In this article you’re going to learn how to choose the perfect gaming headset with all the technical preferences you need to know before buying one.
Lets get started!
If you’ve already prepared this to go with your games, then congrats, you can skip this part of the guide.
So, first things first: Choose your platform.
Are you a console (PlayStation, XBox, Nintendo), PC, or mobile gamer? Perhaps you’re the all-around type who likes to play games across all platforms?
Nowadays, gaming headphones, earbuds, and in-ear monitors (IEMs) are designed to be versatile, with console, PC, and mobile gaming in mind. However, there are some drawbacks like compatibility issues. For instance, some gaming consoles, operating systems (OS), and mobile devices don’t always support the gaming-specific features that come with dedicated gaming wearables, for the simple reason that they’re software-dependent.
A lot of today’s gaming wearables are best used for devices they’re specifically built for (like the Astro Gaming A50 Wireless Gaming Headset, with a cradle that only works for PS4 and XBox One).
The good news is, most gaming headsets come with a USB or 3.5mm jack, while some come with both wired and wireless options. All I can say is, connectivity won’t be an issue if you pick a more versatile gaming headset. Just be ready to shell out some $$$ though.
There’s a whole slew of gaming headsets, earbuds, and IEMs out there, all with varying sound quality. They also differ significantly in terms of frequency response rate, driver, simulated surround sound, and noise cancellation capabilities. For this, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details:
Standard headsets have a frequency range of 20Hz – 20,000Hz, the highest being the most audible frequency range. Some high-end gaming headsets have bass as low as 5Hz, but can pack up to 40,000Hz treble. A very low bass can be “felt” more than heard, and an extremely high treble may not always be audible.
If you ask me, I would stick between 10Hz – 27,000 Hz – the optimum range for an awesome gaming experience. Average-quality earbuds and IEMs often have smaller pitch range, but it’s an entirely different story for the high-end ones.
Below are examples of gaming headsets with mid- to high-frequency range:
HyperX Cloud Alpha – Frequency response: 13Hz – 27,000Hz
Steelseries Arctis Pro + GameDac – Frequency response: 10Hz – 40,000Hz
(note: Links for both will be added as part of its full product review)
This is where sound is being transmitted, so I’d like to call it the “tiny loudspeaker”. Most gaming headsets now come in 40mm or 50mm drivers. For earbuds and IEMs, they’re at 8mm or 15mm on average.
These days, earbud models have 3 drivers built into them. The high-end ones can even have up to 5 drivers. On the other hand, IEMs can have as many as 8 drivers.
Of course, the more drivers a gear has, the higher the price will be. In most cases, IEMs can be more expensive than headsets.
But this does not mean that you won’t have the best gaming experience with lesser driver gaming headset. For example, the Logitech G Pro Gaming Headset has two 40mm neodymium drivers which gives an undeniably one of the best sound performance in-game and while listening to music.
It is as you’d expect: Surround sound is a type of audio output in which the sound seems to surround you, the listener, by 360 degrees. A surround sound system typically has 3 or more channels and speakers in front and behind the wearer, creating a sort of “surrounding envelope of sound”.
For non-VR games, surround sound is that one thing that makes my gaming experience immersive. Imagine playing a game like Horizon Zero Dawn and hearing the faintest bit of sound, like the rustling of the leaves. It’s like you’re in the game yourself!
Emerging tech in headsets, like 3D/dimensional sound, is gradually being introduced in the market, as well. This includes the likes of Dolby Atmos, and Windows Sonic.
Basically, it’s an upgraded version of surround sound in which the wearer also gets to hear sounds above and below them. Talk about a truly immersive gaming experience!
But when I say it’s an “emerging” trend, I mean there’s still not a lot of games out there that support this type of audio output in headsets. Unless you have a specific game you want to play that supports 3D sound, I’d say you’d rather just wait it out ‘til they introduce more supported games. Can’t waste money on a useless feature, right?
Games that are compatible with the Dolby Atmos headset include (but are not limited to):
- Final Fantasy XV
- For Honor
- Gears of War 4ytyrty
- Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Resident Evil 2
(Links to games on Amazon for affiliate? ?)
For earbuds and IEMs, there are lots of brands that have already achieved surround sound quality with a 5.1 channel. While they aren’t always the top choice among gamers and gear heads, I personally love using them for when I’m playing games with my PS4. Plugging an IEM to my controller can be more convenient sometimes because it allows me to move around more freely.
For audiophiles like me, this is an important feature to look for in a gaming headset. It basically works by cancelling or reducing unwanted background noise using Active Noise Reducer (ANR), hence the term “noise cancellation”. Isn’t that the key to a more immersive gaming experience?
Earbuds and IEMs shield ambient sound surprisingly well, which is why they offer an amazing gaming experience, whether you’re playing at home or on-the-go. The good news is that various companies are looking to release more earbud models with active noise-cancelling features.
Based on personal experience and taking the noise-cancelling feature into consideration, earbuds and IEMs shine bright when used for portable devices like iOS and Android smartphones, PS Vita, and Nintendo Switch (and the more recently released Lite version). However, some models – particularly the more expensive ones – have noise-cancelling features that work perfectly across all platforms.
Also on some headsets you can just turn on and off noise cancelling when you are in an airplane or just inside a café listening to music or video.
Comfort and Fit
Any headphone – whether or not it’s for gaming – will feel OK when worn for a briefly. But if worn for longer periods, it can become pretty uncomfortable. For hardcore gamers who have long gaming periods, this can be a huge issue.
Basically, there are 2 types of ear cups: on-ear and over-ear. On- ear cups rest on your ears, while the over-ear ones cover the whole ears. The larger the ear cups the better when choosing over-ear headphones. But for on-ear headphones, smaller is often better.
A lot of folks assume that headsets are one-size-fits-all, but overall comfort actually lies in the size and shape of your head. So what’s “snug and comfy” for you may not be the same for others.
When testing a headset for its comfort and fit, the rule of thumb is to wear it for at least 10 minutes.
With a large percentage of gamers enjoying battle royale and team-based games, good in-game communication has become top priority. For this, you need a good built-in mic to go with your gaming headset.
Lately, I’ve been playing games like APEX Legends and I seldom team up with other players without a mic on (or vice versa) because 90% of the time, our defeat can be blamed on lack of coordination.
But here’s the good news: Most of the latest gaming headsets have built-in mic. It can have either a boom mic attached on one side (usually on the left) or a boomless mic, usually attached on the speaker cups.
What I noticed among fellow gamers though, is that many of them don’t like using the boom type. It’s mainly because they find it a nuisance during gameplay.
Most peeps would go for an entry-level gaming headphone and just customize it by adding a lavalier or condenser microphone, which can be attached pretty much anywhere. It’s a neat idea, especially if you’re a Twitch streamer.
Most of today’s built-in microphones are unidirectional than omnidirectional (which captures sound from all directions), so they tend to have much lower gain, but with fuller and warmer voice.
Thanks to built-in microphones in headsets, you can now talk to your teammates with crisp and clear audio!
Check out the comparison chart below:
For an out-of-this-world streaming experience, consider going for the Monolith M565C Over Ear Planar Magnetic Headphones and Audio-Technica AT2035 Cardioid Condenser Microphone Bundle starter combo.
WIRED OR WIRELESS
Lots of PC gamers would usually go for wired headsets, while many console and mobile gamers choose the wireless ones.
For me, it’s a matter of convenience and cost.
Obviously, the absence of cables in a gaming headset gives an added layer of convenience. But of course, it should come with added functionality. Otherwise, what’s the point of getting a cable-free headset?
In terms of sound quality, wired gaming headsets tend to offer better audio output compared to most wireless options, but this depends on the number of drivers built into them.
Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean all wired gaming headsets are superior to their wireless counterparts. The same applies to both earbuds and IEMs.
For wired gaming headset, I highly recommend the SENNHEISER GSP 600. This particular headset comes with superb dynamics and extended bass response for the ultimate gaming experience. The headphone is equipped with a thick memory foam for the ear cups, specifically designed to give you maximum comfort level.
For wireless gaming headset, I’d recommend the Razer Nari Ultimate. It’s packed with 7.1 surround sound and HyperSense haptic feedback which allows you to not just listen to the sound, but also feel it. The Razer Nari Ultimate also features a 50mm driver with over-ear cups and their signature Chroma RGB lighting. It has a relatively long 8-hour battery life and most importantly, it’s compatible with most platforms.
Truth is, you can get a pretty decent entry-level gaming headset for as low as $199, a perfect example is the HyperX – Cloud MIX . But if you’re a hardcore enthusiast who wants to experience the best and most immersive gaming experience, you can go ahead and splurge on high-end headsets that cost over $200 such as the Astro A50 Wireless Headset features 7.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and Astro Audio. It’s compatible with most PCs and smartphones, and works perfectly with gaming consoles like the PS3, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. The Astro A50 comes built with a 6.0mm unidirectional noise-cancelling mic, and a USB charging with base station.
But here’s a little forethought: A high price doesn’t always mean you’d get the best features. I know some peeps who end up paying extra for the brand name, but not for the quality of the product itself. To name one, the Turtle Beach – Ear Force Elite 800 costs beyond $300 but as I went through customer reviews, this headset has plenty of issues with sound quality, comfort, design, and even the materials used. Meanwhile, the much cheaper SteelSeries Arctis 3 (2019 Edition), which costs no more than $100, far outshines the Turtle Beach – Ear Force Elite 800 in pretty much all aspects.
If you’re not ready to break the bank (or you simply don’t have enough budget) for a high-end gaming headset, it’s OK. There are decent headsets you can get below $100. The Razer Kraken Pro V2 is one recommendation on my list. For this, I suggest you check out wired gaming headsets with 7.1 digital surround sound. The wireless options could cost almost twice as much. But then, this depends on where you’re looking.
Bottom line is, we can’t deny the fact we’d enjoy better (and more) features with higher priced headsets. That’s the rule of the land, folks. You’d probably experience better audio with a $299 wireless headset, than a $99 wired headphone.
You can check out the Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma V2 USB Gaming Headset – Oval Ear Cushions, which I’ve been using the for almost 4 years now. It comes equipped with advanced 7.1 surround sound, 50mm audio driver, a fully retractable mic with active noise cancellation, and RGB lighting using the Razer synapse.
This is optional. But for PC gamers, a sound card can put a little more oomph to their gaming and listening experience.
For starters, not everyone has to have a sound card to enjoy PC games. In fact, there’s already a sound card built into your motherboard. That alone is enough for many gamers to enjoy decent sound quality. But for the audiophiles and peeps who are specifically on the lookout for a gaming headset with higher impedance (approximately 25 ohms and over), then the answer is a solid YES.
You’re probably wondering what “impedance” means. Well, it’s hard for me to explain it without using technical jargon but in headphones, it’s basically like this:
- Low Impedance. These are headphones that require little power to produce high audio levels. Most headphones have low impedance (approximately 25 ohms or below) and work best with weak amplifications like in smartphones, iPods, music players, and other portable devices.
- High Impedance. These headphones have high impedance, usually over 25 ohms. They can withstand overloading, and are compatible with a wider range of audio equipment like PCs and consoles.
My current motherboard is an Asus MAXIMUS VIII EXTREME/ASSEMBLY ROG EATX DDR4 3000 LGA 1151 which can optimize any headset model within a range of 32 to 600 ohms. Together with my Razer Kraken (with a high impedance of 32 ohms), I get to enjoy superb sound quality with my games.
If you have a motherboard with max impedance of 250 ohms and you’re getting a 600-ohm headset, you might as well get a sound card to give that much-needed boost to the audio levels. The Sound BlasterX AE-5 Hi-Resolution PCIe Gaming Sound Card is an ideal choice for you.
Keep in mind that not all onboard sound cards are created equal, so there’s obviously going to be difference in the sound quality. If this is an important feature for you, then buying a separate sound card is the way to go.
Here’s a video from NCIX Tech Tips on sound card and why you need (or don’t need) one:
Most consoles have impedance below 32 ohms. For this, you may not need a sound card at all. However, you can set up a Console>DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter)> headset.
Here’s a step-by-step tutorial to guide you:
To wrap things up, it is not that hard to find a decent gaming headset for an affordable price. There are a lot of gaming headsets that gets pretty good from around $50 up, so you don’t need to spend a lot to find the right one for you. As long as you keep this guide in mind, you will be able to find something that suits your preference.
I hope you find this guide helpful. You can leave your suggestions and recommendations down below on the comment section.