Testing the Xbox Headset: cheap, useful, but sonically underwhelming

Testing the Xbox Headset: cheap, useful, but sonically underwhelming

Philipp Rüegg
Zurich, on 07.04.2021
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
Microsoft has developed an intuitive headset with various practical functions. However, the affordable Xbox Wireless Headset doesn't deliver a miracle of sound.

Gaming headsets are like aggressive teens in «Warzones» lobbies – there are far too many of them. This nevertheless didn't deter Microsoft from bringing its own device to market: the Xbox Wireless Headset. The headphones, which offer many practical features, cost just over 100 francs. In return, you get a nondescript, black plastic headset. Two green rings typical to Xbox provide colourful accents. Don't get this if you're looking for RGB bling. The only light you'll find is a tiny white one by the microphone. Signalling whether it's on or off.

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Sound and microphone quality

My first sound test with the Xbox Wireless Headset was sobering. Granted, the comparison is a bit unfair: I'm used to my Beyerdynamics 1990 Pro, which is over four times more expensive. However, even after wearing them for a while, Microsoft's headphones don't excite me. The sound is too muffled, has too little volume and lacks clarity. Adjusting the equaliser, where the game audio profile is set by default, is almost mandatory. And even then the headset doesn't make any acoustic leaps. However, the sound is good enough for the low price.

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The microphone isn't much different. Your voice is audible, but the quality won't blow you away. It sounds compressed. A bit more warmth and clarity would be desirable. The auto-mute feature also works reliably. On «low», the effect steps in very tentatively, while «high» can leave your voice chopped or faded. The microphone is definitely good enough for yelling in voice chat. But I certainly wouldn't use it for podcasting.

Ergonomically strong and with versatile settings

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The two ear cups also serve as rotary controls. On the left, you manage the ratio between game and chat sound. You can feel a click when the slider is in the middle. The right cup sets your volume. There's also a protruding green button behind the left ear cup, allowing you to turn the headphones on or off or connect them to a PC/console. At the back end of the bendable microphone, you'll find its mute button. All in all, usage is cleverly solved and intuitive. No need to fumble around until you find the right key. One touch is enough to make sounds softer or your voice louder. As it should be.

The headphones are connected either via Bluetooth or with the separately available Xbox USB Wireless Adapter. With the latter, however, you can't freely switch back and forth between Xbox and PC. The headphones must be reconnected each time. Relying on Bluetooth is the better option in this case. There's not even a 3.5-mm port. Instead, there's USB-C, which is also used to charge the headphones.

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You can configure the headphones via the settings on your Xbox or the PC Xbox Accessories app. However, the app only works when a headset is connected via USB-C or the Xbox adapter. In the app, you can use the Equaliser to select different audio profiles or manually adjust the sound. The brightness of the microphone light can also be adjusted. If you want to hear your voice when you speak, you can also set this up. However, it's too quiet for me, even at the highest level. Finally, you have the auto-mute option. This allows you to control at what point your microphone should turn off when you aren't speaking. Microsoft offers a pleasingly large number of settings for a headset in this price range. Only the time span until the headset automatically turns off when not in use cannot be adjusted.

Comfort, the battery and reception

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The Xbox Wireless Headset rests relatively firmly on my head. Its padding is very soft, but still too tight for my tastes. This helps improve passive noise insulation. Any noise is easy to block out.

Microsoft states the battery life around 15 hours, which is pretty much in line with my experience.

With Bluetooth, I can move over ten metres away from the PC and even listen to music one floor below. With the USB adapter, the distance is a bit shorter. This will vary depending on your apartment/house, of course.

Verdict: a useful tool

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The Xbox Wireless Headset doesn't do anything that other headsets haven't already done, but the combination of functionality, quality and price is convincing. Its rotating ear cups are a big plus for me. The headset is very easy to use, without having to fiddle with or study the manual. In addition, you can make a pleasing number of adjustments on the software side. The Xbox Wireless Headset shows weaknesses in sound quality, but only in comparison to more expensive headphones. Microsoft has delivered a solid headset with foolproof operation at a fair price.

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Philipp Rüegg
Philipp Rüegg
Senior Editor, Zurich
Being the game and gadget geek that I am, working at digitec and Galaxus makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop – but it does take its toll on my wallet. I enjoy tinkering with my PC in Tim Taylor fashion and talking about games on my podcast . To satisfy my need for speed, I get on my full suspension mountain bike and set out to find some nice trails. My thirst for culture is quenched by deep conversations over a couple of cold ones at the mostly frustrating games of FC Winterthur.

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