible with PCs as it is with OS X and iOS devices. The majority of testing for this review was done on Windows 7 and 8 PCs.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Turtle Beach is a leader when it comes to gaming headsets, and the company is synonymous with online gaming, especially with regards to online shooters on the 360 or just about any kind of tournament gaming. Whether it's gaming on a console, PC, or mobile device, Turtle Beach has a range of offerings molded by years of experience making headsets for a tough audience, gamers. But last year, the headset maker introduced a pair of products that on their face appear to have nothing to do with gaming. The more robust of these offerings, the Ear Force i60, is pitched as "the premium wireless headset built from the ground up for Apple enthusiasts." The discerning individual, however, when looking at the headset's long feature set may notice quite a bit of overlap with one of Turtle Beach's upcoming headsets, the PS4 focused Elite 800.
Without getting caught up in explaining each of the i60's many, many features, let me briefly state why I became intrigued by the headset. My interest was not related to its status as a lifestyle product. (More on that later) Rather, that it is a wireless headset that sports DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound as well as a secondary Bluetooth capability. Turtle Beach is leading a movement towards DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound and by experiencing the Ear Force i60, I've been able to get in on the ground floor. Still, when it comes to the i60, it can be hard to discuss any one feature, spec, pro, or con without touching on a half dozen others. Still, I must try.
DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound & the i60
The second most important item included in the Ear Force i60 box is the i60 transmitter. The volume control puck with Apple styling plugs into a PC or Mac via USB, and simply put, it's the reason to purchase the Ear Force i60. It links to the headset via Dual Band Wifi, and once it's set to be the default output device on the computer (7.1 output needs to be specified as well for surround), the user should expect to hear the best wireless surround package to date. There are three DTS Headphone:X surround modes which can be toggled via the base, or with an iOS/OS X app. The three surround modes are Movie, Music, and Game. (the fourth setting sets surround off) These modes shouldn't be confused with the eight audio presets, and users should understand (to a degree) that what the surround modes do is shift the positions of the virtual speakers to what suits the associated mediums best.
The headset is said to be tuned for music reproduction first and foremost, and it's there that it shines greatest. Assuming the user isn't over expectant after reading a review like this one, the bass reproduction for music is the best I've heard from a wireless set. Listing to tracks from Fever Ray for instance, I was stunned at the full range of alive acoustics achieved by the headset.
Movie performance from something like 'Drive' or 'Pacific Rim,' in some ways stuns as only Blu-rays can. The tech at work in the DTS part of the equation melds with the Turtle Beach drivers to make something that from a wireless headset point of view is tough to beat. (Hearing an exhaust note echo through a tunnel is a grand way to drink in the full scale that's possible with the headset.)
It almost goes without saying that Game performance, like the movie performance, is excellent based off wireless headset standards. (Off the chart even.) As I tore around the Rook Islands of 'Far Cry 3,' I eventually killed the in-game music just so I could I dwell on each new tropical or hostile sound. (It's fun just to sneak around alert enemies in the talk grass, working off their audible localized chatter to dispatch them with the machete.)
The big caveat with both game and movie surround sound is that this is still a wireless headset. While the base range is spot-on for music, it falls short in terms of surround sound hallmarks like ear drum rattling gunshots. I have had better LFE delivery in a headset, but not a wireless one. Surround sound in general is excellent for a headset, but home theater enthusiasts should be aware that with drivers immediately on your ears, it's not a perfect drop-in replacement for a full home theater. (Of course, nothing really is.) It's at times like this where my trusty Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics Blu-ray disc proves the "Essential' part of its namesake.
One more note on the base unit. There was a time some ten years ago when I wouldn't have been caught dead without a dedicated sound card. Boy how times have changed. I deployed the base unit to a half dozen PCs and my MacBook Air without nary an issue. (One all-in-one exhibited a Windows 8 USB error, but it's a known USB issue for that Intel/Nvidia chipset). There is a lot of engineering packed into the base unit, but I never felt like the audio source was being degraded (or over processed) in any way. I was also never had to download a special driver or software suite, but neither did I want for features.
Notes on the Dual Band WiFi
While Turtle Beach has a nice abstract on their application of Dual Band WiFi, my experience with the i60 tells me that the usable range is around 15-30 feet, with physical walls able to cut the range in half. The wireless functionality is essentially binary. Once I hit the edge of the range, audio would cut out. For wireless headset users this is preferable to having to worry about loud static. Using the headset in areas saturated with wireless networks wasn't an issue at all.
If not using the i60 Wireless transmitter, the headset essentially turns into a heavier i30. The i60 supports Bluetooth 3.0 +EDR. The Bluetooth usage is strictly a stereo affair (remember I stated that the reason to purchase an i60 is for use primarily with a PC or Mac), but the Bluetooth functionality is so robust and impressive that users can be forgiven for forgetting that it's really the auxiliary part of the headset. The i60 can be synced to two Bluetooth devices at a time, like say a smartphone and a tablet. One device gets priority, as in the case of a phone call, but on the whole, the Bluetooth pairing and syncing is some of the snappiest I've seen. (More on controls later). The Bluetooth can handle two devices even while the wireless transmitter is handling the PC or Mac, which means the user can have one headset cordlessly connected to three devices simultaneously.
I can be working on my PC, taking calls on my phone while still being paired to a tablet. I typically am fine with just my iPhone and PC, but it's nice to know that if I sync to one other device, like a tablet or all-in-one, I won't lose connection with my phone. The Bluetooth range is excellent, even better than the Wireless Transmitter. When listening to music from my phone (say while my PC is restarting) I've found that suddenly the eight audio presets become useful.
For situations where neither the wireless transmitter nor the Bluetooth connectivity will cut it, say on airplane, the i60 has a cable jack on the right ear cup as well as a bundled Headphone/Mobile Adapter cable (and a few adapters). This is something of a last resort, and I would not recommend making calls with the headphone cable if Bluetooth is an option. Still, it's a good option to have especially with regards to the Xbox One and PS4. As with most Bluetooth headsets, the i60 won't pair with the PS4, but it will plug into the controller. Though it's shy of the DTS Headphone:X awesomeness of the PC, the i60 is surprisingly great option in terms of wired connections for both the PS4 and Xbox One. By virtue of carrying its own power source, a wired Ear Force i60 call still stand tall.
PS4 and Xbox One
Connecting by wire to either the PS4's DualShock4 or the Xbox One's Stereo Headset adapter is usually my least favorite way to enjoy the consoles. Fortunately, since the i60 has its own power source (the built-in rechargeable battery), it's a heck of a lot more capable than most passive headsets/headphones on the two consoles. It's not a cure-all, the i60 still has to deal with the controller's variable wireless signal, but it's nevertheless one the best options if having to plug into the controller. (Turtle Beach makes no mention of the two consoles in any of their i60 product documentation, so this is a significant bonus.) While I didn't care for making calls using the headphone cable, chat quality is a different story.
Naturally, demoing the headset with different movies, games, and hours of music was my main focus, but where the headset could be the most surprising was its mic pickup. What Turtle Beach describes as "multiple microphones" is staggering. At first, I was shocked that the mic pick-up even worked, but later, I found that for chatting, it maybe the best mic option I've ever had.
First of all, it's obvious that the mic is superb at picking up my voice. (The exception is if using the wired mode on my iPhone.) I used the headset so much for calls that I would just be comfortable wearing and talking. So comfortable in fact that I would rest my face in hand or somehow else place my hand near the invisible mic, and that would cause an issue. Otherwise, the mic was shockingly good. It beat out a half dozen other headsets when I was running a serious of tests on Xbox One headsets. The piece of resistance though, after using the headset for weeks I was at home, where I have one cat that no kidding, likes to start screaming whenever I get on the phone. (Game chatting is less of a trigger) I normally make sure that there is a closed door between myself and this cat when making or taking calls. This time out though, it had slipped my mind. The cat was screaming as usual, and I asked the caller about it, who is familiar with this cat screaming phenomena, and unlike prior instances, she told me she couldn't hear it.
This was like discovering fire. As long as I was more than two feet from the screaming cat's screaming mouth, the headset's active noise filtering kept the cat noise from picking up on the mic. Suffice to say that Ear Force i60 mic set-up is one of its more subtle killer features, and it's one that carries over when using the headset in wired mode on the PS4 and Xbox One.
Less killer for me is the ability to add voice audio effects, which just seems superfluous.
Usability and Battery
Having touched on it a few times already, the Ear Force i60's usability is very good. The USB base is simple to connect and use. Bluetooth pairing is a snap. The base has two volume knobs (the inner one is for chat volume), two buttons, and a mic indicator. The headset has four buttons, two pairs of rocker buttons, and an odd tap sensor. To help navigate the myriad of functions, the headset will speak to you using Turtle Beach's audible computer voice. The USS Enterprise like voice will pepper usage with important notifications like: "Mic on." "Bluetooth device connected." "Two – bass boost." "Movie Mode," etc. When controlling the Bluetooth device media playback, the controls are a little less intuitive, but still usable. The tap sensor button on the outside of the left ear cup works but is better left alone.
The headset is recharged via micro USB cable (the package includes two, one for the base and one for the headset, but I used several other micro USB cables without issue). Though not my preference, the headset can be used while charging. Battery life is a luxurious 10+ hours. It can be used on and off for days, and still be going. I tried a few eight hour sessions without issue. There is also a power saving auto shut-down, and it's a very liberal (6 minutes). The headset won't auto shut down if left on with an audio source playing. As someone who spends whole days glued to a computer, the battery life is better than optimal. Which leads me to the question of comfort and build quality.
Comfort, Presentation, and Build Quality
The Ear Force i60 is positioned as a lifestyle product, and both the visual aesthetic of the headset as well as the box and all of its content exude a certain a certain style. Before accessing the box's content, there is a message from Turtle Beach welcoming the consumer to their "first media headset." Normal Turtle Beach headsets sport a red trim and usually employ a generous amount of black plastic. (It corresponds to the PlayStation blue and Xbox green.) The i60 has a white and silver core and is trimmed lightly in burgundy.
Visually, the headset looks like a premium version of the ear protection wore by Naval aircrews. My only gripe is the white plastic of ear cups. It looks cheap up close, but it probably was chosen in part to save weight. Turtle Beach is too wise in the way of headsets not to know that cramming all of these goodies into a rechargeable headset comes in at a cost in weight, which goes directly to comfort.
Aside from the aforementioned white plastic, there is a lot of cool mettle and nice fake leather. There's also a more angular arc to the headset than I'm used to seeing. As a result, though the headset seems very comfortable, wearing it for hours at a time can cause just enough pressure near the old soft spot to be noticeable. While some discomfort in longer sessions is common for headsets and not a deal breaker, I hope it can be improved upon in future designs.
The headset comes with a black cloth bag for transporting. The bag has a an internal pocket for any cables or connectors and is a nice inclusion. I'm not the type to hop on the subway with a flashy set of headphones, but these would work. I did try vacuuming while wearing the headset. It was fine, but I wouldn't try any Go Pro style stunt work.
With the Ear Force i60, Turtle Beach has attempted to present the image of premium product, one whose owner is above the banal need to "game." The reality though is very much like a wolf in sheep's clothing. The i60 is a beast when it comes to gaming and chatting. It excels at its lifestyle pursuits such as style, music, triple simultaneous device support, and a clean, streamlined install. At the same time, the i60 is always ready to turn its best features, which include DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound, incredible all around wireless performance, and an amazing microphone array, towards gaming and movies. Roughly two ounces of weight, along with some other minor gripes, hold back the headset from a perfect grade. I wasn't looking for a lifestyle product, but after using the Ear Force i60 for an extended period of time, it has become indispensable.
- 50mm diameter speakers
- Wireless transmission: 2.4/5.2 GHz Dual-Band RF for audio between headset and supplied transmitter
- Bluetooth 3.0 +EDR
- DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound
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