Hardware Review: Turtle Beach Recon Spark

30 Jul 2019

Stepping Up

For being someone with a pretty deep background in music, it’s kind of odd that I’ve never really thought twice about the kind of headphones I use with my various consoles or devices. I’ve often been the kind of person that’ll drop hundreds of dollars on some new electronic thing, but pair it with some cheapo $10 earbuds from the local drugstore.

I’ve been changing that over the past few years – when I upgraded my PC, I decided to finally invest in a quality set of headphones, and the difference was like night and day. It’s reached the point where I’ve found it difficult to go back to more everyday audio equipment.

Right when I was on the cusp of turning into one of those annoying audiophiles was when Turtle Beach dropped their newest headset offering into my office. Turtle Beach hardly needs an introduction – they’ve been around since 1975 working in the audio device business, but most know them for their PC and console gaming headsets.

What we have on our desk today is Turtle Beach’s newest entry into their Recon line of more basic, affordable headsets. The Recon Spark was released on July 28th through the company’s official website, and as a retailer exclusive at Target stores.

Pastel Pleaser

Right off the bat, the Recon Spark is a visually-striking headset. There’s all kinds of color choices when it comes to the headset market (and even more if you’re factoring in RGB elements), but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a manufacturer decide to put pastel purple accents on a gaming device.

The white with purple accents design definitely makes this headset stand out from the bunch, but not in a gaudy way. In fact, I find the design rather attractive…but then again, I’m also a guy with a white and pastel pink keyboard. If anything, it wound up fitting into the aesthetics of much of my PC build quite well.

The actual build quality is rather standard for the $50 price point the Recon Spark finds itself in. The headset is mostly lightweight plastic, with a metal-reinforced headband and some faux leather earcups and head pads. It doesn’t exactly feel like you’re holding something built with love and affection, rather more like something mass-produced, but it’s exactly what I would expect in this price range.

The microphone on the headset is a swing-down piece of plastic, one which is so small I can barely see it in my periphery when it’s down and active. I do appreciate this design keeping the boom away from my face; most headsets I’ve used often press the boom almost directly on my lips, and I’m not often one for giving my gaming peripherals a gentle kiss.

Unfortunately, I do have a bit of a big head (both physically and ego-wise), and it doesn’t feel like the Recon Spark was made with my skull size in mind. I really have to stretch the set out to fit over my ears, which causes the aforementioned metal headband to really clamp the headset against my face. It wasn’t bad using it for half-an-hour at a time, but any longer and the set would become uncomfortable.

Can Anyone Hear Me?

During my time with the Recon Spark I tested it mostly on two devices: the Nintendo Switch (in handheld mode) and my PC.

When using my Switch, I typically stick to the convenience store earbuds that I have piled up in my desk. After all, if I’m playing on the go, I’m not really focused on having a high quality audio experience, I’m just looking to get some quick game time in. Compared to those $20 Skullcandy buds, the Recon Spark was a massive step up. I mean, I’m sure a major part in this is going from tiny bud speakers to full earphone speakers, but the sound range was much better than I’m used to getting through my Switch, either through earbuds or the built-in speakers.

Moving over to my PC, though, is where my opinion cools a bit. I mean, it’s not really fair to put the Recon Spark up against my current go-to headset, the SteelSeries Arctis Pro with its proprietary DAC, but even still, during my first day switching from the Arctis to the Recon, I could almost physically feel the difference in sound quality.

After a few more days of use and adjustment, I did get used to the Recon Spark. It’s not a headset I’d recommend for listening to music (which is what much of my time at my PC is spent doing), but it is more than serviceable for its created intent: gaming.

I put the headset through its paces while helping out another member of the GE staff with his review of The Blackout Club. I’ll let you check out that review for a more in-depth description of its audio style, but needless to say, this is a horror game where much of its atmosphere comes from subtle soundwork.

The Recon Spark handled this detailed work well. I was able to pick out directions enemies were approaching in, the atmospheric sound design was just as clear as with my normal Arctis (although not as immersive), the the Discord chat we had going over the game came through clear and true.

The biggest issue I had with the Spark, though, was with its microphone. During our Discord chat, my coworkers kept telling me that my voice was tinny and repeatedly dropping out. I loaded up Streamlabs OBS to record myself (the program I had the easiest access to at the time for recording), and heard the issue for myself.

Vocal quality was all over the place. Despite recording at a steady volume, the playback had my volume dropping out constantly, with the quality constantly nosediving. Thinking the issue may have been with my PC tower’s front audio jacks, I plugged the headset into the rear I/O…and had the same issue. Continuing to isolate the problem, I got rid of the included audio splitter (required for PC use to if you want to use the headphones and mic at the same time) and plugged directly into the microphone jack…and again, had the same issue.

I attempted to adjust some settings on my PC to fix the issue, and was unable to get the microphone to work reliably. I’m not sure if the review unit I received was faulty, but my experience with this part of the Spark left a bad taste in my mouth.

Affordable Ability

Overall, Turtle Beach’s Recon Spark is a solid choice for the more budget-minded gamer looking for a new addition to their PC kit. If you’re not looking at using it for much more that gaming and internet browsing, this modest $50 set will get the job done (and look pretty stylish at that).

It’s not the most comfortable headset to wear, unfortunately, but again I can’t complain much about that at its price point. The issue with the microphone, though, is a big one. Either it’s just low quality, or I received a faulty headset, which speaks a bit more to quality control.

To be fair, I almost never use microphones built into headsets anyways, so I could see myself continuing to use the Recon Spark at the very least with my Switch. If anything, it’s leagues better than the earbuds I normally use.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review unit provided by Turtle Beach. Product images both taken by reviewer and courtesy of Turtle Beach.