Turtle Beach Recon 500 Gaming Headset Review
Thank goodness this gaming headset exists. The Turtle Beach Recon 500 is here to save us from the competent mundanity that has permeated the entire industry. This is the most exciting, new, and interesting headset design I’ve experienced in a long time. It packs in amazing sound for a price that’s lower than you might expect.
For the last several years, gaming headsets have settled into a safe and comfortable groove. Quality drivers tuned with some trademarked number of chambers to have relatively neutral audio, metal headband construction, and a decent noise- cancelling mic alongside whatever features are normal for the price point. That last sentence describes nearly every headset on the market right now.
Turtle Beach decided to go in a bold new direction. They’ve unleashed a truly original and awesome new design. A headset that offers sound unlike any other, built on a brand new proprietary driver system and with ear cup tuning that shares more in common with speaker designs than typical plastic gaming headsets. The Recon 500 is here to change the market. It is a great step forward for the entirety of gaming audio, at a price point that actual gamers can afford.
NOTE: Turtle Beach kindly sent me an early production retail unit of this gaming headset to review at my discretion alongside marketing assets and technical information. I don’t receive a kickback if you decide to buy one, and none of the links in this article are affiliate links. I wasn’t sponsored to write this, and I had full editorial control over this article.
The Turtle Beach Recon 500 is a closed-back wired gaming headset that comes in either Black or Arctic Camo color options (official site here). It retails for just $79.95, and for the amount of tech packed in here, that price is essentially unheard of. In the box, you get the headset itself, a detachable microphone, some documentation, and a Turtle Beach sticker. They kindly sent me both colors to check out, and aside from one small cosmetic difference in the feel of the finish (discussed below), they’re both identical.
It’s uncommon to see such an innovative gaming product at this low of a price point. Most of the “flashy” gaming headsets come in well above the $200 mark. The wired connection here and the feature set are in line with the ~$100 competition on paper, but the audio platform inside is just as exciting to me as bells-and-whistles models like the $300 Cloud Orbit S.
This headset contains totally new Eclipse(TM) dual drivers, which are giant 60mm speakers comprised of two individual drivers arranged in a concentric pattern inside the large ear cups. Going well beyond the multi-chamber tuning cups built by other companies, these use two tuned speaker drivers working in tandem to produce different parts of the audio range. This new driver design, combined with the wood-infused(!) ear cup, makes this a headset that punches way above its weight. It sounds unlike anything else in the price range it’s competing against, and is probably the coolest-sounding headset you can buy right now without destroying your wallet.
If you like textured, nuanced, impactful, awesome bass, the Recon 500 is your new best friend. The Eclipse driver produces the cleanest and most detailed bass of any gaming headset I’ve ever listened to. You’ll be able to make out distinct tones in the rumbles of explosions and gunfire, while also hearing the subtlety in the lower end of music. The bass range has plenty of information in it that’s often either toned down or over- emphasized to the point of boominess by other gaming products. On the Recon 500, bass absolutely sings.
Now, this bass nuance would be worth nothing if it stomped all over the treble region, but the high end on the Recon 500 rings out perfectly regardless of how much bass is happening at the same time. It truly sounds completely separate from the low end, sort of how it would on a standard speaker system. The treble is crisp and accurate, with plenty of detail for picking out footsteps and spatial audio information, and it doesn’t get fatiguing over time or at louder listening volumes.
Mids aren’t the star of the show, but still have plenty of detail and an excellent warm texture. They’re warmer than on the Koss headset I reviewed recently, with a nice creamy quality that’s still impressively realistic. The midrange doesn’t quite have the pinpoint accuracy of something like the Fidelio X3, but that’s a $300 premium audiophile headphone. The midrange here is still more than up to the task of any type of listening.
The Recon 500 is tuned perfectly for gaming, and its energetic sound signature is also wonderful for movies or music listening. When I had to swap to my new favorite studio pair to check some audio the other day, I instantly missed its expressive and powerful bass response, and wanted to switch back as soon as I could.
This headset has a fun, thrilling, impressive, and powerful sound that’s more like sitting in front of a nicely calibrated surround sound setup than any other headset at this price. That’s right, I said surround sound. Though the headset doesn’t have built-in 3D audio or any kind of included virtualization software, the huge ear cups and precise tuning give it a wide and open soundstage that’s one of the best I’ve ever heard in a closed-back pair of headphones. The width here is in line with excellent studio pairs like the Beyerdynamic DT770. I normally like to play games with something like Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos turned on, but with the Recon 500 I found myself enjoying plain stereo output just as much.
This is the most refreshing, unique, awesome sound I’ve heard out of a gaming headset in almost two years. The last gaming headset that impressed me in this way with sound quality was, again, the $300 Cloud Orbit S. If you have the chance to demo the Recon 500, you’ll notice how different and exciting it sounds right away. Sometimes, when companies market their new gaming audio designs, it isn’t clear how that design correlates to objectively better audio, but the Recon 500 shows its strengths immediately upon first listen.
The comfort here lives up to the standard of the exciting audio. The ear pads are simply massive, with some of the largest openings available on a gaming headset in front of the huge angled drivers inside the cups. The pads are filled with a deep, soft, slow-rebound memory foam that seals perfectly around my head and my glasses. Glasses comfort is further improved by the classic Turtle Beach “ProSpecs” system, which is an area of even softer foam that helps improve the seal around your frames.
Similar to other recent Turtle Beach headsets I’ve reviewed like the Stealth 600 and the Roccat ELO series, the bottom of each ear pad is sculpted to better help it seal around the back of your ear and your lower jaw. I love this, because I sometimes have issues with the seal breaking in those areas, but there’s no such problem here.
I was worried when I first put these on because I have to adjust them to their maximum size in order to get the proper fit on my head. This is the first time I’ve had to do that in a while. The Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen 2 doesn’t look like it would have a larger profile than this new model, but I have a few extra clicks of adjustment when wearing those. So if you have a larger head or large hair, you might want to try on the Recon 500 before buying it, or get it from a place with a good return policy.
Even with the extensions at maximum, the headset has no comfort issues whatsoever. The headband pad is just as comfortable as the ear pads, and although the pad doesn’t fully contact my head across its length due to design choices I’ll talk about below, it’s still very soft and comfy even after a three hour gaming session.
The ear pads are covered in a sports cloth material that helps reduce sweat build up over time. Normally, this type of material also worsens isolation, but the Recon 500 has some of the best passive isolation of any gaming headset I’ve ever used. I’m not sure if that’s due to the thickness of the foam, or the secret layer of leatherette hiding on the bottom side of the pad, but the isolation here is remarkable. This both helps block out the outside world, and better presents the detailed bass coming out of the amazing dual driver.
Build-wise, the Recon 500 is great. The headband is metal reinforced and the top is made out of a very flexible matte plastic material. The rotation hinge for the ear cups feels quite sturdy. The permanently-attached cable is nicely braided and very flexible. The adjustment sliders are firm and clicky. And the whole thing is surprisingly light in spite of all the new tech packed into the ear cups.
The design looks like a take on the standard gaming headset shape, but it has one quirk to it that reminds me of the original Arctis 7 from years ago. When you pull the ear cups away from each other to put the headset on your head, the center of the headband flattens out into a horizontal line instead of maintaining its curve. This helps to better balance and seal the large ear cups against the head, but it also means these stick out to the sides a little further than the average gaming headset.
This isn’t a deal breaker, and indeed, focusing the stress point for the bending action at the center of the reinforced headband is a smart move for long term durability.
Outside of the non-standard headband shape when worn, the design here is completely awesome. The interior of each ear cup uses an injected wood material to improve the tuning, similar to the way that most speaker cabinets are built out of MDF to help with resonance. The bass ports are subtly integrated into the back of each ear cup, so they shouldn’t fill up with dust or grime and your fingers won’t bump into them when you handle the headset. The cups can swivel flat for very comfortable neck-wearing, and that’ll also let you take a better look at the eye-catching Eclipse driver, which is smartly uncovered and displayed in full view under some transparent mesh.
In two weeks of heavy use across numerous games and hours of casual music listening, I haven’t had any build or durability issues. The headset is just as pristine as when I took it out of the box.
Both of the color options are quite eye catching, and both match well with the current Xbox and PlayStation colors. There’s one small materials difference between them aside from the different color. On the black model, the ear cups have a nice matte texture that’s slightly rough to the touch. The Arctic Camo model has a smoother finish on the cups, and I slightly prefer how they feel in my hands, and I also think they’re cooler-looking overall.
The TruSpeak(TM) mic included with the Recon 500 is wonderful. It’s good enough that you could do a podcast with it, and the capsule also does a fair job at acoustically blocking out background noise. This is one of the best microphones you can find on a headset of this price. The boom arm is keyed and easy to attach and detach from the headset, and it has some flexibility so you can position it just right. You can hear a short sample of the mic I recorded here on my personal web site.
Although the audio cable is permanently attached, this helps reduce crosstalk issues between the headset and microphone audio. The back of the left ear cup has an integrated volume wheel, and it’s smooth to control and works well. The left ear cup also has a rubberized mute button for the microphone integrated right in the dead center, and it’s strangely fun to reach up there and push it during a game. It’s very easy to find because it’s the most prominent edge on that side of the ear cup, and the textured rubber button is easy to depress.
It does make a small click noise down the line when you mute the mic, but that’s true of most gaming headset mute buttons so it’s not a big deal at all.
Turtle Beach is mainly targeting console gamers with this headset, and as such it doesn’t come with a PC-style splitter cable. If you need one of those to use this with your PC or external gaming DAC, you’ll have to provide your own. Due to the console focus, I made sure to test this out of both an Xbox and a PS4 controller in addition to my PC. Neither had trouble driving the headset to an acceptable volume.
This headset is an easy recommendation, and it is absolutely the best headset you can get for under $80. It’s packed with genuinely new technologies, and has an awesome original take on sound that’s so exciting after years of everyone chasing the exact same goals. It’s not the most clinical or strictly “accurate” product on the market, but it has a unique and nuanced texture to its sound that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever heard in this space.
The Recon 500 is the new premium standard for affordable gaming audio. It packs in new drivers that many other companies would have launched in a $200+ product. It’s the only gaming headset that uses wood in the cups for fine tuning. And the mic is good enough that I secretly used it to record some audio meant for radio broadcast the other day (don’t tell anyone!).
I can’t wait to see what Turtle Beach does with the Eclipse driver in the future, and I hope they’ll be the new basis for their audio stuff going forward. The only bad thing about this headset is that now I don’t know what someone else could ever do to top it at this price.