Sound Issues with the Xbox One Headset Adapter?
I put a question mark at the end of the title because I don’t have any objective sound measuring equipment, and this is based off of one evening of A/B testing a few movies and games.
But I’m pretty sure I’m right.
Microsoft has revised the Xbox One controller twice…aside from different color options and the Elite model. The first revision added a headphone jack to the bottom of the controller, and the second revision added Bluetooth for PC connections.
I have one of the newest controllers, the white one that comes with the Xbox One S. So if I want to use headphones or a headset, I can just plug them into the bottom of the controller.
The only drawback to this is that volume and microphone mute are controlled through the Xbox One menu system.
It takes a few clicks to access and it’s a little bit clumsy.
Back before they added the headphone jack, Microsoft charged people extra money to get one in the form of the Xbox One headset adapter. This little adapter, in spite of seeming like a questionable value that was designed to eek extra money out of customers, does include other benefits. Namely: button controls that allow you to quickly access volume, mic mute, and game/chat balance controls without opening the menus.
I got one of these for free when I picked up an Xbox Stereo Headset on discount, and even though my controller has a headphone jack…I decided to start using it for the convenience of the button controls.
However, I think it sounds worse than the headphone jack in my controller and causes issues sometimes with Dolby Atmos for Headphones.
I’ve tested this in Skyrim SE, Diablo III, and Netflix so far, and I’m going to do some more tests to make sure it’s not just me going nuts.
But the difference seemed obvious right away and I wanted to tell you about it.
I first noticed the issue thanks to Skyrim. I had my Xbox set to Dolby Atmos, but the playback seemed more like standard stereo. I toggled the settings a few times, as sometimes you have to toggle Atmos on and off to get it to work (yay?).
But things still sounded…weird. I could tell that Surround audio was properly being sent out of the game, because Skyrim has a weird mixing bug where the surround audio is a bit louder than the stereo audio. This bug shows up on the PC version of the game as well. But the positioning didn’t seem quite right and everything was a little bit off.
I didn’t think of removing the adapter yet, but it did set me down the path of trying to figure things out.
I swapped over to Diablo III, a game whose sound I’m intimately familiar with thanks to playing like 1000 hours of it across 5 different platforms. Sure enough, things sounded a little bit…weird again.
I had never thought the headset adapter could cause this, but as it was the only thing I could do aside from endlessly toggling Atmos on and off, I yanked it out and listened again.
It was like a veil had lifted.
The sound was cleaner, and the positional effects were much more obvious.
This same result happened again when I tested out Wild Wild West on Netflix. Hopefully you didn’t run for the hills when I mentioned that movie…but it has some very obvious surround sound effects in its mix, and I’m stupidly familiar with how it sounds thanks to some poor life choices I made when the DVD first came out.
So, what’s going on here? I have two theories. And it might be a combo of both.
- The headphone amp inside the controller is better than the one inside the adapter. This is entirely plausible, since the controller hardware was developed after the adapter, and the adapter has never been updated to my knowledge. I did all of these tests with a Logitech G433. It's transparent enough that the issues were obvious, and easy enough to power that the amp shouldn't make a huge difference...unless the one in the adapter is obviously bad.
- Microsoft didn’t think that people who owned a controller with a headphone jack would use the headset adapter, and so it’s some kind of bug they haven’t bothered to fix. I think this one is slightly less likely, since they probably wouldn’t have kept the port for the adapter if they expected to phase it out. Then again, I bet they also have data on how many people use the adapter with a newer controller, and I bet that percentage is very small.
Either way, I’m getting better headphone audio and Atmos playback straight out of the controller, and I wanted to pass that on. You probably don’t have this problem, but if you did, well now you have something new to try! I’m also not sure if this would affect people with the older controller, since I don’t have one to test.