Turtle Beach sets its sights on a high-end Bluetooth headset for mobile devices. (September 9th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Turtle Beach
- Fantastic audio quality - Multiple EQ presets - Solid, comfortable design - Ambient noise virtually eliminated by noise cancellation, over-the-ear cups - Decent rechargeable battery
- No call, playback, or Siri/Google Now buttons - Mic effect button is useless, can be triggered accidentally - No compact folding - Oddly-configured auto-shutdown mode
Update, Sept. 16th 2013: Turtle Beach has responded to our review, and now says that the unit we received was pre-release hardware, and not fully documented. You can actually answer a call, for instance, using the Bluetooth button -- this wasn't mentioned in the bundled Quick Start guide we received. Likewise, tapping the button once with an idle device will start music, double-tapping will skip tracks, and holding the button down for two seconds will launch Siri. Turtle Beach adds that it has "modified" the auto-shutdown feature, in response to our complaints.
Headphones -- that is, truly high-quality headphones, not earbuds -- can be something of a rare sight these days away from a computer. They're often too bulky for a casual trip around town, and the best ones can cost as much as the device you're using them with, if not more. Having said that, the sheer fidelity and immersion of headphone audio can make the tradeoff worth it. Turtle Beach is banking on that with its new i30s -- we'll see if they're right in our review.
The first thing to know is that Turtle Beach calls the i30s a "wireless mobile media headset," or a "wireless iOS media headset," depending on which PR language you read. This is because you're meant to pair them with a phone, laptop, or tablet via Bluetooth, although you can plug them into any 3.5mm audio source using a supplied cable. On top of that the headset sports dual microphones, which can be used for tasks like phone calls or dictation.
Dedicated buttons let you adjust the volume of a connected Bluetooth device, mute the mic, or even toggle between Normal, High Morph, Low Morph, and Reverb mic effects. You have to be careful with the effects button, since it's (relatively) easy to trigger by accident. During a recent FaceTime call, my family was highly entertained by my voice until I realized that the i30s had been toggled to Low Morph.
Honestly, there's no real reason for that button to be there, especially when you consider that there aren't any controls for playback, answering calls, or triggering a service like Siri or Google Now. That sharply limits the convenience of the headset, and, frankly, shows a baffling set of priorities.
Things get back on course when we're talking about other controls. The power button doubles as convenient toggle for one of the i30s' other selling points, active noise cancellation; this turns on by default, but subsequent taps will turn the function off and on again, only shutting the entire headset off after a long press. Below that is a rocker used to cycle between Flat, Bass Boost, Treble Boost, and Bass/Treble Boost EQ settings. These can greatly impact the quality of what you're listening to, and it's even better that they're so simple to access.
Something that can be interpreted as either a benefit or a drawback is an auto-shutoff mechanism tied to the noise cancellation toggle; it's on when noise cancellation is off, and vice-versa. For many people it should be handy to have the i30s shut down automatically, since they run on a rechargeable battery, but it is strange that the shutdown feature would be linked to the least power-hungry state. It triggers relatively quickly, too; more than once I put the headset down for a few minutes only to wonder why I wasn't hearing anything when I got back.
Endurance-wise the headphones seem to do fairly well. They last for at least a few hours with Bluetooth and noise cancellation on, which is all most people will need. I might be leery about maxing out features on a trans-Atlantic flight or an interstate train trip, but you can push things a bit farther by "dumbing down" the headset as much as possible.
As for the most important aspect of the i30s -- audio fidelity -- I have literally zero complaints. They sound as good as one could possibly hope for, with clean highs and lows, distinct stereo separation, and plenty of volume and bass. As I hinted at earlier, the EQ presets can have a dramatic impact on your listening; even on the Flat setting though, audio is nigh-on perfect. The fact that ambient sound is almost completely eliminated by noise cancellation and over-the-ear design is just icing on the cake.
The headset is finely built as a whole. It's primarily made of out of plastic, but a tougher variety. Thick cushioning makes the unit easy to wear for long stretches of time, and adjusting the earcups for different head sizes is quick and easy. My one gripe here is that there's no way to fold the i30s into a compact travel shape, which means you may have to hang them around your neck like a DJ, or hope you have room for them in a suitcase or an especially large messenger bag. If nothing else, Turtle Beach does include a cloth carrying bag with a pocket for accessories like the 3.5mm cable and the airplane adapter.
Overall, the i30s deserve heaps of praise. I may not agree with every design decision, and any follow-up model must have a call button, but they're still easy to recommend to anyone who can justify a $300 pricetag. And wearing headphones, for that matter -- in a sense the i30s' real competition is earbuds, since many of them also offer Bluetooth and noise cancellation while being cheaper and fitting in your pocket. The fidelity on equivalent headphones will always be better, but there can be a point of diminishing returns. It's just a question of where that sits for you.