Gamers often focus so hard on core components such as GPU, CPU, and controllers that they overlook the other critical part of deep, immersive gaming experiences: audio.
Sound is so, so important to video gaming, yet many times we couch our ears in the cheapest headset available. If you’ve ever played online multiplayer games, you know how annoying it is when someone is using a terrible mic. They are “that guy” in the game—the one that sounds like they’re coming at you over a tin can and a piece of string.
Sharkoon is attempting to elevate the quality of personal gaming audio with their new X-Tatic True 5.1 Dolby Digital surround headset.
My first impression when opening the package was one of awe at just how many bits and pieces come with this headset.
You get a few different types of power connectors, a power brick, a fiber (TOSLINK) patch cord, an analog breakout cable, the actual headphones, an Xbox 360 controller adapter, a removable mic, a cable splitter for the control unit, the control unit itself, and a USB A-B patch cord.
Hooking it up to the PC actually made me nervous enough to look at the manual, but the included quick-start guide was helpful, and got me up and running quickly. One of the parts that confused me was the availability of two 9-pin headphone jacks on the control unit: I wasn’t sure if it mattered which one I plugged the headphones into. Another confusing part: If you don’t have optical audio out on your PC, the control unit doesn’t even factor in to the equation.
I suppose there’s no way around it, and the X-tatic can’t be faulted for it, but hooking this thing up to your system is kind of a pain. On the PlayStation 3, you have to take up the optical port and one of the USB ports, on the Xbox 360, you’ll need to have an optical breakout cable (some of the non-OEM component cables don’t have the TOSLINK connector), and on the PC, be prepared to give up one of your USB ports for the mic (unless you are using the analog connectors). Awkwardly, the headset is powered separately, and a Y-adapter from the headset cable has a jack for the power brick. It all leads to kind of a cabling nightmare—when fully installed, there are wires everywhere.
This is not an indictment of the headset, but getting my on-board sound card to output audio to the optical jack was a nightmare. Again, it’s not Sharkoon’s fault, but if you have an on-board audio solution on your PC, you may want to make sure you know how to get it working to save yourself some frustration.
After I hid the wires away and re-routed some cables behind my PC to make room for this new octopus, I finally put the headset on.
Peace. And comfort.
The full over-the-ear cups and the soft, generously padded headband all add up to a very comfortable headset experience. This is the most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn. The detachable mic is flexible, and allows for any positioning (and it holds its position perfectly no matter where you put it).
One thing that I noticed immediately was that there is noise at digital zero; it’s faint, but it’s there. There is a slight hiss at zero volume. However, the X-tatic sound control unit shuts off the audio when there is no input; the side-effect of this is a slightly annoying click when sound is done playing, and a disconcerting “start-of-hiss” moment when the audio kicks back in. That said, the audio quality itself is quite good; properly equalized, music roars and chirps, bass is appropriately low without being muddy, and treble isn’t possessed of that scratchy, ear-shredding quality that cheap audio solutions often exhibit.
I did some tests with Skype, in-game chat through Team Fortress 2, and Ventrilo. In all cases, people told me I sounded great, and much better than I did before (and I wasn’t exactly using a crappy headset before).
5.1 Dolby Digital Surround is a beautiful thing when all the pieces are in place. Of course, the sound card has to support it, and so does the game. If you have the ingredients, the cake is magic.
It’s a tricky thing, recommending a headset. Audio, like other peripherals, is something that must be experienced to really be grasped. The price range of the Sharkoon X-Tatic, at $159.99, puts it up there with other premium gaming headsets such as the Tritton AX 720, Tritton AXPRO, and the Razer Megalodon. If you are a console gamer, the competition is even more limited. I’ve worn the Tritton headsets, and they are not as comfortable as the X-Tatic, although I had no extended experience with them (I’ve seen them at trade shows). The Razer Megalodon, while enjoying the extreme quality that Razer puts into all of their gaming peripherals, is sadly PC only and thus cannot be considered competition.
For PC-only gamers, the difference comes down to whether you prefer to use your computer’s audio or if you want to offload it to an outboard controller: USB headsets like the Logitech 7.1 G35 or the Razer Megalodon provide their own audio hardware.
The X-Tatic is a premium headset, no doubt. If you are a console gamer looking for an extended-use, high quality audio solution, the Sharkoon X-Tatic 5.1 set delivers. If you are a PC gamer, you have other options to check out, but if you have a chance to try these, I recommend it; the comfort level alone may be worth the price of entry for many.
We’re happy to award the Sharkoon X-Tatic 5.1 headset the Icrontic Oustanding Product award.
The X-Tatic True 5.1 Dolby Digital surround headset is available now for $159.99.