Turtle Beach has built a reputation as one of the premier manufacturers of gaming headsets, and its latest product, the Ear Force Z2 ($69.99), is no exception. These comfortable and collapsible cans are not only less expensive than the competition, but deliver better sound, too. When coupled with an optional processor ($159 for combo), gamers can get 7.1 surround sound pumped into their ears for an even more immersive experience.
Design and Comfort
"Professional" is probably the best way to describe the design of these headphones. The black-and-silver design looks classy yet cool, and while the Z2 is only slightly smaller than the Plantronics Gamecom 777, these headsets have the edge in terms of portability because they are collapsible, fitting perfectly inside a laptop or carrying case. The cups can also be rotated to rest on your neck for breaks between gaming sessions. The Z2 is the only headset we've tested that has a quick-disconnect on the cable, making it easy to remove without having to take out the audio jacks from the notebook itself. The only downside is that the microphone cannot be hidden or detached like with the other headsets we tested, but this is a minor quibble.
This headset is designed so that the foam cups (covered in cloth) actually go around your ear instead of on top of them. While we did feel a little bit of pressure, we found them to be ultimately more comfortable than the Gamecom 777 for both short and long gaming sessions. While the Z2 was the heaviest headset we tested, at 11.5 ounces (more than twice as heavy as the NOX Specialist), weight never ended up being an issue. We were able to transport the headset with ease, and it did not feel heavy when we wore it.
Sound and Mic Quality
As expected, the Z2 has solid sound quality. Like most gaming headsets, this one tends to be bass-heavy but has a nice range of sound. When we played Modern Warfare 2 and Half Life 2, the lower tones sounded good but they were not quite as strong and booming as they were on the Gamecom 777. Higher tones, such as friends' voices, came in crystal clear, so you don't need to worry about not hearing your teammates during your next World of Warcraft raid. Even without using the DSS adapter, the Z2 provides a wider range of sound than the Specialist and is almost on a par with the Able Planet XG300NCR (though the Z2 lacks active noise canceling).
The Z2 also has a high-quality microphone, making it ideal for gamers obsessed with multiplayer action. The mic required little-to-no effort to set up; we didn't have to change any settings in Skype, and its rubber coating made it extremely easy to adjust. Skype friends said they could hear us clearly, and we had a similarly flawless experience when playing a multiplayer game.
Ear Force DSS Adpater
While the Z2s are good on their own, Turtle Beach sells a separate adapter called the Ear Force DSS, which claims to deliver 7.1 surround sound to any headset. This small black box--a little smaller than a deck of cards--connects to the headphones and your PC or gaming system. The DSS has two ways of connecting to a game console: either with a digital optical cable or with a traditional analog jack. Using the analog setup, audio quality was comparable to the Gamecom 777; there was definitely an improvement with the adapter, but not as significant as one would hope for.
However, when we used the optical cable with an Xbox 360, we were absolutely blown away by how good the headphones sounded with the DSS adapter. Positional sound was spot-on, and playing Alan Wake with this setup was fantastic. When we used the DSS, we got the best audio by far of any headset we'd tested, with a better range of sound than the XG300NCR and even deeper bass than the Gamecom. The problem with the DSS is that it costs $89.99 by itself, and most laptops lack an optical port. You'd likely need to buy yet another adapter in order to get 7.1 surround sound, such as the the Audio Advantage Micro II ($24.95).
By itself, the $69 Turtle Beach EarForce Z2 is a great gaming headset for its price. Adding in the Ear Force DSS adapter brings the total to $159. However, if you're using a gaming device with optical audio, the extra price is worth it for the superb surround experience. If you don't buy the DSS adapter, you're still getting great headphones--with impressive design and vibrant audio--that cost less than the competition.