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.
Features and wireless connectivity
On the Xbox One, this thing is an absolute champ, and it’s got great range. Playing Sea of Thieves, I had a solid, steady connection throughout play. During some downtime, I walked to each corner of my apartment, including to different rooms, thereby placing significant electronic devices between me and the console. The connection stayed steady throughout.
One feature I especially enjoyed on Xbox is the game/chat dial. This allows you to adjust the balance between game audio and chat audio at will. That functionality doesn’t work on PC where game and chat audio usually aren’t distinct sources, but on Xbox it’s a great feature that any gamer’s going to find useful. I was tweaking it as action crested and dipped to fit my preference. Since both volume adjustments on the headset are easy to find and use, I never felt like it was a burden to tweak the settings.
PDP promises 16 hours of battery life in standard use. While I didn’t bring out a stopwatch, that figure feels pretty accurate with my use. I left the headset idling, and it took about 24 hours for it to drain while just sitting turned on but not hooked up to an audio source. Charging it back up took a few hours. Unlike a lot of wireless headsets and headphones I’ve worn lately, it also will work while charging.
For equalizer options, the pickings are pretty slim but at least they’re there at all. The button toggles between a standard, more balanced audio, and a bass-boost version. The difference between the two is clear, and we’ll get into that more below.
Audio quality and EQ
The overall audio profile of the headset leans heavily toward bass, and I wouldn’t recommend buying the LVL50 primarily to rock out with. Plugged into my PC and with the bass boost turned off, I used the LVL50 to check out some of my favorite tracks. Honestly, they all sounded weird. Listening to rock music, unusual parts of songs stood out. When the bass boost feature is turned on, the low end feels even bigger—distractingly so, when it comes to music.
The bass lines and guitars in Metallica’s Of Wolf and Man are particularly prominent even with the bass boost off, and vocals often feel flat and recessed—Dio’s Holy Diver stands out as an example of this. The last thing I want from a Dio track is flat vocals, after all. Even on hip-hop tracks like Notorious BIG’s Hypnotize, the voices were underwhelming. While the audio was mostly fairly clear, during particularly sensitive tracks like Yes’ Roundabout, I heard some static, or perhaps even a little distortion. If you use this headset to watch videos or listen to music in between gaming sessions, the bass boost should be turned off for those.
I didn’t have that issue with any of games I played, however, including Sea of Thieves and Sekiro on Xbox One X and Anthem and Doom on PC. I found the headset to be plenty loud, and the amount of ‘boom’ felt appropriate for the games I was playing. Explosions sound especially good with the bass boost turned on, and gunfire in general has a satisfying crunch to it.
On the mic side, my multiplayer partner for most of my testing said that while one of my other headsets—the Logitech G Pro—sounded better, the LVL50 was loud and clear and provided clean audio. For reference, the G Pro is priced about the same (sometimes more), but it’s wired and has little in the way of onboard controls, probably leaving enough production budget for a better microphone. Anyhow, here’s a little audio clip of the LVL50 microphone:
PDP LVL50 microphone
For me, the PDP LVL50 works best as a dedicated multiplayer headset—ideally on Xbox, where the game/chat balance function is available. As a standalone PC headset, the LVL50 wouldn’t strictly be my first choice. It has Xbox-specific onboard controls that don’t function on the platform, and lacks any kind of PC configuration software.
But for someone who switches between console and PC, the LVL50 (or its PS4 counterpart, we’d assume) makes a good case for itself. It’s comfortable, loud, and has good wireless range with a steady connection and long battery life. For an $80 wireless headset ($70 at the time of this writing!) that’s a solid enough feature set that makes the PDP LVL50 worth considering.
The real standout feature here is the wireless cross-compatibility. The list of wireless console headsets is fairly short, and the list of wireless console headsets cheaper than this one is even shorter. Headsets with that particular feature often fetch a far higher price, so we don’t have a problem granting the PDP LVL50 a TR Recommended award.