The Ultimate Gaming Headset Buyer’s Guide 2021


So you’re wondering which gaming headset you should buy, rent or otherwise try out. In this comprehensive buyer’s guide, we’ll go through everything worth considering before you make any decisions about a gaming headset.

If you’ve found yourself asking, “which gaming headset should I buy?” this extensive resource is for you.

Please feel free to jump around this article and read all additional resources I have provided links to.

With that, let’s get into this comprehensive gaming headset buyer’s guide to help you in your next headset purchase!

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Top 13 Best Headset Brands (Gaming, Aviation, Communication)
Headsets Database
Headphones/Headsets Brands Database


Table Of Contents


What Is Your Gaming Headset Budget?

The first thing to consider when making any purchase is your budget. Money can be a touchy subject for some, and so I’ll keep this section brief.

I would never advise anyone to overspend on any audio equipment. Know what you can realistically afford, and do your best to stay within those limitations, whatever they may be.

Gaming headsets, like many audio devices, range significantly in price. The market is rather large, and so there should be a good selection for any budget.

Note that some retailers offer payment plans, which could be an option.

Consider the cost to benefit ratio of the purchase of the gaming headset. For example, if the headset is needed for business, perhaps stretching the budget is more appropriate. On the other hand, if you don’t plan on making money with the headset, perhaps a more conservative budget is appropriate.

Also, consider any additional accessories or upkeep that may be required for your gaming headset.

Only you can determine your budget. All I’m here to say is that you should consider it.

Related My New Microphone article:
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $50
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $100
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $200
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $400

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Gaming Headset Comfort

Perhaps the most important factor to consider in a gaming headset is comfort. Playing for extended periods with an uncomfortable headset will undoubtedly lead to a poor overall experience.

If you can try before you buy, do your best to find the most comfortable option. Note that even headsets that fit pleasantly at first may become a nuisance over time.

Look for options that are somewhat breathable, so heat isn’t trapped as much. Find a fit that’s adjustable to tighten and loosen the headset as you continue gaming. Opt for breathable earpads that don’t cause too much friction on and around ears.

The overall weight and its distribution may not feel like big deals immediately but will be apparent over long sessions. Therefore, weight and fit are factors to examine as well.

Comfort is so subjective, and there are plenty of gaming headset options on the market. All I’m saying is to do some research to find the best option for you!

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Gaming Headset Isolation

In terms of headphones and headsets, isolation refers to how the earcups block external noise from the listeners’ ears. It’s fairly obvious, but more isolation from external sound offers a more immersive experience. Players will have the advantage of hearing sound cues in the game and can even listen effectively at lower volumes, thereby keeping their hearing healthy.

The vast majority of gaming headsets have closed-back, circumaural (over-ear) earcup designs. These designs are best for passive mechanical sound isolation. So far, so good.

Of course, physically blocking sound waves with a solid earcup won’t completely isolate the listener’s ears. Still, it will work well in most situations and certainly be more effective than other designs.

Any sound leakage/bleed, then, typically comes as a result of a poor seal between the player’s head and the earpads of the headset.

Just as we optimally want breathable earpads, we also want earpads that mould to our heads and create that isolation seal. The size and material of the earpads play a role, as does the overall fit of the headset. Velour material is among the best options on the market for earpad moulding, especially if you wear glasses.

An additional issue with isolation is frequency response. When an ear is physically sealed within an earcup, the headphone driver is effectively coupled to the eardrum. In this case, the low-end frequencies do not need nearly as much energy to be perceived at the same level.

If the eardrum and driver are not coupled, and sound waves can escape the earcup, this bass response is diminished, sometimes significantly.

Finally, some higher-end models offer active noise-cancelling, which effectively records the environmental sound and produces anti-noise signals to cancel it out. These headsets will go beyond physical isolation and allow even more immersion into the game.

Related My New Microphone articles:
The Complete Guide To Open-Back & Closed-Back Headphones
How Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work? (PNC & ANC)

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Gaming Headset Frequency Response

Frequency response was briefly mentioned in the previous section. Let’s discuss it in greater detail here.

A headset’s frequency response refers to how it produces sound across the audible frequency. As humans, we can hear from 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz (give or take), so it’s important that a headset is capable of producing sound within this range for an immersive experience.

In other words, frequency response is the frequency-dependent sensitivity of the headset. Will the headset produce too much bass, will it lack in the mid-range, will it sound perfectly accurate? The frequency response answers these questions.

Unfortunately, most headset manufacturers do not include a frequency response graph to show us exactly how the headset produced sound across the audible range. Third-party measurements can be found for more popular models. I recommend checking out rtings.com for superb third-party measurements on headsets and headphones.

Ideally, we want a headset that has a flat frequency response, so there’s no colouration to the intended audio. However, a bass boost here or a presence boost there may be what the gamer ultimately prefers in their headset.

Related My New Microphone article:
What Is Headphone Frequency Response & What Is A Good Range?

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Gaming Headset Surround Sound Formats

Gaming headsets are naturally compatible with stereo audio (having a left and right channel) thanks to their left and right drivers. However, “surround sound” has become more and more prevalent in headset and video game marketing over the years.

True surround sound involves positioning speakers around a listener and sending multi-channel audio. 5.1 surround sound, for example, involves centre, left, right, surround (rear) left, surround (rear) right, and a low-frequency/subwoofer channel. There are other surround sound formats with even more channels (7.1, 10.2, 11.1, 22.1).

Though some gaming headsets have been designed with this concept, having multiple drivers in each earcup to achieve surround sound, they’re rare. Instead, we most commonly have virtual surround sound, where two drivers (left ear and right ear) are driven with audio from a virtual sound standard.

These virtual surround sound standards effectively process multi-channel audio into a stereo format that sounds as if it’s in surround, even though it’s only driven by two drivers.

There are a variety of these standards on the market. Here are a couple of the popular options:

Dolby Atmos for Headphones: this standard uses audio signal processing to convert Atmos object metadata into a binaural 360-degree output dual stereo drivers, allowing hundreds of channels of sound to be processed into a virtual surround sound experience.

DTS Headphone: X: this software/standard leverages Microsoft Spatial sound to produce accurate sound localization and virtually render sounds above, around, and close to the gamer. V2 is currently on the market.

Certain gaming headset brands have proprietary virtual surround sound standards, which will be compatible with whatever gaming system the particular headset(s) are compatible with.

Having virtual surround sound will further absorb players into the game and can even offer a competitive advantage when 3-dimensional sound cues are part of the gaming experience.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Gaming Headset Microphone

With a microphone, a headset would simply be a pair of headphones. These microphones are typically small electret capsules with noise-cancelling technology. Most headset microphones work fine for gaming purposes but aren’t expected to sound recording studio quality.

Unidirectional microphones are most sensitive to sound in a single direction and are, therefore, pointed toward the mouth. Omnidirectional mics pick up sound from every direction, making them easier to use but more prone to environmental noise.

Since so many headset mics perform more or less the same, the important factors of positioning and detachability also become distinguishing factors.

If you’re planning on using your headset as an everyday pair of headphones, opting for a detachable mic will rid of the mic and boom when not in use. Some headsets even offer mic boom intractability, where the mic and its boom arm can be pushed and locked into one of the earcups.

Having a decent amount of maneuverability with mic positioning is also important. A slight change in mic positioning can greatly influence how the sound is picked up due to factors such as overloading, proximity effect, phasing and overall level.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Wired Vs. Wireless Gaming Headsets

A big question to ask when choosing a gaming headset is whether you want wired or wireless connectivity or a combination of the two.

Wired connections are typically made via 3.5mm TRRS or USB cables. Wireless connectivity is generally achieved over Bluetooth or a proprietary wireless connection over radio frequencies.

Let’s consider the pros and cons of both wired and wireless headphones to help you make a more informed decision.

Pros Of Wired Gaming Headsets

Wired headsets are more affordable than their wireless counterparts, all things considered. There are plenty of entry-level wired options but also a variety of high-end options.

Wired connectivity doesn’t rely on batteries, so you won’t have to worry about charging these headsets. They’re also arguably more convenient in setup since plugging in a cable physically is often easier than pairing two wireless devices.

Cons Of Wired Gaming Headsets

Of course, the main drawback of wired headsets is the wire itself. Having a cable connected to your headset can restrict your movement and even be a distraction during gameplay.

Additionally, having a physical cable connecting the headset to the gaming console means both the cable and the connections are prone to damage. Accidentally yanking the cable out of the headset or console can potentially cause damage. Even worse, pulling the cable could cause the devices to fall from their position, resulting in greater damage.

And as we probably all know, cables are susceptible to tangling when stored improperly.

Pros Of Wireless Gaming Headsets

The freedom of movement is a huge benefit of wireless connectivity. So long as we remain in range, we can move freely while playing.

Wireless headsets are arguably safer than wired connections since there’s no potential cable tugging.

Another pro of wireless headsets is in futureproofing. The Bluetooth standard, for example, works diligently to maintain backward compatibility across its devices. Though USB and analog 3.5mm connections also tend to maintain backward compatibility, these physical connections are increasingly phased out of devices.

Cons Of Wireless Gaming Headsets

All else being equal, wireless headsets are more expensive than their wired counterparts.

Wireless headsets also require charging to perform properly. Finding time to charge isn’t typically an issue, except for when it is!

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Gaming Headset System Compatibility

This may seem obvious, but it’s critical that we choose a headset compatible with our gaming system(s).

Compatibility specifications and system requirements are typically easy to find on product pages and datasheets.

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Gaming Headset Build Quality

As with any purchase, investigating the build quality is important. Not only should we be concerned with comfort, but also with durability. I’d recommend avoiding cheap plastic structural designs and opting for aluminum and steel construction with velour earpads.

If the headset feels cheap, it likely is. If you can’t try before you buy, there will surely be product reviews worth checking out (the gaming community is huge). Take these with a grain of salt and weed through the fake reviews to find the information you need regarding build quality.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Gaming Headset Aesthetics

Whether we admit it or not, appearances are important. Choosing a headset that looks good is an often subjective yet important part of the buying process.

If you plan on streaming or wearing the headset in public (as a pair of headphones, for example), be sure to pick one that looks great.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Know The Additional Costs Of Gaming Headset Accessories

Replacement Ear Cushions

Earpads will eventually wear out, and replacing them will cost a fee. Headset-compatible ear cushions are typically sold by the manufacturer.

Headset Stands

A headset/headphone stand will hold the headset in an optimal and easily accessible position when it is not in use. Stands are helpful for keeping expensive headsets from poor storage conditions between uses.


Best Gaming Headsets By Price Point

Below is a list of My New Microphone articles regarding the best gaming headsets per price point:
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $50
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $100
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $200
Top 5 Best Headsets For Gaming Under $400


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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