As far as dramatic drum rolls go, this one has been a doozie. After nearly a year and a half in development, Mad Catz has rolled out its so-called quintessential accessory for Xbox 360 gamers. The Tritton Warhead Wireless 7.1 Surround Sound headset, developed with the approval of Microsoft to offer a few key features not found anywhere else.
Sporting a hefty price tag and plenty of hype, has Mad Catz succeeded in producing a headset challenging the best on the market, or fallen short of the goal?
To be honest, it depends what gamers are looking for. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the design and packaging of the headset will surely convince those who decide to acquire a pair that the money has been well spent. While the Xbox 360 branding atop the headband that had originally showed the console’s stamp of approval has been removed, the overall style has to be applauded.
Mad Catz has shown a company-wide shift in recent years from the stigma of the console market’s most prolific ‘peripheral manufacturer’ to clean, elegant, well-made aftermarket controllers that at times put the prepackaged versions to shame. The Warhead is no exception, with a glossy black finish free of garish branding. A few small orange logos and touches of silver are the only thing that really stands out, even if the earphones and base will be falling victim to multiple fingerprint smudges.
A matte black finish would be interesting to compare with the current finish, but the headset is nothing if not understated. The docking station is the same story, small enough to go without being noticed, sporting a circular lit ring similar to that of the Xbox 360, signalling which controller the headset is currently synced to. With alternate colored icons for separate audio modes, switching from one to another with the touch of a button is effortless and straightforward – even from across a room.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of control integration, with nearly all settings and actions made available through the Warhead’s buttons at the user’s fingertips. The actual construction of the headset is solid, even if it doesn’t quite feel as substantial or resilient as the price tag might lead one to believe. That isn’t to say the Warhead 7.1 feels flimsy or breakable in the least, but the competitors do feel a bit more heavy-duty.Of course, the slimmer, lighter construction means the headset is much more comfortable to wear than some similarly-priced accessories. With cushioned ear cups that are surprisingly well-ventilated, the Warhead is comfortable for even extended periods of gameplay or music. And with rotatable cups that allow for being spun flat, when resting around the neck, comfort is a guarantee except in the most exceptional of circumstances.
The overall concept continues to mesh function with simplified design, as the trapezoidal base station features one sync button, power cord, an optical out to the Xbox 360, and an analog input. The small slot concealed in the front of the docking station charges one of the two rechargeable lithium ion batteries that come with the headset, when not being used, tuck behind a similarly concealing magnetic panel in the headset itself. The battery life of each pack is truly staggering, and the station equipped with the separate headset cradle is a classy addition to any entertainment center.
As for getting the Warhead 7.1 up and running, the integration with the Xbox 360 pays serious dividends for loyal console fans, starting with the simple plug-and-play set up. In our case the syncing and initial settings worked perfectly. The unique console integration means that a simple press of the Xbox 360′s guide button brings up the remaining battery life of both the controller and the headset, which as we said before, lasts a shockingly long amount of time.
As for the sound quality itself, the results aren’t quite as stunning as the look and functionality of the Warhead 7.1. There is no mistaking the fact that the headset’s aural prowess isn’t quite as impressive as the slightly more expensive offerings from Turtle Beach, for instance, but that isn’t to say that the Warhead is low quality. When paired with a Dolby Surround Sound system for home theaters, or for home audio, it’s immediately clear that this pair of earphones is not designed to deliver crystal clear feedback. But Mad Catz’s history is not in elite development of audio and video peripherals – Bose they are not.
The sound isn’t anything to scoff at, but a noticeable muffle or perceivable distance between the ear and the source, even in the half-inch of the ear cup seems impossible to eliminate. All that being said, the Tritton Warhead 7.1 isn’t meant for home theaters or avid film lovers, but gamers. And when playing an ear-crushing Xbox 360 title, the system truly shines. On any of the three settings – applying various blends of high, mid-range and low notes – sound effects, in-game music and player-controlled audio (like gunfire or sword impacts) all come through beautifully.
Since that’s the main goal the system was developed for, it’s hard to knock Mad Catz for falling a bit short in the movie/music department. The Warhead 7.1 still functions effectively for those casual electronics fans who are just looking for a quality headset. For gamers, the features are numerous and just as inspired as the overall design. A detachable microphone is a no-brainer, but the light at its tip that illuminates when muted, and the integrated SVM (Selective Voice Monitoring) are nice touches. The SVM allows the player to hear their own voice in the headset, or not, which is an unnecessary tool that will pleasantly surprise many serious online players.
Overall, the Tritton Warhead 7.1 is a fantastic wireless headset, and its integration with the Xbox 360 has been pulled off as well as can be expected. The Warhead’s somewhat limited feature set means there are more feature-packed options, but likely at a higher price point, or a more intimidating set up and maintenance. The Trittons may not be the best wireless headset currently available, but they are certainly the best ones exclusively designed for Microsoft’s home console.
That will be enough for many to take the plunge, and with the overall build quality and gaming-tailored performance, it’s unlikely that purchasing a Tritton Warhead 7.1 will ever be regretted.
The Tritton Warhead 7.1 Wireless Surround Sound headset is priced at $299.99, and should be showing up at most major retailers soon.
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