The audio realm of gaming is a largely unexamined landscape. While the visual elements of a game are subjected to tedious nitpicking, sound never gets quite as much attention.
But just as graphical capabilities have leapt forward in recent times, so too has gaming audio. Most current consoles can deliver discrete 5.1 surround sound that most will never bother to take full advantage of. Of course not everyone has the space, funds or savvy to set up an accomplished home theatre system in their little gaming nook, which is where dedicated gaming headphones come to the fore.
Though essentially still the province of pro gamers or café denizens who require isolated effects in a bustling public venue, gaming headphones are slowly gaining traction with the more casual enthusiast. This is due in part to a slow realisation that the full immersive affects of increasingly theatrical titles rely heavily on sound and also the fact such audiophile experiences are becoming increasingly affordable.
It is at this intersection of performance and affordability that Tritton has made its name, gearing products towards a market that appreciates quality just as much as being able to pay the power bill.
With the AX Pro headphones, though, Tritton has struck a vein, offering a rich audio experience through well-built cans while still managing to keep the cost mid-market.
The AX Pro is a wired system boasting 5.1 surround sound for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, comprising an independently powered amp box and inline control panel.
Straight out of the box the system’s first big strike becomes apparent, a veritable snake’s nest of cables accompany the headset. The system requires two separate AC adaptors, one to power the little input box and a second for the inline controller and headset.
They will also take only true digital 5.1 signals, connecting to console or PC via a digital optical cable, and the amp can also accept analogue 5.1 inputs from compatible sound cards. The phones are not willing to decode 5.1 Pro Logic from stereo sources, which is fine for most current gaming systems (and the original Xbox and PlayStation 2) except for the poor old Wii, which gets no love from the AX Pro.
If you want to throw in the attachable microphone that’s an additional cord to tangle with and this one is problematic, at under a metre long it can prove to be a real tethering issue depending on your setup.
Medusa-like with all the wires running to and fro, the AX Pro’s silver amp box needs to be kept very accessible for any tweaking but is also small enough to stash easily in a cluttered environment.
The obvious alternative to all these cables would have been for Tritton to take the wireless route, but the company has wisely shied away from the unreliable infrared solution adopted by others.
When quality sound at affordable prices is the mission then wireless really isn’t an option, at this point the technology still degrades the output and jacks up the price too much. So users just have to bite the cabling bullet, which for newcomers will be a daunting experience; it’s not that the system is overly confusing its just thorough and intimidating.
Performance-wise the phones are very accomp-lished, delivering sharp, precise sound that can be customised to suit any peculiar aural inclinations. The AX Pro uses eight drivers, six 30mm drivers for centre, front and rear channels and two 40mm transducers for subs. That is a total of four drivers competing for attention in each ear, which you might reasonably expect to result in a muddy cacophony, but with the AX Pro this is not the case.
The channels have been exceptionally well calibrated and do a remarkable job of recreating a 3D sound environment that can be tailored to the requirements of any given genre.
If the battlefield seems to require a touch more bass or a toned down front-end the channels can be adjusted individually on the set’s inline controller. Losing an online skirmish due to finicky sound tweaks is unlikely to be an acceptable excuse to your battle partners, but the AX Pro provides a handy colour-coded system to allow quick, precise adjustments.
The controller’s channel buttons each glow in a different colour, the brighter the LED the louder that particular field is, so at a glace you can tell where the levels sit in relation to each other.
The phones come with a selection of settings pre-loaded into the box to jump between Pro Logic and Digital on the fly or play around with time delay.
While these customisation options are all wonderfully comprehensive most tests found them to be unnec-essary as the system generally does a good job of bringing sound to life straight out of the box.
Through the AX Pro hectic first-person shooters like Crysis 2 are able to convey the intensity and grandeur of the battlefield without sacrificing precise directional-source audio. Even in older, less sophisticated games with a subtler sound palette, like the PlayStation 2’s Shadows of the Colossus, the phones manage to create a rich, intimate impression of the environment far warmer than a standard television setup.
In a few situations, and they seemed to be random, the headphones required a fair bit of toying with to get the settings back at optimal and in such instances the breadth of options became a hindrance.
The basic functions of the AX Pro system are eminently user-friendly and beginners should have no trouble getting the most out of them, though will likely find themselves lost if stumbling into one of these strangely calibrated events.
In appearance the AX Pro headphones are also distinguished above past Tritton outings, which have tended to go for a bulky, modular design. They still aren’t the most svelte cans out there but the smooth lines and flatter design definitely make them look and feel a lot less gamer-ish.
The silver-on-black finish gives the headset a nice veneer, ruined only by Tritton’s insistence on stamping a great big gaudy orange logo on the side. The large leather-padded cups are comfortable enough but do not breathe very well, on marathon online RPG sessions that can mean more ear-sweat than anyone should really be comfortable with.
Thoughtfully the manufacturer has included fabric padding that can take the leather’s place, which for my money is the much more comfortable long-term option.
Sturdy and reliable to the touch, the entire system has an air of craftsmanship to it except in all but one regard – the microphone.
This conveniently detachable mouthpiece just doesn’t seem up to par with the rest of the system, it’s tinny, cheap looking and often unreliable. If you don’t value the mic and can put up with fiddly cables the Tritton Pro AX system is a clever balance between value components and premium sound quality.
- Exceptional sound quality
- Comprehensive adjustment options
- Compatible with a wide array of gaming systems
- Many, many wires
- Complicated setup
- Sub-standard microphone
Fantastic gaming headphones as long as you have the patience for a wire-heavy setup.
For full specifications, visit the the Tone website.
By Adrian Hatwell