Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review of the Tritton AX PC Pro

I was recently in the market for Surround Sound headphones.  I've wanted to get back into PC gaming, after a multi-year X-Box 360 only hiatus, but wasn't willing to give up positional audio.  Serious fans of shooters know that positional audio gives you an edge, especially in multiplayer scenarios where framerates may drop but the crackle of gunfire can still reveal the position of an attacker.

The first thing that I appreciate about the AX PC Pro is the packaging!  Finally, a product that takes LESS time to open than it does to install!

The top of the box is held in place by a small insert (on the right, above).  Once retracted the top unfolds upwards and to the left revealing a form fitting (but not sealed) plastic package (below).

The left and right sides of the packaging separate easily.

The headset itself (below) is incredibly comfortable.  The ear pads are designed to cover the entire ear.  For me it took a little positioning to find the "sweet spot".  My jaw tends to bump up against the bottom of the ear pad.  Because of this I found it most comfortable to wear the pads higher up on my head.

A detachable microphone and an extra set of ear pads (on the left, above) are included.  The headset must be connected to the computer via USB.  I was initially leery of USB since 5.1 surround sound is usually transmitted via coax or optical cables.  It turns out that USB makes the whole process a lot simpler.  The mini plug line out on my laptop is on the right side making it somewhat less than ideal since I'm right handed and like to keep the mouse close to the keyboard.  There are USB plugs on both sides of the laptop, so I the USB approach keeps the connections out of the way of the mouse.

If you're in the market for surround sound headphones be sure to get a set that supports 5.1 (or 7.1) audio.  There will be multiple speaker drivers in each cup; at least 1 for each audio channel (Front Left, Front Right, Rear Left, Rear Right, Center and SubWoofer).  There are a LOT of products out there that claim to reproduce surround sound with 2 speakers and signal processing.  I have yet to see such a product reproduce positional accuracy, which is encoded into the 5.1 stream,  sufficiently precise for gaming using only 2 speakers.


What about the performance impact of using USB?  In my admittedly informal tests (F.E.A.R 2 Project Origin) I noticed no performance impact whatsoever.  I got the same frame rate on the built in F.E.A.R 2 diagnostic before and after installing the USB drivers.

The positional accuracy of this headset is amazing.  F.E.A.R 2 is filled with segments where mobs attack from all angles; above you, below you, behind you.  Apparitions appear out of nowhere.  With the AX PC Pro the crackle of gunfire or the wail of a ghost sounds like it came from "out there".  I find myself suppressing the urge to turn around or duck because the positional audio is just that good.

One final note about USB.  It's essentially a separate sound card.  So you'll have to redirect audio (via the sound control panel) to the USB sound card to hear audio through the headset.

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