Impressions: Turtle Beach Ear Force W3 wireless headphones

Monday, June 11, 2007

While I was checking out Turtle Beach's Ear Force D2 headset, another one of their product offerings caught my eye: their Ear Force W3 wireless headphones, designed for Wii.

What attracted me most to the W3 was that it was designed to stay on one's head, even during an intense session of the game I bought Wii foróWii Sports' Tennis. The W3 consists of two earpieces connected by a stiff plastic band that sits atop your ears like a pair of eyeglasses, and continues around the back of your head. In my tests, they certainly weren't going anywhere; however, as a glasses-wearer, I found they tended to sit a little uncomfortably. Putting them on before my glasses helped a lot, and I certainly got used to it with time, but it was still noticeable.

The W3's transmitter connects to power and to RCA audio jacks with passthrough plugs, and transmits sound to the headphones via infrared. Insightful readers will note that this sounds like a possible problem considering that the Wii Remote senses infrared beacons on the sensor baróbut I had no trouble. The W3's manual explains how to set the Remote sensitivity so that the W3's transmitter isn't picked up by the Remote. On all settings but the highest sensitivity, the Remote didn't see the transmitter at all, let alone be confused by it. In short, it works perfectly.

The sound quality on the W3 is also good, showing me a side of some of my games I'd never noticed before. I found the sound transmission impeccable as well; I was completely unable to break up the sound being beamed to the headphones no matter which way I turned, until I left the room. While I'm sure this performance is owed in part to my living room's white walls, it's impressive nonetheless, considering I didn't expect to be able to turn away from the transmitter before losing sound.

The one failing I did find is one that's really hard to fault the W3 for, but should be mentioned nonetheless: I found that a number of the louder sounds in and out of games were distortedóincluding the Wii's own startup sound. Excite Truck in particular was an aural mess. However, this was only a problem when playing with Wii: using the headphones with TV produced a crystal-clear sound with no distortion at all.

The problem seems to lie with my (and a few others', judging from Internet reports) Wii: its audio signal simply runs hotter than the W3 seems to be able to handle. I asked Turtle Beach about this and they told me they'd not heard of the problem before, suggesting it's a fairly rare occurrence. Thankfully, since my TV could deal with the hot audio signal, I was able to use the TV's own volume reduction for the headphones, and I got crystal-clear sound from the W3.

I really do like the W3; it does stay on your head as advertised, and if you either don't have or can work around the Wii audio problem, the sound quality is excellent. I wish it was a little more comfortable to wear, but doesn't trouble me too much. When faced with the choice of watching a soundless screen so my daughter doesn't home in on the Wii's startup chime, or wearing the headphones and indulging in the sound of the games I'm playing, I'll take the latter anytime.