Name: Turtle Beach Call of Duty Black Ops II Ear Force Sierra Limited Edition Headset
Type: 5.1 surround sound programmable gaming headset for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: £279.99
Looking to get an edge during your Black Ops II online matches? Turtle Beach's latest Call of Duty gaming headset range includes the Ear Force Sierra, designed to offer just that with its 5.1 surround sound delights. But can it improve your game enough to justify a price tag just a few pounds shy of £300? Read on to find out!
With Black Ops II's increased focus on competitive, professional gaming, totting up a high frag count is more important in this year's Call of Duty than ever before. Turtle Beach have been churning out top-notch gaming headsets for years, and have continued their partnership with Activision for a line of Black Ops II branded and optimised headsets.
The Ear Force Sierra model sits near the top of Turtle Beach's premium priced headset lines at £279.99, just below the £299.99 Tango model that adds wireless connectivity into the mix. Though convenient and tidier than the mass of cables that accompany the Sierra model, the Tango's wireless connectivity means that it runs the risk of suffering from interference and hiss, not to mention potentially unexpected, mid-game battery depletion, making the cheaper Sierra model actually the go-to Turtle Beach set for Black Ops pros.
A sturdy mix of plastics and leather, finished with orange highlights and featuring prominent Black Ops II branding on each can, the Sierra headset is as durable as it is comfortable. They'll endure knocks and being crammed into a rucksack, meaning they are perfect for taking to tournaments and sessions at pals' houses. Though a tighter fit than many over-ear headsets, the soft memory foam ear and headband padding keeps the Sierra comfortable during prolonged play sessions and lets air circulate, keeping them from becoming uncomfortably hot or sweaty. Each can is also closed-cup, meaning that very little sound will seep out and annoy those sitting around you, or in to disturb your game. The headset's mic sits on an adjustable arm, itself sturdy and dependable, and can be positioned to your liking with ease, staying firmly in place.The headset connects up to a fully-programmable Digital Signal Processor (DSP), roughly the size of an average TV remote control, and then through another powered processing box that lets it hook up to Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles, as well as PCs and Macs. Turtle Beach provide all the necessary cabling to hook each machine up (including the Xbox 360 chat cable that goes into the 360's controller) as well as useful documentation to help you quickly get things up and running. The amount of cables attached can quickly become a little ridiculous (particularly with the 360), but set up itself is a painless affair.
The USB-powered DSP itself is a sight to behold. Complete with orange backlights and a chunky volume dial, it gives you control over all of the Sierra's more advanced options, including 9 programmable preset buttons, LED lights indicating the active surround sound channels and even a line-in port for hooking up an MP3 player if the in-game sounds aren't your thing. Having physical buttons to access the presets is great, as is the visual feedback, and a far more user-friendly set-up than having buttons built into the headset (previous Turtle Beach headsets required you to listen out for a series of beeps to help you identify which preset you had selected - hardly the most intuitive solution).
Pre-programmed presets built into the DSP range from subtle bass and treble boosts to intense game-changers like the "Footstep Focus" mode that drastically alters the game's sounds to isolate the noises of approaching enemies, which can prove useful during Search and Destroy and One in the Chamber Black Ops II rounds. It's debatable how much of an improvement to your performance this mode will offer (you'll still need Spiderman-like reflexes to react in time to the millisecond advantage the audio cue offers), but it's the best example of the undeniable audio range that the DSP can deliver.The amount of fine-tuning to the game's audio that the DSP offers goes beyond the presets too. The DSP lets you dictate the precise placement of the simulated 5.1 channels in each headset, meaning that if you're used to having your surround channels at the side or the rear, you can tweak their positioning appropriately. It'll also intelligently boost or roll back chat levels to match particularly noisy or quiet in-game scenes.
The Sierra's audio quality all round is top-notch. Packing in 50mm diameter speakers with neodymium magnets for a frequency response of 20Hz - 20kHz, they deliver a dynamic sound that's just as boisterous as the game it's partnered with. Booming explosions rumble satisfyingly thanks to the superbly deep bass response, while the crack of gunfire pops through the mid and top ranges. It's hard to fault, though the simulated 5.1 movement is inevitably less defined than with a dedicated home cinema set up. In this sense, the headset is just as well suited to other games beyond the Call of Duty series. Skyrim's lush forests come alive with the headset on, while the roar of Forza supercar engines is ferocious through the Sierra. Though we weren't able to test it for ourselves, we've heard other journalists say that the "Footsteps Focus" preset works great in stealth titles like Hitman: Absolution too.
The microphone too delivers crystal clear audio to your squadmates, with noise-cancelling tech ensuring unwanted external sounds don't invade your game.
The Ear Force Sierra headset is sonically great and is comfortable to wear for prolonged sessions. It provides an immersive sound that wipes the floor with what you'd get out of a flatscreen TV, and is only bested by a dedicated 5.1 home cinema set-up. Durable enough to endure being carted around to tournaments and mates' houses, it's surprisingly easy to use for a headset offering such complex functions. However, it's a negligible performance boost you'll gain while gaming when using it, and there are similar rival headsets that sound equally impressive that cost far less. A nice package that serves hardcore gamers best, think carefully and consider cheaper alternatives before committing the cash.