This month, Game Rant has been trying out Turtle Beach‘s new tournament grade Ear Force Z Seven (read the full headset review) to find out if its the right choice for gamers who are serious about their audio environment during both singleplayer and multiplayer sessions.
Bundled with the headset is an Audio Control Unit (ACU) designed to enhance the design of the headset and also to offer the user a number of customization options in order to more accurately tailor the sound both audio and communication to suit their needs.
To get an idea of the ACU’s application for different audio needs, we first tried it out in the zombie-killing frenzy of Left 4 Dead, then the retro joy of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, before finally moving on to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. After that we experimented to see how the unit could shape a purely musical experience, playing a range of different tracks including some classic Pearl Jam, a bit of blues from Tom Waits and a dose of sugary K-pop goodness from Co-Ed School. To put the ACU through its cinematic paces, we plugged it in and sat down to watch Christopher Nolan’s heady 2010 sci-fi Inception, which won Academy Awards for its sound mixing and editing.
While the tech contained within the ACU is impressive, the actual design of this device could have used some work. The front control panel is made from a glossy black material that picks up fingerprints and other marks very easily, meaning that it won’t necessarily stay glossy for long. From a practical standpoint, the touch-sensitive customization controls make it very easy to accidentally brush a hand over the surface and change a host of settings in one go, a problem that could have been easily solved by adding a simple lock slider to the unit. Hopefully this might be included in future designs.
On the plus side, the ACU has just enough weight to it that it will sit comfortably on a desk, thanks to three rubber feet on the bottom. If you want to game standing up (or you often stand up to get a snacks or drink), it also features a sturdy clip that allows it to be attached to a belt or pocket.
The ACU doesn’t have a wireless equivalent, and we’d recommend an effective cable bashing system to keep it in hand. It comes with a 2M cable that divides at the end into two connectors – USB and 3.5mm jack – both of which must be plugged in for proper functionality. Once that’s done, the headset unit must be connected through another jack at the bottom of the ACU. This can feel like a lot of wiring to juggle, but Turtle Beach has mitigated the risk of cable spaghetti by combining the two connectors into one cable and keeping them at the opposite end from the headset jack.
For audiophiles who love to customize their experience depending not only on what medium they’re listening to, but also the genre, the ACU offers a generous amount of control. The device is shaped like a remote control, and comes with 8 preset buttons (which can be toggled to control the ‘Main’ and ‘Chat’ presets) that occupy a little over half of the front surface, with a game volume dial dominating the top portion of the ACU.
The ACU was tested on a PC and, after being disconnected the first time, left behind some driver issues that made it necessary to delete and then reinstall the audio driver before the playback devices would function normally again. Though this problem didn’t occur again, there were later problems related to getting the microphone functional, and while it sometimes connected to the PC with no problems there were other occasions when the unit required some tweaking before it began functioning properly. The ACU is often less of a “plug-in-and-play” device and is more along the lines of a “plug-in-fiddle-with-audio-settings-play-unplug-fiddle-with-audio-settings-again” deal, which may well spur gamers to make a choice between leaving it permanently in use or not bothering with it at all.
Going with the latter option, however, opens up a range of customization options that can be tailored to fit whatever sound happens to be coming through the headset. Aside from the main Dolby surround sound setting, there are eight different audio presets that are designed to fit particular needs. For stealth games where an awareness of how close a guard might be is crucial, there is a setting that enhances the sound of approaching footsteps. If keeping quiet is less of an issue there is an “Action Enhancer” setting that amplifies the sound of gunfire and explosions, while the “Superhuman” and “Stereo Expander” make it possible to boost quieter noises and to enhance 3D sound, respectively. Users can also decide whether to boost treble noises, bass notes or both.
The settings are fun to play around with and may well become a must-have for gamers who are serious about having their audio just right, but for the average player may be more likely to just stick with the main setting after a few hours of experimentation.
One of the interesting features offered by the ACU was a Chat Boost that automatically raises the chat levels during hairier moments when lots of bullets are flying and things are exploding. It must be said, however, that it didn’t make a noticeable difference to the co-op play experience and whenever a horde or a tank dropped onto the scene the communications from teammates were still more or less completely drowned out. To be fair, between four players firing simultaneously, dozens of zombies snarling and the swell of dramatic music, the game volume did get pretty noisy, so in order for chat to be effective the Chat Boost would have had to raise any communications to a full-on yell.
The eight different chat settings do, however, offer some options that are bound to be useful in a tournament environment or a game where clear communication during co-op is absolutely essential. As well as specific presets that amplify chat, widen the sound field or boost mid-range frequencies, there is a setting that offers a complete enhanced chat package, which did noticeably improve the quality and clarity of communications from teammates during co-op play.
The Audio Control Unit also comes with three voice morphing options if a player wants to shake things up a little. A “Robot” setting transforms the speaker’s voice into a metallic sound, though ultimately this sounded less like a robot and more like something out of an overproduced heavy metal song. Speaking of heavy metal, there is also a “Demon” setting that dramatically lowers voice pitch, which could be very useful if you ever need to make a ransom demand. Finally there’s a chat setting that raises voice pitch to chipmunk levels, which mostly just made everyone in the game fall down laughing (a situation with a stacking effect, since chipmunk laughter is very funny in its own right).
While the ACU can offer a great range of flexibility and customization of in-game sound, its integration into the gaming experience is a long way from seamless, and personal willingness to put up with some of hassles involved with using it will depend on just how badly you want to control the clarity of explosions or footsteps. Customization is definitely the strong point of this unit, and it may be hard to beat for those who want to shape their own in-game audio environment, but it’s not worth buying for the surround sound alone.