Since the success of the original Xbox Elite controller, we’ve seen no shortage of first and third-party manufacturers try their hand at crafting the perfect ‘Pro’ pad.
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a few years old but is still broadly seen as the golden standard of this higher echelon of gaming controllers. That hasn’t stopped other makers from throwing their mechanical hats into the ring. Sony’s trying with the DualSense Edge next year, and as for third parties, I’m personally fond of Nacon’s Revolution X wired controller.
Pro or premium controllers all typically hit the same beats, but the difference in quality can be staggering. The most expensive options will have excellent build quality and swappable parts like thumbsticks, shafts, and d-pads. They’ll also most likely be fitted with back paddles for extra button inputs. Furthermore, plenty of ‘Pro’ controllers will have a mobile app that lets you customize your pad from the comfort of your phone. Cheaper options will still pack in some of these features, but usually not all.
But what exactly do controllers like this offer that more standard pads, like the Xbox Wireless Controller, don’t? What makes them worth the extra cash, and what kind of games and players are they best suited for? Should you consider buying one? Read on to find out if ‘Pro’ pads like the Xbox Elite Series 2 are really worth your hard-earned cash.
What is a Pro controller?
Premium controllers like the Xbox Elite Series 2 are a cut above the average pad. While many have quite exotic price tags, the best ‘Pro’ style controllers will be more than just a pretty face. Many offer additional functionality like swappable parts, adjustable trigger depth, fully customizable button inputs, and a suite of back paddles that rest on your fingertips.
I’ve mentioned the Xbox Elite Series 2 a lot here because I consider it to be a benchmark of what you can expect from a pricier controller like it. Place it side by side with a standard Xbox Wireless Controller, and you’ll see the difference is stark.
The Elite Series 2 features textured grips to prevent slipping, a noticeably enhanced d-pad with diagonal inputs, four back paddles allowing for secondary button inputs, and higher-quality shoulder buttons and triggers. Toggle switches on the back of the controller also let you set the depth of each trigger.
Microsoft isn’t the only game in town, though. Plenty of third-party manufacturers have put their own spin on the Pro controller formula. Take Scuf’s PS5 pro controllers, which are arguably the most premium PS5 pads while we wait on the DualSense Edge.
Scuf’s roster of pads could be seen as the best of both worlds. They pack in excellent DualSense features like haptic feedback and adaptive trigger support, while also having interchangeable sticks, back paddles, and three separate profiles for custom button mapping.
How much should I expect to pay?
I won’t sugarcoat it, pro controllers such as those mentioned above typically cost more than your average pad. For example, the Xbox Elite Series 2 comes in at $179.99 / £159.99 / AU$249.95. Scuf’s controllers are similarly pricey, with the entry-level Reflex model running you $199.99 / £199.99 (around AU$309).
These are prices that can be tough to stomach, but thankfully, cheaper options are out there. Xbox has recently released the Elite Series 2 Core in White edition. This is a cheaper alternative to the regular Series 2 at $129.99 / £114.99 / AU$137.44, with the caveat of its extra components (back paddles, thumbstick, and so on) being sold separately.
There’s also the Revolution X wired controller, which I consider one of the best entry-level pro pads out there. You can pick it up for just $99 / £99 from Nacon’s store. It’s a feature-rich pad for being relatively affordable. You’re getting excellent thumbsticks, four back paddles, comfy grip and a set of extra components, and a carry case. It’s a brilliant option if you want to test the waters with something cheaper.
What are Pro controllers best for?
If you frequently play online multiplayer games, perhaps even competitively, then a pro controller can really help you up your game. I’ve been using the recently launched TCP Ultimate pro pad, which features a very shallow trigger depth. This makes it an ideal pick for games where you’d want trigger inputs to come out immediately. It’s perfect for fighting games like Guilty Gear Strive or the upcoming Street Fighter 6.
If you’re a shooter fan, pro controllers can help you really hone in on a control scheme that suits you perfectly. Back paddles allow for extra input assignment, and I’ve found them to be excellent places to bind commands like jumping, crouching, throwing grenades, and melee attacks while keeping my thumb firmly on the sticks for movement. In a frantic shootout, those back paddles can make a world of difference.
So if you frequent games like Halo Infinite or Apex Legends, consider investing in a pro controller like those mentioned above. The extra features aren’t guaranteed to make you a better player, but their high quality and extra button options will help give you a leg up.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.