Turtle Beach is keen to highlight that the Z60 has been specifically tuned for explosive action in games and movies, with a strong bass output for what it calls a 'high-impact' soundscape. This is often the case with gaming headsets, but needless to say it's not for audiophiles or those who want premium sound quality for music listening.
Initial impressions listening to some songs using just the 3.5mm connection are good and reveal that the Z60 is indeed bass heavy. Even without the amplifier there's a fair bit of volume on offer too, and in particularly bassy songs there's some rumble apparent as well. Some may like this, others may not, but we can say that it's not purposely overdone or gimmicky. While the bass is the most dominant aspect of the soundscape, mids and highs are certainly not forgotten about. There's lots of detail and we didn't really notice any mushy sounds, but equally this side of the spectrum, particularly highs, aren't as crisp or clear as they are using the HyperX Cloud.
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We also ran some basic tests with the microphone and are pleased to say it works very well. When speaking at normal volumes or even when whispering, we were able to make our voice out clearly over the background noise of us typing heavy handed on a mechanical keyboard.
Of course, it's the experience with the amplifier and the three surround sound audio modes (music, movie, game) that really counts, as it's these that actually utilise the new DTS Headphone:X technology.
Music mode is designed to provide a concert-like experience that spaces sounds out in front of the listener, and is said to be best for bassy and loud genres like hip-hop, hard rock, heavy metal and electronic dance. That said, Turtle Beach admits that some users may prefer their music without surround effects, and it's mainly for these guys that the stereo mode is for. In music mode, the rumbling bass becomes even more apparent in many songs, almost as if to imitate the effects of a good club or concert sound system where the bass is often said to 'go through you'. We also found that vocals and other instruments often felt like they were positioned more in front of us and also as if they were coming from further away. Disabling surround sound certainly made it much more apparent that every sound was coming at us from the sides. It's pretty cool, and it can be more immersive and add a certain dynamism to songs, but it won't be transporting you back to Glasto '99, and it works better for some songs than others – we'd probably stick to stereo mode for a more consistent and balanced sound.
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Movie mode, naturally, is designed to provide a cinema-esque surround sound experience that is said to work particularly well with high octane action films. General sound quality in movies we found to be good to very good, with the booming bass certainly boosting the impact of intense action sequences. However, elsewhere the Z60 does well too, with details in the higher end mostly well represented and dialogue and quiet scenes handled without issue. As for the surround sound effects, we're pleased to report that our experience was positive every time. Again, you're not going to suddenly think you're in the cinema as the marketing hype would have you believe (for one thing the headset isn't loud enough), but this is the first time we've actually been impressed by a surround sound headset. In each of our test scenes there was a noticeable improvement in audio positioning (both in direction and distance) and immersion.
Finally, there's game mode, which as you can imagine is designed particularity for FPS, action and fighting games. Again, the bass-driven soundscape is mostly beneficial here, giving punch to explosions and gunshots but not at the cost of sounds like a smashed window or footsteps, which can be particularly important to hear in competitive gaming. As with movie mode, game mode was on the whole enjoyable to use, though we did feel that the headset could do with being louder. Nevertheless, switching back to stereo came with a noticeable decrease in immersion and awareness of audio positioning. What struck us most, however, was the sense of distance and scale the mode brought to games. For example, in Battlefield 4, distant mortar strikes genuinely felt far away, while closer gunfire and dialogue was closer, more immediate and easier to pinpoint the location of. We even found ourselves snapping our aim with a fair amount of accuracy to where enemies were shooting from based on the sound of their guns.
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All in all, we rather like the Ear Force Z60, though we'd be wary of paying too much for it. £85 is a good price given the build and sound quality, and even £100 would be acceptable if you're really into surround sound, but in some places it does cost significantly more, so be sure to shop around. The Z60 is dead simple to use and comfortable and it also sounds good too. That said, heed Turtle Beach's own advice – this is predominantly a headset for fans of bass heavy music and action games and movies. Other users will still find enjoyment, as the bass isn't overdone like it is with cheaper headsets to drown out poor mid-range and high-end reproduction, but those chasing a more balanced sound will be better elsewhere.
On a side note, the DTS Headphone:X technology has certainly piqued our interest too. To be clear, it's not a major audio evolution, and we'll still be enjoying games, music and movies with stereo headsets, but it's a clear improvement over anything else we've heard – the movie and game modes in particular work well, and we especially like the sense of scale they brought to proceedings. Coupled with a virtual reality headset, it could be something seriously cool.