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Where things get slightly complicated is with all the adjustment options open to you on the SCU. Aside from volume, which can also be controlled on the main box, you can adjust the time delay and Dynamic Range Control (DRC), which is only available with a 5.1 channel mix. Adjusting the time delay creates a more ‘spatial' effect by accentuating the difference between the centre and surround channels. This is all well and good and many may enjoy tinkering with this, but any changes you make inevitably have a negative impact on the realism of the output. Ultimately we found it preferable to leave things as they were; a fact not helped by the rather confusing system for adjusting it or the rather sparse explanation of its impact.
Dynamic Range Control is a little more interesting. When activated this decreases the difference between the quietest and loudest segments of the audio track. This might not be desirable if watching a film, but in games it can help illuminate the quieter effects that might give you an advantage - such as someone stalking you from behind. Again, though, its benefits are difficult to quantify and you may well find the same, or similar, effects can be achieved through tweaking the individual channel volumes to suit your needs and preferences.
This just leaves performance and sound quality itself to evaluate and it's generally a good story. There are eight speakers in total, four in each earpiece, with two for the front channel, two for the centre channel, two for the rear and two for the sub. Combined with a good Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix they do a great job of creating an immersive, accurate surround sound experience within the confines of a headset. Audio placement is excellent, so you can quickly gauge what's going on behind you and where danger is coming from.
It's the immersion created that's the real draw, though. It brings an extra dimension to games, particularly atmospheric titles like Bioshock or Dead Space, but also to films. We fired up Band of Brothers to see how the set coped and were instantly impressed. In the famous gun battery operation in the second episode, the excitement of the clinical raid is brilliantly produced as bullets rain in left, right and centre, while the dialogue as Damien Lewis barks orders remained perfectly audible despite the action surrounding him. Just the overall level of detail and clarity alone is very impressive, though we did feel the need to boost the sub volume level a little to give the thud of bullet impacts that little more punch.
Analogue performance is also very good. And, though one wouldn't typically recommend a 5.1 set for listening to music, if the occasion arises the Sharkoon's do a reasonable job of that too.
What prevents the Sharkoon's from being truly outstanding, though, is that they lack the overall power to produce heavy effects. While its collection of small drivers created plenty of atmosphere and loads of detail, explosions just lack the power and presence you'd hope for, sounding a little thin and puny. It's a shame, too, since in most other respects this is a very fine headset; one that represents good value for money and is arguably a must have for any keen console gamer.
A combination of great surround sound production, features and outstanding comfort make the Sharkoon X-Tatic Digital among the best surround sound headsets around. A slight lack of power and presence prevents an award overall, but that shouldn't eliminate it from your shortlist. For the money, it delivers admirably.
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