Turtle Beach Recon Controller review: How much does sound matter to a game controller anyway?
Quick verdict: Turtle Beach’s Recon controller lacks wireless play, but it’s very good if you’re keen on quick audio modification while you play.
- Lots of audio fine tuning.
- Configurable rear trigger buttons.
- Grippy pads feel great.
- Busy layout takes time to get used to.
- Wired only.
- Gets heavy with cables if you’re also using headphones.
Turtle Beach as a brand is probably one you associate more with headphones in the gaming space than controllers. The Turtle Beach Recon is an Xbox-style controller that leans pretty heavily into Turtle Beach's history in sound.
That's because the best reason to buy it is if you're keen on modifying your sound while you game. However, the lack of wireless compatibility may put off some looking for an alternative to the standard wireless Xbox controller.
Design: Looks like an Xbox controller… but busier
There sure are a whole lot of Xbox-styled controllers available for gamers to buy right now.
There's a good reason for this – it genuinely is one of the better overall designs for a controller, putting everything in easy reach, with the added benefit of muscle memory guiding your fingers to buttons precisely where you'd expect them to be.
While the Turtle Beach Recon has the Xbox look down pat, it's actually a much busier controller than the standard Xbox wireless model. It's dominated at the front by a bank of buttons that control a range of audio features as well as customisation profiles for the 2 additional buttons located underneath the controller's grips.
That adds functionality, but there's a slight cost in design terms to deal with here. My hands are well tuned to where everything on a standard Xbox controller sits, so I don't have to look for a button to hit it accurately in the middle of frantic gameplay.
Except that on the Turtle Beach Recon, because the menu and view buttons are a little lower to accommodate that control panel, more than once I've hit the control panel rather than those buttons while testing it out.
It's not going to be critical for most games and situations, but there's definitely a different feel to games as a result.
Speaking of a different feel, I did appreciate the rubber grips on the Turtle Beach Recon. They're solid enough that it feels like they should last for the long term, while still making it easy to shift around, even in the most frantic gameplay situations.
The Turtle Beach Recon is a wired-only controller, although you could be fooled into thinking differently because its detachable connection cable hooks up via USB-C. Unplug it… and it won't do anything at all. That does at least mean that if you did break or lose its cable, you could replace it with any other USB-C cable without having to buy a whole new controller, at least.
Performance: Audio modes work well, but cabling can get tangled easily
There are really 2 parts to discussing the Turtle Beach Recon's performance. As a base-level Xbox controller, it's really rather good, with excellent stick and button response, good triggers and the optional grip buttons available at call.
However, there's no software configuration utility for those buttons because it's all done with those face buttons, cycling between modes with specific button press sequences.
The manual does explain this quite well, but because there's no interface to simply select button settings or the like, it is a convoluted process, and one that took me a while to get to grips with. It's nice, for example, that you can have 4 different profiles for configuring the rear buttons, but you're going to have to remember which is which and why all by yourself.
The Turtle Beach Recon Controller also supports variable right-stick sensitivity, which it calls "Pro aim focus mode". There are plenty of games that will offer in-game stick sensitivity as well, of course. Adjusting sensitivity for your proclivities is a nice step, although it's equally as confusing if you're trying to jump between modes on the fly.
Then there's the audio side of the Turtle Beach Recon, which is genuinely its strong suit. The Turtle Beach Recon supports any given 3.5mm connected headset – Turtle Beach sent me one of its Turtle Beach Recon 500 Headsets to pair with the Recon controller – with direct audio controls for sound and microphone levels built into the controller. It also supports equalisation modes and what Turtle Beach calls "Superhuman Hearing" mode.
No, it won't turn you into Clark Kent all of a sudden. It's Turtle Beach's name for a rather specific equalisation mode that accentuates frequencies typically associated with in-game directional audio of the type that you'd typically get for weapon firing and footsteps. The idea here is that if you can more accurately hear your online foes, you'll get the drop on them that much easier.
It's an interesting idea that doesn't work for every game, and even within games where it may have an effect, you'd need to carefully balance out what you were hearing versus what you were missing.
Testing with Borderlands 3, I could pick out more distinct weapon tones, but at the cost of immersion into the game world because there's a solid hit to the total soundscape you get as a result.
On the physical side, the cable supplied has a decent length, but once you combine a cabled-only solution and headphones, you're talking a lot of cables, which can quickly lead to a lot of cable clutter. If you're gaming at a desk with a floor-based desktop PC, as I was, it can be a little too easy to get tangled up.
Should you buy the Turtle Beach Recon Controller?
- Buy it if you're happy with a wired controller and want greater audio control.
- Don't buy it if you need wireless freedom or want less cable clutter.
The Turtle Beach Recon isn't the priciest combination Xbox/PC controller you can buy by a long shot, but it really only makes sense if you feel that your existing audio controls on your gaming platform of choice aren't doing the job. There's a definite learning curve to getting used to where all of the Recon's extra buttons sit, but if you can overcome that, it's a good, but not quite great, controller option.
Pricing and availability
How we tested
I tested the Turtle Beach Recon on an Xbox Series X and a desktop PC running Windows 11, testing a variety of games over a 2-week period to assess controller response, comfort and its inbuilt audio features on both platforms. The Turtle Beach Recon controller used for this review was provided by Turtle Beach.
The reviewer has more than 2 decades of tech product reviewing under his belt and is a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including awards for best reviewer and best technical journalist.
Images: Alex Kidman