Almost every gaming peripheral has one unique feature. Even the most unremarkable mouse, keyboard or headset usually has one thing — even if it's just a tiny bell or whistle — that sets it apart from the scads of competitors on the market. The Corsair HS50 ($50) headset is fascinating, then, in that it doesn't have anything to set it apart.
It's an entry-level gaming headset with a detachable mic, just like similar models from HyperX, Turtle Beach and Astro. It's black with subtle touches of either blue or green, depending on your model. It's totally functional for gaming, and subpar for music. If you made a checklist for a generic $50 gaming headset, the Corsair HS50 would tick every box.
Boring it may be, but the HS50 isn't bad, per se. The mic audio is clearer than you might expect, given the headset's price, and it's compatible with just about every gaming platform out there. If your gaming setup is already decked out in Corsair gear and you want to keep the theme, the HS50 will get the job done. But it's worth looking at the competition, too.
The HS50 is a black headset with a choice of blue, green or additional black highlights, depending on your model. They're all functionally identical: large, foam, over-the-ear cups; an expandable, notched headband with a fabric cushion; and a detachable microphone on the left cup. The left cup also houses a volume-control wheel and a mic-mute button.
In terms of cables, you can connect via a single wire (for mobile devices and game consoles) or a split mic/audio wire (for PCs). There's not much else to say about the Corsair HS50; what you see is what you get.
The only touch of aestheticism is the honeycomb patterns on the outside of the ear cups, which make them a little more breathable, as well as an elegant little Corsair logo. You could probably wear them out of the house if you really wanted to, although they're bulky and not particularly portable.
Corsair claims that you can wear the HS50 for hours on end without feeling any discomfort around the ears, and I didn't encounter any evidence to the contrary. I wore the HS50 while I was gaming and while I was working, and in both cases, I didn't even notice it was there after a while. The ear cups don't swivel, though, and the notches can be a bit rigid. So while you'll get a good fit, you may never find a perfect one.
I handed the headset off to a co-worker, who said that it was more comfortable than it looked and that he could see himself wearing it for long stretches of time. At the same time, he didn't find the foam ear cups to be nearly as soft as they looked.
One of the HS50's best features is that it works with any gaming system right out of the box. It connects via a 3.5-mm audio jack, so you can use it for a PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, smartphone or any other device with an adapter that isn't too far from your head.
The HS50 isn't going to win any prizes for sound quality, but it promises versatility and delivers just that.
I spent the bulk of my time with the HS50 on a PC, and it was passable but not really up to the same standard as other headsets I've used. Dialogue in The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine sounded flat, and there weren't many fine aural distinctions among the voice acting, music and sound effects in StarCraft: Remastered. It might not be fair to ask those things of a $50 headset, but unless you're dying for a boom mic, you can get a $50 pair of regular old headphones with much better audio range.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. The directional sound wasn't so bad in games such as Overwatch and Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The sound seemed a bit crisper, too, when I tried it with the Switch, PS4 and Xbox One. The HS50 isn't going to win any prizes for sound quality, but it promises versatility and delivers just that.
Because the HS50 doesn't use any kind of software, the only "feature" to discuss is its boom microphone. It's detachable, which is convenient, and even has a little plastic nub that you can use to cover up the hole, if you go long stretches without a mic.
Corsair also highlights the fact that the mic is certified to work with popular chat app Discord, although any reasonably clear mic should sound just as good on the program. The mic's pickup is a little quiet, but my voice came through clearly and without too much pop. You could play online games or hop on Skype conversations without issue, but I wouldn't use it to record a podcast.
While the HS50 gets the job done for most games, it doesn't play music well at all. While listening to tracks from Flogging Molly, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones and G. F. Handel, I found the same complaint in every genre: a lack of clear distinction between the bass and treble ranges.
Music sounded like it was playing from a cheap speaker across an empty room.
To the HS50's credit, it doesn't try to overplay or underplay the bass as many of its competitors tend to do, but just because an instrument is audible doesn't make it vibrant.
Vocals, melodies and harmonies all sort of blended together and sounded a little distant. To exaggerate a bit: Music sounded like it was playing from a cheap speaker across an empty room. It's not actually that bad, of course, but it's not something you'd want to use at your desk at work, either.
The HS50 doesn't cost much and offers adequate in-game performance across a wide variety of platforms. That alone might make it worth picking up if you don't have a ton of money to spend. On the other hand, the Astro A10 is just $10 more and offers much better sound quality across the board. If you're willing to spring for an $80 device, the SteelSeries Arctis 3 is probably the best 3.5-mm gaming headset you can buy — and the extra $30 is probably a worthwhile investment, given how many years a good gaming headset can last.
In the meantime, Corsair's first crack at a budget gaming headset is competent. But until Corsair can do something to make the HS50 (or its successor) stand out, that's almost all there is to say about it.