Review: Tritton PC510 HDA
August 17, 2011 at 22:36

The Tritton PC510 HDA headset promises a true surround sound, with 4 speakers in each ear cup, capable of giving you an advantage in gaming according to Tritton’s marketing claims. Priced between €100 and €120, they’re also somewhat expensive. There aren’t many reviews around – and the ones that I could find were by sponsored clans, making them clearly partial – so I hope this is useful.

The PC510 are bundled in an easy to open box, which follows the current trend of having a “viewing window” with velcro locks. Not much comes with the headphones, just the manuals, the headphones themselves and the control unit. I think that, for its price, it wouldn’t hurt if it came with alternative ear pads.

Once out of the box, the first look is positive: they seem quite solid. However, their first problem is also clearly visible: the control unit is too close to the headphones. The cord is divided in two, with a very short first segment attached to the headphones and a long second one containing the control unit in one end and the 5 connections in the other: 3 for the 5.1 audio, one for the microphone and one USB for power. Once you get everything set up, you’ll notice there’s no comfortable position for the heavy control unit. If you place it on the desk, it forces you to remain still or it’ll slip. If you don’t, it’ll dangle at your side in an uncomfortable way. You can also try placing it on your lap, but it’ll end up slipping from there due to its weight. One easy way to fix this would have been to simply place the control unit further down the cord, so you could have it sit on your desk – like most other similar headsets do.

Connecting the headphone to the PC is quite straightforward, but a bit tiresome since it requires five different connections. You’ll also have to disconnect the speakers and, in some cases (like it happened to me), reconfigure your sound card to output 5.1 on the Windows control panel – otherwise, it’ll remain in “stereo” mode. Due to having to perform these tasks every single time, I think that these headphones should be considered more of a “primary sound source”, rather than an alternative to speakers.

Once you put them on, you’ll notice that they adjust easily to the head, as the ear cups simply slide into place. Unfortunately, there isn’t a locking mechanism, so you’ll have to adjust them every time you wear them, which does get a tad annoying. On the plus side, they’re not as heavy as I was expecting, so they could be reasonably comfortable to wear… if it wasn’t for those darn fake leather ear pads. The ears get rather hot with the PC510 over them, making you sweat a bit, so wearing these headphones for anything over 10 minutes is quite uncomfortable. Fabric pads would have been a much better option.

The headphones can be turned on and off using the master volume knob on the control unit. Once on, the ear cups light up, which kind of ruins their aesthetics, going from “looking cool” to “that’s quite dorky”. Unfortunately, there’s no option to turn the lighting off or make it a bit more subtle. Apart from the master volume knob, you’ll also find four additional adjustment wheels for the 5.1 channels: front, rear, side and subwoofer. These individual adjustments could be useful, especially when switching between games and movies, but the control unit’s design stifles some of that usefulness, as there are no visual cues on the unit regarding each individual level. This makes readjustments quite difficult, since it’s hard to set the unit to an exact level. A better solution would be the led-based level indicators seen on Tritton’s AX Pro or using a slider-like level selector, like Roccat did on their Kave headset. As it stands, it’s doubtful that this feature will be used often.

The first time I’ve used them, I’ve immediately noticed something annoying: there was a constant high-pitched buzzing/whining sound, which seemed to change when I moved my mouse or typed on the keyboard. This seems to be some sort of USB-related interference. Unfortunately, since the headphones don’t work without the USB cable connected to the computer, this is something you’ll have to live with. I found that the sound can be mitigated, though, if the master volume is set to less than half. You’ll lose volume, but at least the buzzing won’t be as annoying – however, don’t think you’ll escape it.

The sound quality on the headphones was a major disappointment. It’s not terribly bad, but it’s well below what would be expected given their price tag. Everything sounds somewhat muddy, sort of like you’re underwater. The soundstage is also quite reduced, with everything sounding really close to you, although this is more or less expected given that they’re closed back headphones. I’d qualify the sound quality as decent, which isn’t exactly what one would expect from something in this price range.

I was also disappointed with the 5.1 sound effect, in terms of positional audio, as it’s sometimes far from accurate. There are no problems when the sound source is to your left or right, but I found that it was difficult to make out the origin when other directions were involved (especially up or down). Lowering my side and front sound levels did help with detecting rear sounds, but mainly because they became louder than the rest. That may help avoiding getting knifed in Counter-Strike, but it does mean you’ll lose a fair amount of environment sounds, so I ended up returning to normal levels.

I’ve also noticed severe problems with certain sounds, which become much louder than they should and completely overlap everything else. For example, the helicopter sounds in Battlefield Bad Company 2 will cover up every other sound in the game. I’m not sure why this happens, but when browsing on-line I found out that it’s common.

One thing that surprised me was the subwoofer feedback. You will have to turn this down quite a bit, since it’s extremely strong – if you make the mistake of playing a game with it set to max, it will actually vibrate during explosions, as If you had a force feedback peripheral attached to your head.

Using it for music and movies disappointed me even further. Bass-heavy songs sound nice, probably due to the subwoofer, but everything else has that prevalent muddy characteristic. The 5.1 audio didn’t help much either when watching movies, like it already happened with games.

To make it a headset, the PC510 also comes with a detachable microphone. It does its job, the sound quality isn’t great, but it’s not bad either. One thing I didn’t like, however, is that you can’t swivel it up to get it out of your way when not in use – you will have to detach and store it away or bend it to the side.

In short, the PC510 simply isn’t good enough. The sound quality is far from what’s expected for its price range and the advantages of the 5.1 audio are negligible. The headset is also plagued with design flaws, like the control unit issues, the fixed microphone, the poor choice of ear pads material and the tiresome connection procedure. Its technical flaws, such as the constant buzzing sound and the “helicopter effect” also affect negatively the user experience. For what it costs, there are far better options available on the market.