Rating: ★★★★½

The only way to really enjoy the visceral meat-grinding, head-stomping sounds of a game like Gears of War 3 is with headphones. Don’t kid yourself audiophiles with expensive speakers! No system in the world that can pound out high-fidelity sound as accurately as speakers strapped to your ears. And with all the curb-stomping and chainsawing in the final chapter of Gears of War, the only way you’ll want to hear the likes Marcus Fenix, Dom, Baird and the Cole Train with their snarky testosterone-filled remarks with a solid headset.

Well lookie what we have here.

Created by Tritton, the Gears of War 3 Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound Headset – or just the 7.1 – is a simple and intuitive headset made specifically for the Xbox 360. Emblamized with Gears of War’s skull logo on both cans (that light up!), and properly maintaining the black-and-red theme of the franchise, the 7.1 is a simplified Tritton headset made specifically to be fan candy. It’s like Men’s Warehouse: if you like Gears of War, you are going to love the way this looks.

Every bit of the 7.1 has Gears written all over it, and often literally. Even grandpa will say “oh, that damn kid likes that funny videogame that reminds me of ‘nam.” The cables, decoder box, and everything else screams Gears of War. So if you’re interested, you’d better like the franchise.

Though anyone interested in a solid surround sound headset need not look away. Although it’s not the simplest or best priced set, the 7.1 shares the quality of other Tritton headsets while eliminating the horde of cables that have previously plagued Tritton owners. In this box there are only four connectors: USB, optical, headset, and Xbox 360 controller voice cable. It won’t beat any of the wireless solutions available by clearing the clutter in your mancave, but the 7.1 is fine-tuned as good as it gets for a wired headset.

In fact, simplicity is the key to the 7.1′s design, and it manages to follow through in every way. The decoder box is as basic as can be with only three cable connectors, two buttons and one (unnecessary) volume dial. Powered directly through the USB cable, players need only touch the decoder box to power it on and off and to switch between the movie, game and stereo modes. The box even comes with a stand, though it’s too lightweight and depending on your setup may not keep the decoder box upright.

Onto the over-the-ears set, the 7.1 has leather cushions on both cans and on the headrest, and MadCatz cautiously includes a second pair of can cushions. Emblamized from top to bottom with Gears of War logos, you couldn’t mistake it for anything, even in pitch black. The light-up cans pulse dull-red whenever powered on. The detacheable microphone plugs in only on the left side, and is adjustable and very clear.

Two feet down the heavily braided cable is the volume control for both in-game audio and headset audio. A simple mute switch is supplemented by a mute button on the volume rocker, and an SVM (Selective Voice Monitoring) button on the headset volume rocker. The latter loops their voice through the headset so they can hear what they’re saying. An interesting if useless feature, though it’d be neat if recorders could pick up the audio. The volume control is two feet down the cable, which is about a foot too far, and there’s no clip to keep it in place.

That’s why it’s a good thing that the 7.1 is such a light headset. The heavy braided cable weighs down heavily on the set, though you couldn’t tell because of how lightweight the 7.1 is. In fact, it almost doesn’t feel solid, but it’s surprisingly durable. Audio quality also wasn’t sacrificed to make the set lighter, which is great because Tritton headsets have been notorious for not being comfortable for over an hour, and this one doesn’t stop feeling fine.

Sound quality on the 7.1 is good. Music is soft but with oomph, meaning it doesn’t hurt at high volumes but isn’t lacking gusto. Sounds are accurate though bass is lacking, which isn’t uncommon for headphones of this caliber. In-game the 7.1 provides excellent sound and music quality, though when using SVM there’s a constant ring of static always plays in the background. It’s especially annoying when the audio is quiet, because the static is easier to hear. You won’t forget the music stopped playing with this set. My set also had occasional ringing in the right can, where it would produce a popping noise randomly. I’m still waiting for MadCatz to comment on this.

Included with the 7.1 is a USB adapter for using the set on a PC, though my review unit did not include one. At press time does not include an adapter for PC use, though the instructions booklet does say that it is included.

I’m impressed with the MadCatz Fears of War 3 Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound Headset, except that the name is a mouthful. It’s comfortable in every way, convenient for any Xbox 360 owner, and provides excellent stereo and surround sound audio. $170 is a bit steep for a headset that only works for the Xbox 360 (advertised solely for the 360, though you could use it for the PS3 and PC just as easily, though on the PS3 only as headphones), but there’s no better way to commemorate the end of an era for Microsoft’s console than with a star-studded headset booming expletives and charming narrative from some of this generation’s favorite videogame characters.

Pros:

  • Super lightweight, comfortable for long periods of play
  • Few cables, the bare minimum in clutter without going wireless
  • Good sound quality that isn’t sharp
  • Braided cable is practically indestructible

Cons:

  • Weak bass likely from the low-power USB power source
  • Volume control is too far down the cable
  • SVM has a constant static background that’s annoying

The Ugly:

  • If you aren’t a Gears of War fan, would you ever buy this headset, regardless of how good it was?

The MadCatz Gears of War 3 Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound Headset is available for purchase here from Amazon.com



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.