Learn how to choose an amazing gaming headset with this checklist of just 9 surprisingly simple steps.
Gaming headsets offer a handy and practical solution to any and all of your gaming audio needs. But, as with any kind of technology, there is a surplus of options on the market, and not all of them are worth buying.
To make sure you get your money well spent, we’ve provided a checklist of the major factors or questions you should have answered. After you complete the checklist, you’ll have a much better idea on what to look for in a gaming headset.
9-Step Checklist to Pick an Amazing Gaming Headset
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1. Gaming Headphones vs Gaming Headsets
The very first step in this checklist is to decide if you want a pair of gaming headphones or a pair of gaming headsets.
So what is the difference between gaming headphones and gaming headsets?
Gaming Headphones = Regular Headphones + Separate Mic
Gaming headphones are regular headphones that are used traditionally for music enjoyment. However, they possess qualities that are awesome for gaming needs too. Audiophilic characteristics such as great micro-detail retrieval, accurate sound stage and immersive sound experience make them feasible to double up as a pair of gaming headphones.
However, most audiophile headphones do not come with a mic nor do they have any mic attachment slots. You will need to get an external mic like the Blue Yeti X for communication support.
A professional gamer who uses a gaming headphones setup is Ninja, famous for streaming PUBG and Fortnight. He uses the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro with Audio Technica AT2035 Cardioid Condenser Microphone while streaming his games.
There are several benefits and drawbacks to using a gaming headphones setup for gaming.
Benefits of Gaming Headphones
Higher upsides for audio and mic quality
As you have a wider product selection for both the headphones and mic itself, you are able to assemble your gaming setup with the latest mic and headphones. There is potential for better overall audio and microphone quality, especially for listening to music and watching movies.
Drawbacks of Gaming Headphones
Higher initial investment
Experimenting with multiple product combinations can take a lot of time, effort, and money. Also, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be getting more performance out of it, especially for gaming, when you buy headphones and a microphone separately.
Added hassle and inconvenience
Setting up gaming headphones and a microphone can prove to be quite inconvenient. This essentially makes gaming while traveling a chore.
Gaming Headsets = Headphones + Built-in Mic + Gaming Features
Compared to gaming headphones, gaming headsets are more straight forward. It has a built-in mic that can be detachable or retractable, depending on each manufacturer. The mic might also come with bell and whistles like noise cancellation and bi-directionality.
The gaming headset’s features are also naturally geared towards gaming such as virtual surround sound, tactile on-headset button for on-the-fly game configuration, etc.
Just like gaming headphones, gaming headsets also have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Benefits of Gaming Headsets
Simple and all-in-one solution
Traditional gaming headsets are designed for gamers looking for a convenient and more portable solution for their audio gaming needs, allowing them to listen and communicate in-game without worrying too much about the technical details involved in setting up multiple devices.
Adaptable, attractive, and convenient
Original gaming headsets were not built for casual everyday use. They most often featured aesthetics from video games. Although they sold well among gamers due to their loud and gaming-inspired designs, this made them less fashionable compared to traditional music headphones. However, in recent years, manufacturers have stepped up their design game.
Many of today’s gaming headsets look much classier and more fashionable, with slim designs and retractable microphones.
Today’s gaming headsets make for ideal multiple purpose audio companions for gamers who don’t want to spend money on separate devices.
Because you don’t have to purchase a separate microphone, gaming headsets can be a more affordable solution.
Drawbacks of Gaming Headsets
Inferior audio quality
Although the situation has improved in recent years, gaming headsets are in no ways audiophile headphones. Compared to similarly priced audiophile headphones, gaming headsets typically come up short in the music department.
Build quality may not be as good
As always, you get what you pay for. But, because manufacturers have to worry about packing in a decent microphone and good audio in a gaming headset without upping the price too much, you’ll find lower build quality in gaming headsets compared to headphones from a similar price range.
Spending a bit more for premium options can give you a better quality gaming headset. Still, that doesn’t hide the fact that similarly priced gaming headsets won’t be as good, sturdy, or dependable.
Why Is It Important to Choose the Right Type?
Not all games have equal needs. For example, in titles such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Apex Legends, accurate directional sound cues are critical to your individual and team success.
This is why surround sound is a common choice among professional gamers.
Meanwhile, it’s a different story with Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends. Because, even though excellent sound quality is a nice thing to have, it’s more of a bonus than a necessity.
Either way, you’ll want to choose a gaming setup that fits perfectly with what type of video games that you will frequently play.
2. What’s Your Gaming Platform?
Your gaming platform can influence the choice of gaming headsets.
The most common gaming platforms today include:
- Windows PC
- Xbox One
- PlayStation 4
- Nintendo Switch
In general, headsets with a 3.5mm connection should work across all platforms. However, because of certain software-dependent features, a particular console might not support all of the functions of a specific gaming headset.
But, if you decide to use the Sony PlayStation Wireless Gold and Platinum gaming headsets on the Xbox One, you’ll have to connect the gaming headset manually via the cable included in the original package. Then, you’ll have to connect the jack to a separate headset adapter sold by Microsoft exclusively for the Xbox One.
You can bypass the need for the Xbox One headset adapter by connecting the Sony PlayStation Wireless Gold and Platinum gaming headsets directly to the Xbox One, but that’s not exactly an ideal solution now, is it?
Surround sound support is also another important factor.
Both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One only supports a handful of gaming headsets capable of providing 7.1 surround sound. If you’re using a gaming headset with 7.1 surround sound that’s not supported, it will still work. However, the audio will be in 2.0 stereo instead of 7.1 surround sound.
3. Wired vs Wireless Gaming Headsets
You must learn to pick a suitable type of connection. Both wired and wireless connection has its perks and drawbacks. Picking the right connection can hugely affect your gaming lifestyle. So let’s find out the basics of each type of connection.
What is a Wired Connection?
A wired connection involves using cables to connect your headphone or headset to a compatible audio source. The most common connection options are 3.5mm Jacks or USB ports.
Benefits of wired connection
Compared to wireless headsets, wired headsets are relatively inexpensive. They are often packed with more features at a lower price point as well, making them better value purchases for frugal gamers and players who are on a budget.
More options to choose from
From entry-level to high-end offerings, there are plenty more wired headsets to choose from on the market compared to wireless ones.
No need to worry about charging and/or batteries
This is an obvious advantage to using wired headsets instead of their wireless counterparts.
Convenient to use
Because you don’t need to worry about connecting a wired headset to a gaming console or PC via bluetooth or a wireless dongle, they are much more convenient to use and set-up. They are often plug-and-play.
Drawbacks of wired connection
Prone to damage and breakage
The cables of wired gaming headsets, in particular, are liable to tangles, as well as wear and tear over time. This makes them more prone to damage and breakage compared to wireless gaming headsets.
Restriction of movement
Because these headsets have cables or wires, they can prove to be quite the inconvenience when you want to play games on your TV and sit down on your couch, or want to walk to the kitchen in between games without having to put the headset down.
What is a Wireless Connection?
A wireless connection is the exact opposite of a wired connection, in that it doesn’t involve the use of wires and cables.
To make up for the lack of a physical wired connection between the audio source and receiver, wireless gaming headsets use either Bluetooth technology or a wireless USB dongle to maintain the connection.
Benefits of wireless connection
As long as you’re within the range of the wireless gaming headsets, you can be pretty much in any position while gaming.
Futureproof and better cross-platform compatibility
The removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack in 2016 by Apple started a trend in smartphones that could soon affect consoles. Although all three of the major gaming consoles today still sport 3.5mm jacks, who’s to say that the next generation will still have one?
Wireless headsets are more enduring and have better cross-platform compatibility because they typically work with any console or device that supports wireless standards.
Much improved battery life
The battery life of wireless gaming headsets have significantly improved over the past few years. This is especially true on more expensive models.
Drawbacks of wireless connection
Unless you’re planning on spending a lot of money for the more expensive quick charging models, you’ll have to put up with wireless gaming headsets with meager battery life and longer charging times.
Because manufacturers have to worry about maintaining audio quality on top of wireless performance, wireless gaming headsets come at a premium price. Cheaper options do exist. However, they make far too many compromises in terms of build quality, audio quality, and/or wireless performance.
4. Build Quality
Build quality, specifically comfort and durability, should be one of your biggest priorities when looking for a gaming headphone or headset.
A gaming headset can be subjected to wear and tear. This is because they’re used for hours on end, often with nothing more than small breaks in between. Even more so when you consider the times that you’ll be wearing them outside of gaming, as well as the occasional bouts of frustration while gaming.
Good build quality also means more comfortable materials and design features specifically added to make the headset better suited for long hours of gaming.
As such, investing in gaming headsets made out of quality materials makes sense for better longevity, as well as for better comfort and fit to minimize possible complications, such as neck and ear pain, skin rashes, and hearing damage.
Below is a proper breakdown of the different factors affecting the build quality of the gaming headset.
Ideally, you’ll want a gaming headset with a headband whose arc structure is made out of an all-metal material, or at least, wire frame, for added durability. High-quality plastic is sometimes used, as well. However, it’s not as durable. It’s best to stay away from gaming headsets made out of mostly plastic material to avoid wasting your money on something that will break easily.
Also important to consider are the other materials used in the headband. Typically, in addition to the plastic or metal used for the arc structure, you’ll find either pure foam, velour, pleather, or leather.
The material used for the headband cushion, as well as the amount of cushioning used, can make a huge difference in how comfortable a gaming headset is to wear. Case in point, thicker cushioning can help relieve some of the pressure that comes with wearing the headset, which is especially useful for heavier gaming headsets.
Similar to the headbands, ear cups are also a significant factor when it comes to the comfort of a gaming headset.
Ear cups can either be made out of pure foam, velour, pleather, or leather.
For maximum comfort, memory-foam velour is king. They are soft to the ears and allow just the right amount of air to circulate so your ears don’t feel as sweaty even after hours of use. Compared to pleather, and especially leather, velour is better as far as comfort goes. However, genuine leather is also good, especially if durability is your priority.
Clamp force is the force exerted by the headphones on your head. It is one of the key factors that determines just how comfortable and how good of a fit a gaming headset is for you.
Unfortunately, even though there are ways to measure clamping force, the only way to actually know just how snug a fit a headset is by wearing it yourself.
Take special note of the amount of pressure and tightness you feel on your head. If you wear glasses, it may be best to keep them on while trying out headsets. Too much pressure will cause fatigue and discomfort, especially after a long period of time.
But, keep in mind that too weak of a clamp force is not good either. The headset might fall down with just the slightest movement of your head if it doesn’t fit right.
What you want in a gaming headset is an even clamping force throughout the important points of contact, especially around the headband and the ear cups.
Lighter headsets are generally more comfortable to wear over prolonged periods of time. However, this does not mean that heavier headsets should be dismissed entirely, especially since it’s the heavier headsets that are usually more durable and are made of higher quality materials.
It’s important to point out that additional cushion padding can help mitigate the added discomfort that comes with the extra weight of a heavier gaming headset.
Of course, comfort is a preference thing. What works for you may not work for others and vice versa. It’s always better to try out a gaming headset for a good thirty minutes or so before making a purchase.
If the vendor offers free returns after a certain period of time, then that’s even better. This will give you a chance to really “break in” the headset so you can see if the material flexes and the fit improves after a few hours of use. If not, try to see if you can find a headphone rental service offering the particular headphones that you have your eyes on.
Remember, anyone can put up with a little bit of discomfort for a few minutes, but slight annoyances will build up over time.
5. Noise Isolation
Poor noise isolation can have a negative sound quality impact. This is especially true in titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive where directional audio cues are very important. When choosing gaming headsets, you’ll encounter terms such as “Passive noise isolation” and “Active Noise Cancelling” (ANC).
These are two entirely different terms, even though most people often use them interchangeably.
Passive Noise Isolation, commonly referred to as just noise isolation, is a term used to describe headsets that block sound from outside sources using its physical design. A common trait among gaming headsets with good isolation properties are closed backs and tight fits, especially around the ear cups and headbands, as both help secure the seal and isolate ambient sounds.
As for ANC, it’s a term used for technology that actively filters out background noise for clearer and better audio quality.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of the differences between Active Noise Cancelling and Passive Noise Isolation audio listening devices.
6. Surround Sound
Surround sound can give gamers a special edge. While treated as a bonus feature in entertainment, surround sound gives gamers in competitive titles like Overwatch a huge advantage as it provides an accurate omnidirectional hearing.
Stereo vs Virtual Surround vs 3 Dimensional Sound
A stereo headset plays audio out of its left and right speakers. Meanwhile, a Virtual Surround headset alters the same audio so that the sound appears to come from multiple directional speakers or channels. Finally, there’s 3 Dimensional Sound, or 3D sound, or also known as “Spatial Audio”, and in headphones, audio is manipulated to make it seem like the wearer is hearing the sound exactly from where it should visually be in real life.
While Virtual Surround and 3D Sound do sound like they are one and the same, they are quite different.
Virtual Surround headsets trick your brain into thinking that sound is coming from multiple sources and channels by processing the audio first. But, with 3D audio-enabled headsets, the sound goes through further processing via technologies such as Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos. So instead of mixing audio into separate channels, they are mapped to virtual 3D locations where specially calibrated speakers position the sounds for a more precise and realistic listening experience.
While 3D audio is a noticeable step-up over Virtual Surround, support is limited as of the moment. Only a handful of games support the technology still, and it may be a while before it becomes mainstream.
A good microphone is one of the most important factors. Whether purchasing a headset with a built-in mic or choosing a microphone to attach to your headphones, these are the things to look for:
- Noise-canceling properties for improved voice clarity and minimal outside distractions.
- Convenient mute function for privacy.
- Boom microphone for better voice quality.
Without a doubt, most gaming is done indoors. So some gamers may not put a great deal of importance on appearance when choosing a headset. However, with such a fundamental investment, such as something you will use perhaps even daily, why not choose something attractive?
Some designs are too over-the-top for certain users, while other styles may be viewed as just too simple and boring. It all comes down to your personal preferences.
Along with color and design, some headsets have an RGB function. This lights up the headset with vibrant colors. Sometimes, this is used to indicate to the user that it is on and connected. Other times, it’s purely for aesthetic purposes.
9. Replacement Parts
Don’t we all hate damaged gaming headset? The natural wear and tear of hours upon hours of use, as well as the occasional rage quit, can take its toll on a gaming headset. Also, some things can just get misplaced, lost, or broken. This is where replacement parts come in handy.
To save money and time, you can have the headset repaired and serviced or change the broken or missing pieces yourself instead of throwing it away.
From replacement headband cushion bands to replacement ear pads and cables, you’ll want to find out first if the manufacturers of the headset you want are selling spare or replacement parts. If not, there may be aftermarket parts available on ebay or Amazon.
Just like with most things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to gaming headsets. But price isn’t everything.
To make sure that you end up choosing the right gaming headset, it’s important that you do your research. Be careful about falling for the numbers when looking at a product’s spec sheet. Most of the time, they are designed to deceive. Instead, think critically and consider the factors mentioned above.
We hope this helped you to know exactly what to look for in a gaming headphone or headset. And when the time comes, you’ll make the right choice!