The Xbox Wireless Headset just might be the ultimate gaming headset for a work-from-home world. That’s because in addition to instantly pairing to your Xbox, it can also sync up to your phone or PC at the same time to let you take calls or listen to podcasts while you game.
Now, we’re not trying to encourage you to zone out during an important meeting to play some Halo, but being able to have a single headset for work and play without having to constantly reconnect any devices is a huge boon. And that’s on top of the fact that Microsoft’s new headset sounds great for games and is comfortable enough to wear all day long — all for an enticing $99.
Is the Xbox Wireless Headset a must-have for Xbox gamers? Here’s what we think after several days of working, playing and chatting with it strapped to our head.
Who it’s for: The Xbox Wireless Headset is for Xbox and PC gamers seeking an affordable, good-sounding gaming headset that also plays nice with smartphones.
What you need to know: Microsoft’s new gaming headset delivers impressive audio within a very comfortable design, but the real standout is its ability to pair to your Xbox and phone at the same time. This way, you can listen to podcasts and take calls while still hearing the sounds of your favorite games.
How it compares: The Xbox Wireless Headset is similar in price and functionality to the $99 Turtle Beach Stealth 600 Gen 2 and $99 SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless, but only Microsoft’s headset has Bluetooth for pairing to your console and phone at the same time. If you want something sleeker, the Arctis 1 Wireless is worth considering.
Like the Xbox Series X console that it’s inspired by, the Xbox Wireless Headset has an unassuming design built to blend into your gaming den or home office. This all-black headset is accentuated only by two rings of green on each ear cup, highlighting its handy on-ear dials for adjusting volume and game chat on the fly.
Our only major gripe with the Xbox Wireless Headset’s design is that it looks absolutely massive on our head — this is not a headset we would wear out in public as our daily headphones like we would with the much sleeker SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless. We’d also love to see a white version to match the sleeker Xbox Series S.
Still, comfort is what really counts when it comes to a gaming headset’s design, and the Xbox Wireless Headset delivers that in spades. Thanks to its lightweight 11-ounce design and thick foam ear cups coated in artificial leather, we had no issue wearing Microsoft’s headset for an entire day as we bounced between playing games, taking calls and jamming to music.
The Xbox Wireless Headset keeps things simple with on-ear controls, taking a page out of the Surface Headphones 2 playbook with a large rotating dial on each ear — one for adjusting overall volume, and another for adjusting the mix between game and voice chat volume. There’s also a power/pairing button and a mute button for when you don’t want your Call of Duty teammates to hear you munching on snacks.
The dials are a great touch, and we found them much more intuitive than the often tiny volume knobs tucked between a sea of buttons on many gaming headsets. Pairing was also painless, as we were able to connect to our Xbox, phone and PC within seconds. We’re big fans of the Xbox Wireless Headset’s minimalist approach to controls, though a button for switching between sound presets (which we’ll get to later on) would have been handy.
PHOTO: Mike Andronico/CNN
The Xbox Wireless Headset sounded great with just about every game we threw at it, giving us a competitive edge in shooters and allowing us to soak in tons of environmental details in immersive single-player games.
When playing titles such as Halo 5 and Gears 5 on Microsoft’s headset, we could easily pinpoint where enemy footsteps and gunfire were coming from — a crucial audio detail for those looking to get the drop on their opponent. Moreover, sounds such as the kick of an assault rifle or the explosion of a grenade had a satisfying oomph to them.
Microsoft’s headset really shone when we played Ori and the Will of the Wisps, an atmospheric, Pixar-like platformer with sounds that are as striking as its visuals. The headset’s Dolby Atmos support (which allows for more accurate positional audio) allowed us to get fully immersed in the forest of Niwen, as we could hear birds chirping from all directions and make out tiny details such as an enemy splashing around in the water in full clarity. Better yet, the Xbox Wireless Headset was able to preserve these rich environmental sounds without overpowering the game’s gorgeous orchestral score.
Speaking of scores, the Xbox Wireless Headset delivers OK music performance, though it’s not going to compete with a dedicated pair of headphones. Rock songs such as “Cat’s Cradle” by Tigers Jaw quickly got muddy, as the guitars and bass tracks blended together into an indistinct wall of sound. The atmospheric hip-hop of Kid Cudi’s “Lovin’ Me” fared better, as Microsoft’s headset delivered full-sounding bass to back up the melodic croons and swirly synthesizers.
You can tweak the Xbox Wireless Headset to your liking with the Xbox Accessories app on Xbox and Windows 10, which provides a number of microphone and audio output options. Here, you can hop between various sound modes, including Game, Movie, Music and Speech; toggle the headset’s auto-mute feature; and enable mic monitoring for hearing your own voice while you talk.
The difference between EQ modes was small but noticeable. The Game preset is generally balanced, while Heavy Bass, well…adds more bass. The Movie and Speech presets were handy for highlighting explosions and dialogue in Captain America: Civil War, respectively, while the Music preset is fairly subtle and didn’t do much to enhance the headset’s relatively poor music output. It’s worth noting that music sounded much better on Microsoft’s headset when played over Bluetooth via a phone or PC than it did over Xbox Wireless on our Xbox One S.
The Xbox Accessories app gives Microsoft’s headset some decent customization options, but it does come with caveats. You can’t use the app on PC when you’re connected over Bluetooth (you’ll need to plug in with a USB-C cable), and there’s no app for mobile.
The Xbox Wireless Headset is rated for a solid 15 hours of battery life, which is largely consistent with our testing. It took two days of heavy use, including multiple hours of playing games and taking calls, for us to even get a low battery warning on Microsoft’s headset.
PHOTO: Mike Andronico/CNN
The Xbox Wireless Headset delivers great overall sound for games, but it really stands out with its ability to pair with multiple devices at once. Microsoft’s headset can connect to an Xbox console and a Bluetooth device (such as your phone) at the same time, allowing you to play games on the former while listening to podcasts or taking calls on the latter. It’s a truly awesome feature — especially in a work-from-home world.
Thanks to the headset’s dual pairing capabilities, we were able to voice chat with colleagues and friends over Slack and Discord for hours on end while still being able to hear the sweet sounds of us mowing down demons on our Xbox. Both audio sources came through clearly every time, and there wasn’t a hint of lag or interference. We had to adjust volume manually on both the headset and our phone to find the right balance, but everything sounded great after a tiny bit of tweaking.
This is super handy for a few reasons. If you’re on Xbox but playing a cross-platform title such as Fortnite with your friends on PC or Nintendo Switch, you’ll still be able to chat with them, thanks to universal apps like Discord. It also means that you can use the same headset for gaming and taking important work calls (no judgment if you decide to do both at once), all without having to do any annoying re-syncing any time you want to switch between your phone/computer and your Xbox. The Xbox Wireless Headset’s Bluetooth support makes it a great option for streaming Xbox Game Pass Ultimate titles on your Android phone, especially considering how few Bluetooth gaming headsets there are in this price range.
Microsoft’s headset also held up well in terms of actual microphone quality. Multiple people we chatted with reported being able to hear us clearly, and the voice recordings we took were both loud and clear — if a tiny bit robotic-sounding. The Xbox Wireless Headset’s overall good mic quality is a relief, because the actual microphone is pretty short, and while it’s bendable, you can’t retract it to pull it closer to your mouth. While there’s a handy LED on the mic to let you know when you’re unmuted, we had to strain our eyes to even be able to see it.
PHOTO: Mike Andronico/CNN
With immersive gaming sound, a wonderfully comfortable design and a reliable microphone, the $99 Xbox Wireless Headset would be an easy recommendation even without its extra features. But its ability to pair to your Xbox and phone at the same time really puts it over the edge, turning Microsoft’s headset into a device that makes it easy to take calls or catch up on podcasts while you grind out some Gears of War.
The Xbox Wireless Headset isn’t the most attractive headset out there, and a few more on-ear control options would have been appreciated. If you want something sleeker that also plays nice with Nintendo Switch, the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox is a worthy alternative.
Still, the Xbox Wireless Headset is a fantastic value for Xbox and PC gamers — especially those who spend as much time on conference calls as they do gaming.