The Xbox controller is easily one of the best gamepads ever made, hence the minimal changes with the Xbox Series X|S – and it has the added perk of working well with PC and smartphone games too.
Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement, and if you’re looking to replace your controller – or improve your online shooter performance – you’ve got plenty of great options, both from Microsoft and third-party manufacturers.
An added bonus is that you can keep your existing collection of controllers if you upgrade to the newer Xbox Series X – unlike the PS5, the overwhelming majority of Xbox controllers work on both the Xbox Series X and Series S in addition to the older Xbox One hardware.
And if you’re looking for some great games to make the most of your new controller, check out our pick of the best Xbox games.
Best Xbox controllers 2023
1. Xbox Wireless Controller – Best overall
- Official controller
- Loads of colours
- Not rechargeable
- Basic buttons
Sure, if you own an Xbox then you already have one of these controllers, but let’s be clear – they’re great, and if you’re looking for a second pad for multiplayer or to replace a broken controller, they’re the obvious choice.
Even better, Microsoft now offers the controllers in a huge range of different colours, including some two-tone setups and even a pair of Minecraft designs, so you don’t have to go for the basic white or black either.
Plus, it’s been continually tweaking and improving the controller, so if you buy one now it might be better than your original controller, with increased wireless range, Bluetooth support, and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
2. Xbox Design Lab – Best for Custom Style
- Official controller
- Customisable colours
- Optional engraving
- Not rechargeable
- Can only customise how it looks
If you’re looking for a unique official Xbox controller, your best bet is to head to Microsoft’s Xbox Design Lab. The service allows you to design your own custom Xbox controller, changing the colour and finish of everything from the body of the controller to the triggers, D-Pad and analogue sticks. Want a grey controller with red highlights? That’s possible. Purple and blue with gold analogue sticks? Yep, that’s possible too.
In fact, there are over 1 billion colour combinations available on Microsoft’s Xbox Design Lab. Ordering is an easy process too, as all your customisation options (colours, materials, engraving, grips, etc) will be mapped onto a virtual Xbox controller on-screen. This allows you to visualise the controller, making sure you get the perfect colour combination before you click the buy button.
If you want something unique but aren’t creative yourself, don’t worry – Microsoft also has a range of pre-made Design Lab controllers for just about every occasion that you can buy as-is, or use as a starting point to tweak. Like the standard controller, the Design Lab controllers feature Bluetooth connectivity and is powered by 2 AA batteries.
It’s worth noting that the controllers don’t do anything that the standard controller can’t, unlike the custom controllers below that let you add new paddles or tweak the D-pad and analogue sticks. But if you just want an Xbox pad that looks unique, this is for you.
3. Scuf Instinct Pro – Best for Custom Controls
- Easy on-the-fly remapping
- Trigger-stop technology
- Can get expensive
- Requires AA batteries
Scuf is arguably the leader in custom controllers, especially in the world of eSports where professional gamers need the best performance possible from their controllers. On the surface, Scuf offers everything that Microsoft’s Design Lab offers – custom triggers, a variety of colour options, buttons, analogue sticks, etc – but there’s much more on offer.
One of the more notable changes compared to recent Scuf controllers is the switch from traditional rear paddles to something more akin to regular triggers, placed perfectly near the rear grips of the Instinct Pro so you’re not scrambling to hit buttons in those tense online shooter moments.
Those that have used recent Scuf kit will know about the tech that allows you to change the paddle functions on-the-fly with the use of an EMR key. It’s a great feature – as long as you don’t lose the key, which must’ve happened a lot because Scuf ditched the system with the Instinct line.
In its place, there’s a button on the rear that lets you switch between three profiles, indicated by an LED beneath the mute button. Pressing the button cycles you between your profiles, and pressing and holding the button takes it into remapping mode. From there, it’s as simple as holding the rear trigger and the button you’d like to remap it to. For us, it’s one of the best upgrades compared to previous Scuf tech.
Perfect for budding eSports stars, Scuf’s trigger stop has been a staple of its custom controllers for years. The tech allows you to add a trigger stop with a flip of a switch on the rear of the controller, and it has been upgraded to provide an experience more akin to the click of a mouse than the pull of a trigger with the Instinct line, reducing reaction times and making shooter games feel more responsive.
Don’t assume you’re locked into the design of Instinct Pro you choose when you purchase either; the controller features a magnetic faceplate, so you can swap it out for something entirely different for the fraction of the price of a new Scuf controller, and you can swap out the analogue sticks too. You get a second set in the box, and you can pick up additional sets separately.
There only real disappointment is in the battery department; rather than featuring a built-in lithium-ion battery, like with its predecessors and Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Controller 2, the Instinct Pro requires 2 AA batteries for use. That means the included 10ft braided USB-C cable certainly comes in handy!
4. Nacon Revolution X Pro – Best wired controller
- Customisable sticks and additional weights
- Comfortable to use
- Comprehensive software
- No other colour choices
If you want maximum control over your play style, and you don’t mind opting for a wired controller, then the Revolution X Pro from Nacon is one to consider for both Xbox and PC.
The Revolution X Pro design takes inspiration from the original Xbox controller but with a twist, featuring extra flourishes like backlighting and an RGB ring around the right thumbstick. On the back, there are two large programmable buttons, along with a dedicated button for changing between four different profile settings.
These profiles can be tweaked via the Revolution X Software, available on both Xbox and Windows. Here you can have control over full button mapping, stick and trigger response curves, switching between four and eight directions for the D-pad, customising the RGB lighting, adjusting the vibration strength and even tailoring the audio – which comes with support for Dolby Atmos via compatible headphones.
In the box, you get a carry case, along with interchangeable stick tops and bases (with both concave and convex options) and additional weights that can be put in compartments within the controller. All of these combine nicely with the comfortable and ergonomic design.
For all those customisable features, the price is quite reasonable. However, there are no other colours or alternative faceplates on offer, and that could be a dealbreaker for some.
5. Turtle Beach Recon – Best for Audio Technology
- Extensive audio control
- SuperHuman hearing tech
- Remappable rear triggers
- Audio controls incompatible with PC
Turtle Beach, a company known for gaming headsets, has entered the world of controllers – and for good reason. The Turtle Beach Recon focuses not only on controller performance, but audio performance too, utilising its years of experience making gaming headsets to create a controller with unrivalled audio control.
When you plug your 3.5mm headphones into the jack at the bottom of the controller, you can use the panel of buttons at the top of the Recon to make a whole host of changes to your game audio and your mic.
You can cycle between four equaliser presets, ranging from bassy to treble-focused, and you can even enable Turtle Beach’s “Superhuman Hearing” tech from its headset line, allowing you to better pick up on quieter sounds like footsteps, the sound of reloading guns and doors opening, to get the edge in competitive shooters.
You can also adjust mic monitoring, allowing more of your microphone to come through your headset, and you can mute it altogether too. You can even adjust game and chat volume independently via the two rockers on the control unit, although this doesn’t seem to work on PC, only Xbox consoles.
As well as impressive audio prowess, there are a few key gaming-focused features available on the Recon. You’ll find two remappable rear triggers for quick access to specific functions, and there’s also Pro-Aim tech available at the push of a button. The latter allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the right-hand analogue stick, allowing for improved control over your aim in shooters, and it’s activated by holding the right macro button.
It’s worth noting that with all the audio tech available, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Turtle Beach Recon is a wired-only headset, but the 10ft braided cable should be enough for most setups.
6. Nacon Pro Compact – Best Budget Pro Pad
- Adjustable analogue stick sensitivity
- Cheap pro option
- No paddles
The Nacon Pro Compact is a surprisingly affordable option if you’re looking for a pro-level Xbox controller.
It’s wired-only, but the included 3m braided cable should be long enough to reach the console in most living rooms. That means no batteries to worry about at least.
Unlike some ‘pro’ controllers this doesn’t come with a carry case or swappable buttons – you don’t even get a set of back paddles. What you do get is great customisation of the default buttons.
Not only can you remap every button, but you can adjust the sensitivity of both triggers and both analogue sticks, including setting dead zones. This is easy to do through the free Pro Compact app, available on PC or direct on the Xbox app store – so you can adjust everything from the console itself.
As the name suggests, this is also smaller than most controllers. I found it too dinky and uncomfortable for my hands, but if you know your paws run smaller than most then this could be an excellent option.
7. Evil Shift for Xbox – Best Paddles
- Excellent paddles
- Short-travel buttons & triggers
- Can get expensive
- No vibration
The Evil Shift from Evil Controllers is one of our favourite eSports-level controllers on the market at the moment. Why? It’s mainly due to the unique design of the paddle system, which makes using the remappable paddles a breeze.
Due to the shape and the fact that the paddles are mounted directly on top of the activator buttons, a tap – from any angle – will activate the paddle. As well as providing improved response time, it also responds to almost-missed presses (even a tap on the side of the paddle will activate it). The only downside is that adding paddles removes the vibration motor, so you will lost rumble in return.
They’re remappable too, using one of the simplest systems we’ve seen to date – when you want to remap, simply hold the View button and the paddle you’d like to remap, press the button you’d like to assign and you’re good to go! No app or other accessories required.
Aside from the paddles, the controller features hairpin triggers. They’re not adjustable like other controllers, but the trigger tension has been reduced by 50 percent without restricting the trigger. This provides increased reaction time without limiting game compatibility – an issue with some restricted triggers.
You’ll also find sensitive buttons that, thanks to the company’s ‘Quick Touch Technology’, provide improved response time with less required force and a satisfying mouse-like click.
The triggers and buttons can even be upgraded to ‘tactile’ versions that have a shorter travel of 1mm, and a mouse-like clicky response. They’re great for shooters and some other game types, but be warned that the tactile triggers will reduce the analogue response you need for driving games.
Oh, the controller also offers interchangeable thumbsticks (three sizes to provide increased analogue stick accuracy, with an option for increased thumbstick tension too) and a range of soft-touch finishes to choose from.
Beyond the lack of rumble, the only real downside to all this is that if you want lots of features you’ll quickly rack up a big bill – go all in right now and you can spend over $550. You can spend a lot less by being really picky about which features you actually need though, and that’s where the Evil Shift comes into its own, letting gamers who know what they need build a custom pad that fits them just right.
8. Xbox Adaptive Controller – Best for Accessibility
- Excellent for accessibility
- Endlessly customisable
- Other accessories & inputs still needed
Microsoft’s official Adaptive Controller is one of the most exciting game controllers in years – even if the majority of gamers will never feel the need to use one.
Designed to improve accessibility to gaming for people who might find a traditional controller difficult, or even impossible, to use, the Adaptive Controller started life as a collaboration with a charity that was building custom devices to help military veterans keep gaming.
The core device features an over-size D-pad and two large buttons, designed to be easy to roll your hand or limb across. Beyond that though, there are a whopping 21 inputs across the top and sides of the device – a mixture of USB and 3.5mm ports, making it compatible with a whole range of devices – which you can use to connect up any number of separate buttons, pad, controllers, pedals and more, for your own entirely customised gaming setup.
Each input defaults to a specific button on the traditional Xbox pad, but the inputs can also be switched around on a software level, and you can save up to three different input profiles to switch between on the fly, so that you can use different control schemes for different games without having to change the physical connections.
Then there’s also the new copilot mode, which lets you share inputs with another controller, so that two people can play a game together as the same character, each taking care of different controls.
There are threaded mounts on the base, designed to suit standard assistive mounts, along with a rechargeable battery with around 25 hours of life. This is a great example of Microsoft’s attention to detail: it uses USB-C as an input because the reversible design makes it much easier to use, and it avoids the fiddliness of replacing AA batteries.
That’s what the Adaptive Controller is all about. Just about every design choice tries to work around the sticking points that make controllers tough for people who are missing limbs or have mobility or coordination issues, while adding enough customisability to let every gamer make the controller their own.