I imagine there’s a poster hanging in Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters that reads “Anything Sony can do, Microsoft can do better”. Maybe it has a cat hanging from a PS5. Sure, this might be the daydream of a brain that’s not been outdoors enough in the last twelve months, but with the release of the Xbox Wireless Headset there really is the sense that they saw Sony’s Pulse 3D headset and decided to do one of their own. This time though, it’s black and green. There is, of course, slightly more to it than that.
Your journey to Xbox Wireless Headset heaven begins with seamless connection out of the box. There’s no dongles here or ungainly Bluetooth pairing protocols, the headset is already in pairing mode when you lift it out of the box and it’s simply a case of hitting the pairing button on your Xbox console, just as you would to sync up a controller. It’s utterly painless – a feeling that’s amplified by it immediately grabbing an update and sorting itself out without any cables being put anywhere near a USB socket. This is how tech should work in 2021.
I imagine the first thing on the design table was that black and green paint job. Beyond that, much like the Pulse 3D’s sweeping white curves aligning with the PS5 design, the straightforward look of the Xbox Wireless Headset matches the Xbox Series X to a tee, though without quite going too far by having square earpieces. It’s sleek and simplistic, as Microsoft have tucked away all of the requisite controls with a clear aim of making a headset that’s utterly easy to live with.
There’s a satisfyingly clicky green power button that protrudes from the left earpiece, and this is also your pairing button too – a long press will have you able to connect to both Bluetooth or a new Xbox console within a few seconds. Other than that, there’s a button to mute your microphone, and that’s it beyond volume and game/chat control. Everything else is handled via the Xbox system software, and you can tailor your EQ and mic monitoring easily with the straightforward built-in Accessories app.
The first time you pop the Wireless Headset on you’re going to be blown away by the audio. I really don’t think I was expecting them to sound as good as they do, and at £90 Microsoft have just thrown down a gauntlet to Turtle Beach, Steelseries and everyone else in the headset space right now. While they’re not direct competitors, they also offer a comprehensively better experience than Sony’s 3D Pulse, and that’s a huge credit to them.
Part of their impressive audio output is thanks to the Xbox family of consoles’ integration of Dolby Atmos. It remains my favourite virtual surround sound solution of the moment, and the Wireless Headset sells it, benefitting from the expanded soundstage across games, music and movies. Dolby Atmos for headphones is a separate purchase of £11/$15 on Xbox – the Dolby Access app will give you six months of Dolby Atmos free if it detects the headset before September 2021 – but you always have the (somewhat less impressive) Windows Sonic as a free built-in spatial audio option.
The Wireless Headset is also capable of an intense amount of output. If you need a headset that you can crank past the ringing of your tinnitus, to the point that you’ll completely forget about the deafness you’ll suffer from in later life, then Microsoft has done you proud. Volume is controlled by spinning the outside of the right earpiece, while the chat/game mix live is on the left hand side. Just as with Lucidsound’s similar setup, it’s incredibly intuitive and user-friendly.
As you’d probably expect some small concession has had to be made to bring the Wireless Headset in at £90/$100, and they’ve saved some money with the largely plastic build. You might detect a little bit of creaking from the headband as you twist it in your hands, but that’s where any concerns will stop.
There’s a pleasing amount of solidity to the headset. It feels and looks well made, and it’s light enough not to cause you any discomfort over long gaming sessions. The headband and the earpieces are cushioned by leatherette-covered foam which helps to disperse the weight, though it’s worth noting that if you’re the sort to wear your headset over one ear, I did find the headband can dig into your head at an offset angle. You’ll want this on both your ears. Thankfully that’s not a big issue as there’s a mic monitoring feature that should keep you from shouting at the top of your lungs – at least, not when it isn’t necessary.
The microphone itself is functional, though not anything special. Part of that comes down to its surprisingly short adjustable arm. It’ll fold up against the left earpiece well enough, but rolled down it only extends about four inches out from the headset. That means the resultant pickup your voice is certainly thinner than headsets with mic arms that curve closer to your mouth, though it does avoid pops and unwanted breathing sounds because of it. It feels like a better solution than the in-built mics of the Pulse 3D, but it’s not perfect.
Almost unbelievably, Microsoft has also snuck Bluetooth in as well. You can hop into calls mid-game, listen to your own soundtrack while playing, or connect the headset to a PC without buying a separate USB dongle, and it’s incredible to find it implemented so well. It does mean you can step out of the front door with them on too, though the slightly odd microphone arm would probably put me off.
Perhaps I’m expecting too much, but a 3.5mm cable option would have rounded out the Wireless Headset’s impressive connectivity, and save the occasional spot of downtime when you’ve burnt through the 15-hour battery life. You have to assume that Microsoft wanted to hit that $100/£90 target though, and by missing it out they’ve not only pulled together a truly impressive gaming headset for the price, but they’ve retained a focus that most manufacturers are shying away from.