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Turtle Beach Recon Xbox controller review: Audio enhancements sweeten the deal

Augmented sounds and assisted aiming keep you in the game.

Turtle Beach Recon
(Image: © Windows Central)

Our Verdict

The Turtle Beach Recon stands out from the crowd with Superhuman Hearing mode and equalizer presets. Customizable paddles on the rear help with precision aiming and fast access to other functions, but clunky button switches and a disappointing D-pad detract from the overall quality.

For

  • Fantastic audio enhancements for 3.5mm headsets
  • Customizable paddles enhance aiming and more
  • Comfortable grips and patterned triggers

Against

  • Incompatible with wireless headsets
  • Clunky button switches feel stiff and cheap

Picking up an additional controller for your Xbox can cost a few pennies, especially if you're looking at the official range. Third-party controller manufacturers have been targeting the affordable replacement market since the earliest days of home consoles, some more successfully than others. Plenty of gamers know the feeling of being handed a Player 2 monstrosity, bizarre joypads with barely functioning buttons that are awful to use.

Thankfully those days are mostly in the past, with Turtle Beach looking to set a better example of how to make a low-cost alternative with their Recon wired Xbox controller. Designed for the Xbox Series X|S, this joypad comes equipped with Turtle Beach audio enhancements just like their popular headsets. Pair that with two programmable paddles on the rear, and we're looking at a decent feature set for a budget controller, so how does it perform when gaming?

Turtle Beach Recon: Price and availability

Turtle Beach Recon

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The Recon wired Xbox controller is sold on Amazon and the official Turtle Beach store for $60 MSRP. Available in black and white colors, both feature a detachable 10-foot (3-meter) USB-C cable.

Turtle Beach Recon: What you'll like

Turtle Beach Recon

(Image credit: Windows Central)

I'm no stranger to third-party controllers. Most of my youth was spent sitting at friends' houses, being handed translucent microscopic abominations with sticky buttons and faulty analog sticks. Whenever a company announces its take on an Xbox joypad retailing for less than the official model, I feel somewhat anxious. Thankfully, first impressions of the Recon wired Xbox controller from Turtle Beach washed those feelings away. It's a wired pad since licensing third-party wireless controllers is still more effort than it's worth for most manufacturers, but the cable comfortably reaches up to 10 feet (3 meters), so it's not like I'm sat close enough to the TV for any eye strain.

Turtle Beach focuses on audio enhancements for the Recon controller, like what you find in the Turtle Beach Stealth 600 Gen 2 wireless headset. You can control game and voice chat volumes separately by a collection of audio-centric face buttons around the top-center panel. During fast-paced shooters in party chat, it's helpful to find that perfect balance between your teammates' screamed tactics and blasting gunfire without navigating in-game menus. This panel illuminates itself too, which felt particularly nice when playing at night. Many players are probably comfortable with the standard Xbox button layout, but having this collection of new switches visible in the dark is a feature I appreciate.

Regarding the audio enhancements, the Recon's primary feature happens to be my favorite: Superhuman Hearing mode. It's a post-processing compressor effect of sorts, boosting quieter sounds so you can hear distant footsteps and pulled grenade pins. Superhuman Hearing has been a staple in Turtle Beach headsets for a while now, as far back as the Elite Pro Tournament wireless model, and it makes a difference in competitive play. I booted up Metro Exodus, one of my favorite story-driven shooters, because the audio design is fantastic. I wanted to see what the Recon's equalizer profiles could do here, and it's pretty awesome. Gunfights in the rain sound incredible; with the bass + treble profile activated, it's like you're part of an action movie.

Turtle Beach Recon

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Considering its price point, the addition of programmable paddles on the rear of the Recon is generous. The wired controller is placed between the official Xbox controller and the Victrix Gambit, a third-party answer to the Xbox Elite S2. Offering just a touch of extra controls without full-blown component customization allows the Recon to score big points in the affordable joypad market without competing with higher-end models.

The default Pro-Aim focus mode for the right paddle slows down aiming for the perfect headshot.

The paddles sit higher than those on the Gambit, making them more comfortable hitting with a middle finger rather than a ring finger, and it helped avoid accidental presses. Both paddles can have their function defined by using the mode function to select a profile and following a paddle press with what you'd like it to emulate. I prefer the default Pro-Aim focus mode for the right paddle, which slows down aiming for the perfect headshot, and I find myself holding it down by habit with the left trigger.

The Recon is more lightweight than the usual wireless varieties, with rubberized grips paired with textured shoulder buttons for comfortable extended use. Motors sit under the trigger for additional vibration feedback, just as you expect from an official Xbox controller. Yet, something I half expected to see omitted from a cheaper pad like this. It's a decent handful of extra features for a controller that you might otherwise assume to be completely basic. I'd be happy to stick with the Recon whenever my official pad is out of batteries or when I have company over.

Turtle Beach Recon: What you won't like

Turtle Beach Recon Xbox controller

(Image credit: Ben Wilson | Windows Central)

The Recon isn't without its problems, though they aren't so significant that it affects the score too heavily. The audio enhancement buttons do, unfortunately, squash the remaining Xbox functions down, making it a little harder to reach menus and capture screenshots in a pinch. I can't seem to unlearn the button placement and regularly glance down at the Recon to readjust to the buttons now sitting alongside the underwhelming D-pad, which has abysmal directional feedback. When the disc sits atop spongey switches, it's tough to tell what you're pressing, making this d-pad useless for intricate fighting game inputs.

While just about perfect for movement, the analog sticks feel cheap and clunky when pressed. It means enough extra effort for crouching and melee attacks to be annoying and was one of the most noticeable downsides compared to an official Xbox controller. The face buttons suffer a similar fate, though not quite as severe; they still feel like they're using cheap switches that aren't satisfying to press for too long. It's a shame since the rear paddles are impressive for this price point and pair brilliantly with the triggers until you push the sticks in and feel the quality drop.

Turtle Beach Recon: The competition

PowerA Fusion Pro 2

(Image credit: Windows Central)

There is a decent amount of choice for third-party wired controllers with PowerA models promoted on the official Xbox website. Their budget model, the PowerA Fusion Pro 2, retails for around $38. It's much cheaper than the Recon, and you still have programmable buttons on the rear. The only feature you're lacking is the Turtle Beach audio enhancement suite, which I believe makes a significant difference. Whether or not it's worth the jump in price is up to you, but it's hard to ignore the Recon's higher asking price for something so similar.

Aim just a little higher, and you can enjoy the customizable components featured on the Victrix Gambit. More of a third-party alternative to the Xbox Elite controller, you again miss out on the Superhuman Hearing mode found on the Recon but gain in other areas. It puts Turtle Beach in a tricky spot, but their controller ranks highly in its field. If you're looking for a cheap alternative to a standard Xbox controller without compromising too much quality, the Turtle Beach Recon is a fantastic choice.

Turtle Beach Recon: Should you buy?

Turtle Beach Recon

(Image credit: Windows Central)

You should buy this if ...

  • You want an affordable alternative to a standard Xbox controller
  • You have a headset or headphones with a 3.5mm jack

You shouldn't buy this if ...

  • You use a strictly wireless headset
  • You sit more than 10 feet (3 meters) from your screen
  • You have finger strength or dexterity limitations

Turtle Beach has approached the affordable third-party peripheral market with an admirable effort. The Recon wired controller stands tall next to some of the best Xbox Series X and Series S controllers on a budget. It's a touch above a standard alternative to the official Xbox pad without pushing the boat out too much to compete with the Elite controller.

The audio enhancements are fantastic, making it genuinely worth plugging a 3.5mm headset into the port to enjoy the Superhuman Hearing mode, highlighting otherwise unheard sounds. The switches on face buttons and analog sticks would have appreciated a little more quality, but they don't detract too much from the overall build as long as you don't have issues with mobility.

Ben Wilson is a freelance writer working for Windows Central with technical expertise and a background in electronics retail. Fueling a technology and video game obsession with coffee, you can usually find him behind one screen or another.