Too often we hear of PC gamers skimping on headsets. Like the generic Microsoft keyboards and mice of yesteryear, any daggy set of cans will offer sound, but it’s not the soundest of choices to use them. Picking up a new set of headphones is absolutely an investment in better gaming – and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
Bang for buck
While there’s a noticeable difference between high-end headsets and low-end cans, a lot of the perks of the upper tier are more targeted at wire-free fans and audiophiles. Because of this, there are dollars to be saved on a sub-$100 entry-level headset for the casual or intermediate gamer, like the Corsair HS35.
This stereo headset is low cost but doesn’t feel cheap, with conveniently earcup-placed volume dial and mic-silencing toggle. The 50mm audio drivers offer a great range at this price point, while the 3.5mm connector means compatibility beyond PC. Plus, the Discord-certified unidirectional mic will earn you teammate kudos on pub servers when you drop timely intel bombs.
Spend a few bucks more to score the Astro A10, which has the same extended compatibility perks care of the 3.55mm jack, which also makes them plug-and-play. They feel a little rigid at first, but the memory foam means they’re comfier the longer you wear them. All-important sound quality is admirable with the A10s, and we like how self-censoring a Call of Duty rage moment is as simple as flicking the microphone back into the band.
Now you’re hearing
Step into mid-tier PC headsets and you’re looking at spending between $100 and $200. This price bracket effectively guarantees wire-free audio, which starts with the HyperX Cloud Stinger Wireless.
Despite the affordable wireless price, these are surprisingly comfortable cans, even if you go old-school with one earcup halfway off your lug. The comfy cups also rotate 90 degrees for convenient flat storage on a desk or chest.
The 50mm audio drivers offer a respectable vertical soundscape, particularly the mids and highs, while configuration is as painless as inserting the included USB dongle and waiting for Windows to recognise it.
The Turtle Beach Stealth 600 wireless cans are primarily targeted at Xbox One gamers, but work great with a PC as long as you combo them with the Xbox Wireless Adapter. This aural investment also includes virtual 7.1 surround sound, powered by Windows Sonic.
Combo excellent sound design, like the lifelike audio of Rainbow Six Siege, with this feature and you’re basically tapping into audio wall hacks. You can also independently boost or lower in-game audio with a dial that’s mercifully separate from the voice chat.
Just before we crack into the upper echelon, the Plantronics RIG 700HD sits at the top of mid-range. This is a great step into competitive headset territory. Pop the earcups into one of three slots to match your noggin on a durable headset that’s also comfy during epic play sessions. Accurate zero-lag audio combined with Windows Sonic surround sound mean you’ll hear your prey before you see them.
This headset tier is for those who are serious about their gaming and understand that a few hundred bucks spent on cans is a worthy investment in their kill/death ratio. That investment consideration starts with the Logitech G935.
The earcup/headband design combos firm-fitting comfort with innate noise cancelling to drown out IRL distractions. Tactile buttons for mute and even macros, as well as an on/off switch and an audio dial, make groping for adjustments incredibly intuitive.
The impressive 3D sound is complemented by deep bass, which means the G935s are as apt for online competitive advantages as they are for music and movie playback. Kill the RGB lighting for a few more hours of battery life, and find the DTS preset that best suits your play style via the Logitech G HUB software.
Though branded for Xbox One, the SteelSeries Arctis 9X is another cross-platform headset for the gamer who frags across Microsoft’s console and Windows 10 OS (with the Xbox Wireless Adapter). SteelSeries’ reputation for comfy cups rings true with the 9X. Bluetooth connectivity boosts pairing options, while battery life sits at an impressive 20 hours.
There are four EQ presets to cycle through with a tap of the power button, and the bidirectional noise-cancelling microphone is the silent gift your buddies won’t even know to thank you for.
The Audio Technica G1WL utilises studio-quality headphone design and combos it with the kind of high-end features you expect from a top-tier wireless headset. In short, this means the G1WL is built for the part-time gamer, full-time audiophile who can lecture you on the differences between FLAC music playback over MP3.
In gaming terms, this translates to accurate directional audio, which is particularly useful for sweaty shooter fans. These versatile cans are just as great for everyday use as gaming, with 15 hours of battery life.
For the same pricepoint, you can also invest in a set of Razer Nari Ultimate Wireless cans, which are fully focused on the gaming front, most notably with the inclusion of inbuilt haptics. This means you can get subwoofer-like vibration from your headset. Included THX Spatial Sound does a great job of surround-sound simulation, most notably for audio above and below your avatar.
The padding is thick in all the right ways, which means this headset is comfy, even for bespectacled gamers. Hardware-wise, these are a sound choice, further complemented by Razer’s popular Synapse software for user-friendly tweaking of audio EQ.
No matter which end of the headset scale you’re targeting, you’ll definitely notice the gains of ditching those frayed old phone earbuds in favour of game-centric aural delights.
There are a lot of personal-preference factors to consider when purchasing a gaming headset. So simplify the process by addressing the basics. Comfort is paramount if you plan on epic gaming sessions. Wireless or the type of wired connection (USB vs 3.5mm) also determines cross-compatibility. Costlier models tend to have better mics, which are handy for noisy gaming spaces. And surround sound is mainly practically useful for shooter fans more so than other genres.
Wired vs. wireless
Wired headsets are particularly great for gaming laptops where you can control the distance from USB ports to cans. Depending on your distance to desktop, you might need a USB extension or keyboard with USB pass-through, to have enough wireless slack. Wired does offer zero-latency audio playback. That said, wireless latency tends to be virtually unnoticeable, unless you’re gaming in a room or home with a lot of interference.
Lost in spatial
Virtual surround sound options are common in more expensive headsets today. Windows Sonic, Dolby Atmos, DTS and THX are the big names. Their job is to basically fool your ears into hearing sounds coming from in front, behind, beside, above and below you. Configured correctly, these spatial surround bolt-ons can help accurately pinpoint player locations in shooters.
Though wireless is a popular headset choice these days, there are bucks to be saved by opting for cheaper (usually wired) equivalents of higher-end cans. Though not all features may be present, the HyperX Cloud Stinger, Razer Nari Essential Wireless and Audio Technica G1 are three examples of models that offer a cheaper taste of their more expensive siblings.