5 Best High Quality Budget Xbox and PC Controllers to Buy

The Turtle Beach React-R controller sits on a rubber mat.

A photo: Kotaku

If you want a gamepad with a detachable USB-C cable, two rear buttons, in a standard Xbox form factor, and you’re only willing to spend around $40, you should consider the Turtle Beach React-R.

React-R feels a little empty and light, which makes it the most “budget” of the “budget” devices. This also means that this controller is quite loud. Button presses and thumb movements are reflected at a very audible level. The USB-C jack can also be a problem with larger cables, as they run the risk of not getting into the case. Either use the supplied cable (not shown) or use thin USB-C cables. But don’t give up on it just yet.

The buttons and triggers feel reasonably responsive, if not as quick and snappy as more expensive controllers (or even some of them, in fact, on this list). They feel about the same and sound similar to each other when pressed. However, PC vibration may or may not work as it does not always work with some games. However, when it does, this thing definitely rumbles.

The two assignable back buttons are shaped like wide inverted L’s, which means you can press them by squeezing your middle finger grip towards your palms, or you can press your fingers against the controller to activate them.

The D-pad “satellite dish” that is standard on modern Xbox controllers is a bit spongy, but it doesn’t float in its slot or anything. The gamepad also has a lot of textured surfaces that feel a little scratchy at first, but they will likely wear down over time. Considering its extra features, especially the rear buttons, it’s good value for money if you just want a simple backup controller that you fish out of the drawer a few times a month. It also uses a USB-C cable, so you won’t need to keep track of a different or proprietary cable if most of your peripherals have moved to a newer standard.

But really, the best part about this controller is the low entry cost to start getting used to the professional settings with assignable back buttons. Back buttons are not for everyone, and perhaps they mostly benefit competitive games (especially shooters). But consider the Turtle Beach React-R (and even some of the other controllers on this list) as an affordable way to try out this feature if you haven’t already. Think of it like a “trainer” and develop some back button muscle memory before spending two or three times on an Xbox Elite or Scuf controller. You might find yourself not using them and then you can either keep that controller or upgrade to something like a regular Xbox Core controller in the future and save money on buying a fancy pro controller when you might not need or do not use these features.

Luckily, customizing the rear buttons on this controller is very easy. Double tap the center button, then press the back button you want to assign and then the button you want to assign to it and you’re done. Fast enough, even to reset it during the respawn counter if you want to try other settings.

Figuring out how to use the back buttons can take trial and error if you’re new. That’s why sometimes it’s better to spend those training hours on something more affordable than spending time on a more expensive device when you’re just learning the basics. Basically, when you’re ready to discard that controller because it works or you’re interested in a more expensive device, React-R will tell you if you want to prioritize back-assigned buttons or not. For that, I think it’s a solid value.

React-R also has a unique feature called Superhuman Hearing. You press the button in the center, and if you have headphones plugged into the 3.5mm jack at the bottom, the sound in the game will be handled differently. I’m hesitant to call it a gimmick, but I honestly can’t think of a scenario where this would be really useful to me, even in a game where a more sensitive ear is needed, like, say, Siege (and I wouldn’t have been caught dead playing this game on a controller anyway). So yeah, I think it’s kind of a gimmick.

But what does it even do? Well, I did a quick test of the EQ on the audio output when this mode is enabled, and I came to the conclusion that the sound of the game needs to pass through some kind of soft low-pass filter and / or perhaps it boosts some of the mids and highs in the spectrum equalizer. In simple terms, this basically means that the controller turns up the volume of the game and higher frequencies, so clicks, clicks, harsh sounds like reloads and footsteps are theoretically louder. This is a remix of the game sound to highlight the areas where these sounds are most clearly defined. It makes a certain amount of sense, but I don’t see an option like assignable back buttons.

Listening in this mode at full volume for a considerable period of time can tire or even damage your hearing. Turtle Beach intends to make it a quick thing that you turn on at the moment to get a sonic advantage in latent opposition, but I either don’t play the right games or I’m not convinced about it. It’s a useful feature, but I’ve never used it other than doing a few audio tests to find out what it does.

The Turtle Beach React-R also has a slightly more expensive sibling that sometimes shows up in search results when you search for this one: Recon. While it often sells for under $60, its list price puts it in competition with the Xbox Core controller more than anything else on this list. For that reason, the Recon will be a topic for another discussion… but if you can buy it on sale for about the same price as the React-R, then it’s a more premium device with the same features, including a wacky hearing mode. .

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