Plugable Performance HS53 Onyx Gaming Headset Review
The Plugable Performance HS53 Onyx
A New Challenger Approaches
Plugable Performance is a newcomer to the world of gaming peripherals but they’ve set out to make a splash in the budget sector. They compare their products to race cars: stripping out the unnecessary parts and souping up the elements that actually matter. Today we’re looking at their HS53 Onyx Gaming Headset. It features big 53mm dynamic drivers, memory foam ear cushions and a metal reinforced build. By looks alone, it appears more premium than its modest $49.95 asking price. Does it perform as good as it looks? Let’s find out.
- Model: HS53
- SKU: TRRS-HS53
- Earcup Design: Sealed
- Type: Dynamic
- Sensitivity: 101±3dB at 1 KHz
- Impedance: 32±15%Ω
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz
- Power Requirements: 15mW
- Maximum Power: 100mW
- Connection Type: 3.5 mm TRRS or 2x 3.5 mm TRS
- Polarization: Unidirectional
- Sensitivity: -56±3dB
- Standard Voltage: 3V
- Max Voltage: 10V
- Current: 0.3±0.1mA
- Dimensions: 185 x 102 x 207 mm
- Headset (Attached): 80 cm
- In-line Remote: 30 cm
- TRRS-to-TRS Y-Cable: 250 cm
- Total: 360 cm
- Diameter: 53 mm
- Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
- Weight: 408 g
“For years gaming peripheral makers have been touting both virtual and “true” surround sound in headphones and headsets. The reality is that a well-designed stereo implementation puts both of these marketing ploys to shame. Modern games have fantastic stereo sound design that accurately positions audio elements in your game environment using advanced binaural audio techniques, and the Plugable Performance Onyx’s 53mm drivers reproduce the developer’s original vision for the audio with accuracy and clarity.”
Starting with packaging, Plugable does a good job of giving gamers a good view of the product before they commit to buy. I like the big side window design and it clearly highlights the most visible selling points in its construction: those big leatherette ear cushions and the heavy-duty aluminum yokes. More on the soon.
Taking things out of the box, we have the headset itself with a non-detachable braided cable that ends in a 4-pole connector for use with controllers or mobile devices. For PC gaming, there’s a breakaway in-line volume control with mic mute and a lengthy 8-foot splitter cable.
The cables are all nicely braided with very little memory from packaging. Like most braided headphone cables, they did have a tendency to drag on my shirt but that noise didn’t transfer into the headset or microphone, so it didn’t turn out to be a negative like some headphones.
Looking a little more closely at the headset, the first thing that stands out are those luscious, thick memory foam ear cushions. Looks can be deceiving. The cushions, by appearance, measure just under a half an inch thick. In reality, they’re a scant third of that as the leatherette wraps over a good inch of plastic frame. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell this from the outside and users could easily purchase this headset and find themselves disappointed by the reality of how much memory foam they’re getting.
Here’s how much padding you actually have:
Let’s not be too critical, though. In practice, I found this thickness and depth to be perfectly fine. My ears weren’t pressing against the plastic underneath the fabric and the headphones weren’t grippy enough to compress the memory foam beyond what’s available, though your mileage may vary if you’re larger than myself.
The other thing that stands out are the heavy duty aluminum yokes. This is a genuinely nice touch which connects onto a hidden metal headband. The HS53s offer a lots of flex without any creaking or worrying sounds of tension. These two points address the most common points of breakage in gaming headsets over time, so it’s great to see them being addressed here. There’s also a good amount of padding on the headband with a sleek grey and black colorway, though it only does so much to offset the bulk of this 408g headset.
The headphones do offer a lot of flexibility for different sized heads. The fit well on my smaller head and completely encompassed my ears. Between the easy flex of the headband and the wide adjustability offered by the yokes, even recently escaped gorillas should be able to comfortably use this headset.
Finally, we come to the microphone. Plugable has opted for a unidirectional microphone, which is beneficial for blocking out background noise, though I found it still easily picked up the sound of my mechanical keyboard. When fully extended, it’s just long enough to be equal with the center of my mouth but it’s likely that larger users will find it a touch short. That’s okay, however, because it’s quite sensitive and offers a substantial amount of headroom for turning up the gain at the expensive of white noise.
In my experience, the microphone was just okay. It’s clear, but thin, so for chatting on Discord or coordinating with teammates in-game, it’s perfectly fine. For streaming or podcasting, it falls short of sounding natural so I’d recommend looking elsewhere if you need your headset to be an all-in-one solution. It’s also extremely sensitive to plosives and since Plugable hasn’t included a foam windscreen, you’ll be stuck buying one aftermarket.
Before taking the headset out of the box, I was honestly very impressed at what Plugable Performance seemed to be delivering. The headset definitely looks more expensive than it is. What’s more, it looks solid and durable thanks to those thick metal yokes, which really gives the impression that it’s meant to last. When I took it out, though, I was surprised to find that it actually felt quite cheap.
Plugable has designed the HS53’s ear cups to tilt and even twist to a small degree. This is good for conforming to the user’s face but ultimately makes the headset feel loose and rattly (it doesn’t rattle when actually worn, thankfully). That it has so much movement is undermined by the fact that the headphones really don’t grip well enough to seal well anyway. These headphones let a lot of sound both in and out, so isolation is mediocre at best.
The bulk of the headset also makes itself known sooner rather than later. In my test period, I was able to wear the headphones for about 90 minutes before the center of my head became sore. Again, your mileage may vary, but this isn’t a headset I could wear for marathon sessions at my PC, even with the padding on the headband.
When it comes to sound, things really aren’t balanced. For pure gaming, they’re fine; not great, but fine. The bass is elevated, which is good for cinematic moments and experiencing big explosions, which is also enhanced by those larger-than-average 53mm drivers. That low end tends to bleed into the mids, however, and highs are slightly recessed. For games, I was still able to discern footsteps, though not as clearly as more well-rounded headphones, and positionality was overall pretty good. In larger, reverb soaked environments positionality could be more difficult to make out, though this was inconsistent and hard to replicate.
For movies, the out-of-the-box EQ was decent and I really have no complaints, but for music, the low-end weighting cut out some of the detail in the mids and highs that I appreciate most. You can re-EQ the headset in many music players and at only $49.95, I don’t even find it unreasonable, but it’s definitely something to be aware of going in.
Microphone quality really left something to be desired. As I mentioned above, for chatting on Discord, it’s fine, but the amount of plosives really drove me crazy when laying down recordings in Audacity. There was nowhere I could move it except completely to the side (by my cheek) to avoid them. This, in turn, lowers the quality of your vocal and requires you to raise the gain, and the level of white noise, at the same time. It’s the kind of thing your teammates won’t care about but that you should keep a mile away from anything resembling a Twitch stream.
For $49.95, you can’t expect the world from a gaming headset. Plugable says they cut out the unnecessary and focus on improving what actually counts. The HS53 is a mixed bag on that count. The durability of the frame is great but they could stand literal tightening. The ear cushions are comfortable and the use of memory foam is nice, but they don’t seal well and the fake thickness when viewed in the box is completely disappointing.
Sound-wise, they’re decent for gaming, but need rebalancing if you want to enjoy the full detail of your music. As a pure gaming headset, they get the job done: they’re not terrible for the price but they’re also not the best in this range either. The Plugable Performance HS53 Gaming Headset is purely middle of the pack.