What do you need from headphones in virtual reality?
Turtle Beach thinks it has the answer with the Stealth 350VR Gaming Headset, but at $79.99 they sit in that awkward place in audio where the headset is expensive for a peripheral but mid-tier in pricing for headphones. And it’s marketed directly at the virtual reality market. So what does it do to avoid feeling like an opportunistic cash-in?
I’ve been playing with the headphones for a while now, using them with a variety of virtual reality headsets. I have some thoughts.
Worth the price?
The headphones are light, and my first thought was to equate that lack of weight with cheapness. But it makes sense; this is a piece of hardware you’re going to wear on your head around another piece of hardware you’re going to wear on your head. You want to avoid as much weight as possible. That being said, I never felt as comfortable throwing them around as I do with my other, more beefy headphone choices.
As an aside, if I don’t need a microphone I usually use these for my VR audio. The price versus performance ratio is pretty great. But I know not everyone likes earbuds. If you don’t mind them, they’re a good choice.
But back to the Stealth 350VR Gaming Headset, which is quite the mouthful. They’re amplified, and work on internal, rechargeable batteries, so that’s something you’re going to have to actively manage. There’s nothing worse than getting ready for a night of VR only to find out your headphones are dead. The product page says they should last around 30 hours on a charge, and I sure as hell didn’t play 30 hours between charging. I can say I plugged it in every four or five days and never ran ‘em dry.
Temper your expectations when it comes to sound quality, as these are $79.99 headphones. If you’re used to the earbuds that come with the PlayStation VR or Vive, you’re going to notice a huge jump in sound quality, but they’re not going to punch out a truly high-end set of ear cans.
But I was pleasantly surprised at the audio quality at the price. There is a volume dial on the bottom of the left side of the headphones, as well as a dial to adjust the level of bass. And remember that the headphones include an internal amplifier, so it’s going to take some fiddling to find a comfortable level of audio between your source’s audio control and the controls of the headset.
They’re also wired, but then again you need a wired connection to hear the 3D sound on the PlayStation VR and the Vive likewise offers a wired connection on the headset for audio. The Rift comes with its own integrated headphones, and the 350VR doesn’t offer enough of an upgrade that I felt the need to swap those out.
Before we go any further, I want to point out the ridiculous trailer for the product.
Did that sell anyone on the headphones? This thing has a number of really cool features, and I feel like they were totally glossed over there. Videos for gaming hardware tend to be terrible, and this is no different.
The 350VRs offer more clearance on the sides of the headbands, so they can around fit the PlayStation VR with no problem. You can look at the first image of this story to see what that looks like in action. You need to stretch them out a bit so the cans go over the PlayStation VR’s band, and there’s even a notch in the padding on the top so the strap for headsets like Gear VR and Vive can fit though without putting any extra pressure on your head. It’s a solution to a problem that wasn’t that pressing — if you forgive my pun — but it’s nice to know it’s there.
But by far my favorite part of the headset is the removable microphone. It’s a microphone, you talk into it and other people can hear you. But it’s redundant, the PlayStation VR has a passable microphone built in. So does the Vive and the Rift. But the 350VRs pipe the sound from the microphone back into the headphones so you can hear yourself speak.
This seems like a small detail, and it is, but the ability to hear yourself from within virtual reality is a neat way to add immersion. It helped me feel as if I was actually inside a tank while playing Battlezone. Whether you decide to go with this pair of headphones or any other for VR, I would highly suggest you pick a piece of hardware that allows you to do the same. I would even sometimes bend the removable microphone all the way away from my face to allow it to pick up a tiny bit of the ambient noise so I knew when someone was in the room with me.
The microphone filtered ambient noise well when brought closer to my lips, which is where it spent most of my time.
The 350VRs are a nice piece of hardware, and $79.99 isn’t too high for the features present in the hardware. It’s nice to be able to have so much control over volume and bass on a per-game basis, while having a band that’s easy to fit over the rather challenging design of the Playstation VR. Hearing myself both in general and during voice chat was another small but welcome detail to the headset. I’ve spent around two weeks testing these things, and I’ve sold a few of my friends on the headphones after they’ve come by to try the PlayStation VR before buying one.
You don’t need specific headphones for VR, but these offer enough advantages to make them tempting for someone who wants to take their VR setup a step or five above the stock earbuds.