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Geek Review: Xbox Wireless Headset (2021)

To say that Microsoft and its Xbox brand has seen better times is a bit of an understatement.

While the team might have gained solid ground in markets such as the US and Australia, its footprint in the rest of the world has been ceded to the likes of PlayStation and Nintendo. 

One winning element has been with its GamePass membership access, which has been delivering a string of top-notch games and providing solid value to PC and Xbox owners alike. By providing gamers an endless library of titles, both old and new, for a single price, Microsoft is making its console hard to ignore,  especially if budget is a concern. With the latest Xbox Series X and S consoles seeing good demand, this membership ecosystem provides an affordable bridge between PC and living room gaming, and the only thing missing now is the lack of current-gen games.

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With the right mix of software, there now needs a complement of hardware accessories, which is something the company used to release in spades though it’s a rare occurrence these days. Thus, we were pleasantly surprised that Microsoft decided to bring back their branded accessory, the Microsoft Wireless Headset into the fold.

It’s actually been years since we’ve seen an official branded headset from the Xbox brand. In the past, Microsoft even required users to purchase an Xbox Wireless Adapter if gamers were looking to pair controllers and headsets to their PCs. 

Thankfully, there’s none of that additional dongle nonsense anymore, with the company opting for Bluetooth instead. After all, there is quite a bit of healthy competition for gaming headsets these days, most of which don’t require the use of an additional accessory. The pandemic also brought about a need for quality audio as many have ditched their free earphones for proper headsets,  which deliver crisp audio while gaming or over conference calls.

And at S$149.90, the Xbox Wireless Headset has quite a bit to prove to make it the headset of choice for both work and play.

Right out of the box, the Microsoft Wireless Headset does not scream “GAMER” in any way. With a single green line detailing around the earcups, that’s pretty much the only visible accent that stands out from this headset. 

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Setup is simple as well for both console and PC – a push of the pairing button (which also serves as the power button) and you’re pretty much all set to go.

Charging via USB-C, the Xbox Wireless Headset touts 15 hours of battery life on a full 3-hour charge.

However, to really get the most out of the Xbox Wireless Headset, some additional tweaks have to be made.

Placing the Xbox Wireless Headset on for the first time might come across as rather constrictive. Its 312g weight doesn’t qualify it as one of the lighter headsets in the market right now. The adjustable headband has strong resistance if you’re trying to make any adjustments while wearing the headset and this forces users to take off the headset repeatedly to find the perfect fit.

However, once the ideal position has been found, it’s smooth smooth sailing from here on.

With soft earcups made from polyurethane leather, the material helps improve the overall wearing comfort for the headphones. Such material is pretty much mandatory for headphones at this price point and in this humid weather, there’s no discomfort when wearing the headset across long periods of time. The headband features the same material as well and helps reduce fatigue and improve comfort levels.

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The Xbox Wireless Headset cups the entirety of the user’s ear but does not create a solid seal as external sound is still able to pass through quite clearly.

While most headphones these days provide some level of noise cancelling, it’s a feature the Xbox Wireless Headset has opted to skip. Instead, the 40mm speakers feature spatial audio, which needs to be enabled via Dolby Atmos or Windows Sonic.

Obviously, you’d need to play games which support spatial audio in the first place to get the most out of this feature. Thankfully, if you’re a subscriber of the GamePass, then games like Gears 5 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps should be within easy access.

In playthroughs with the above titles, the audio difference with Dolby Atmos is rather significant and impressive at the same time. In Gears 5, imagine being able to distinctly hear a grenade going off behind you after it has been thrown and you’re retreating. The level of audio separation and distance where the action is taking place is definitely heightened.

In Ori and the Will of the Wisps, it’s extremely apparent early on in the game. The first time the wolf appears on screen and as he chases the player across the screen, it truly feels like there’s a beast breathing down your neck from the left ear channel as Ori makes his way to the right.

While it’s a nice experience to enjoy spatial audio on the Xbox Wireless Headset, the amount of titles which support it are relatively few right now.

In a mainstream gaming scenario, playing Apex Legends on Steam and voice chat via Discord does not have an extremely marked difference as compared to before. While the sound of footsteps in-game is still apparent, it’s pretty much the baseline standard we need to expect from all gaming-grade headphones.

When it comes to the mic quality, the feedback from friends on the opposite side of the line has been mixed. Communicating via Discord, it’s not immediately apparent the mic is suppressing background audio by isolating my voice. In most instances, friends are able to hear the TV in the background. Otherwise, the audio quality from my voice comes across clear and crisp. Considering that the mic boom actually sits outside one’s field of view, it helps that despite the placement, there are no issues with audio capture.

As far as gaming headsets go, the Xbox Wireless Headset is a no frills model. Outside of a power button, mute button, bendable boom, the headset features two dials which help with audio control. One dial controls overall volume, another adjusts the balance between game sound and chat.

The dials do have quite a bit of resistance and one would need to use a bit of effort to make any adjustments on the fly. So it would be best to get everything set up prior before diving straight into a firefight.

Considering its price point as an official branded Xbox accessory, the new Xbox Wireless Headset is a piece of hardware that checks off all the requisite boxes but does not afford anything extra. The inclusion of Dolby Atmos and spatial audio support is a definite boon, but it still requires games to ultimately support it. 

Although Microsoft and Xbox have made good strides to ensure PC and console gaming to be seamless, it’s the software that might be the headset’s achilles heel. There’s quite a bit of setting and menu diving required to get everything up the speed, especially when enabling the best features of the headset.

Considering that there are little alternatives which serve both the Xbox console and PC, the Xbox Wireless Headset would find itself as an easy shoo-in for owners of both platforms. Compared to other headsets in the market, the pricing would be an attractive prospect for most to sit up and take notice.

However, given the current trends when it comes to noise-canceling, the Xbox Wireless Headset needs a bit of work if you’re looking to lose yourself in extended gaming sessions.

The Xbox Wireless Headset starts shipping on 2 April 2021 and will be available for purchase on the Microsoft Store soon.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Priced at S$149.90, the Xbox Wireless Headset is the perfect pick which is relatively light on the wallet for headphones in this range. If you’re looking to get your next gen gaming off on a good start, these headphones are an easy recommendation.

Overall
8/10
8/10
  • Aesthetics - 8/10
    8/10
  • Build Quality - 7/10
    7/10
  • Performance - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Value - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8/10
    8/10


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