The 5 best budget controllers for Xbox and PC

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

photo: kotaku

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

The React-R feels a little hollow and light, making it feel like the “budget” of “budget” devices here. It also means this controller is pretty loud. Key presses and thumbstick movements reverberate at a very audible level. The USB-C socket could also pose a problem for larger cables as they risk not fitting into the case. Either use the included cable (not pictured) or stick to slim USB-C cables. But don’t turn them down just yet.

The buttons and triggers all feel responsive enough, if not as quick and snappy as more expensive controllers (or even some actually on this list). They have roughly the same feel and sound similar when pressed. However, vibrations can be hit or miss on PC as they wouldn’t always work on some games. When it did though, this thing definitely rumbles.

The two assignable rear buttons are shaped like wide, inverted Ls, meaning you can press them by pressing the grip on your middle finger toward your palms, or you can press your fingers up into the controller to close them actuate.

The “satellite dish” D-Pad that’s standard on modern Xbox controllers is a little spongy, but it doesn’t float in its slot or anything. The gamepad also has a lot of textured surfaces that may feel a little spiky at first, but these will likely wear down over time. Given its extra features, particularly the rear buttons, this is a good value if you just want that simple backup controller you fish out of a drawer a few times a month. It also uses a USB-C cable, so you don’t have to keep track of another or proprietary cable if most of your peripherals have switched to the newer standard.

But really the best thing about this controller is the low cost of entry to get used to professional setups with assignable rear buttons. The rear buttons aren’t for everyone, and arguably they’ll mostly benefit competitive games (particularly 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 as a “trainer” and develop a bit of muscle memory for the back buttons before spending two or three times on an Xbox Elite or Scuf controller. You might find you don’t use them, and then you can either stick with that controller, or later upgrade to something like a regular Xbox Core gamepad and save yourself the money for a tricked-out pro controller when you might not . You don’t need or use these features.

Luckily, mapping the rear buttons on this controller is a breeze. Double-tap the center button, then the back button you want to map, followed by the button you want to map to it, and you’re good to go. Fast enough to reset it even during a respawn count if you want to try different setups.

Figuring out how to use the rear buttons may take some trial and error if you’re new. Because of this, sometimes it’s better to spend those training hours on something more affordable than racking up miles on a more expensive piece of equipment when you’re just learning the basics. Basically, if you’re willing to walk away from that controller because it’s running its course, or you’re interested in a premium device, the React-R will tell you whether or not you want to prioritize rear assignable buttons. For that I think it’s a solid value.

The React-R also has a unique feature called “Superhuman Hearing”. You press a mid-range button and if you have headphones plugged into the 3.5mm mut jack on the bottom, the game’s audio is processed differently. I’m hesitant to call this a gimmick, but I honestly can’t think of a scenario where this would be really useful to me, even in a game that requires better hearing, such as siege (and I wouldn’t get caught playing this game on a controller anyway). So yeah, I think it’s kind of a gimmick.

But what’s the point? Well, I did a quick EQ test on the output of the audio when this mode is on, and I’ve concluded that the game’s audio needs to be run through some kind of gentle low-pass filter and/or probably get some boost in the mids and highs in the EQ spectrum. In layman’s terms, this basically means the controller juices game volume and higher frequencies, so clicks, clacks, sharp sounds like reloads and footsteps are theoretically louder. It remixes the game’s audio to emphasize the areas where these sounds are most clearly defined. That makes kind of sense, but I don’t see that catch from the way assignable rear buttons have.

Listening to this mode at full volume for an extended period of time is likely to become tiring, if not potentially damaging to your hearing. Turtle Beach intends this to be a quick thing you turn on in the moment to give sneaky opponents a sonic advantage, but I’m either not playing the right games or I’m not convinced. It’s a nice feature, but I’ve never used it other than running some 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: The Recon. While it’s often on sale for less than $60, its list price rivals the Xbox Core controller more than anything else on this list. For that reason, the Recon will be a topic for another day… but if you can snag one on sale for around the same price as the React-R, it’s a higher quality device and has the same features – including the silly listening mode. The 5 best budget controllers for Xbox and PC

Curtis Crabtree

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