Since the vast majority of modern games – even on consoles – feature online multiplayer (whether competitive, co-operative or both) a gaming headset has become a pretty essential purchase.
It’s possible to spend as much on a headset as on a console, but is that really necessary for those who aren’t interested in one-upmanship?
Turtle Beach’s XO Three would suggest that it isn’t: it’s a no-frills, wired gaming headset for the Xbox One which costs a wallet-friendly $69.99 (£49.99, AU$79.95) and is clearly pitched at those who enjoy playing games but are neither made of money nor harbour aspirations to become professional gamers.
Design and build quality
As gaming headsets go, the Turtle Beach XO Three is about as basic as they come. It uses 50mm drivers – bigger than you would expect at the price – and has a detachable, high-sensitivity microphone boom which can be bent into whatever shape you feel most comfortable with.
On the cable to its 3.5mm audio jack is a volume wheel and a microphone mute slider. And that’s all you get: there’s no surround sound, active noise cancellation or way of altering the equalisation.
Physically, the XO Three impresses. It feels sufficiently robust to take a lot of punishment (as headsets often do when trickier games induce frustration), with a chunky leather strap that offers plenty of cushioning. The earcups are big and comfortable, even though they use normal, rather than memory, foam. Green highlights denote that it’s an Xbox One-specific headset, although pedants might quibble that it’s a more yellowy green than the one Microsoft uses.
The XO Three doesn’t look or feel cheap, and we were happy to wear it for several hours at a stretch.
The Xbox One has a design quirk which has been winding us up something chronic for years: its standard controller doesn’t have a 3.5mm jack for a gaming headset. Instead, you have to buy an ugly, lozenge-shaped Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter, which costs a tenner and slots into the proprietary connector on the controller.
Microsoft did at least address that issue with the Xbox One S, whose controller – hallelujah – does come with a 3.5mm jack. But for years, we’ve dreamed of the day when an Xbox One-specific gaming headset comes with an Xbox One controller adapter as standard. Sadly, the XO Three has missed that chance to impress us.
However, the XO Three does take advantage of a piece of technology recently added to all varieties of the Xbox One via an update: Windows Sonic for Headphones. Enable that on your Xbox One, and you will be able to get 3D surround sound in your XO Three – which is something of a revelation for a $70 headset.
Performance and sound quality
Among the games we tested the XO Three with were Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Both of which demonstrated that the Windows Sonic for Headphones 3D surround sound actually works. It may not provide the subtlest of 3D sound implementations – you can tell very clearly whether sounds are coming from left or right, but not, say, if they are just left or right of centre. But it does work, nevertheless, and proved very handy at giving advance warning of incoming enemies, or a general idea of the direction of incoming bullets from unseen enemies.
Surprisingly, Windows Sonic for Headphones had another beneficial effect: it gave the XO Three a noticeable bass-boost, which was pretty welcome since in its base state, it’s a very neutral-sounding headset without the bass extension commonplace among headsets costing $100 or more.
But with Windows Sonic for Headphones doing its stuff, the XO Three’s sound became much more dynamic, with that atmospheric bass rumble which gamers love coming into play. One minor complaint we had was that the top end sounds a tiny bit hollow (rather than warm), but for the price, the XO Three sounds simply spectacular.
And we found a way to make it sound even better, by swapping the Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter for one of Turtle Beach’s orange Elite Pro Audio Adapters, which packs an amplifier and various EQ options. The only slight problem is that it costs $49.99 – the same as the XO Three itself, which rather defeats the object of buying an XO Three.
But the fact that it opened up the sort of dynamic sound that you would expect from a headset costing over $100 illustrates that the XO Three has the basics right – its 50mm drivers, in particular, are decent. The microphone proved sensitive enough to allow clear chat even in artificially noisy surroundings, and was outstanding in more typical situations.
Overall, we reckon that the Turtle Beach XO Three might just be one of the best $70 headsets you can currently buy for the Xbox One. It takes great advantage of Windows Sonic for Headphones, rendering it suitable even for hardcore gamers on a strict budget.
Perhaps if you’re on the fringes of a pro-career in Call of Duty or Rainbow Six: Siege, you might want to gain an edge by splashing out on a headset with more sophisticated surround-sound.
But for games like Destiny, Ghost Recon: Wildlands or their ilk, or any flavour of MMO, it sounds decent enough to let you play to your full potential, and is sufficiently comfortable to let you play games for much longer at a single stretch than you really should.