To be honest, up until now, gaming headsets haven’t been much of an interest for me personally. Growing up as an only child meant that privacy and noise weren’t really an issue, so it wasn’t something I thought about very often. As a teenager, though, I did go out and buy a fancy pair of Sennheisers; but the truth is that I have stupidly tough ears that get uncomfortable easily and that they in no way compared to the quality of my surround sound setup (at least back in those days, anyway). Skip forward a decade, however, to a point where 7.1 surround headsets are affordable, and where I have a wife who hears like a bat, can’t stand the sound of gunfire, and needs to go to sleep much earlier than me. Out of necessity, I was forced to start investigating my options, and I was surprised by how much was out there.
Having recently built a new PC, it’s where I’ve been spending most of my gaming time. I also thought it’d be a great opportunity to look at some entry-level PC headsets from Turtle Beach; specifically the Recon 320 and the Ear Force Z60. Turtle Beach is a brand I’ve heard people talking about for years, and one I’ve personally received a lot of positive feedback about when talking with my friends. Currently, the 320 retails for $77.00 after a recent price drop from $99.00 while the Z60 sits steadily at $129.00 (AUD). But with an even bigger gap in price, which is the best for value?
From the moment you open the boxes, you can immediately tell that there is a clear difference in “pedigree” between the two headsets; with the cover of the Z60 sliding off to reveal a bright red box with a lid that lifts up to showcase the neatly packed interior. It just feels that little more fancy, whereas the 320 casing is just a simple box you open and slide out some cheap plastic housing that’s holding all the gear in place – bin material, pretty much. Of course, it’s only the packaging, but it still says something about the difference in product perception as the Z60 “appears” to be better.
Aesthetically speaking, both headsets are black and red and share a somewhat similar design. Again, the Z60 has more of a fancy look to it, but really they’re not so different. The 320 has some slightly cheaper feeling cushioning while sporting swappable speaker plates, whereas the Z60 has its brand clearly labeled on each side. Putting them both on, I could tell that the Z60 handles noise cancelling much better but is arguably less comfortable as it is slightly smaller and sits more tightly; despite the higher quality mesh ear cushions. After a few long play session, I found my head got more uncomfortable/sweaty with the Z60 (also noting that it’s slightly heavier.) As someone concerned about keeping sound in, as opposed to keeping other noise out, I personally preferred using the 320 for any longer sessions.
First of all, it’s important to note that both headsets are 7.1, but there is a difference in that the Z60 is the first PC gaming headset to use “DTS HEADPHONE: X.” Basically, it’s supposed to be an audio technology that improves the surround-sound experience, but after playing a few games I found it hard to tell whether it was actually superior or if it was simply the larger 60mm speakers that sounded different. Most entry-level headphones, such as the 320 sport 50mm speakers, so from a hardware perspective, the larger 60mm speakers are where the Z60 clearly stands out with something genuinely superior. Furthermore, both headsets support both PC and mobile (as well as PlayStation 4).
Both headsets included a mic boom that is detachable; which was great for me as I mostly use it for single-player games. The quality test for each microphone was quite comparable too, but the Z60 does provide additional features such as individual control of both the game and chat functionalities. It’s also worth noting that the 320 requires drivers, whereas the Z60 is simple plug and play. Additional features on the Z60 also include a special control unit where you can adjust your game and chat volume, as well as set various audio modes such as movie, gaming and music. The 320 just has a basic controller for the volume and mute, but it’s light and in a convenient location at around chest height. The Z60’s controller is much lower down, so if you’re not sitting at a desk, it’s inconvenient to get to quickly.
Out of the gate, and on paper, it would certainly seem that the Z60 is the superior headset; apart from my personal critiques on comfort and the inconveniently placed sound controller. I mean, it’s definitely got a fancier look, more features, and bigger 60mm speakers (+bass); but how much better does it sound, and is it worth an additional $52?
For testing PC gaming, I swapped headsets between each of the 4 episodes of Resident Evil: Revelations 2. Surround sound is critical in a survival horror game, or anything that requires stealth, so it was the perfect platform to experiment with. First of all, I have to admit the 7.1 sound was equally impressive on both, with the directional sound of footsteps, gunfire and the guttural growls of monsters being clear enough to ensure I always took the best path possible. It’s not quite as good as the real thing, but it was better than I was expecting. I also tried playing with all the surround sound modes on the Z60 to see which one performed better, but, disappointingly, they all sounded less clear when compared to the standard mode. That said, music mode was quite good when simply listening to standalone music.
What I would have preferred is a controller that allowed me to easily adjust the treble and bass, because while the bass is clearly superior on the Z60, the higher end sounds are inferior to the 320; or at the very least were being drowned out by the bass configuration of the 60mm speakers. Not to mention that both headsets have a laughably quiet maximum volume, which I really didn’t like about either of them. For Resident Evil, the 320 was the best choice as it sounded crisp and balanced across the board. In online shooters such as Battlefield 4, on the other hand, the Z60 definitely shined best with gunfire and explosions. The chat mode performed perfectly fine on both, so it’s really going to come down to one of two things: do you value bass or treble, and which one do you find more comfortable?
If anything is clear from this review, it’s that your desired performance is mostly subjective based on what sort of games you want to play. Straight up, the Z60 feels like a higher quality headset, but the truth is that the additional features didn’t really make much of a difference during my personal experiences. I’m usually a fan of bass in traditional setups, but the lacking high-end sound of the Z60 bothered me in the games I’d be more inclined to play. I also found the 320 more comfortable to wear over longer periods of time. But then again, if you’re really into shooters and noise cancellation is super important to you, then the Z60 is great value for the money and will likely be the best headset for you. If, on the other hand, you’re just looking for an entry-level 7.1 all-rounder, you simply can’t beat the 320 at $77.