Sound design: it’s one of the most integral yet overlooked parts of the experience of a video game. Graphics impress, and gameplay is where you’ll find the bulk of your enjoyment, but it’s the sounds that really draw you into the game and help make the atmosphere believable. There’s no better recent example of this than BioShock Infinite.
Sony didn’t only work with Irrational Games on BioShock Infinite for PlayStation Move support, they also worked closely with the studio to develop an exclusive audio mode for the PULSE Elite Edition Wireless Stereo Headset. This was something that was announced ahead of the launch of BioShock Infinite, but was quietly swept under the rug due to the overwhelming hype for the game. I had actually missed the news completely, even with it being posted on the PlayStation Blog, and Irrational Games’ blog. It wasn’t until Sony suggested I try this exclusive audio mode that I took notice and sought to experience it for myself.
If you’re unfamiliar with the PULSE Elite Edition Wireless Stereo Headset, it’s essentially the swankier, more stylish, “elite” big brother of the Official PS3 Wireless Stereo Headset we reviewed back in September of 2011. It’s about the same size as that headset, albeit with some added weight. From the glossy black plastic and polished aluminum to the soft cushion-y earpads, the PULSE Elite Edition looks like a high-end stereo headset, and that’s because it is—with hallmark Sony design style. If definitely has a overall much more visually impressive look to it than the regular Wireless Stereo Headset.
It’s called PULSE, because the built-in “Bassimpact” technology turns bass sounds into a pulse surrounding the earpads in addition to the bass you hear from the game. Think of it as a form of gentle force feedback for your ears (not actual rumble—that’d give you a migraine). It also has powerful drivers for crystal clear sound and boom-filled bass, on-screen updates (when used with a PS3 and firmware 4.20 and higher), 7.1 virtual surround sound, and a built-in microphone with noise-cancelling. Speaking of noise, I couldn’t hear any ambient sound from my surroundings—someone in the room with me had to wave in my face to get my attention. And another cool feature is that it comes with an optional audio cable to use the headset with the PlayStation Vita, an iPad, iPhone, or any device with an audio jack.
But best of all, is the PULSE Elite Edition Manager App, free to download on the PlayStation Store. This is the PULSE headset’s secret formula for better sound. I only wish Sony did a better job promoting this app. It’s nowhere to be found on the box or the manual, and it wasn’t until I noticed the “Mode” button on the headset and began to research online before I discovered there even was a PULSE Manager App that would let me download the exclusive audio mode for BioShock Infinite. The app is mostly barebones right now, with only a few modes for movies, music, action games, etc. But seeing what they’ve done by developing an exclusive audio mode for BioShock Infinite, there’s definitely potential for more future games to do the same, making this headset all the more appealing. Let’s hope they create an audio mode for The Last of Us.
Luckily, though, for comparison’s sake, I didn’t realize that I needed to download and update the headset with this exclusive BioShock Infinite mode using the PULSE Manager App for it to work. So I got an solid few hours sampling of the game even without this mode enabled, and the sound was incredible. And once the mode was enabled… really, just wow. I didn’t realize what I was missing. The entire soundtrack and audio sounded that much better, but it was the clarity in the subtleties that sold me on this headset—things like the crackle of the old timey footage in the Kinetoscopes or the horrifying shrieks of the Songbird. More explosive moments, such as the Songbird tearing apart Elizabeth’s tower sucked me in more than without it, as I could feel the tearing of the steel in my bones. As if the game wasn’t atmospheric enough, the PULSE headset immersed me in the floating city of Columbia more than I had experienced previously. And I have one hell of a surround sound set up as is, with a sub-woofer that shakes the picture frames off the wall in my house—so I’m used to gaming with stellar sound. Honestly, the headset was as strong of an audio experience as my setup, but at a fraction of the cost of what I spent on my home theater, and I can actually play with the volume up at night without waking my kid (or the neighbor’s kids from the down the street or next block over).
By comparison to my home theater, it is indeed a cheap alternative. But going by headsets, it’s on the more expensive side at $149.99 retail, though you can find it for less out there. And having also tried plenty of Turtle Beach and Astro headsets that are even pricier, the PULSE is comparable, but has the added bonus of having this exclusive audio mode for BioShock Infinite, and the potential for more developers to produce special audio modes to work with it should they choose.
I did try it with other games, like God of War: Ascension for example, and it performed extremely well even without a special audio mode. Kratos’ Blades of Chaos hitting the ground for the final hit of a combo gave a bass-filled rumble that usually only a sub-woofer could produce. Movies and music were tested briefly, as again the PULSE sounded excellent enough there that I was satisfied and ready to get back to playing BioShock Infinite.
Considering the headset features, the versatility of using it with the PS3 or Vita, the quality of sound, and the attention to detail found in this exclusive audio mode for BioShock Infinite, the PULSE Elite Edition gets a strong recommendation from me. It retails at $149.99, which can be a steep price for a headset. That said, you get what you pay for, and excellent sound quality never comes cheap. Like I said, it can be found for cheaper, and is sold as part of a bundle with BioShock Infinite for those that still haven’t picked up Irrational Games’ GOTY front-runner and one of the few games to receive a 10 out of 10 from PSLS in 2013. Your ears will thank you.