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Turtle Beach EarForce i30 Wireless iOS Media Headset raises the bar for mobile audio

Over the past two years, we've witnessed some amazing advances in the way that Bluetooth headphones are designed and built. They've become much more efficient with power, pairing is a cinch and sound quality just keeps getting better. Today's review of the Turtle Beach EarForce i30 Wireless iOS Media Headset (US$299.95) shows just how far one company has taken audio technology -- this time, with a companion app that provides owners with a way to tweak their audio to their personal preference.

Specifications

  • Bluetooth 3.0+
  • Battery life: > 15 hours
  • Weight: 10.95 oz (310 grams)
  • Included in package: micro-USB headset charging cable, airline adapter plug, 3.5 mm male-to-male four-pole device cable for connected listening or non-Bluetooth noise cancellation, carrying pouch.

Design Highlights

The i30 headset is designed for comfort, with deep padded over-ear cuffs and a padded headband that make it possible to wear the headset during long flights without pain. The light weight of the headset is also a plus, and it's almost possible to forget that you're wearing them.

Unlike some flashier designs that seem to call attention to the headset (not always a good thing!), the i30 has white exterior shells with aluminum highlights and black padding. The only nod to flash is a red metal piece with the Turtle Beach logo on either earpiece that's used as part of a slider mechanism for adjusting the headset.

(note: some packing materials were left on the headset for photographic purposes as it will be returned to the manufacturer)

All of the controls are on the back side of the headset. On the left earpiece is the power button (with accompanying red LED to denote power on and green LED for charging), an audio preset toggle and another small button that's used for microphone adjustments. Yes, the i30 has two built-in microphones, although you can't see them.

The right earpiece has a Bluetooth button (with a blue LED to denote link status), a volume toggle and a microphone mute button. The earpieces both rotate to the back for flat packing.

Functionality Highlights

The first thing you'll notice when powering up the i30s is that you get pleasant voice prompts telling you what's going on. I really like this touch, as you don't need to look at the LEDs on the back of the earpieces to know what is happening.

The app provides a way to make the same adjustments -- audio presets and mic settings -- that can be done with the small buttons on the headset. Rather than taking the headset off to make those adjustments, or fumbling blindly with the buttons to hopefully get the right setting, you can just tap the appropriate setting in the app and get the verbal prompt verifying your selection.

The four audio preset settings are flat, bass boost, treble boost or bass and treble boost. I tend to like a bit more push on the treble end, so I found that setting to be wonderful when listening to a variety of music genres. Of course, bass and treble boost combined was a little bit of heaven on some tunes...

The mic settings are a bit odd. There are four: flat, high morph, low morph and voice reverb. Honestly, the only time I could see using the last three settings would be if you were pranking a friend or making obscene phone calls. High morph gives your voice a chipmunk-like voice, while low morph provides a monster-like voice. Reverb? Yep, it sounds like you're in an echo chamber. I found these to be of limited usability.

I'm not a real fan of Bluetooth mics anyway -- they don't seem to ever do a good job of providing really good sound quality for the person on the other end of your phone conversation. I'd rank the microphone quality on the i30s as just average, very middle-of-the-road and about the same as what I've experienced with other Bluetooth headsets, headphones and speakerphones.

The noise-cancellation capability of the EarForce i30s is just amazing. During the winter months when our furnace is running in the house, there's the sound of flowing air in the background that's accentuated with another noise when the furnace actually kicks in. Those sounds disappeared when noise cancellation was turned on. Sure, you can still hear voices, although they're muffled greatly. The biggest use for noise cancellation is going to be on airplanes, where the background "roar" will be reduced to a great extent.

While the official name of this product includes the words "Wireless iOS Media Headset," it also works well with the Mac. In fact, it's designed to be able to pair with two devices -- say, an iPhone and Mac -- at the same time. Of course, it can only be used with one device at a time.

Pairing is extremely fast regardless of platform. The instruction manual for the i30s shows an older version of the OS X Bluetooth menu; note that there's no longer a Set Up Bluetooth Device command menu item; it's all done through the Bluetooth Preferences menu item now.

Conclusion

I found the Turtle Beach EarForce i30 Wireless iOS Media Headset to be very satisfactory in most respects. For people who enjoy listening to music and want a little bit more control over their sound settings, this headset is excellent. My only beef is with the microphone quality, but that's more with any Bluetooth device than this particular headset.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 4 possible

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