- Clear communication with easy controls
- PS3, 360 and PC accessible
- Functional simulated surround sound
- Heavily favors bass tones
- No cross-compatibility outside of home theater
There was once a time when Hollywood couldn’t be touched when it came to over-inflated marketing budgets—hell, “blockbuster” is a term the film industry created to sell itself. That time, evidently, is long gone. Enter the reigning maverick of cross-promotional capitalism: videogames. As their production costs start to meet and supersede those of many films, ROI becomes an important buzzphrase for publishers. Once only a market of lunchboxes and action figures, licensed products are reaching out to bigger, more expensive commodities. Third-party peripheral manufacturer, Mad Catz, Inc., has been in this game awhile now, but their latest Call of Duty: Black Ops gear leverages one of the most recognizable, best-selling franchises for branded, functional hardware.
Coming from the parent company’s Tritton line is the Limited Edition Call of Duty: Black Ops Dolby surround sound gaming headset. As an esthetically themed version of Tritton’s AX 720 headset, the Black Ops SKU doesn’t add much to the package for the increased price tag save for a Call of Duty-emblazoned carrying case and hardware, and an ornamental box any superfan would be proud to display. Thus, just like the stock AX 720 headset, a purchase will net you an injection-molded communicator with a virtual 5.1 Dolby surround sound decoder box that’s compatible with the PS3 (and PC/Mac), Xbox 360, and any other optical-out device.
That said, unless you’re desperate to show off your love of Black Ops there isn’t much of a need to dole out the extra cash ($199.99) for the stylized version of the AX 720 ($129.99); but for those not on the surround sound headset train, this limited edition, GameStop exclusive is a contemplative introductory set. Designed to work in conjunction with the HD consoles, the package comes with everything you need regardless of the hardware camp you’re in: a pair of 3-foot optical cables, Xbox LIVE communication cable, standard series A-to-B USB cable, and power adapter.
Setup is easy for any who’ve plugged their console into a television, since you’re only audio-in option is with the optical connection. Though be warned, you may feel the onset of a headache reconfiguring your media station if you plan to switch between consoles using the headset. Each of the included optical cables are fairly short, and in order to communicate on the PS3 you’ll have to negotiate the USB cord as well. On the Xbox front, the knot of cables moves up to the user’s end as the headset’s in-line controller connects to the console’s controller via the aforementioned Xbox LIVE communication cable. Both setups aren’t all that different from other wired solutions out there, and the headset’s extra-long braided microfiber cable gives you 12 feet from decoder box to headset, so at least there’s plenty of length if you’re sitting at the recommended distance on any 50-inch or smaller TV.
When you’re wearing the headset you have your choice of vinyl or cloth pads to encompass your ears with, and though the design may be a bit stiff for larger head sizes, the plastic isn’t entirely constricting. There are noticeable symptoms of hot ears if you’re marathoning with the default vinyl cups, so switching to the cloth would be a wise tactical decision.
From a performance perspective, Tritton’s headset is a bit of a mixed bag. The in-line controls are easy to use with a Mute quick-switch and volume wheels for both voice and game effects; not to mention the decoder amp is simple enough with a few lights telling you what kind of output you’re listening to (Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, or Dolby Headphone). With a toggle of the decoder’s “Dolby Headphone” button you’re able to switch amplifications between “Movie/Game” and “Music” settings.
Ultimately, the simulated surround sound produced from the amplifier is functional. As is usual with single-speaker headsets, the soundstage is more pronounced from “left” and “right” channels, whereas “in front” and “behind” projections are more diluted and obscure. Sure enough you’re able to generally tell where footsteps or gunfire are coming from, but the sound quality will disappoint any claiming audiophile status. The audio, no matter the mode, has a muffled presence. Bass is boomy but simultaneously bloated and overbearing; explosions may pack an aural punch, but you’re likely to lose those discrete cues of sidling opponents in free-for-all matches. Strangely, when in lobbies or menus, there’s a slightly audible trickling or popping background sound. It’s not distracting, just—odd. Communication over the mic, however, is clear and responsive.
Also, it should be explicitly clear that the headset is only compatible with the decoder box. Unless you have a host of 6-pin mini-DIN hookups around, it’s a package unit with a home at your monitor.
As a GameStop exclusive, Tritton’s Limited Edition Call of Duty: Black Ops headset is a piece of licensed hardware that best appeals to any hardcore fan of the series who’s Prestige count outnumbers the discs in their game library—if you can find them. It lacks the precision in its included EQ settings to be the ultimate headset, but its versatility between competing consoles makes it a user-friendly device.