This is a guest article from our tech-savvy fan and friend Lee “Stop It” Hammond, who’s built up quite the headset collection lately in particular, and offered us to weigh on on two of the hottest devices on the market. Enjoy!
I think many people of XboxEra and the Wider Xbox community will be familiar with the Xbox Wireless Headset. Highly regarded by reviewers, versatile and well-priced at £89/$99 MSRP. The Xbox, PC, and Bluetooth compatible headset sold out upon their launch this year and from a feature point of view alone, justifies the price tag. I have been using these headphones since March, and strictly speaking, have been more than happy with them.
However, I am a bit of an addict when it comes to headphone tech and own no fewer than 10 headsets for varying use cases and price points. In this spirit, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to buy the Corsair HS75 XB for less than £50 from Amazon a few weeks ago. The Corsair HS75 XB came out in October 2020 with noticeably less fanfare, at a higher price point (£140/$139), and with fewer features. However, you can now find them for comparable pricing, which means: it’s game on.
Features and Specifications
First, I won’t bore you with the jargon stuff. If things like frequency response, impedance (on a wireless headset?!), driver size, and headphone sensitivity mean much to you, I’ve put a link to the tech sheets of both headphones at the end of the review, otherwise, I’ll talk about the real-world comparisons. The claimed battery life of the Headsets is 15 hours and 20 hours respectively for the Xbox and Corsair sets and, if anything, both are a tad conservative from real-world usage. However, battery life is affected by volume usage as well as wireless conditions and a congested local wireless environment and, in the case of the Xbox Headset, Bluetooth use may affect things. YMMV.
Both use the Xbox Wireless protocol for controllers to connect to the Xbox One and Series consoles, though the Xbox Wireless Headset also has Bluetooth mode. The said mode can also work in parallel with the Xbox Wireless Protocol, allowing you to listen in to a Teams call while fragging some demons on Doom Eternal. It also means it can connect to any device that supports Bluetooth for audio out, making it a handy headset for taking with you on a trip with your phone/laptop/tablet. The Corsair only supports the Xbox Wireless protocol, meaning you’re limited to Xbox One, Series, or PC using the Xbox Wireless Adapter.
Design and First Use Experience; Xbox Wireless Headset
Out of the box, the Xbox feel of the headset is clear. With the Green accents on the headphone rims, which also serve a secondary purpose of being rotating chat/game mixer dials on the left, and volume control on the right, it is clear that Microsoft spent a good amount of time thinking about the small things.
The green button both serves as a power button, with satisfying Xbox start-up sound, and a sync button (by holding until a sound/status light flashes). Syncing to an Xbox is as simple as holding the aforementioned spot and pressing the sync button on the Xbox. Job done. The mic has a button to mute and a status light to signify if your teammates can actually hear you, or just do not like you any longer.
The Headset has a leatherette headband with granular control for head size with a satisfying click per step, and approx. 5mm of flex on the earcups to mould to your head, but nothing more. The internal size of the earcups is 55x55mm, meaning if you have bigger ears the tips may end up a bit squished by the leatherette earcups, but the overall experience is comfortable with a nice seal on my head. The Headset weighs approx. 312g, making them light and very comfortable for long-term use.
It is recommended to launch the Xbox Accessories app on the first launch to update the firmware on the device and to check out the equalizer. However, for the first 6 months of ownership, you also get used to the Dolby Access App for Dolby Atmos surround. This app has multiple profiles for Gaming, Music, and Movies and is worth playing with to see what profiles suit you. The difference between the Out of the Box Experience vs tweaking can be high, but after 6 months, you will need to fork out for a permanent, though device-agnostic license.
Design and First Use Experience; Corsair HS75 XB
Understated: if there was ever a word to describe the HS75 XB, it is thus. If it wasn’t for the Corsair logo on the backside of the headphone, or the Corsair name on the top, you’d barely know who made this. Now, while not unacceptable by any means, the old-fashioned volume and mixer dials and lack of obvious lights for the microphone may well end up with you shouting at your children instead of your teammates.
The headset has a slightly thicker leatherette headband than the Xbox Headset, also with granular control for head size, but also slightly less secure click per step, plus internal hinges for the earcups, allowing for a wider range of head sizes than Microsoft’s counterpart. The internal size of the earcups is 55x65mm. It doesn’t sound a lot, but the extra 10mm of length increases ear comfort immensely. The Headset weighs approx. 382g, a bit heavier than Corsair’s product, and you will feel that in a marathon gaming session.
General sound quality
Before going to a strict A/B test conducted today with strict comparable settings, I want to talk a little about the general usage of both headsets. I have used both to play multiple games, media streaming use from films, TV shows, and motorsport. For what both set out to do, they perform admirably. The Xbox Wireless Headset is definitely attuned to bass, and even without tweaking it does remove some detail from the soundstage, hidden under a layer of bass which is relatively simple to tweak out, but is for sure of the post-Beats generation of bass management. However, for things like Formula One, the growl of the engines utilises this bass power well and makes listening to Crofty and co. on the commentary more enjoyable. The only let down are in high complexity works like films with orchestral soundtracks, where the lack of detail and muddy soundstage does become apparent. For communication, both support 22khz on Windows and Xbox for microphone recording and I have had no complaints about either during gaming sessions or Teams calls. Neither would be quite there for professional streaming, but for occasional Twitch use, they get the job done, especially with Nvidia Broadcast’s RTX voice facility on hand to assist.
The Corsair HS75 XB, however, handles most general tasks with much more balance. This isn’t to say there isn’t bass (there is!), but it isn’t a signature feature of the headset. Indeed, the headset puts a premium on the mid-end, with a specific interest in TV shows and films where it becomes a far more nuanced listen for content such as Netflix, with better highlighted incidental sounds and instrumentation, alongside certain voices coming through with more clarity. However, in general use, both will serve you well, and multiple reviews have given general experiences such as this.
Game: Quake. Platform: Xbox Series X. Settings: Default EQ on the Xbox Accessories App, Dolby Atmos Gaming Performance Mode for both headsets.
Ah, Quake. Gloriously restored by Nightdive Studios, Quake has received not only the restoration of the soundtrack (after years of unavailability due to legal issues), composed by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame but also restored the sound effects to 22khz. This was an ideal test as, being essentially a 25 years old game, the soundscape is more simple, comparable with very defined triggers and sound effects, and, unlike more modern games, is minimalistic in sound and music use. I’ve done an A/B test playing the same three levels repeatedly on both headsets to get the same sound experience
Starting with the Xbox Wireless Headset, a few issues were immediately noticeable. The “huh” sound for jumping sounded strangely distant as if the positioning wasn’t sure where it was meant to come from. This was later compounded with effects like the grenade launcher sounding a bit like the grenades were behind you, even when they’re in front of your feet, about to blow up in your face. The soundtrack’s moody, scream-filled mix of darkness and suspense was clearly present, but it sounded as if something was missing. However, it was hard to place just what was up in isolation, that question was answered later. On the positive side, the shotgun, especially the double shotgun sounded meaty as ever, and while some of the enemy grunts and sounds, as well as the environmental effects, turned out to be lacking in that final detail, the experience was still the oppressive and brutal sound Quake is known for.
Moving onto the Corsair HS75 XB, while the Xbox Wireless Headset clearly won the battle of the shotgun here, everything else was a clear win for the Corsair. From the satisfying clink of a grenade which, you really want to be getting away from, positional audio was far more accurate. One of the biggest wins for the Corsair was the traps that throw spikes at you across the room. The whooshing sounds generated by the Corsair felt far more real than what the Xbox Headset could muster. The jumping “huh” was spot on, and crucially, the soundtrack gained a huge mid-end detail missing from the Xbox Headset. By the second level, the enveloping sound from Trent quickly descends into the downright unsettling, with the ethereal instruments, the voices groaning and wailing becoming genuinely at the level of being disturbing. While not a horror game, playing Quake at night with this headset may well need a decompression session of The Teletubbies to avoid nightmares afterwards.
Both Headsets using Dolby Access App. Music mode with Detailed setting. No other changes.
Onto some A/B testing with some music, selected for a range of genres I am familiar with on my other reference hardware. All were tested via iTunes on Windows Store via an Apple Music subscription.
Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen:
Xbox Headset: As always, the first thing that struck me about the headset was how bass-heavy it was. While a stylistic choice, even with the more music-orientated settings as above, the bass is the focus. While there is good detail on the opening, the headset is let down during the guitar solos where the bass-led soundstage hurts it. Furthermore, the incidental instruments lack detail and just sound muddy. On the other hand, the piano comes through clearly. In terms of vocals, there is good stereo separation. Freddie’s voice comes through well, aside from a strange distant-sounding voice at the start; the other vocals? Not so well. Overall, the soundstage limits hurt the overall track but not a bad performance.
Corsair HS75 XB: Immediately, the difference in bass handling and soundstage is clear. Corsair’s headset also loves the bass, but it feels more nuanced. The cymbal roll at the start of the song is dramatically different and took centre stage of that part of the song. Incidental instruments have more detail. Going onto the voice, there is more air in Freddie’s voice, without the distant-sounding issues of the Xbox Wireless Headset. Great stereo separation too, with the “little high, little low” shining the most. The “Will you let me go” sequence hits hard, with far more soundstage to play with. The guitar solos, if anything, exposes the recording quality of what is a 45-year-old song. Not a perfect rendition, with detail lacking compared to a more music-focused set of headphones, but closer to my Sennheiser HD575 reference set than Microsoft’s offering.
Fast Car, Tracy Chapman:
Xbox Wireless Headset: A far more compressed soundstage, with heavy bass muddying the quality of the track, with the guitar still managing to shine through. However, when we get to the voice, the headphones fall apart. It’s not to say the voice sounds anything less like Chapman, but nearly all the power of her voice is lost behind a wall of bass, a completely ignored reverb, and the high end of her voice getting absolutely obliterated. If you listened to this on its own, you’d likely be just fine and never notice. On an A/B test, the difference is absolutely immense. It’s a bit like playing a game at 30 frames per second and then at 60 FPS. If nobody shows you the higher quality option available, you may never even notice, but once you do, it’s impossible to ignore.
Corsair HS75 XB: As my reference track for all my headphones, this is one of my first go-to tracks. From the very first guitar pluck, the heavy detail of the song (reliant on a good soundstage and bass management) shines through. As anyone who knows their music can surely attest, Chapman has one of the strongest voices in the industry, yet with balance and finesse. A good set of headphones will keep the reverb used in check, while also letting the haunting quality of her voice shine through. My baseline for this is my Sony WF-1000 XM3: the Corsair gets close, with only a touch of harshness that should be controlled better my only complaint. Great usage of bass without going too strong and, overall, a very enjoyable listen.
Xbox Wireless Headset: Oh, the bass, Microsoft, the bass. It’s far too heavy. Yes, I know the Finnish symphonic metal stars use a judicious amount of bass in their tracks, but the compression of the soundstage, coupled with a bassline that feels more like a wall of vibration than sound, makes this detailed, rich song almost painful to listen to. Poor Tarja Turunen must wait for the bass to drop for her voice to shine through. The guitar solo is almost entirely ruined by a bass line that simply won’t shut up. The key change flourish is, likewise, almost entirely hidden behind a wall of bass. It is a textbook way of annihilating a great track.
Corsair HS75 XB: Immediately, the restraint of the bass allows Tarja Turunen’s voice to be heard. If anything, the bass is a little too restrained at times. However, within moments, I hear an instrument I couldn’t before. The synth work, which was completely lost to the bass line of the Xbox headset, comes through and lends the ethereal quality to the song that a reference headphone set (in my case, the Sennheiser HD575) brings out to an even greater extent. While not ever quite managing the ludicrous soundstage that Nightwish songs crave, it’s far more enjoyable listen on this set. By the time you reach the guitar solos and then the key change, you can forgive a little bit of harshness at the high end, while appreciating the headphones coping admirably, with what is a kitchen sink of instrumentation being thrown at you by the ever-ambitious mind of Tuomas Holopainen.
You may think the message here is to avoid buying the Xbox Wireless Headset, but that would be a rushed conclusion. It more than holds itself for general gaming and media use, only falling upon the harshest of musical tests and specific back-to-back testing. In general use, you may not even notice the things I have written, unless you have both headsets or a significantly more expensive traditional headphone set to test against. The sheer versatility of the Xbox Headset also lends itself to being a Jack of All Trades, something the Corsair simply can not aim for, due to the lack of Bluetooth on the latter.
On the other hand, if you can find the Corsair below the launch price, and you are mainly looking at using it on the Xbox, or in combination with a Windows Xbox Wireless Adapter? The dynamic changes significantly. For these specific uses, and in case your headset usage is more music-focused, the Corsair wins out, and is a recommended buy from me. Bottom line? Both are worth the asking price, with each excelling in different scenarios, with Corsair winning on sheer audio nous and build quality from a traditional headset perspective, but with Microsoft’s device winning in the multi-use stakes, as well as the clever design for the volume management and microphone use.
This has been a guest piece from our friend and fan Lee “Stop It” Hammond. Let us know if you’d like more in-depth technical articles by him!