Typically speaking, when talking about Xbox 360 headsets, the general thought is that of a simple design: one earpiece, a microphone, and use it just for voice chat. PC gamers will tell any console gamer that one of the reasons they tend to favor the PC is that the best headsets and, thus, the best sound, comes from high-end headsets. While console gamers will tend to disagree with that notion and point to home theater surround systems, price point becomes a significant factor. A few companies recognize that this is a problem and that there is a great market out there for those who want to immerse themselves in great sound but maybe don't want to try and blow the doors off of their homes. Enter Polk Audio, one of the premier leaders in sound for over 40 years. While Polk has made a name for itself in the world of home theater, the gaming world is somewhat of a new market and, thus, a new challenge. While one can't say that this is their first attempt at making a great headset, applying their experience to a gaming headset has now proven to be successful in the form of the Melee Xbox 360 Gaming Headset.
Let's go over the general specifications of the Melee Xbox 360 Gaming Headset and break them down.
|Total Frequency Response
||20Hz - 20kHz
||Dynamic Balance PET
The response is the real specification that sticks out. Frequency response, as we've covered before, is the basic range of sound that one will hear at its lowest, highest, and everything in between. It determines just how high those high pitches are going to sound. The efficiency rating is a pretty standard setting at 98 dB. Like most high-end headsets, the over-the-ear design is the optimal choice to ensure that quality stays high. Earbuds are never the best option, primarily for how uncomfortable they can get during long sessions, but they also cannot convey the type of sound. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the weight of the headset is under one pound. The lighter the headphone, the better.
Here is where the Melee gets a little strange. The headset itself doesn't have anything out of the ordinary with its design. The headband has spring steel built into it with a stitched leatherette padding that sits comfortably on top of a user's head. The same padding is used for the earpieces, adding to the comfort level and making it very easy to wear for extended periods of time. It isn't the bulkiest headset I've come across either, with the earpieces being on par with standard over-the-ear media headphones.
Where the design starts to get unique is everything from the microphone and beyond. The microphone is actually a retractable piece that is built into the left earpad. A simple push into the headset and the microphone drops down. The microphone stays out of the way and picks up the sound of the user's voice easily, even though it's off to the side by the jawbone. From there, the connection goes from the headset to a unique adapter that attaches to the Xbox 360 controller, which acts as an audio mixer. On this unit are three primary controls: voice control, game volume, and an equalizer that has four different modes. These modes are color coded and provide a distinct experience. While two modes are standard settings for music and cinema, the other two modes are specifically designed to work with Forza and Halo, so gamers who play these titles extensively will want to utilize them as they were designed in collaboration with Microsoft, a true first for the industry.
The final piece of the design is with the amplifier that acts as the attachment to the Xbox 360 system itself. The headset has a seven-pin proprietary connector that attaches to this amplifier, while the amplifier is then run into the system via USB. This portion, however, only covers voice control. A digital optical cable, which is supplied in the box, then must be connected from the amplifier into the digital optical port on the Xbox 360. With the optical cable connected, all sound now runs into the headset, providing privacy and full control at the user's thumbs to determine the level of volume he or she wants to enjoy.
The standard test rotation was used to test out the full capabilities of the Melee 360 Headset, starting with game testing and working towards music and voice capabilities. The Melee did not let me down in any of these aspects, but let's break it down further.
Gaming Test - World of Tanks, FIFA 14, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Ace Combat 6
There is a method to the madness of testing out headsets with varying genres, especially with one that has settings for individual EQ settings. In World of Tanks, Ace Combat 6, and Mass Effect 1 and 2, I opted for the Halo FPS setting on the EQ, deciding that the surround that it brings out was best suited for the title. While the Melee is not advertised as a surround headset, I did find that there are still signs of surround being used with the Dolby Digital decoding that the Melee uses. The Halo setting seemed to bring out the best in the sounds of gunfire and capturing the environment surrounding me when playing these various games. I was especially impressed during Ace Combat 6 and how the headset mimicked the sound of fly-bys when in the middle of a dogfight. For a headset that doesn't boast surround sound, it sure felt like it when a jet buzzed past. In Mass Effect, conversations all around move with the movement of the player, while the Dolby decoder shines when having a battle going on between Commander Shepard and whoever is unlucky enough to run into his crew. There was one hitch on the Mass Effect games, though, and that was I felt that the low sounds seemed a little muddy, primarily with explosions that had some distance away from Commander Shepard and when the Normandy was taking off and landing. Oddly enough, switching the EQ over to the Forza setting seemed to correct this a bit, and I chalk it up to the optimization since both sounds derive themselves like engines.
In regards to FIFA 14, the best EQ was easily the media setting. The environment of the stadium was truly captured and I felt as though I was sitting in the stands watching a match instead of actually controlling the player. The little problem with media mode and using it in the game was that the highs (primarily crowd noise) could perhaps get a little distorted if it became too loud, especially on celebrations. Again, a switch of the EQ corrected this, but I was a little surprised that switching to Halo mode helped with the highs. Still, the all around best setting was the Media setting, and I'm nitpicking regarding the highs being distorted, but it needs to be covered. Bottom line on the gaming portion of the testing, however, is that the Melee had marginal problems at best and performed exceptionally.
Music Test - Various artists
I have a large collection of music on my Xbox 360 that I've loaded up over the course of the generation. I will stress that music mode is absolutely the optimal selection, and while this seems to be obvious, there's a reason for it. A music EQ setting is meant to handle the various genres of music the best. Using one of the specific game EQ modes really throws things off and can cause some distortion on the lows and a little on the mid range sounds. The Music EQ setting, however, really brought out the best in my collection. Whether I was listening to the metal sounds of Metallica or some alternative hip hop such as Gorillaz, it was comforting to know that the EQ was going to adjust and make it sound as best as it could. The audio control on the controller itself made it easy to ensure I was at the volume that I wanted as well. The plug-in to the controller may seem a little awkward and cumbersome at first, but after a short period of time using it, I found that it was a piece of cake to get to the proper level quickly. Great job all around on the music test.
Voice Test - Xbox Live
I play a lot of games online, especially with World of Tanks making its way onto the 360 in the past few months. The group that I generally played with allowed me the opportunity to test it out for clarity and quality. The sound of my voice came in very clear, though I noticed that if the headset is pushed too far back on my head, the sound would almost sound like I was in a tunnel talking into a tin can. A simple adjustment to push it up a little closer to the front of my head and the sound became much clearer. This is a minor annoyance and really just comes from a comfort standpoint of where the headset should sit. It's best to get a feel of where the optimal sound gets picked up from the microphone, especially due to its placement on the left earpiece. This is the price you pay when one wants a microphone that doesn't sit directly in front of your mouth. Despite the minor issue with placement, the microphone did perform up to task and resulted in no communication problem during gameplay.
The Melee 360 Headset is a unique accessory, to say the least. This is a perfect headset for those that share space with others and don't want to be bothered by outside noise and, likewise, those who want to keep from disturbing others yet not sacrifice their own experience. There are some minor issues that come from the placement of the microphone and a little bit of testing required to find the proper EQ setting for each game, but outside of these issues, the headset performed brilliantly when presented with the tests given to it. The Dolby decoder makes a huge difference and separates the Melee from other headsets. Currently, the Melee 360 Headset retails for $199.95 and can be found on Polk's primary website or other various retailers such as Amazon or Fry's.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
The Melee's unique design allows a gamer to enjoy full sound quality privately without sacrificing anything in the process. This headset is a great option for those who want to experience a home theater experience without the need for the actual setup in their living room. The direct EQ settings specifically made for Forza and Halo don't just work with those titles, but with similar titles as well, enhancing the experience. For those who share space or like to keep their sound to themselves, this is the headset for you.
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