When you drop a couple hundred bucks on a top-end headset these days, you can pretty safely assume that you’re getting something that will at least be very good, if not excellent. When you drop your budget into the sub-$50 range, though, you can end up with something that isn’t even worth the cost of the RGB LEDs you can pull out of it. So it’s with an especially critical eye and ear that I dove into Corsair’s HS50 gaming headset. This pair of cans just hit the market for $50 on the dot.
The HS50 Stereo Gaming Headset is a simple affair. It doesn’t get much simpler, in fact, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is Corsair’s least expensive gaming headset yet, and has the feature set to match. As its name already suggests, the HS50 is a sweet-and-simple stereo deal without any of those aforementioned RGB LEDs, onboard EQ settings, or any extra dongles to simulate surround sound. On the headset, you’ll find a volume wheel and a button to mute the microphone. In the box are a detachable mic and a Y-adapter to plug the default 4-pole connector into dedicated headphone and microphone jacks on a desktop PC.
With that budget pricing, Corsair is intentionally aiming at the console crowd for the first time. Even with those gamers in mind, this headset is hardly console-specific. You can go straight from your PlayStation 4 to your Xbox and then to your PC without doing anything other than just unplugging the jack and switching to the next system. That simplicity means we can dive right into the core of what makes a headset worth checking out without worry about the extras.
Build quality and comfort are often the first things to go on a budget-conscious headset. The HS50s are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn in this price range, and even out-do some more expensive sets. They feel anything but cheap.
Corsair built the structural elements of the headset out of metal, so it feels durable from the moment you pick it up. This includes the headband, which has been a sore spot for some customers in the past (TR gerbils, I hear you!). I can stretch these babies pretty far apart without them so much as creaking, let alone worrying about whether they’re going to break. While only time will tell whether they stand up to extended abuse, they feel solid. Even the yokes are made of aluminum that looks good and feels durable without adding weight. Corsair has also hidden the wiring that goes up from one ear cup to the other in these yokes, so it’s not exposed and should be tough to loosen or fray without a determined attempt.
The ear cups themselves are plastic. They don’t exactly feel premium, but they don’t feel the least bit cheap, either. Remember that this is a $50 headset. Once again, there’s no creaking or flex here, a crucial factor in this price range. I have to really crank on the headset to make it make any kind of audible noise.
Once you actually put the HS50 on, the impression stays positive. The HS50s feel exceedingly light, and they sit comfortably on my pretty standard-sized head. They don’t clamp down extra hard or feel loose on my noggin. The ear cups swivel just a little bit around the vertical axis. That flex is enough to help with comfort, but not so much so that you’ll be twisting them to sit down flat around your neck. There’s plenty of room inside the ear cups for all but the most statistically-improbable ears, and they didn’t get terribly warm even with extended wear. That’s despite the faux leather-type material that can often suffocate ears a little bit. These pads stayed comfortable throughout despite their laboratory origins.
On the cabling side of things, though, it’s easy to tell that the HS50 is budget-priced. The built-in rubberized cable is plenty long, but it’s going to be tough to work the kinks out of. A braided, non-tangle cable would’ve been nice. The microphone can be unplugged, allowing these to work as plain-old headphones, but the rubber tab that covers the mic port comes off completely—I think I might’ve actually lost it already. If you’re only using these as a gaming headset, then you don’t have much to worry about. With that said, the mic itself is pretty flexible. It can’t be folded up into stealth-mode like with more expensive headsets, but it does bend out of the way pretty easily and stays out of sight when it’s not wanted.
The overall look of the HS50 is surprisingly classy for something built in this price range. Where many companies will go for a hard-edged gamer aesthetic or some gimmicky clear plastic, Corsair just sticks with classic black for the most part. There are three different color schemes to choose from across the various HS50 models, though. Blue is meant for the PlayStation crowd, green fits the Xbox crowd, and black marks the PC crowd. The coloring is very subtle, though, and hardly stands out even when you go looking for it. A thin line of color on each ear cup is complemented by similar stitching on the headband quilting, but that’s it. There’s no difference in price among the colors, so rep whatever fits your preference.
All that sounds pretty good, but how do these cans actually sound? Let’s find out.
Audio and mic quality
Once I cued up some of my favorite tunes through them, my ears found that the HS50s are not bad at all. I’d even be willing to say they sound great, considering that $50 price tag.
The audio from these cans is pretty accurate. It’s a little muted-sounding compared to the sound from my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones, and it leans heavy on the bass. This voicing felt especially apparent when listening to tracks like Miles Davis’ “So What.” The highs drop out somewhat compared to the M50x headphones, which felt especially apparent to me in one of my old favorites, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant’s “Akage no Kelly.” The mid-tone character of the HS50 is, again, pretty accurate, suffering mostly because of the rather quiet presentation overall. I’d prefer a more lively sound with less bass, but these do need to appeal to mass-market listeners and gamers.
After plugging the HS50 into my Xbox One X controller, I also took the time to watch part of the UHD Blu ray disc for Blade Runner. When Leon shoots Holden near the beginning of the movie, their voices sound noticeably duller during a side-by-side listen with my Audio-Technicas. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, the reverb that comes off the shotgun isn’t quite as expansive as it should be, while footsteps in Assassin’s Creed Origins seemed quieter than they ought to be for gamers who might want to use those sounds as a way to track enemies.
To be clear, none of these characteristics are dealbreakers at this price point. The Audio-Technica cans I used for comparison are three times as expensive as these babies, and the ATH-M50x doesn’t even come with a mic. The HS50s will sound fine for most people unless you do a side-by-side with more expensive cans. My only real complaint about the listening experience with the HS50 is that the seal on these closed ‘phones isn’t great at keeping sound either in or out. People near you will hear a little bit of your audio if you have it cranked, and these aren’t going to sub for noise-cancelling headphones like some higher-end closed headphones might.
We know what it’s like to listen to audio on the HS50s now, but a good mic is just as important for any headset worth its salt. The voice quality from the HS50’s mic isn’t amazing, but it’s just fine for the price. I spent about an hour talking with a friend over Discord without any complaints about being heard. Same goes for in-game voice chat, too. I also didn’t notice or get remarks on a ton of outside noise, so it seems the HS50s do a sufficient job of blocking environmental sound (if your chat app of choice doesn’t do noise-canceling to begin with).
Here’s a sample of how the HS50’s unidirectional mic sounds:
Speaking of Discord, Corsair touts the HS50s as Discord Certified. Discord describes the process that leads to this badge of honor in some detail on its site. As far as I can tell, the company is trying to replicate the results of Neumann’s KU 100 dummy head or a similar instrument without actually using one. Instead, it’s hollowed out a cheap foam mannequin head and stuck a mic inside before playing back a recording and subjectively comparing it to a control sample. I’m not sure the company’s definition of “fresh and squeaky-clean” sound is universally applicable, but it might be better than nothing as far as third-party testing goes.
Discord also performs general compatibility testing with its software, but there’s just not that much going on with the HS50. If this headset was more complex—let’s say a wireless, RGB LED beast covered in buttons—it might make more sense. Discord is a popular piece of software, and it makes sense that some gaming headset software might be incompatible with it. These cans are simple wired stereo headphones, though. They transmit an analog signal with no encoding or post-processing in between. Ultimately, the HS50s are Discord Certified, but I just don’t think that means much in this case.
For just $50, I’m going to call the HS50s a solid pair of headphones. They offer reasonable audio quality and a solid mic built into a sturdy, comfortable base that should last through some heavy use. You’ll look pretty classy while you use them, too. They’re also compatible with just about every platform, from PC to console to mobile—one size fits all.
You’re usually missing out on a lot more at a price point like this, so I have to give Corsair some kudos for their execution with this pair of cans. The value proposition here is a good one. If your budget is bigger, you’ll get more by spending more, but here in this $50 spot, though, the HS50s come TR Recommended.