Why you can trust ZDNET
:ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.Our process
'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
Online retailer Drop and Epos, a company formed by the former gaming division of legendary audio equipment maker Sennheiser, have again come together to make a gaming headset. This time, the collaborative duo is targeting the budget end of the market with a sub-$80 model that attempts to do for the low-price market what their incredible PC38X headset did for the mid-range market.
Their new entry, the H3X, looks a bit more like recent EPOS headsets, with that multi-jointed, futuristic aesthetic they tend toward. More importantly, it retains a remarkable amount of the DNA of its more expensive cousin, closely mirroring how it feels, performs, and sounds. Let's go in-depth with what I believe just became the best headset you can buy for under $100.
Because of the ample praise I heaped on the PC38X, and the fact that it can be had for only $50 to $80 more than this model, it's going to loom large over the H3X's relative performance. The first instance of this is its build quality. The H3X is built quite well for an $80 headset, but not as well as its ever-present ancestor.
The unit is mostly plastic, but the exposed metal headband speaks to a structural quality that will stand up to all but the most dramatic rage quits. It also expands to truly massive proportions, easily accommodating just about anyone (shoutout to my fellow members of the big-head gang).
All pivot points and joints are assembled well and work smoothly, creating a very comfortable fit overall. The earcups are rather small, making it feel like more of an on-ear headset than an over-ear headset (at least to my probably above-average-sized ears). They're still extremely comfortable, however, thanks to the hybrid leatherette-suede pads and included foam, which molded wonderfully to my head after just a few seconds.
The cheaper build quality shows most in the volume knob, which feels both looser and less perfectly responsive than the PC38X's, and in the mic arm, which is both thinner and less flexible.
As I said, the construction more than lives up to its $80 price tag, just don't expect it to beat it. There is, however, one weird exception to this: the cables, which we'll discuss in the next section.
Like the PC38X, the H3X includes a permanent boom mic that mutes automatically when raised, it also includes a volume knob on the opposite earcup, and a detachable port to connect one of its two included cables. That boom mic's performance is very nearly identical to its more expensive sibling. I was impressed with that level of fidelity on a $150-ish headset, so imagine how much more impressive it was on an $80 model.
The device includes two detachable cables. One terminates in a discrete headphone and microphone jack for PC use, while the other includes a single TRRS connector for console gaming. Both cables are shockingly good, far better than the PC38X's, in fact. This is due to their better flexibility, slightly thicker feel, and elimination of their predecessor's tendency to pick up annoying persistent kinks. I hope Drop and Epos consider replacing the cable that comes with the PC38X with these newer models. I fully intend to swap mine out.
The single pair of pre-installed earcups are a hybrid leatherette/suede layout, with the suede part being what contacts your ears and head. This design dig a great job of providing the excellent sound seal and passive isolation of leather-like materials, while also preventing the heat retention and sweating it can induce by keeping it from actually contacting your skin.
If you want the short version: The H3X's sound is about 75% to 80% as good as the PC38X's. Keep in mind, I called that headset the best thing for gaming under $1,600, so even 75% of that praise is still incredibly impressive for a headset that retails for less than $80.
If you want the longer version, or just aren't familiar with the PC38X, the best way to describe the H3X's sound profile is intensely game-focused. It has an exceptional soundstage for the price, making it easy to always discern where that explosion happened, or which direction that enemy's sneaking toward you from. It also plays extremely well with simulated 7.1 surround sound, like the mode provided by Epos' own GSX 1000 2nd Edition, to further enhance this capability.
As you'd expect, the above priorities for its sound profile mean it emphasizes highs over bass. It can, however, get quite bassy under the right circumstances, but that bass isn't as detailed as it is on the PC38X, and it's the section of overall frequency coverage where I found the H3X to be most lacking.
This isn't to say you can't enjoy the full range of sound effects, movies, and music with the H3X. Just expect to do a bit of equalizer tweaking to help the headset counteract its very minor deficits for music or soundtracks. With a bit of tinkering, the H3X can provide enjoyable sound for just about anything. It just needs that tiny bit of extra help.
I concluded my PC38X review by saying that "Just buy it already" could have been my entire review. The sentiment applies here as well.
If you can squeeze the PC38X into your budget, I would still wholeheartedly recommend that to anyone that can afford it, as well as to those who can afford far more expensive models as well. But, if you're more in the sub-$100 budget range, the H3X outstrips any other headset I've tried. In fact, if the PC38X didn't exist, I'd be recommending this as the best wired model for under $150.
As things stand, it's still my top recommendation for anyone from young gamers getting their first setup to crusty veterans who just want a great, cheap headset that will absolutely give them a tactical advantage.
The headset that remains my top recommendation for literally anyone that can afford its ridiculously low (for the sound it provides) price point. The only headphones that can beat it for game sound cost four figures.
If you prefer wireless headsets to prevent accidentally yanking your PC off the desk while running to answer the door, The Razer BlackShark V2 Pro wireless headset is my overall pick. It's a couple of years old now, but still represents the best combo of comfort, audio quality, price, and features.
If you want the closest thing to the sound this headset can produce, but still dream of wireless, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro headset is your best option. Its hot-swap batteries also remain one of the most under-used ideas in wireless peripheral tech.