The 5 Best Budget Controllers For Xbox And PC

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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 about 40 bucks, you should consider the Turtle Beach React-R.

The React-R is a little hollow feeling and light, which makes it feel like the most “budget” of “budget” devices here. It also means this controller is rather loud. Button presses and thumbstick movements reverberate at a very audible level. The USB-C jack might also give larger cables a problem as they risk not fitting into the housing. Either use the provided cable (not pictured) or stick to slim USB-C cables. But don’t dismiss this one just yet.

The buttons and triggers all feel responsive enough, if not as quick and snappy as more expensive controllers (or even some that are on this list, in fact). They roughly have the same feel and sound similar to each other when being pressed. Vibration can be hit or miss on PC though, as it wouldn’t always work with some games. When it did though, this thing definitely rumbles.

The two assignable rear buttons are sort of shaped like wide, upside down Ls, meaning you can press them by squeezing the grip on your middle finger toward your palms, or you can push your fingers up into the controller to actuate them.

The d-pad “satellite dish” that’s standard on modern Xbox controllers is a bit spongy, but it doesn’t float around in its slot or anything. The gamepad also has a lot of textured surfaces that feel a little prickly at first, but those 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, something you fish out of a 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 on to the newer standard.

But really the best part of this controller is the low-cost of entry to start getting used to pro setups with assignable rear buttons. Rear buttons are not for everyone, and arguably they 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 this feature out if you haven’t yet. Think of it as a “trainer” and develop a bit of muscle memory for rear buttons before spending two or three times on an Xbox Elite or Scuf controller. You might find you don’t use them, and then can either hang on to this controller or upgrade to something like a regular Xbox Core gamepad down the line, and save yourself the money of getting a tricked out pro controller when you maybe don’t need or don’t use those features.

Fortunately, mapping the rear buttons on this controller is a breeze. Double tap the center button, then tap the rear button you want to assign, followed by the button you want to assign to it and there you go. Quick enough even to reset it during a respawn counter if you want to try out some different setups.

Figuring out how to take advantage of rear buttons might involve some trial and error if you’re new. That’s why it’s sometimes better to clock those training hours in on something more affordable, than it is to put mileage on a more expensive device when you’re just learning the ropes. Basically, when you’re ready to move on from this controller because it runs its course or you’re interested in a more premium device, the React-R is going to tell you whether you want to prioritize rear-assignable buttons or not. For that, I think this is a solid value.

The React-R also has a unique feature called “Superhuman Hearing.” You hit a button in the center area and, if you have headphones connected to the 3.5mm courage jack on the bottom, the audio of the game will be processed differently. I’m hesitant to call this a gimmick, but I honestly can’t think of a scenario where this would really be useful to me, even in a game where more perceptive hearing is necessary like, say, Siege (and I wouldn’t be caught dead playing that game on a controller anyway). So, yeah, I think it’s kind of a gimmick.

But what does this even do? Well, I ran a quick EQ test on the output of the audio when this mode is turned on, and I’ve deduced that it must be running the game’s audio through some kind of gentle low-pass filter and/or it’s probably boosting some mids and highs on the EQ spectrum. In lay terms, it basically means the controller juices the game volume and higher frequencies, so clicky, clacky, sharp sounds like reloading, and footsteps, are theoretically louder. It’s remixing the game audio to accentuate the areas where those sounds are most clearly defined. That does make a kind of sense, but I don’t see this catching on the way assignable rear buttons have.

Listening to this mode at full volume over a significant period of time is likely to get exhausting, if not potentially damaging to your hearing. Turtle Beach intends for this to be a quick thing you turn on in the moment to get a sonic edge on sneaky opposition, but I’m either not playing the right games or am not convinced of this. It’s a neat feature, but I never used it outside of running some audio tests on it to figure out what it’s doing.

The Turtle Beach React-R also has a slightly more expensive sibling which will sometimes come up in search results when you’re looking for this one: The Recon. Though it’s often on sale for below its $60 price tag, its list price does put 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 day…but if you can snag one on sale for about the same price as the React-R, it’s a more premium device and has the same features—including the silly hearing mode one.

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