It's not often that I'm surprised by a headset. I know most of the brands and their respective product lines pretty well, so when I pick a headset up, I usually find the features I'm expecting and a quality befitting the price. I was surprised, then, when I slipped on PDP's LVL50, a wireless headset for Xbox One and PC that provides a solid feature set at a very reasonable price.
The LVL50 looks to offer a combination of features that are hard to find elsewhere for under $100, let alone for as low as $70. It seems to be a bargain at this price, assuming the basic premise holds up. Let's see if that's really the case.
Build, style, and finish
The LVL50 is styled like a gaming headset through and through. The looks aren't going to grant it dual citizenship in the headset and headphone spaces, but it doesn't look too over-the-top. The style is relatively subdued, with a primarily slate-gray color scheme accented by bits of Xbox green in small, barely noticeable places. If you go with the PlayStation version, you'll find more substantial branding, but Microsoft apparently didn't ask the same of PDP for the Xbox-compatible model.
The headset has a mostly plastic build. I've had some pretty creaky plastic headsets over the years, but thankfully the LVL50 is not one of those. It's quiet and sturdy, and the build quality belies the low price tag. The headset is adorned by a relatively small set of controls—a volume knob, a power button, an equalizer button, and a game-chat balance wheel. The rest of the hardware goes as expected: a boom mic and a charging port. No unnecessary shortcut buttons or lights complicate this headset, and compared to cluttered alternatives, the LVL50's lack of unnecessary shortcuts and lights is refreshing.
One standout design element is that volume knob. It really is a knob—a dial that you can turn clockwise or counter-clockwise—rather than a wheel or a button. It seems like a part with some potential to break, but I kind of like it. It makes sense, since there's a game-chat balance wheel on the other ear cup, that PDP would want want users to be able to differentiate the two features by touch.
The mic itself is weirdly long. It feels more like a helicopter pilot mic than a headset mic. It's conspicuously large, but that also means you can place it just about anywhere you'd like, and the gooseneck arm generally does a good job of keeping it there. The part of the mic armature that turns to lift and mute the mic is less steady, though. When the microphone is up and muted, there's significant play, causing the mic to bounce a little. While I couldn't get the mic to inadvertently drop in place when lifted into mute position, I still felt that it could happen.
The earcups themselves are made of a pretty standard nylon mesh, and the whole thing weighs in at about 11 ounces (317 g), so it's overall a pretty comfortable wear. The headset stayed firmly on my head throughout use and didn't ever feel sweaty or uncomfortable. The seal isn't as good as with leatherette earcups, but it did the job. Then again, leatherette earcups tend to be sweat factories too, and the LVL50's definitely weren't.