A lot of what makes a great gaming headset will be down to personal preference, but what we were looking for was a product that struck a perfect balance between quality of design, value for money and features that gamers would love. To create this shortlist, we worked through a mass of PC gaming headsets (many of which are also compatible with consoles) to whittle down to a list of finalists that we're sure you'll love.
We primarily relied on two PCs for testing: a custom-configured Maingear PC, which is built on an MSI Z97-G45 gaming motherboard with an integrated headphone amplifier, and a highly upgraded Frankenstein machine, which started its life as a Dell Inspiron 560 and whose onboard sound performance can best be summed up as pretty average. We also added Creative’s Sound Blaster E5 high-resolution USB DAC and portable headphone amplifier to the mix just to ensure that any power-hungry headsets had sufficient amplification. For USB headsets, we relied exclusively on direct back-panel USB connections rather than routing through hubs.
At just $50, the HyperX Cloud Stinger provides surprisingly punchy audio and relatively plush comfort at a very reasonable price. Out of all the budget headsets we tested, this one had the best audio quality and felt the most comfortable for long gaming sessions. Since it uses a 3.5mm jack it's also a versatile cross-platform headset, but keep in mind its boom mic is not detachable, so you might elicit some stares walking down the street rocking out to your tunes.
Making sure you’ve got the right aural setup for your gaming rig is absolutely vital to getting the ultimate experience, and a quality gaming headset has a massive part to play in the overall immersion of PC gaming. We’ve tested the latest and greatest from the top manufacturers in the land, from Turtle Beach headsets, Razer, HyperX, SteelSeries, Sennheiser, and more, all to help you figure out what the right set of cans is for you and the games you play.
We’ve never made any secret of the fact that most of our testers either went into this guide with a bias against wireless gaming headsets or learned to loathe them throughout the course of our testing. If you absolutely, positively can’t abide wires, though, we recommend the Kingston HyperX Cloud Flight. It doesn’t feel quite as durable as our top pick wired headset, but it’s still a well-constructed headset that doesn’t creak or rattle or otherwise feel flimsy in any way.
To make sure a headset can handle lighter instrumental tracks, I use a combination of Final Fantasy XV’s Piano Collection soundtrack, Austin Wintory’s Transfiguration EP from Journey, Ace Attorney’s Gyakuten Meets Orchestra concert, and a light sprinkling of my Breath of the Wild: Sound Selection CD and the Bravely Default soundtrack. I also listen to regular bands and songs, including the likes of Turin Brakes, Queen, Maximo Park, a bit of David Bowie and the opening themes to space anime Knights of Sidonia and grim naked giant anime Attack on Titan, again testing for overall balance, clarity and general toe-tapping grooviness.
Performance on games is more important than on movies or music: We looked first and foremost for usable representation of game audio more than realistic reproduction of music; we considered music performance only as a bonus. Only 18 percent of respondents to our initial survey said they cared how their gaming headset performed with music and movies at all.
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.
Where the Arctis 7s lose out to the pricier option are in their design. While the 800s rock a solid, comfortable headband, the Arctis 7s have a ‘ski goggle’ elasticated strap that gives you a sore head in long play sessions. And don’t get us started on the easily nudged wheels on the back of the cups ruining your volume settings every time you put them on…
Some Bluetooth office headsets incorporate Class 1 Bluetooth into the base station so that, when used with a Class 1 Bluetooth headset, the user can communicate from a greater distance, typically around 100 feet compared to the 33 feet of the more usual Class 2 Bluetooth headset. Many headsets supplied with these base stations connect to cellphones via Class 2 Bluetooth, however, restricting the range to about 33 feet.
The headset fits comfortably over my ears and doesn't completely block out ambient noise which personally I like. Chat audio is good and most people say I sound clear though one person said I sounded muffled. You can tweak mic settings through Playstation settings and the headset has it's own PSN app that can be used to further customize your audio."
Other than the patterned headbands, the design of the SteelSeries Arctis 7 is one of the more subtly designed headsets on our list. This headset has a clean design, with no garish RGB lighting that makes it easily usable as normal headphones as well as a gaming headset. The retractable microphone also tucks neatly out of the way when not in use, so it's as brilliant to look at as it is to use.
Once we had our potential top picks in each category, we went on to use them in extended gaming sessions, during which we sometimes wore the same headset for as long as 12 hours at a stretch. Our testing panel, which included people with various head and ear sizes, tried the headsets on a variety of games from massively multiplayer online role-playing games like Guild Wars 2 to 4X games (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) like the Civilization series as well as on puzzle, strategy, and action games.
The Corsair VOID PRO RGB Wireless is a wireless headset that boasts a wide and comfortable fit. It has a large and easily extendable headband that fits nicely on the head, though we did find it sat a bit too loosely sometimes and would move about if you shook your head too vigorously. You can, of course, tighten and loosen to your liking but it isn't quite as tight fitting and all-encompassing as other headsets we've tried.
The Void Pro RGB also has an excellent microphone, and is usually my headset of choice when I put in the occasional appearance on The RPS Electronic Wireless Show. It’s a great sounding headset as well, but its virtual 7.1 surround sound effects aren’t the best, hence its position as ‘runner-up’ rather than our overall winner. You also need to fire up Corsair’s Cue software to use it, as there isn’t a dedicated button to enable it on the headset itself.
This no frills headset from Razer has been built to provide gamers with a headset that sounds good, feels comfortable and costs less. To be fair to them, they came pretty close. The aluminium frame is both lightweight and flexible. The retractable mic feels robust. The headband doesn’t clamp too hard on your head and the sound-isolating ear cushions feel plush.
The design of the Corsair Void Wireless is an acquired taste, to say the least, and we still can’t tell if we like it or not. Inside the Void’s plastic casing, you will find the metallic subframe, and the main reason for the Void's undeniable durability. On the other hand, the external plastic of the Void feels pretty cheap, and, when coupled with the unconventionally-shaped (but extremely comfortable) earcups, there’s a lot of horizontal movement when the Void is on your head.
These are some of the deepest and most comfortable earcups we've seen on any gaming headset we've tested. This design not only reduces the pressure on your ears from the drivers (as they're not resting on your ears) but allows delivery of a comfortable and all-encompassing sound as you game. These cups also include a cooling cloth on the inside which stops your ears from sweating and helps maintain that superb comfort.
The Arctis Pro wireless gaming headset delivers excellent sound quality, supreme comfort, and an ultra sensitive microphone that's great for both in-game trash talk and making Skype calls. It features a sleek design and a self-adjusting headband that’s inspired by the elastic bands found in ski goggles. It’s one of the most comfortable headsets you can buy.
“Wow, do I love these headphones! I got tired of subtitling every game I played just because the family was asleep. I decided to shell out for these, and now I prefer them over my speakers! Great sound clarity and good bass. The surround sound is spot on. Also, they do a good job blocking out external sound. They are very comfortable around the ears. I was concerned about the padding wearing down over time, but as far as I can tell after nine months, there is no difference in ‘puffiness.’ Lastly, good battery life. I just played for over six hours last night and they were still charged. Highly recommended.”
That's where so-called "true" surround headsets come in. These headsets are designed with multiple drivers to deliver a more realistic experience than that offered by the virtual ones which often just work with two (left and right) drivers. There aren't many true surround sound headsets about, but the Asus Strix 7.1 is one of them and it's the best from what we've seen.
Our only gripe with this headset design is the sidetone appears to be constantly on and you cannot turn this off in Windows settings. This means you have to put up with the sound of your own voice coming back at you through the headset. We assume this is necessary due to the all-encompassing nature of the earcups otherwise you'll likely find yourself shouting, especially when playing louder games.
Digital headsets: Featuring an integrated DAC (digital-to-analogue converter), digital headsets offer cleaner sound, higher volumes and software integration. USB-connected headsets will work on PC/Macs and PlayStation consoles, while optical-based headsets will work with Xbox and PlayStation consoles, plus PCs with optical ports either on the motherboard, internal sound card or USB sound card.
The Razer Thresher Ultimate packs everything you could want in a wireless headset. It's supremely comfortable, it sounds great and it has a 16-hour battery to last through a long day of gaming. The headset's 7.1 surround sound makes it easy to hear enemies coming, while its handy on-ear controls allows you to effortlessly balance game and chat audio. It doesn't hurt that the Thresher is one of the slickest set of wireless cans around, with stylish PS4 and Xbox One variations and an included receiver stand that'll make the peripheral look great sitting next to your console.