The current Xbox Core controller might be one of the best Microsoft has produced, but it’ll set you back at least $130. Meanwhile, the regular official gamepads tend to go for about $60 brand new. You might be wondering if you can save a few bucks by getting something a little south of that number. Or you might be interested in trying out more modern pro controller features like assignable rear buttons and adjustable trigger ranges, but aren’t yet ready to spend over a hundred dollars on an Xbox Elite or Scuf controller.
There are any number of reasons for looking into cheaper controllers, and here I’m going to lay out the pros and cons of some of the most common options out there for Xbox and PC. While the 8BitDo Ultimate Wired controller stands out as my personal favorite here, each of these might be more or less compelling to you for different reasons. The “best budget controller” title is going to come down to what your needs are.
The good news is that if you’re looking to save some money, you can in fact get a great budget gamepad on Xbox or PC. Most of the devices on this list are solid enough to use as your main controller, and any of these can serve as a suitable backup for when your main controller gives into the inevitable entropy known as “Drift.”
But as we’re talking about budget controllers, we ought to set some expectations for the one potentially deal-breaking limitation that these all have.
If wireless is make or break for you, you’re gonna have to buy a more expensive gamepad than anything here. Wireless functionality is something that none of these controllers (even my favorite of this lot) have. Because of Microsoft’s proprietary wireless technology, that feature is limited to official Xbox controllers from Microsoft and select others. But don’t close your browser yet! I get it, we’ve been with wireless as a standard now since the Xbox 360, so why would you want to go back? Well, there are a few reasons.
If you’re a PC gamer, wireless might not be that big of a deal as your machine could be close enough for it not to matter. And while a cable certainly sucks for chilling on the couch and playing some Xbox, most of these have what I’d consider to be a sufficient amount of length for average scenarios, and the cables are certainly as long as anything you’d probably get packaged in a more expensive, wireless controller. In some cases you can purchase longer cables if you desire.
Honestly, if it’s a backup controller you’re looking for, having a reliable wired gamepad might be a decent thing to stick in a drawer for a rainy day, or spontaneous couch co-op.
Also, none of these are speciality controllers (though one does straddle the line between modern design and retro-novelty). These aren’t fighting gamepads, or retro-style ones with functions reserved for silicon dinosaurs of past generations. These all focus on the functions necessary for your average AAA game. You can play any modern game on these with all the buttons supported and few extra functions that you don’t need.
I played entirely on PC to test these gamepads out, either on games in the Xbox app or Steam. Steam is kind of like a skeleton key of controller compatibility (especially if you launch it in Big Picture mode). I had no issues with all but one of these controllers, and they are all certified to work on an Xbox console.
Turtle Beach React-R - The Pro-Lite of Pro Controllers
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.
Hyperkin X91 Ice - For The Nostalgia Junkies (And Parents)
If you mostly play indie games, run emulators, or need something with a smaller, more classic form factor that doesn’t sacrifice modern button configurations, the Hyperkin X91 Ice might be quirky enough to fit those needs.
The Hyperkin Ice controller bends the rules of this list a bit, but it’s for good reason. It’s the only controller here that wildly deviates from the standard gamepad shape that we’ve more or less become accustomed to since the late 2000s. It’s a smaller size and definitely isn’t something you want to use in sweaty competitive matches, but if you’re looking for a bite-sized controller to enjoy chill indie games with, or you have a child or younger sibling who’s yet to grow into a full controller, definitely check this one out.
Most modern controllers are designed for you to wrap your hands around them in a death grip as you mow down the opposition with triggers designed for rapid fire. The Hyperkin Ice is a more retro style, allowing for a gentler grip. You can just sort of cradle it in your hands, and if you’re not a caffeine junky looking to scream your way to the top of a multiplayer board, you might find this one to be more your style. And for a person with smaller hands, like a child, or a teeny grown-up, this might be perfect.
It has all the necessary features of a modern controller: two asymmetrical analog sticks, a d-pad, four face buttons in Xbox configuration, bumpers, and triggers. The vibration is also very generous for something so small. There are no pro-style rear buttons here.
The triggers sort of push the limit on this form factor, and they’re quite stiff out of the box. Honestly, if they were designed or shaped a bit differently, I could see using it in a competitive shooter. However, you might only need a controller to play indie games which maybe don’t rely on triggers as often. If you don’t care about modern form factors, this isn’t a bad gamepad to consider.
Perhaps its biggest flaw is that it does not have a detachable USB cable…sort of. While you can’t pull the cable out of the base of the gamepad itself, it does have that “break away” cable feature that original Xbox controllers had.
I also had some compatibility issues when I first plugged it in. Certain buttons wouldn’t work at first, and then they all of a sudden did as if the controller finally had its morning coffee. Haven’t noticed this since, however.
8BitDo Ultimate Wired Controller - For The Homesick PlayStation Fans
If you’re looking for a comfortable controller with a different shoulder button layout from standard Xbox “bumpers,” and don’t mind a non-detachable cable, the 8BitDo Ultimate Wired controller is a pretty sweet choice. And it’s the one I gravitated toward the most when testing all of these out.
The first thing that struck me about the 8BitDo Ultimate was how its shoulder buttons are basically what you’d get if you crossed a DualShock 4 with the PS5’s DualSense (minus the special triggers in the DualSense of course). It also sits in a controller housing that’s more akin to a Nintendo Switch Pro shape than an Xbox controller, but it’s not a one-to-one clone of the Nintendo form.
The shoulder buttons encourage you to grip the controller a bit differently, likely using your index fingers for RB and LB (or R1 and L1, as you might be more used to). This is a bit different from most standard Xbox controllers, where you’re usually using the edge of your index finger to activate the bumpers. You can still sort of do that here in the same way you could sort of do that on a DualShock 4 or something.
It still has asymmetrical sticks, so it’s not a total replication of a Sony experience, but the buttons feel great, and the top and rear textures just feel very pleasant to hold. Of all of the controllers on this list, I find myself reaching for this one the most, and not necessarily because of the shoulder buttons. It also has two rear-buttons that you can program with software, with three profiles you can switch to with a single button press.
You will need a PC or some way to connect this to an Android or iOS device to program the rear buttons, but since you get three profiles, you could set them all to the most common setups you’re likely to use. There’s also a neat “button swap” option that lets you hold down any two buttons and swap them with a press of the “Star Button.” So you could quickly get Nintendo-style confirm/cancel locations. To be honest, I found this a little finicky, since you’re relying on the controller’s blinking lights to let you know you’ve successfully swapped them, but I imagine anyone who’d use this feature regularly would develop a sense for it.
This is far and away the most comfortable controller for me out of this list. And I would tell you that maybe this is the best budget controller for Xbox and PC…but then I’d be neglecting the most frustrating element of it:
You cannot detach the damn cable from the unit. Sure, it’s got another one of those quick-breakaways that make me feel like it’s 2004 again, and that’ll save you in an emergency, but it’s still kinda stupid. The cable also just slumps out of the device in a way that screams “connection failure” in a couple of years. Though I’m sure the Drift will get to this before that happens.
That said, this was the controller I found myself playing with the most out of this list, so it’s a caveat to an otherwise excellent budget controller.
It also has a sibling, the Pro 2. This one has the buttons sitting on a much flatter surface, and feels distinctly more “Sony.” That’s mostly because it has one important thing if you’re a PlayStation-style diehard: symmetrical sticks.
While it reminds me of the classic PlayStation 1 Analog controller (not DualShock, the rumbleless one that preceded it in the States), it’s noticeably of poorer build quality than the Ultimate, and there might be some compatibility issues as the box only says Xbox Series X and Xbox One on it, whereas the Ultimate supports both Series consoles, the One, and Windows 10/11.
The Pro 2 controller nearly made the list as a possible option, but unless you feel that you absolutely need symmetrical sticks for some pseudo-scientific reason having to do with “ergonomics” or something (don’t email me about it, please), you’re much better off going with The Ultimate controller as the overall build quality feels far better.
Hori Pad Pro - The Utilitarian
If you don’t need any fancy features like assignable rear back buttons, and want something that feels like it was designed to suit just about any modern game or playstyle, the Hori Pad Pro is a very straightforward and reliable device for 40 bucks. You will have to deal with a cable fixed to the unit though, as it once again relies on that old breakaway cable near the actual USB port. At least this one feels like it’ll last longer than the 8bitdo.
But of all of these controllers, which would you bet netted me a higher K/D ratio? You’d likely think it was one that had rear buttons, obviously.
You’d be wrong. Though it lacks a damn detachable cable, the Hori Pad Pro, with no frills outside of some software-adjustable response ranges of the triggers and sticks, is such a simple and basic controller that my well-established muscle memory just went to work as it always did, not worrying at all about expanding into rear buttons or anything like that. And as a result, I kinda played better on a controller that had fewer features.
Even when you don’t have rear buttons mapped, they can be a little distracting as they sit right where you grip the gamepad and some may not like this at all. The Hori doesn’t have that problem since it doesn’t have those buttons.
The result is a nice, utilitarian, middle of the road controller. If you find yourself looking at all the features such as rear buttons and thinking “I don’t need that stuff,” you should consider this one. I didn’t find it to be as “cozy” as the 8BitDo Ultimate, but it just did the job without offering features that scream “Hey, look at me!”
You can program it as well, so it’s not too dumb a device. If you want to mess around with the buttons, software accessible on a PC will let you tweak different elements and trigger throw is likely the first one to consider.
The Hori doesn’t seem to want to commit to any specific style like many of these other controllers. And that’s evident in the triggers which have a lower actuation point and are pretty stiff out of the box. They almost remind me of the DualShock 3’s R2 and L2 buttons, though they feel better than those things. If you really need to optimize your controller purchasing decision for shooters, even ramping the actuation to a light tap the controller might not totally do it for you here, so the Turtle Beach or the Power-A controllers on this list might be a better avenue if you’re just a shooter die-hard.
That said, I got some of my highest kill counts in Halo on this thing. I would gladly trade the trigger mechanisms from another controller on this list, but it’s a solid choice nonetheless.
You can also adjust the overall sensitivity of the analog sticks through the Hori app, which will let you turn the analog output of the stick into a digital one, if that suits your needs. You can save up to four profiles on the device, which include the option to remap all of the buttons on the gamepad.
Power-A Spectra Infinity - The Almost-Best Budget Pro Controller
The Power-A Spectra Infinity and the Turtle Beach React-R are both excellent options if you plan on getting an Xbox Elite controller or Scuf controller but aren’t yet ready to spend that kind of money. For 45 bucks, the Spectra has an overall more solid-feeling build quality than the React-R, and includes manual trigger actuation point adjustment. But given connection options and a trigger actuation function that might pose an issue in certain games, as well as a material that I think is likely to get gunked up, there are a few caveats to consider.
In general, this gamepad arguably demands the top position of all of these for pro features. It feels remarkably premium for the price. It has assignable rear buttons that can be configured on the device. It has physical trigger range adjustment. And it lights up if you’re into that sort of thing.
There are two notable issues with the Spectra, however, and that’s where you might choose to go with the React-R or even the Turtle Beach Recon, if you can get it on sale. The first is that, while hair-trigger adjustments are neat, depending on the game you play, you could be restricting your ability to pull off any feature that requires you to hold a trigger. Halo happens to have a very obvious example: Charging a plasma weapon like the plasma pistol requires you to hold the trigger down. It appears that with the most shallow level of throw set on the trigger, it doesn’t depress far enough to be recognized as a “held” button. Firing off quick shots works perfectly, but charged stuff gets the shaft.
The other potential issue with this controller will really only plague you if you’re living in the future and are using mostly USB-C cables for peripherals. The Spectra, right now, comes with a micro-USB port which is a bit of a let down. But, god, at least it’s detachable. You could also put a small micro-USB to USB-C adapter in there…but that might be a little risky.
All of our peripherals are only going to be switching over to USB-C as we move forward. So that means the Spectra might be the one device of yours where you need to keep track of a damn micro-USB cable. Granted, Power-A has made this easier by designing the jack to lock in place, meaning you can keep the controller and the cable locked together and never have to worry about it. The housing for the jack is also wide enough to probably fit most straight micro USB cables, so if you lose this one, well, it might not be a big issue. But if you’re mostly using USB-C, you might be better off getting a different controller.
And while the texture of the face controller feels very silky and fancy, I’m not entirely sure how this is going to age. Especially if you’re like me and you’re eating far too many quesadillas and enjoying substances while gaming.
While I preferred the 8BitDo for single-player games, there’s no denying that this was my go-to controller for gaining a competitive advantage, theoretically. As I said, the no-nonsense setup of the Hori meant that I could just play as I usually do. But again, a controller like the Spectra might be a good way to cut your teeth on features that are becoming essential for pro-level play. The trigger issue holds this back from being a more true “pro” experience, but it’s a cheap, affordable way to get into pro features, especially since a pro controller might run you close to three times the cost of this one.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about taking a look at all of these budget controllers is how, with some constraints (wireless being the most obvious), all of these are pretty safe bets for something you want to save some money on, or just have as a backup, have be the designated Player 2 controller. Some will have features that make it evident which one you’ll want. Others will be a matter of aesthetic taste, especially if you don’t care about pro features.
Overall, all of these but the Hyperkin will perfectly feel at home when playing on PC or Xbox. And I’d kill for a USB-C detachable 8BitDo Ultimate gamepad.