For many of us – myself included – sound tends to be the last thing we think about especially when the industry focus is on graphical fidelity. For many years gamers have demanded these high definition visuals, spending small fortunes on graphics cards and monitors, should we not also want the audio equivalent too?
The Tritton AX720 7.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset for Xbox 360, PS3, Mac and PC is the latest iteration, the previous offering being the 5.1. This headset boasts a number of improvements over the older model. As they have decided not to call these a ‘Mark 2’ or ‘AX730’ or something to differentiate it from its older brother, make sure that you are getting the new model from your supplier of choice.
The package includes the Headset itself with in-line Volume Control and breakaway cable, the flexible microphone, The Dolby Digital Decoder box and Xbox LIVE Communication cable, a Digital Audio Adapter for the Xbox, a stand for the decoder box, an optical cable, a USB cable and a PC adaptor.
One of the main complaints with the older models were their lack of flexibility which made them uncomfortable to wear for long periods, or wear at all if your head did not comply to Trittons worldview of head shapes. This has been addressed by making the cans swivel so that they can fit better and lay flat against your collarbone when you are wearing them around your neck. Many felt that the AX720’s are too tight and rigid especially if you have a large head. Well I have a big head (if a hats not XL it will not fit) and I had no problem with them. At first they didn’t seem that comfortable especially the headrest but after a bit of adjusting – I now have both arms extended out as far as they will go – they were fine. They are not that heavy either, especially compared to headsets of a similar size, but you do have a sense of ‘getting into’ your headphones as opposed to popping in some ear buds, but then you are wearing a 40mm driver on each side of your head. The Mic – which can be removed by pulling until just before the point of breaking and then it pops out – is on the left of the headset and is very flexible but will stay in your position of choice when in use.
The inline controller features a microphone mute switch that just moves up and down, and a master volume and mute switch which is a rocker that you flick up or down to adjust the volume – or press in to mute all sound. One of the other new features is the SVM or Selectable Voice Monitoring which lets you toggle whether or not your hear your own voice through the headset. As the headset blocks out most ambient noise this may stop you from shouting as if you were in a nightclub trying to have a conversation, and works in much the same way as the master volume switch. During use there were no problems reported from my end or those I was playing with, although your mileage may vary dependant on if you like the sound of your own voice or not.
They also now come with a set of replacement pads made from velour like fabric for each ear. It didn’t have a headband cover, which I thought was odd as this is shown in the instruction manual as an accessory. In reality this refers to the AX Pros which do have a removable / replacement headrest pad. The AX720 has a fixed pad so trying to remove this using the ‘tool’ provided is not recommended. Mine had the pleather fitted as standard, there are no instructions in the main manual as to how to replace them but they are slightly elasticised so getting them on and off is a bit like changing a tire on a bike. The pleather seems more comfortable and blocks out a bit more sound but due to the snug fit around your ear it could get a bit sweaty on a hot day.
The decoder box has been given a facelift from the old model and while aesthetically I think it looks better, it has lost some of the features from the old box. It’s pretty light and is about the size of a router box. The back has the USB power input and the optical cable input and that’s it. The old one had a DC-in but this is not needed now as it draws power from the USB instead. The front of the box has the round on/off and volume control. This looks like a dial but is really a rocker switch in the same vein as that of the volume control box on the headphones. There is also a switch to select between the various modes although this does not look or feel like a switch as it has the same clear glossy finish as the rest of the facia. The new box also only sports one headphone socket (the old one had two). For the Xbox when you first turn it on everything lights up then you press the switch and you just get the Dolby 7.1. There seems to be no auto detect feature or preset save on the box so you have to press this button each time you start up. Additionally, when turning everything off the Xbox thinks that it’s some sort of play and charge kit and keeps power going to the unit, so if turning off using the controller I had to pull out the USB to the decoder box first for it to shut down.
It took me initially about ten minutes to get everything plugged in. It’s fairly straightforward but may take you longer if you have to crawl around the back of your TV stand / desk etc. Most of the cables are of a reasonable length, the shortest being the optical lead, but unless you want the box quite far away from your console they should suffice. The Headphone cable is 12 ft long and has a Velcro band attached similar to a laptop power cable so you can bundle it away when not in use.
As I have an older Xbox, to use the optical out along with the HDMI I had to use the included Digital Audio Adapter, but for some reason this did not work. The Xbox would turn on but no picture went to the screen and it seemed to be having trouble knowing where to output the various signals. Fortunately I had another one lying around which worked fine. I will talk about the sound quality later on but initially on start up I noticed a buzz in the headphones, it was low but definitely there. One rumour is that the Xbox fan is poorly grounded and this causes interference so this may not be an issue for PS3 or PC users. During gameplay it was not noticeable at all until there was a pause in the sound or when using the Xbox dashboard. I tried some other combinations of cables and found that using the Tritton Digital Audio Adapter and replacing my HDMI cable with a new one got rid of the buzzing sound and also made the Tritton adapter work properly. This is something to bear in mind when setting up the unit, any console or PC setup usually involves a mass of different wires of varying quality surrounded by cooling fans, PSU’s, monitors etc. that could contribute to a compromised sound or just something plain odd as in my case.
For each system you have to configure a setting in the menus to output in Dolby Digital. Interestingly on the Xbox you select Dolby Digital 5.1 now bearing in mind these new headphones can apparently handle 7.1. I assume on the Xbox at least these extra channels are either not used or incorporated into the processing of the surround sound as a whole.
The Xbox LIVE Communication cable goes from the in-line Control into your Xbox controller. One end is a standard 3.5mm jack the other is a plastic plug that contains the smaller 2.5mm end that goes into the controller. The plug is contoured to fit onto an official Xbox controller and has two little plastic nubbins that fit into the corresponding holes on the controller for a snug fit. The thing is I use a Razer Onza tournament edition controller and that’s a totally different shape. There are no holes for the nubbins and the body is not as rounded where the plug should fit. I ended up opening the plug and found inside that its basically a 2.5mm headphone jack so there is no need for all the plastic so I got rid of it. A small niggle but something to think about if you are using third party peripherals.
Firstly I tried the headphones out on Saints Row the Third. I immediately noticed a lot more going on in the soundscape that had simply not been there before (or rather I had been unable to hear it before). Planes in the distance somewhere, dialog from various NPC’s was much more directional and the sound seemed to ‘move’ around more rather than fade from one side to the other as with a pair of conventional stereo headphones. Sound was bright and clear across the whole range with excellent transparency and a nice tight bass sound. I know some people like loads of bass to the point of distortion as this seems to indicate that your system can ‘handle’ that sort of frequency. Maybe on a PC you could tweak the sound more than on a console if you so desired. Next up I tried Battlefield 3 and this was a true revelation. The series has long been admired for its use of sound and the effect with these headphones was stunning almost to the point of being overwhelming. All aspects of the playing experience were improved when using the AX720’s from the loading screens between levels – where I could make out the words of the marching songs that I never knew where there – to the game proper where each gunshot had punch, every explosion a sense of real weight, and smaller details like the slapping of boots on wet concrete or the ambient sounds that populate each level were all delivered with great clarity and from the correct position giving you a greater sense of immersion in the game. A lot of the marketing around such headphone systems suggest that you will be a better player or have more of an advantage from using them, being able to tell where team mates are or the direction of a sniper bullet, and while I wouldn’t go that far when I switched back to my normal headphones there was a sense of flatness to the sound and generally things just getting lost in the mix. It seemed that the sound was getting thrown in the general direction of my ears rather than placed around them as when wearing the Trittons.
So are they worth the outlay? Prices range between £99 and £145 depending on where you can get them from but even at their lowest price they do not come cheap. For the audiophile who just wants to listen to music, or the cinephile who just watches films you may be able to find a set of headphones that do those jobs better than these in the same price bracket. But the AX720’s are gaming headphones designed primarily to immerse you in a gaming world, to allow you to talk with others clearly and mix volume on the fly and they do that job very well indeed. I have not had the chance to try headphones from Astro or Turtle Beach to compare to their models but I was more than happy with them and they are a welcome addition to my gaming setup. There is a saying that “if you are going to get wet you may as well go swimming” and I would recommend taking the plunge with the Tritton AX720’s.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Disclosure: Community member Simon Mulford bought the Tritton AX720 7.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset for personal use. Purchased from Amazon for £99.99 tested on Xbox 360 primarily with Saints Row the Third, Battlefield 3. Also a bit of Geometry Wars 2 and the Mass Effect 3 Demo. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.