Most of the time, the best gaming headset isn’t a “gaming headset” at all. Although these devices are often thought of as a distinct niche within the wider headphone market, they’re ultimately still headphones. And while it’s certainly not impossible to get a gaming headset that sounds nice, doing so still tends to come at a higher cost than a comparable pair of wired headphones (yes, those still exist).
A good wired headphone remains your best bet if you want the most detailed sound possible at a given price point and don’t need something especially portable, which is usually the case whether you’re gaming on a console or PC. If you need to chat with friends, you can always buy an external microphone, whether it’s a USB mic, a cheaper clip-on model or a standalone option like the Antlion ModMic or V-Moda BoomPro. In many cases, those will make your voice sound clearer and fuller than the ones included with a gaming headset.
But we do recognize that many people just want the convenience of an all-in-one combo, value and aesthetics be damned. So after testing out a few dozen pairs over the past several months, we’ve put together a list of good headphones for gaming and dedicated gaming headsets. We recommend you consider the former first, but all of them should make your play time more enjoyable.
What to look for in good gaming headphones
Evaluating headphones is a particularly subjective exercise, so calling one pair the absolute “best” is something of a fool’s errand. At a certain point, whether you’re an audiophile or not, everything becomes a matter of taste. For most, a headphone with a wide soundscape and strong imaging performance — i.e., the ability to position sounds correctly, so you can more precisely tell where footsteps and other game effects are coming from — will provide the most immersive gaming experience, the kind that makes you feel like your head is within a given scene.
For that, you want a high-quality pair of headphones with an open-back design. That is to say, an over-ear pair whose ear cups do not completely seal off the ear from air and outside noise. The big trade-off is that these are inherently terrible at isolating you from external sound and preventing others from hearing what you’re playing. So if you often play games in a noisy environment, their benefits will be blunted. But in a quiet room, the best open-back pairs sounds significantly wider and more precise than more common closed-back models.
More up for debate is how a good gaming headphone should sound. If you want something that’ll help you in competitive multiplayer games, you’ll likely prefer a headphone with a flatter sound signature, so a game’s mix won’t be overly boosted in one direction and mask the smaller details of what’s happening around you. A slightly brighter sound, one that pushes the upper frequencies a smidge, may also work. Open-back headphones almost never have huge sub-bass, so you rarely have to worry about low-end sounds muddying up the rest of the signature. In this light, the fact that an overwhelming amount of gaming headsets are closed-back and bass-heavy seems counterintuitive.
Lots of people love bass, though. And if you aren’t just worried about competitive play, some extra low-end can add a touch of excitement to heavy action scenes or a rousing soundtrack. You still don’t want a pair that boosts it too hard — which many dedicated gaming headsets do — but the point is that what makes a pair “immersive” to one person may sound dull to another.
Best headphones for gaming: Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X
The Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X should please a wide swath of people willing to pay for a capital-N nice set of headphones for their gaming sessions. This pair has great imaging performance and the kind of spacious soundstage expected from an open-back design. Bass is a little more present here than on many open-back headphones as well. There still isn’t much in the way of deep sub-bass, as expected, but there’s enough warmth to give in-game explosions a bit more juice without muddying up the mid-range frequencies. The mids get the most emphasis overall, but they’re clear, and that forwardness isn’t a bad thing when you’re trying to listen for enemy players in a competitive FPS like Counter-Strike. The treble isn’t pushed quite as hard, but it’s neither overly recessed nor harsh.
All of this means the DT 900 Pro X sounds detailed but not boring, so it should play nice whether you’re trying to win a multiplayer game or taking in a more cinematic single-player experience. And when you’re not gaming, you get an enjoyable sound for music.
Everything’s built well, too. The DT 900 Pro X will clamp down slightly harder than average if you have a large head, but it balances its weight well, and its wonderfully soft velour earpads go a long way toward keeping the pair comfortable over long sessions. It comes with two detachable cables, including a three-meter option that’s convenient if you sit far from your PC. The design can’t fold up, though.
Like all open-back headphones, the DT 900 Pro X leak game audio and let in lots of noise, so it’s not great on the go. Clearly, if you can afford to upgrade to an ultra-premium pair like Sennheiser’s HD 800 S, you’ll get more space and true-to-life detail. But for a relatively attainable $250 to $300, the DT 900 Pro X should satisfy.
Frequency response: 5 – 40,000 Hz
Weight: 345g (without cable)
Another good option: Sennheiser HD 560S
If you’d rather not spend as much, the Sennheiser HD 560S is another excellent open-back headphone that’s often available for less than $200. Like the DT 900 Pro X, it has a wide soundstage that’ll help you feel immersed in a given game. Its sound is slightly more neutral on the whole, so you won’t feel like you’re missing any part of a mix, and it retrieves a lovely amount of detail from the treble and mid-range frequencies. There’s less bass power for explosions, though. And the treble, while more present, may sound piercing at times. Imaging isn’t quite as nuanced either, though it’s nowhere near poor.
Design-wise, the HD 560S are plenty comfortable to wear for extended periods. They don’t clamp down too hard on those with big heads (like yours truly), and the velour earpads hug your ears softly. The included cable is removable, too. The plastic frame doesn’t feel as sturdy or premium as the DT 900 Pro X, however, so you won’t want to chuck them around haphazardly. It won’t block much outside noise either, nor will it prevent those around you from hearing what you’re playing. Nevertheless, the HD 560S is a pleasure and a great value.
Frequency response: 6 – 38,000 Hz
Best headphones for gaming under $50: Koss KSC75
If you can’t spend more than $50, it’s still hard to top the Koss KSC75. It costs $20, but judging purely on audio quality, it’s better than some headphones priced closer to $100. This pair is very obviously devoid of deep bass, so you won’t get that full-bodied oomph from in-game effects. You also won’t hear all the intricate details you’d pick up with the pricier headphones above. But it locates sounds accurately and its open design delivers a real sense of width. It’s a superb value for competitive play.
The catch is that it’s built like a set of free airline headphones. The KSC75 has an odd clip-on design that, while lightweight, won’t be a comfortable fit for everyone. It certainly looks like it costs $20, though Koss backs it with a lifetime warranty that essentially lets you get endless replacements for $9 each. Even if the KSC75 are pushing 20 years old, its sound remains relatively well-balanced and particularly well-suited for gaming.
Enclosure: Open-back (on-ear)
Frequency response: 15 – 25,000 Hz
Best gaming headset: Astro A40 TR
If you must have a dedicated gaming headset with a built-in mic, consider the Astro A40 TR. Another open-back pair, it has a more spacious soundstage than usual for the category — though it’s still narrower than the best non-gaming open-back headphones — and it generally localizes sounds correctly. This profile emphasizes the bass, which gives explosions a smooth and satisfying thump, but it doesn’t overdo it like many other headsets marketed toward gaming.
The sound here is still a step behind the DT 900 Pro X or HD 560S, especially for online shooters. Next to those headphones, the A40’s pushed upper-bass/lower-mids and weaker treble blunt fine details a bit more and make footsteps sound less clear. But compared to most gaming headsets, the A40 sounds better balanced. It does well to envelop you in the sounds of a busy scene.
Comfort shouldn’t be an issue, either. The A40 is on the bulkier side, but its weight is evenly distributed, and it doesn’t clamp down overly hard. The fuzzy earpads are soft and breathable, while the ear cups are roomy enough to fit larger ears. The headset has the usual open-back shortcomings, though, as it leaks a bunch of sound and blocks almost zero outside noise. The mostly-plastic design looks “gamer-y” and lacks built-in volume controls, too. Nobody would call it “premium.” Still, it’s not flimsy.
The A40’s mic, meanwhile, is just OK. It picks up background noises while you chat and makes voices sound somewhat muffled. It’s serviceable, but you’d buy the A40 for its sound quality first. The mic isn’t detachable either, but you can easily flip it up and out of the way.
The A40 has been around for several years now, but its price has come down from $150 to a more reasonable $130 in that time. Astro sells an optional DAC with extra controls for $130, but at that price we’d strongly advise buying a good “normal” headphone and external mic.
Frequency response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
Mic: Yes, not detachable
Weight: 369g (without cable)
Best budget gaming headset: HyperX Cloud Stinger 2
You won’t find a good open-back gaming headset for less than $50, so if you’re on a tight budget and require a built-in mic, you’ll have to compromise on sound quality. With that in mind, the HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 is a decent buy at its typical street price of $40. Its mic belies that low price, making voices sound relatively clear and accurate. In fact, it’s a clear step-up from the A40. While it’s not detachable, it automatically mutes when you slide it out of the way. This pair also gets the comfort part right, as the pleather ear cups don’t clamp down hard and have enough soft padding where it counts.
The Cloud Stinger 2 has a V-shaped sound profile, which is to say it exaggerates the bass and treble while recessing the mid-range. It’s not bad for what it is, and it’ll definitely give action scenes a heavy sense of impact. But the upper-bass is bumped to the point where it may get tiring over time, and you lose some of the fine details you’d hear on our recommendations above. Since this is a cheap closed-back headset, the Cloud Stinger 2 doesn’t sound nearly as wide as the pairs above, nor is it as nuanced about positioning sounds accurately. It’s less than ideal for competitive games as a result, though it can still sound “fun” with many other titles.
Beyond that, the plastic design feels cheap-ish. Its cable isn’t removable, and it doesn’t block much outside noise despite having a closed-back design. Nevertheless, you have to pick your battles in this price range. The Cloud Stinger 2 is flawed, but it does enough well to be a good headset for certain budget-conscious buyers. HyperX recently released PlayStation- and Xbox-themed variants of the headset if you prefer those stylings as well.
Frequency response: 10 – 28,000 Hz
Mic: Yes, not detachable
A quick PSA on wireless gaming headsets
Most people don’t need a wireless gaming headset. The PS5 and Xbox Series X/S have a headphone jack built into their controllers, while the Nintendo Switch and most gaming PCs still have the port, too. The cost of an OK wireless headset is often higher than a comparable wired model, and for the money the wireless versions usually provide worse audio quality and a less clear microphone. You also risk introducing issues with latency. (That’s why non-gaming Bluetooth headphones are a no-go here.)
Best wireless gaming headset: Audeze Maxwell
Still, if you really want a wireless headset – say, if your gaming PC is situated at the far end of your desk – the Audeze Maxwell is the best we’ve tested. At $299 (or $329 for the Xbox model), it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s one of the few dedicated gaming headsets whose audio and mic quality hold up next to good “normal” wireless headphones.
The Maxwell’s planar-magnetic drivers do well to reproduce smaller intricacies in a given scene. The default signature here is like a more refined version of the common “gaming headset” sound. Bass is smooth and impactful but well-controlled. Highs are crisp but not overly sharp. Some effects in the mids can sound thin, and as this is a closed-back headset, it can’t provide the same immersive width and precise imaging as the open-back models above. (Wireless gaming headsets with an open-back design are virtually nonexistent.) But compared to other wireless headsets, it’s unusually pleasant, detailed and balanced. Its clearer treble gives it the edge over the Astro A40 for music specifically, though for $200 more we’d expect as much. If you don’t like the default sound, Audeze’s app includes several EQ presets.
Along those lines, the Maxwell’s detachable boom mic is a standout. It does a phenomenal job of muting background noise, and while your voice loses some air, it’ll still sound clearer and fuller here than on most wireless headsets we’ve tested.
The Maxwell is very much on the bulky side, and its steel headband uses an odd suspension mechanism that effectively isn’t adjustable without taking the headset off. The squishy padded ear cups can make your ears feel warm, but they keep the headset comfortable and isolate a fair amount of outside noise. (Others will hear what you’re playing if you crank the volume, though.) In general, the design feels substantial. The essential controls are built into the left earcup, and the device can connect over Bluetooth or a 3.5mm cable in addition to a USB-C wireless dongle. You can even pair with two devices at once, one over the dongle and another over Bluetooth. The headset needs to be powered on in order to play music over a cable, however.
Audeze rates the Maxwell’s battery life at roughly 80 hours, though you’ll get less if you play at high volumes or use features like Bluetooth or sidetone heavily. That’s well behind the longest-lasting options on the market, but it’s good enough to not feel like a hindrance.
Driver: Planar magnetic
Frequency response: 10 – 50,000 Hz
Mic: Yes, detachable
Connectivity: 2.4GHz, Bluetooth 5.3 (LDAC, LE Audio, LC3, LC3plus, AAC, SBC), 3.5mm, USB-C digital audio (optional), Xbox Wireless (optional)
Another good wireless option: HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless
If you can’t afford the Maxwell but still want to go wireless, consider the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless. It’s an obvious downgrade in terms of audio quality and general features, but it’s often available in the $150 range, and its absurdly long battery life helps paper over its flaws. HyperX says it can last 300 hours per charge, but we were able to squeeze out a couple dozen more at moderate volumes. iFixit has a helpful teardown if you’re curious as to how this is possible, but it’s not a stretch to say one charge here could last you months of play time.
The sound here is typical of many gaming headsets: generally V-shaped, with overemphasized bass that can make game effects sound exciting but often presents footsteps and smaller details with less clarity. As a closed-back headphone, it won’t sound as spacious or natural as the more open pairs above. It’s not bad by wireless gaming headset standards, and it generally places sounds in the right place; it’s just not tuned or designed as optimally as a pair like the Astro A40.
The headset itself is comfortable to wear for hours at a time, with plush padding that doesn’t feel too tight. The faux leather earpads can make your ears feel mildly warm, but generally, it’s easier to wear than the Maxwell for extended periods. Everything is sturdy, and the headband is nicely flexible. The boom mic is also fine, though that’s relative to other wireless headsets. It cancels out background noise well and keeps voices legible, but those voices won’t sound as crisp or full-bodied as they could be on wired headphones with good mics.
A word of warning: HyperX’s companion software has been buggy. While you can use the company’s Ngenuity app to customize the headset’s EQ and activate a DTS:X surround sound feature, several users have reported that this introduces noticeable latency. If you really want these features, you may want to use a third-party EQ app and the spatial audio tools built into Windows and the PS5. By default, the included USB dongle offers a steady wireless connection.
The other caveat is that the Cloud Alpha Wireless only works with PCs, PlayStation consoles or a Switch while docked. It also can’t connect over a cable or Bluetooth. If you’re looking for a competent alternative for Xbox, opt for the Maxwell or one of our honorable mentions below.
Frequency response: 15 – 21,000 Hz
Mic: Yes, detachable
Corsair Virtuoso Pro
The $200 Corsair Virtuoso Pro is another one of the few dedicated gaming headsets with an open-back design. Like the Astro A40, it sounds wider and more spacious than typical gaming headsets but feels narrower than the “normal” open-back headphone we recommend above. It has a relatively dark sound with elevated bass and mostly underemphasized treble, though the latter is clearer here than it is on the A40. We preferred this signature over Astro’s pair with some games: In a first-person shooter like Halo Infinite, rumbly explosions had more impact and far-off gunshots were a bit easier to pick out. With other games, it came off as less balanced: The car engines in a racer like Forza Motorsport hummed a bit too loud, while dialogue in an RPG like Baldur’s Gate 3 sounded a little wonkier.
The Virtuoso Pro’s mic is decidedly less muffled than the A40’s but still sounds fairly thin, so it’s merely decent compared to the wider headset market. The design is better-built and looks more refined, though the headband adjustment mechanism feels cheap and you can’t detach the mic without swapping cables out entirely. Its round, breathable ear cups and light weight (0.75 pounds) make it easy to wear, and it comes with a sturdy travel case for protection. Ultimately, it’s a good alternative to the A40 if you want a dedicated headset with a clearer mic, but there are richer-sounding headphones available once you get into the $200 range.
Logitech G Pro X 2 Lightspeed
If the Audeze Maxwell didn’t exist, the Logitech G Pro X 2 Lightspeed would be our top wireless headset pick. It sounds better than the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless, with satisfying but more controlled bass and more accurate mids, and it’s lighter on the head than Audeze’s pair. Logitech rates its battery life at 50 hours, but we found it to last much longer at moderate volumes. However, a dip in the treble makes it sound darker and more veiled than the Maxwell, and its microphone gives voices a less natural tone than either of our main wireless picks. Plus, while it can connect over a USB dongle, Bluetooth or a 3.5mm cable, it can’t pair to two devices at once like the Maxwell. At its usual price of $250, it’s in something of a no man’s land, but it’s a good option if it ever goes on sale.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X
Xbox owners who want a more affordable wireless headset than the Audeze Maxwell could do worse than the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X. It’s another bass-forward pair, and its mic is comparable to the one on Cloud Alpha Wireless. Like other Nova models, it offers multiple connectivity options, including Bluetooth and a 3.5mm cable. And while it’s marketed for the Xbox, it can also connect to PCs and PS5s. Its 30-ish hours of battery life are well short of our top picks, however, and it can sound uneven in the treble range.
HyperX Cloud Alpha
The wired HyperX Cloud Alpha is often on sale for $80 or less, and at that price it’s a decent middle ground between the Cloud Stinger 2 and Astro A40 if you absolutely need a closed-back gaming headset. It’s old, but its plush earpads and headband remain comfy, and its detachable mic, while not superb, is still better than Astro’s pair. Its treble is underemphasized, however, and again it sounds more “in your head” than the A40.
The Logitech G535 is an impressively light (236g) and comfy wireless headset that’s often available for $100 or less. It has a more neutral sound signature than the Cloud Alpha Wireless and Arctis Nova 7X: not flat, but less beholden to big thumping bass. It can make mid-range details sound thin, and if anything it could use a little more sub-bass, but it’s an agreeable listening experience overall. It can also connect over Bluetooth. However, its mic gives up some fullness compared to the Cloud Alpha Wireless (which already wasn’t superb), and its 30 or so hours of battery life is a significant drop-off from our top recommendations. It doesn’t work with Xbox either, and it forces you to crank the volume to reach a listenable level. But if you don’t want to spend a ton on a wireless headset, it’s the best of the $100-and-under models we’ve tested.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-gaming-headset-130006477.html?src=rss