(See it at Amazon), represents a bold take on the category. Their vision: Make a great, no-frills gaming headset. Soup up the critical parts, and strip everything else away. Then sell it at an unbelievably low price—in this case, a meager $44.95.
Plugable HS53 – Design and Features
The HS53—or Onyx Headset, depending on where you’re reading—is a delightfully spartan headset. It’s all black, from the plastic ear cups to the brushed metal frame. While most gaming headsets are chasing louder neon color combos, the HS53 looks refreshing in its restraint. Plus, I’m a sucker for all-black gear. But the headset still looks like a gamer’s kit, complete with incredibly large, memory foam-laden ear cups.Brushed aluminum connects the headband to the ear cups and help the headset feel durable. The rest of the headset is plastic and synthetic leather. Plugable calls its plastics “high-quality,” but they feel pretty standard and lightweight. That’s not exactly a bad thing, as it helps the headset weigh-in at just under a pound.
There’s a retractable boom mic on the left ear cup. It can be pulled out several inches and bent for optimal positioning or easily pushed back into the ear cup when you don’t need it. But even fully retracted it still juts out like a gross little nubbin. The headset connects to your controller via a braided cord ending in a 3.5mm headphone jack. That can be plugged directly into your controller, or into a cheap, plastic module that lets you adjust volume and mute the mic. There’s also a long 250cm TRS Y-cable to connect to PCs.
The “53” in the name comes from the large 53mm drivers (sidenote: presumably the HS stands for, ahem, “headset”). The headset offers what Plugable calls “True 2.0 Stereo,” and it’s what they call their implementation of stereo audio—which is designed to accurately take advantage of games environmental audio despite being just stereo sound.
There’s relatively little branding on the device—both the “HS53” and Plugable logo aren’t nearly as noticeable in person as they are in photos. But the microphone protrusion and general design clunk will probably prevent the headset from replacing your everyday headphones.
That’s a long list of features for a wired headset. But Plugable’s main selling point is the price tag. At just $44.95, it’s cheaper than pretty much all of its competitors.
Plugable HS53 – Gaming
Several hours after I began reviewing the HS53, I found myself on their site for the third time that day. I was triple-checking that the headset did, in fact, only cost $44.95. The Onyx headset just feels way too nice for such a low price. The thick band remained comfortable for hours at a time. The synthetic leather ear cups felt sturdy and did a good job isolating outside noise.
I never had head or ear fatigue, and there were days I used them for upwards of four hours at a time. I’m a fan of the cleverly implemented unidirectional boom mic—it’s easy to position, and my friends never had a problem hearing me. I would prefer it didn’t jut out as far when retracted, but its still a better solution than many others I’ve tested—like the hard plastic options that always feel on the verge of breaking or the removable boom mics that are so frequently getting in lost in my couch cushions.
Of course, that’s not to say the headset is perfect. The HS53 is a budget headset, and that means there are some budget concessions. The volume/mic muting module feels extremely cheap, like an empty plastic shell and the audio doesn’t exactly offer much of a wow factor. One of my favorite ways to test sound profiles is to see how accurately they play a few of my favorite songs. The HS53’s are punchy, with an extremely bass-forward sound profile, which muffles some of the mids and highs.
That being said, the “true stereo” did well replicating directional audio. I tested it against a slew of games, and where I most appreciated it was, surprisingly, in the new MLB The Show. Each time I stepped up to the plate, I could hear fans jeer, taunt, and applaud my superhuman rookie from all directions.
If you’re accustomed to higher quality gaming headsets, the sound profile might feel too muddy to you. But if you’re replacing something like the PS4’s included ear buds, this thing is going to blow you away.
The Plugable HS53 Onyx Gaming Headset has an MSRP of $44.95, and it’s usually the same price online.
Plugable HS53 Onyx Gaming Headset