An “Oldie” of American Game Audio
Who remembers Turtle Beach in the 1990s making sound cards in direct competition with Creative’s Sound Blasters? Yes, they have been around for that long and these days are known more for their console headsets. With the Earforce Z6 however, they are letting their PC customers know that they have not forgotten them and still love them. This review has been a year in the making as I first got a glimpse of them as a “product to come” back at a Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The Specs, Fit & Finish
The Earforce Z6 is a closed-type, super-aural headset. That is to say, it has ear-pieces with hard covered backs that cover the ears completely. It is a handsome headset with royal blue accents. Deep comfortable cushions, a soft leatherette headpiece and a sturdy flexible boom mike complete the package.
For its weight, I found the head-set quite comfortable for extended wear. This is due to the super-aural ear pieces – which I generally find more comfortable than the ones that press onto the ears. The arms on each side lengthen easily with 0.2” stops. As with any piece of personal electronic equipment however, the fit and comfort is purely subjective.
The Earforce Z6 has a short 2’ cable which connects to with a DIN connector to the much longer amplifier cable (8’) which ends with separate plugs for Mic, Rear, Surround/Center and Front channels as well as USB for power.
The headset also comes with a multi-ended adapter for using with external 5.1 speaker setup for the times you’d rather not use the headset without having to unplug and re-plug in your speakers or headset.
I generally run in any piece of equipment I review and this was no different. Since this was a dedicated gamer headset, I plugged them into my PC and looped them over my neck while playing games which did not require a headset – like Glitch which I reviewed during the break-in time frame. Then I used them for MMOs, PC games, conference calls, listened to Pandora while I worked, watched a few movies, and finally I asked for the adapters so I could do some critical listening with music. I also shot a “curve” – a frequency sweep using CLIO to see how well the speakers are balanced and to see the frequency response curve. For comparison / reference, I used the Sennheiser PC161 which falls in the same price range.
The curves showed me exactly what I heard. Plenty of energy in the mid-range and high frequencies, but an anemic bass response. That however, is where the majority of game sound lies – the bullet shots, voices and footsteps that a gamer is listening for reside solidly in the mid-range and lower band of the high frequencies.
Voice, Game & Movie Sound
The Earforce Z6 sailed through these sessions with top marks. Calls I made with them were clear, individual voices easily discerned and I could tell where my family was sitting on the sofa as well as when someone stood up or walked around. I sat back with some old action movie favorites and listened to how well sound effects were handled. Voices could be heard through the cacophony of gunfire and explosions although bass response was weak. Not that it wasn’t loud enough, that could be tweaked with the amplifier. It was not low enough and cranking it up doesn’t make it better. Explosions and the sound of large space craft which have a lot of bass energy rumbled indistinctively and without authority. Throughout testing, in any situation, voices cut right through. Voice chat while playing, voices in games (I still use Capcom’s Lost Planet demo to test), and voices in movies – they were all pinpoint clear.
Imaging was also good – as pinpoint as could be with headsets. A feel of distance and direction was nicely imparted. I was also playing two different betas that shall not be named during this time and the sound of
light sabers voice, ambient sounds, gunfire and explosive sounds of magic was clear and direction was easily discerned.
Critical Listening with Music
The Turtle Beach Earforce Z6A is a gamer headset. ‘Nuff said? No? Okay. The head set does not come with an adapter for plugging the headset by itself into your laptop – unless you have a gamer laptop that has sound output for front, rear and center/surround. It doesn’t come with an adapter to 1/8” for your electronics nor a ¼” headphone jack in your sound system either. There’s also an adapter available to connect it to your console controller. The adapters are all available as separate purchases for I asked for the adapters so I could do some critical listening with music. I received a really short 1/8” and ¼” adapter that’s available on the website for $7.95 which would have tied me to face to face with my stereo-system, a much longer one which allowed me to sit back a bit (not on the site) and an adapter that took it to 1/8” Mic and head phones jacks – allowing me to use it on my laptop.
I really was not testing for musical fidelity however, I was testing for resolution – how well they would handle complexity – the intermingling of sounds when there is a lot going on, soundstage and imaging – you want to know where those gunshots are coming from, where your enemies are. Musical fidelity would be bonus.
Removing the amplifier and 5.1 surround controls confirmed where the headset shone and where it was weak as I again tested it through my PC on games and MMOs and listened to my sound system. Voices were crisp and cut through the music front and center, but bass was weak and although sound was bright, the highs were not detailed (i.e. the headset sound as they were designed). 20Hz to 20kHz is the generally accepted range of perceptible hearing of the human ear, that is to say, the lowest and highest frequency that the average human ear can hear as a distinctive pitch. Organ notes actually go down to 16Hz and harmonics that cannot be heard support the fullness of a good bass response and the shimmer of highs like the sounds of bells. Looking at the frequency response of the four drivers in each ear cup will also explain why the mid-range is so well supported.
PRAT – Pace, rhythm and timing was missing altogether. Good enough for game sound, not for complex Latin rhythms. Imaging was fine. I could place the maracas player in his position in the band, but rhythmically, it was not there. The kettle drums in Coplan’s Fanfare for the Common Man were weak and flabby. Voices (as long as they weren’t sopranos) however were gloriously front and center. Unbalanced from the rest of the music for sure, but Henley’s voice soared in Hotel California as did Domingo’s in Novus with Santana.
The Turtle Beach is a marvelous gamer headset. It is comfortable and emphasizes the things that are important in games. Imaging and resolution to pinpoint your enemies, and the mid-range for voices so that you can hear your class leader yelling directions in the middle of a 64 man raid with magic exploding everywhere; you can hear and place in your mind, the NPCs calling out where bogies are coming from amidst the cacophony of combat. It’s a one trick pony however, and made for the 5.1 sound capable PC. As a versatile headset which can move from music and movies to games, not so much. If you are looking for a dedicated gamer headset and like the ability to boost various channels for games where the sound is not altogether top-notch, this is the headset for you.