One of the reasons we picked Turtle Beach’s Ear Force HPA2 headset as one of the 19 awesome upgrades we recommended in our June 2007 issue was the fact that it’s analog and can be paired with a soundcard. The new Ear Force AK-R8 is USB only, but this enables it to offer some compelling features in addition to fabulous surround sound.
An inline control module on the 8-foot cable, for instance, has SPDIF inputs and outputs, plus a 1/8-inch input for a stereo mic and a 1/8-inch analog output for a second set of stereo headphones. This same module also houses a DSP chip, a six-channel amplifier, and a built-in stereo microphone that can be used to monitor outside sounds—such as your significant other hollering at you to quit playing Supreme Commander long enough to take out the trash. Unfortunately, activating this mic turns on the boom mic (and vice versa).
A software front-end for the DSP runs on the host PC to provide a 10-band equalizer for each of the four speakers in each ear cup (front, surround, center, and subwoofer), plus separate ambiance controls for the front and surround channels. While by no means audiophile quality, Turtle Beach’s gear has always sounded a cut above what the competition has offered—and the AK-R8 is no exception—but we’re disappointed by the company’s decision to follow the crowd and introduce a rumble effect into this product. Strapping a vibrator to your head might be fun in some situations, but it’s just annoying when you’re playing PC games. Fortunately, Turtle Beach’s effect surfaces only when you significantly boost the frequencies routed to the subwoofer.
This is the best headset we’ve heard for gamers who prefer to roll without soundcards.