The Xbox One Headset Adapter is finally shipping soon, and that means third party headsets are in tow. But what is this adapter nonsense, and why are all the manufactures using it instead of custom (optical audio) solutions? Read on to find out.
With the previous generation, the game controller only carried chat audio, so game sound had to come from your stereo, tv, or console itself. The most popular third party solutions tapped into the consoles optical audio port, which output a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio stream. A sound processor took this 5.1 stream, and created a stereo simulated surround track that got piped to the headset, either over wires or wirelessly.
Dolby Surround Sound Processor
These products were dubbed Surround Sound, and were adorn with the official Dolby Digital logo. After all, the sound processor did have to be Dolby Digital capable, certified, and licensed. But the headsets themselves had two speakers, a left and right channel, one in each ear cup.
Note that there are some TRUE Surround Sound headsets, which contain 4+ speakers in each ear cup. While this creates the best sound separation, sound quality is sacrificed. The tiny speakers pales in comparison to the 50mm+ drivers in stereo headsets. Trust me… all the “surround sound” headsets you know and love are in fact stereo headsets.
Here is a true 5.1 headset (CM Storm Sirus)… note the tiny, crappy speakers. Just no.
Enter the Xbox One. Thanks to the wireless tech used in the controller, it has enough bandwidth to transmit both chat AND game sound. This removes the need for clunky sound processors that plug into the back of the console. Instead, the console itself takes the games multi-channel audio mix, and sends an ideal stereo mix to the controller, through the headset adapter, and up to your headset.
Thanks to the Headset Adapter using a standard 3.5mm TRRS headset jack, absolutely any analog stereo headphone with a standard jack are compatible. The Xbox One headsets coming from third party manufactures are nothing but standard headsets bundled with Microsoft’s headset adapter.
The best example of this is the Polk 4Shot for Xbox One, and the Polk Melee, its Xbox 360 counterpart. While the headsets themselves are identical, the Melee comes with a dedicated digital sound processor, and proprietary puck for the 360 controller. To accomplish the same exact feet, the Xbox One only requires the headset and the standard Xbox One Headset Adapter. There are less wires, less components, and most importantly: the Xbox One version is $40 cheaper because the functionality is baked into the console itself.
So is it Surround Sound, or not?
Yes and no, depends on the marketing department. Microsoft themselves is going the honest route, and dubbing their own headset bundled with the headset adapter the “Xbox One Stereo Headset”. Polk never mentions stereo in their marketing, but shys away from calling it surround sound. Turtle Beach, on the other hand, touts this XO Seven feature: “Be surrounded. Cinematic Surround Sound for your games and entertainment.” Note the XO Seven has stereo 50mm drivers, and uses the Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter.
Xbox One Stereo Headset
The reality is only the console itself bears the Dolby Digital logo, and it’s the console that is doing the sound processing this generation. The end result is the same. For the consumer it means cheaper headsets. There is less hardware, and less licensing costs for manufactures and those savings are getting passed on to the consumer.
Turtle Beach XO Seven