Turtle Beach sent us a couple of their headsets – The Sierra and the Tango – for testing and review. We got ahold of them just over a week ago and have put them through the paces, in a pretty serious way. From analyzing them on various testing equipment through using them to play various games and watch movies, we ran them around in circles.
Here’s what I thought of the Sierra.
First the technical stuff. I could go into insanely deep detail about all of the tests that I ran on them and how I did the frequency response testing in a custom built enclosure with sound and vibration dampening and blah blah blah but it is my experience that stuff like that tends to bore people so I’m just going to give you the basics, then tell you what I thought of them and let you decide if you want them or not based on plain, simple English.
The Basic Technical Stuff
I have to include some of the basics to satisfy the audiophile types out there so I’m going to stick those here. If your brain starts to bleed, please skip past this section and move on to the next, where I use words. Real ones, too.
Yes, I did run some pretty hardcore tests on these things. I used my trusty signal generator to run sweep tones on them with a range of 20hz to 20,000 hz, which is the general range of human hearing. I ran those sweep tones in different waves including sine, triangle, and sawtooth and in each case I saw exactly the type of response I would expect from each – the sweeping peak of the sine, the main peak and inversely sweeping subpeaks of the triangle and sawtooth…Precisely what I would expect.
On the sine wave sweep I saw a fairly flat response from 20hz up to about 6.5-7k, where the response dropped off a weensy and then took a gentle slope down to about -3db at 20k. This was with the headphones set to a flat response in the presets. I then changed the preset to a more balanced type, with more emphasis on the high end and ran the tests again. On the second run through, the drop off didn’t start until about 13k and then sloped to around -2db at 20k.
That’s pretty good…Pretty good indeed.
The part of the review that’s in English
When the headset arrived, I immediately took it out of the box and began to unpack it. In the box was the headset, the detachable microphone (which is a good feature because there’s no swivel), the sound processor box, which allows you to select presets and adjust overall volume, as well as the volume of individual sound channels, via capacitive touch, the console adapter box and all the cables you’ll ever need.
Also included were basic instructions for hooking up the headphones and getting windows to utilize them properly, which were super easy to follow and worked flawlessly. Basically you just have to plug them in, then tell windows to use them as a 5.1 device with all channels set to full-range. The whole process took about as much time as it takes to pour a cup of coffee. Easy-peasey-lemon-squeezy!
The control module / sound processor has a number of features including mic monitor volume which allows you to adjust the volume at which you hear your own mic, power switch (which is really nice because you don’t have to unplug the device to “disable” it), inputs for auxiliary devices like a music player and xbox chat, both with individual volume controls, and a large center dial which is used to set levels and master volume, and acts as a mute button…a slap-switch basically. Press the big center dial and it’s instant silence.
As stated before, all of the controls are touch-sensitive, not buttons so you just have to touch the “buttons” and the unit responds. Pretty slick, if you ask me.
So how do they sound?!
They sound damned good. I’ve got another set of 5.1 headphones, which use multiple drivers in each ear cup as well as optical inputs and all of the knobs, switches and sliders you could ever dream of, as well as another set of surround headphones which use a dolby decoder box and the Turtle Beach Sierra sounds every bit as good as they do from a perspective of sound quality. As for the surround sound, the other units I have don’t have anything on the Sierra. Even from the time of doing the configuration, I could tell the difference as the “rear speaker” portion of the config actually sounded like it was coming from behind me, with a feeling of real separation from the source, as opposed to just feeling like it was a little speaker that was 1/16 of an inch behind the other one.
And that’s where these guys REALLY excel…What we call “imaging” or “staging” and “localization”. Basically (and in English), this means that the headphones do a really good job of not sounding like headphones…they create the illusion of a much larger space and allow the listener to identify the source of a sound, in 3 dimensions. Because the headphones do such a good job at “imaging”, it becomes very easy for the listener to “localize” or pinpoint the direction and apparent distance of a sound source.
If you’ve never experienced that, you’ll have no idea what I mean. If you HAVE experienced it, you’re probably drooling right now.
And what about the other stuff?
Ok, we know they sound good. Let’s talk about some of the “other stuff”
When I jumped on Teamspeak with my buddies to play a little Planetside 2, they immediately knew that I was using a new mic. unfortunately, they didn’t like the sound. They all reported that my voice sounded “tinny” or “like an AM radio”. This gave me pause because the other headset that I usually use is also made by Turtle Beach and I had assumed that the microphone would be similar.
Fortunately, Turtle Beach has a nifty little program called the “Advanced Sound Editor”, which allows you to change all of the presets for the unit, including those used by the mic. I got the software from their website, fired it up and flattened out the equalizer on the mic and VIOLA! Everyone was happy again, reporting that it sounded much more like me than before, which is good because that means people can focus on killing the enemy and not whether or not I’m playing from a cheesy radio booth.
The Advanced Sound Editor allows you to adjust tons of different parameters for both recording and playback from the headphones and gives you the ability to do just about anything you can dream of, from editing the sound field to changing the equalization, to compression, microphone pre and post processing, notch filters…the list goes on and on. What this means, for those of you who only speak words and aren’t fluent in nerd, is that you can change just about every aspect of the sound that you’re hearing and producing. That, in and of itself, is worth the price of admission.
Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks.
In a nutshell, I think the Ear Force Sierra, by Turtle Beach is an amazing set of headphones.
The sound quality is wonderful and the way the folks at TB have managed to create a really solid sound image inside those ear cups is a thing of beauty. The headphones are comfortable and I’ve been able to wear them for hours on end with no pressure headaches, cauliflower ears or other complaints.
The quick-disconnect cable allows you to pull the plug about 8 inches or so from the left ear-cup which means that if you have to get up to move around, you don’t have to take the headphones off, if you don’t want, and the removable microphone instantly changes the unit from headphone to headset and back again, depending on what you’re using them for.
The only down side I see is that the default mic preset makes your voice sound a little tinny and the Advanced Sound Editor, while super handy for those with some audio knowledge, can be a bit intimidating for those who haven’t spent much time learning about tuning audio.
All in all, I’d say they are very worth the $279.95 price tag and I, for one, am seriously considering absconding with this review unit. I hear Mexico is gorgeous this time of year!