I have always understood that the whole point of Microsoft including headphones with the Xbox 360 was merely to facilitate getting users online faster, so they could increase their installed subscriber base on XBL, and therefore a steady stream of income to help cover the initial losses from R&D on the 360. In the day and age we live in, hardware isn’t the real moneymaker and hasn’t been for a long time. So the fact that they continue to pack the headphones, even when most people eventually replace them points to the value the company gets with people on XBL.
The problem with the headphones that come in the box is of course that they’re not very high quality. The headband snaps easily, the sound quality is tinny and weak, and the microphone has to be right up against your mouth to really capture sound very well. As the Xbox Live community on the 360 established itself, the market for improved headsets started to blossom pretty quickly. A lot of contenders jumped into the fray, with mostly poor results.
Keeping costs down was a key factor in most cases, as companies were concerned with pricing themselves out of what was then still a fledgling market. It wasn’t until the emergence of the high end 5.1 gaming headsets that companies such as Turtle Beach seemed to realize that gamers would be willing to pay higher dollar amounts for increased audio quality. This understanding led to a reshuffling of lines in the marketplace as manufacturers retooled or scrapped existing products and replaced them with models that fit into this new understand of user wants. While the new product lines still had room for an entry level replacement for the headset included with the 360, the real base model of the lines are now around the $50 mark, and the X11 is Turtle Beach’s shot at this category.
It’s pretty obvious from the beginning that the inspiration from these units comes from the higher end rather than the lower end of the headset spectrum. The shell and external form factor is very similar to the X31, which is twice the price of the X11. The design and fabrication is pretty standard, and what you’d expect from most headsets at this price point; about 99% plastic with soft covers on the contact points with the ears and top of the head. There’s a huge difference in form factor between the X11 and the XFC which tells me they’re aiming this device as higher than the base XBL headset replacement.
The microphone is attached via a flexible plastic armature, again what you’d expect from this level of headset. The ear cones are not terribly comfortable, but also not the worst I’ve felt. This is balanced out by the fact that the headset is more adjustable than I expected and it fits my somewhat large head better than some even higher end models. Also while the audio cord connecting the headset to the Xbox is of good quality, thickness, and most importantly, length; the audio control unit on the cord feels cheap, and the controls are a bit haphazard. They’re far too easy to move and too touchy for getting good consistent adjustment, especially when playing in the dark.
As I’ve said many times though, what really matters in a headset is the audio it produces. And the sound the X11 produces is again, pretty average. With either the chat or game volume adjusted to a higher level, distortion kicks in pretty quick. In the chat it may not be all that noticeable, except when you have several folks talking at the same time. When gaming though, anything above 75% or so of the volume dial control (this is a guess as there are no volume markers), explosions distort. To me, these headphones are not made for playing games with that “visceral” feeling of overwhelming your aural experience.
When you put down the volume control, and play games at a more normal level, the quality isn’t bad. My wife said she noticed more sound escaping from the headphones than she does with some of the other (read: higher end) units I’m playing, and a couple of times had to ask me to turn the volume down. The drivers are only 40mm, and there’s only 1 per ear so it’s not like the volume is the real problem. Instead I think it’s a lack of effectiveness of the soundproofing around the cones. Again, this is fairly typical of a mid range unit, even ones designed similarly to higher quality products.
In conclusion, the X11 isn’t a bad buy for the money. It’s not an especially good buy either, as there are better performers for only $40 more, and probably some better choices even in the same price range. I would recommend this only to someone who wants more than what the Turtle Beach XFC or similar competing entry level chat headphones offer, but isn’t willing to get into the $99 price point models.