Mad Catz latest addition to its range of quality gaming headsets, the TRITTON AX Pro, is a beast of a headset that stands majestically head and shoulders above its competitors like a royal family member lording over his subjects. The AX Pro comes packaged in a big box, one of the largest we’ve seen for a gaming peripheral. It’s not just its size and stature that impresses though, as the AX Pro has a long list of features and specs which elevates it effortlessly to the top of Mad Catz current range of gaming headsets.
What makes these cans truly stand out from the competition is they come packed out with Dolby Digital True 5.1 Surround Sound. Four speakers in each cup represent the front, left, right and back speakers of a surround sound set-up – that’s eight speakers in total designed specifically to deliver sound to complement your HD video gaming experience. Aesthetically, the impact of the AX Pro is immediate – this is a very stylish-looking headset – but it’s really the promise of true 5.1 that gets the juices flowing. Has the AX Pro really got what it takes to deliver luxurious gaming comfort, and can it possibly deliver the aurally perfect videogame experience that its specs suggest? Let’s take a look…
All boxed up
Many headsets come wrapped in clamshell packaging that requires a sharp knife and the strength of an annoyed elephant to open, but Mad Catz has managed to pack a lot of stuff neatly into the box without the need to secure it all so drastically. Instead of having to rip boxes and packaging to get to your headset and its components inside, you can slide everything out effortlessly. It’s good to see that this head-set, particularly being the relatively high-priced product that it is, is packaged extremely well. You could quite easily pack the contents back in with little effort if you did want to transport it.
The TRITTON AX Pro isn’t cheap, with a recommended retail price of £149.99 ($169.99), but as soon as you open up some of the boxes inside and discover some of the pleasant surprises, you begin to see where some of the value may lie.
The TRITTON AX Pro comes complete with:
AX Pro 5.1 headset
Extra earpad and headrail pad set with cup removal tool
In-line volume control with breakaway braided cable
Removable, flexible microphone
Xbox Live Communication Cable
Regional plugs to allow you to use it across the globe
That’s a lot of bang for your buck. We particularly like the addition of an extra earpad covered in a leatherette material. This is different to the soft padding material on the existing cups, giving you choice depending on your preference. In fact, many of the extras you get seem to be largely about Mad Catz wanting to give you choice and options for comfort and sound, while also ensuring you have everything you need to get set up on any device that features a digital optical or 3.5mm analog 5.1 outputs. For the purpose of the review, we’ve tested out the headset extensively on PlayStation 3, but have also used it with Xbox 360 and iPod Touch with equally impressive results.
Style over substance?
The AX Pro is immediately eye-catching and stylishly designed, decked out in silver and black with the orange TRITTON symbol emblazoned on each of the rectangle-shaped cups. It feels quite heavy to hold, weighing approximately 12oz, but when placed on the head it sits snugly and feels surprisingly light. The circumauraul cups are a rectangular shape with fleecy padding, so they cover the whole of your ear to enclose the sound and give you the full effect of the eight speakers inside. The headset has obviously been built to last. The earpieces are protected well by the high-quality outer shell of the speakers and the headband feels robust and sturdy. The headset can be adjusted simply by sliding the headband or pushing it down on your head. There are seven settings in total so even if you’ve got a head the size of a bowling ball you should be able to get a comfortable fit. Small children may well be swamped by the size of its frame, but then it’s not really aimed at youngsters; this is a serious piece of audio equipment designed largely for hardcore gamers.
The unidirectional mic boom manually slots into a hole just underneath the left cup and can be swivelled into position. The mic is very flexible and hard-wearing allowing you to bend it into shape and get it as close or far away from your mouth as you desire. If you want to safeguard the mic from damage, perhaps during transit, you can simply pull the mic out and slot it back in with ease. With so many peripheral manufacturers opting to integrate their mic into the headset, it feels a little strange not being able to tuck it away quickly, but having it as a separate component does mean that you can easily replace it if you ever do encounter a problem.
Trailing out of the left cup, just underneath your mic, is a lengthy 12.5m cable that leads to the inline volume control, a small silver device that gives you a lot more functionality than just being able lower and raise the volume. As well as being able to mute sound and mic from the controller you can adjust the front, rear, centre and sub channels of the speakers in your headset independently. On top of that, you can raise and lower the voice chat volume independently of game volume, which comes in handy for team-based games where it’s important to hear the voice of your squad. The fact that the volume control is back-lit has also come in very handy as we tend to game with the lights turned down fairly low.
The inline volume control alone will probably be enough for most gamers, but if you’re really serious about your audio experience the AX Pro comes complete with a decoder, which sits further down the wire. This hub is a silver box shape measuring approximately 5 x 2 inches. From this device you can raise rear driver levels, tinker with the bass, adjust the time delay for centre and rear channels and switch between Pro Logic and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. There are also two headset sockets so you can plug in another AX Pro if you’re playing co-op. We’ve tinkered with the decoder extensively and the results that you can get and the ways in which you can change the sound are quite stunning.
This is probably the first time we’ve needed a manual to set-up a headset. For use with PlayStation 3, the AX Pro is actually relatively simple to set up once you’ve got all the leads in the right place, but we did come across a stumbling block with Xbox 360 as our Elite doesn’t have an digital optical connection. If that’s the case with your console, you’ll need to buy an adapter to make it work. Thankfully, the manual is well laid out and splits up the set-up procedure for PS3 and Xbox 360 and gives you plenty of detail on how to use the decoder box and how to remove the cups if you want to replace the padding.
There are a fair few wires to sort out before you get to power-up the headset; the optical cable from decoder box to PS3 and then the USB cable, which powers the mic. You’ve then got the AC Adapter into your main plug socket, which once again connects via the decoder. Nonetheless, the wires can be tucked away easily and the inline volume control and decoder box are fairly small and discreet. The only real grumble we had with the set-up process was that the optical cable you get is quite short, flimsy and doesn’t look like it will last. Instead, we opted for a Joytech Fusion Digital Optical Cable with the reassuring knowledge that it will last a fair while. Finally, before you get to test out the headset you do need to make some changes in the XMB too. Changing input and output options and ensuring that you have it set to Dolby Digital 5.1; the instructions are all there in the manual so it’s simple to follow. It’s not the easiest and quickest set-up process in the world, but your efforts are most definitely worth it.
Video games tested on: Killzone 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Operation Flashpoint: Red River, Fable III, Dead Space 2.
Many headsets simulate surround sound and some do a very good job at it, but the difference with true 5.1 Dolby Digital has to be heard to be believed. The depth of sound is quite incredible. When it rains it almost feels like you can touch it – it’s all around you, which creates quite an immersive experience. The ambient sounds of water splashing, birds twittering or footsteps rustling through leaves completely wraps the senses and produces a cacophony of sound. In conjunction with great visuals from the likes of Killzone 3, this produces a complete sensory experience similar to what you would enjoy at the cinema or through a Dolby Digital 5.1 home surround system. Sounds are crisp and voices are crystal clear. Sniper fire (sniping section in Killzone 3) had us immediately pin-pointing sniper locations, and the explosion of a grenade made us recoil in our chairs.
Subtle sounds like footsteps and whispering are amplified, thus creating some paranoid moments (Dead Space 2 is particularly brilliant.) Overall, the true surround sound seems to brighten even the faintest of sounds. The only slight issue we had was having to turn the bass down after a particularly frenetic attack from a rocket made them rattle with ferocity – the AX Pro produces a loud sound. Indeed, we rarely made it past turning the volume of the headset up halfway; such is the power of the sound. It’s also worth noting that the sound produced from our iPod Touch, and when watching the movie Black Hawk Down on our PC, was exemplary – if you’ve ever had a true 5.1 surround set up in your home you’ll know what we mean.
Microphone chat also performed particularly well. We meet up with many of the same people on PSN regularly and most have commented on the clarity of mic compared to our usual Bluetooth headset. We were also impressed with the way that you could separate game and voice chat volumes intuitively, which came in handy during a multiplayer game of Black Ops where the sounds from in-game often overrides mumbles from your team-mates. It’s fair to say, we think the AX Pro delivers a magnificent sound through both the mic and the speakers.
Let’s sum it up
In summary; there are a couple of things we’d change about the AX Pro if we were being really picky. We like having a volume control on our headset, because it’s easy to access without having to take your eyes from the screen. However, in defense of Mad Catz, it’s fair to say that you do need this inline volume control because it hosts extra functionality. Another thing we weren’t overly keen on is the mic; we’d prefer it integrated into the headset rather than clip-in. These few small design changes are personal preferences, however, and they were soon forgotten once we powered up the AX Pro.
Despite its size, this is a comfortable headset to wear for long periods of play. The ability to control game and voice volume independently also serves to make team-based gaming a more team-focused experience no longer affected by noisy explosions and gun-fire. The decoder box is also a real innovation that elevates your sound experience to a new level by allowing you to fine-tune your speakers to suit what you’re playing and how you want to play. It’s the sound, however, that really provides the big jaw-dropping moment. With an RRP of £149, the TRITTON AX Pro is a relatively expensive headset, but as soon as you put them over your ears and fire them up they really do feel good value for money.
You can buy the TRITTON AX PRO from Gameshark , or if you’d like to win one of these awesome headsets enter PSU’s TRITTON AX PRO competition.