Gaming headsets are a very personal product, especially if you enjoy longer gaming sessions. If you are going to have a device clamped to your head for any significant length of time, you are going to want the best you can afford. The Afterglow Level 5+ Wired Stereo Headset by Performance Designed Products (PDP) is towards the value end of the market – but should you discount it because of that?
The feature list is pretty impressive for a headset you can pick up for around £40. The headset has a standard 3.5mm 4-pole plug, so it is completely compatible with the newer Xbox One controllers – the ones with the integrated 3.5mm jack. For older headsets you’ll need either a headset adapter or the Xbox One chat pad. The cable is of an adequate length and is of the flat variety, meaning fewer tangles. It’s hard wired though, so if it gets damaged it won’t be easy to replace. Construction is hard plastic, with non-removable ‘pleatherette ‘cushions and padding on the adjustable headband. The cups don’t rotate so the Level 5+ doesn’t store flat.
It does feel like construction is to a particular price point, which is understandable. The mic boom, though, is a step up from our expectations at this level. While it’s not detachable and doesn’t stow away invisibly (so you will get some really weird looks if you use the headset as headphones on your regular commute!) it is plenty long enough (a complaint we have with many budget headsets, including the official Xbox Stereo Headset we use when comparing headsets at this end of the market) and has a segmented soft plastic design which stays exactly where you wanted. Good stuff.
The controls are on the left headset cup; volume and mute buttons on the outer panel, with the on/off slider and a rotating wheel to adjust the level of bass boost – PDP markets this feature as ‘Quad Boost Haptic Enhanced Audio Drivers’ – located on the rear rim of the cup. Power is supplied via two AAA batteries (supplied in the box) in the right headset cup. The headset works perfectly well without power; in this scenario volume is controlled using the Guide settings (or on the adapter or chat pad) if you are using one. Adding batteries enables the bass boost function and moves the volume control to the headset buttons. Power also enables the Xbox-green LED glow in both cups, visible through clear plastic windows and illuminating some of the circuitry inside. The headset cups house 40mm drivers.
Initial impressions are actually pretty favourable – check out our unboxing video below to see what we thought straight out the box.
For all there’s a price point involved and some of the materials used feel ‘plasticky’ there’s a solidity to the Level 5+ that we weren’t expecting. Nothing feels like it’s about to fall off and although we wouldn’t recommend hurling these from a second floor window they should hold up to the rigours of everyday use pretty well. With a set of batteries installed they weigh in at 320 grams – not the lightest by any manner of means (the official Xbox One Stereo headset is around 250 grams) but not astronomically heavy, either.
Despite being a heavier than our benchmark official Xbox One Stereo headset, the Level 5+ is still comfortable in use. The headset band has a decent level of adjustability and there’s sufficient twist movement in the cup cushions to cater for the most weirdly angled of ears. Unless you have tiny ears the cushions sit on the ears rather than enveloping them, but the padding is soft enough not to make this an issue. The same goes for spectacle wearers – the cushion material is soft enough to not press the legs of your specs into the side of your head.
Over longer play sessions weight fatigue sets in after a few hours, but it’s bearable. The ‘pleatherette’ (our word for the sort of soft fake leather found on headset cushions) is comfortable initially but after several hours of constant use does feel a little sticky on the ears. A short break will restore comfort – and we all follow the warnings and take regular breaks while gaming, don’t we? Cushion material is a matter of personal choice and although on balance we tend to prefer cloth cushions for longer gaming sessions the Level 5+ is by no means the worst we have tested.
The sound quality was again a pleasant surprise – good clarity and stereo separation is excellent. In the Halo 4 mission Reclaimer (Master Chief Collection) the buzz of the drones in the seconds leading up to Cortana’s disappearance clearly tracks their circling movements. Later in the mission the destruction of the gravity well highlights the solid bass response, especially with the ‘Quad Boost’ feature enabled. Turned up full the bass can get a little ‘boomy’ but dialling it back a little improves the sound. The clarity and musicality of the Level 5+ came under scrutiny throughout The Flame in the Flood, where Chuck Ragan’s atmospheric soundtrack was rendered beautifully.
Whilst it can’t compete with a full surround headset for placement, the sound here is clear and well defined. Subjectively, the sound from the official Xbox Stereo headset sounds a little brighter, but with bass boost there’s a tiny bit more low end with the Level 5+. We prefer the brighter sound, but it’s a close-run thing.
Where the Level 5+ really stands out at this end of the market is the microphone. Not only can we get it where we need it to thanks to the generous boom length, it actually stays where we put it. The mic picks up clearly without needing to raise your voice above a normal level – hallelujah – and mic monitoring is acceptable when turned up full (double tap to pull up the guide and click down to settings).
We do have a couple of niggles. The volume controls, and mute button, on the left headset cup are difficult to locate quickly; the volume buttons sit on ‘leaves’ of shiny plastic indistinguishable from the surrounding headset material. The ‘+’ and ‘-‘ symbols are embossed so lightly that locating the switches is problematic. Similarly, the mute button – which does have a positive micro switch click when you find it – is difficult to locate. There’s no visible indicator of whether mute is engaged or not, leading to frequent “Hello, can you hear me?” incidents. Overall, we prefer on-headset volume controls to be of the rotating or sliding variety, rather than buttons, and an in-line mute control would have been a better solution than that offered on the Level 5+.
These niggles aside, there’s really not much to discourage recommending this headset. At this price range there are a tiny handful of stars and a lot of duds, and the level 5+ headset is definitely one of the better buys. In fact, it’s one of the very best headsets available for under £50. Sound quality and comfort are both a tiny bit lacking over the official Xbox One Stereo Headset, but the mic is much, much better. For online play with friends we would definitely plump for the Level 5+ thanks primarily to the usability and clarity of the microphone.
RRP is $59.99 (54 Euros or £43) but you can pick a pair up from Amazon right now for £36, which is a bargain. For an even greater bargain, the identically-specced PlayStation 4 version is a full $10 cheaper (we have no idea why) and can be found on Amazon for £27. A real steal if you can put up with the blue trim and LED lights!
Performance Designed Products provided us with a retail-boxed sample for the purposes of this review. The headset was tested for 30+ hours over a seven day period on Halo 4, Rocket League, The Division open beta, The Flame in the Flood, Titanfall, Netflix and Destiny.
One of the best headsets at this price point.
The Afterglow Level 5+ Wired Stereo Headset by Performance Designed Products (PDP) is towards the value end of the market but still offers decent sound and good features. If you are searching for a good headset for under £50 you should definitely give a pair of these a try. Although a touch on the heavy side, the Level 5+ offers decent comfort, good sound and a great microphone.