With the heady days of desktop speakers firmly behind us (and monitor speakers still being hopelessly underpowered for anything but the briefest of email pings), the only way to truly appreciate today’s game music is through a gaming headset – which is why I’m here to help you find the best gaming headset for your needs and budget.
As I’ve found over many years of headset testing, finding a good one is fraught with problems, as you’ve not only got to find one that sounds decent, but there’s also the quality of its microphone for those all-important multiplayer sessions with your mates to consider, and whether its headband suddenly becomes a vice-like torture device after 30 minutes of use. To that end, I’ve created this handy guide, listing my current favourites as well as things you should look out for when buying a headset of your very own. Let’s count ourselves in…
You can, of course, always use a normal pair of headphones for playing games – especially if you hate the idea of talking to other online entities via the medium of microphone. But for the purposes of this article, I’ll be concentrating solely on gaming headsets, as opening the floodgates to regular headphones would mean we’d all be here until the cows come home, but feel free to recommend your own favourite pair of headphones down in the comments.
Gaming headset reviews
Before we begin, here’s a list of every gaming headset I’ve reviewed so far, just so we’ve got everything in one place. Expect this list to expand over time as more headsets come in for testing:
Asus ROG Strix Fusion 500
Corsair Void Pro RGB
HyperX Cloud Flight
Roccat Khan Aimo
Roccat Khan Pro
Sennheiser GSP 350
Sennheiser GSP 600
Steelseries Arctis 7
Steelseries Arctis Pro
Steelseries Siberia 800
Turtle Beach Elite Pro
Turtle Beach Recon 150
Best gaming headset: Steelseries Arctis 7
Runner up: Corsair Void Pro RGB (wired) / HyperX Cloud Flight (wireless)
If you’ve ever had as much trouble finding a comfortable headset as I have, then the Steelseries Arctis 7 is a revelation. Its ski-goggle headband might not look as comfy as other headsets with fistfuls of padding to their name, but its clever suspension design means its steel frame never actually touches your head, allowing me to wear it for hours and hours without issue. Whereas other headsets often always leave me with a vice-like headache after 30 minutes, the Arctis 7 just lets me get on with playing games.
It sounds great, too, and isn’t hugely expensive either, with prices starting at around £130 / $145. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, fear not, as the rest of Steelseries’ Arctis range uses the same exactly the same audio drivers as the top-end Arctis 7 as well as the same comfy headband design, starting at £65 / $64 with the wired Arctis 3, as well as the RGB-ified Arctis 5.
The Corsair Void Pro RGB and HyperX Cloud Flight also deserve special mention, as these are also great sounding headsets with excellent microphones, but for me they weren’t quite as comfortable as the stellar Arctis 7.
Best premium gaming headset: Steelseries Arctis Pro + GameDAC
If you’ve got money to burn and want the absolute best of the best, look no further than the Steelseries Arctis Pro + GameDAC. Not to be confused with its more expensive wireless and cheaper GameDAC-less siblings, this middle offering in Steelseries’ Arctis Pro line-up is arguably the best of the lot – if only because it’s the only one to have proper Hi-Res audio support.
Combined with that handy titular GameDAC control that gives you every settings option you could possibly want right at your fingertips (all on a lovely big tactile dial, to boot), this is the best and comfiest way to get 96kHz, 24-bit audio from your game library and beyond.
Best budget gaming headset: Cougar Phontum
The Cougar Phontum is by no means perfect (its microphone may as well go in the bin), but at £43 / $50, it’s still a great buy for those on a budget. With its metal frame and large, plush ear cups, the Phontum’s build quality is outstanding at this kind of price, especially compared to the overly plastic construction of its nearest rival, the Turtle Beach Recon 150.
As mentioned above, the microphone is pretty useless (let’s blame that on Cougar’s Metal Gear-esque naming conventions), and its high/treble reproduction isn’t as good as more expensive headsets, but its overall audio quality is perfectly good enough for the money. If you’re looking for something inexpensive to give to your kids or younger siblings, the Cougar Phontum is well worth considering.
Gaming headset buying guide
Gaming headsets broadly fall into two categories: wired and wireless. Wired headsets are arguably the most common, with most plugging into a USB port or a 3.5mm audio connection, while wireless ones are, well, wireless.
Wireless headsets are generally more suited to those there console boxes that sit beneath your TV so you can lounge around on your sofa without falling over a string of cables every time you get up to make a cuppa, but they’re also a good choice if you want to cut down on the warren of PC cables you’ve got building up behind the back of your case. Just bear in mind that you’ll still need a free USB port for their wireless transmitter or dongle, as well as somewhere to charge them when they run out of juice.
What’s all this 7.1 surround sound stuff?
You’ll also see a lot of gaming headsets claiming they can do 7.1 surround sound. In a traditional audio setup, a 7.1 system would require seven individual speakers and a subwoofer (the .1 bit). The kind of headsets we’re dealing with, however, will only ever have two speakers (one for each ear), so any headset that says it can do 7.1 surround is usually going to be doing it virtually via onboard software and its own internal algorithms.
Virtual surround sound is by no means a bad thing. Yes, it’s not as good as proper 7.1 surround sound, but in some cases it can help make music feel more immersive and all-encompassing than regular stereo. However, poor implementations of it can often destroy any sense of intimacy or breathing-down-the-back-of-your-neck-style dialogue, and it can sometimes make your game audio feel like it’s been turned into one great big echo chamber, so don’t be fooled by what it says on the box.
Do I need a Hi-Res audio gaming headset?
We’re also starting to see more Hi-Res audio certified headsets starting to appear, but don’t get too bogged down in making sure you get one. Hi-Res (or High Resolution) audio is meant to provide the absolute pinnacle of music quality, with audiophiles saying it’s akin to ‘being right there in the recording studio’ when you listen to it.
Put simply, Hi-Res audio has a much higher sampling rate (also known as bit-depth, or the number of samples taken per signal per second in the analogue-to-digital conversion process) than CD quality audio, which is meant to make it more accurate and more detailed than anything else currently available.
To throw some numbers into the mix, CD is specified at 16-bit or 44.1kHz, while Hi-Res audio is usually defined as either 96kHz or 192kHz at 24-bit.
This is great if you already own lots of Hi-Res audio tracks or subscribe to something like Tidal, but as for gaming… it’s currently unknown how many, if any, actually support Hi-Res audio or whether you get any extra benefit over non-Hi-Res audio headsets. Personally, I’ve never been able to tell the difference between Hi-Res and CD, and that’s after multiple demos and tech PRs doing their darnedest to convince me otherwise. As a result, it’s probably worth it if you’re into Hi-Res audio stuff outside of gaming, but don’t go paying extra if you’re only going to be using it for games.