The Best Gaming Headsets

The Best Gaming Headsets

Our pick

Kingston HyperX Cloud

Our top pick boasts great sound quality, comfort for long gaming sessions, a choice of earpads, and better build quality than anything else in its class.

Perhaps most important, the HyperX Cloud is impressively comfortable—you can wear it for hours on end without cranial distress. That comfort, plus the headset’s great audio performance, made it a clear winner in our tests. Although you can find headsets that sound a lot better for a lot more money, the HyperX Cloud features a nice balance of atmosphere-enhancing high-frequency sounds, a clear sense of the direction that sounds are coming from, and good low-end rumble. It puts a slight emphasis on the bass to give a little extra kick to action games, but not so much that it sounds bloated or sloppy the way so many of its competitors do. It sounds great with movies and music, too, which isn’t a given with most gaming headsets.

Solid aluminum construction makes the HyperX Cloud feel durable and rigid but surprisingly lightweight. Features such as a removable boom microphone, interchangeable leatherette and velour earpads, and in-line volume and microphone mute controls are really just icing on an already-delicious cake. For the vast majority of gamers, there’s little reason to spend more than the HyperX Cloud’s current price.


Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver

Kingston’s completely redesigned HyperX Cloud Revolver is more open and spacious sounding, and great for gamers with larger heads.

If our pick is out of stock or too expensive, if you want a headset whose sound is tailored more toward action, or if you find many headsets too tight for your tastes, consider Kingston’s HyperX Cloud Revolver. It’s a newer design with a better microphone, but it’s more expensive than the original, doesn’t sound quite as neutral, and isn’t quite as universally comfortable as the HyperX Cloud. Its auto-adjusting headband does make it a better fit for people with larger heads.

Upgrade pick

Sennheiser Game One

Sennheiser’s Game One costs more than most people are looking to spend, but its spacious sound, stunning bass performance, and noise-cancelling mic make it worth the premium for serious gamers.

If you’re seeking even better audio performance, a far better microphone, a more engrossing gaming experience, and superior long-term comfort, all of our testers agreed that the Sennheiser Game One remains the best pick for audiophiles and hardcore marathon gamers alike. Unlike most gaming headsets, the Game One has an open-back design, meaning that the earcups surrounding its drivers are vented, not solid shells. This design not only makes the Game One sound more open and spacious but also makes the headset lighter and cooler to wear for extended periods of time, even if it does mean that other people sitting next to you may be distracted by the sound of your games. Also, the headset really doesn’t reach its full sonic potential without a bit of extra amplification, so you should be prepared to spend at least $35 extra for a good dedicated sound card, or more for a headset amp.

Budget pick

Kingston HyperX Cloud Stinger

The HyperX Cloud Stinger doesn’t have the bulletproof build quality of our top pick, but it is better built and better sounding than a $50 headset has any right to be.

We run the risk of appearing to be in the tank for Kingston, but even before I pointed out the brand of the HyperX Cloud Stinger, all of our testers agreed that it was the new budget gaming headset to beat. Unlike the company’s previous low-cost headsets, the Cloud Stinger isn’t just a neutered version of the original Cloud. This model includes a fantastic new lift-to-mute mic that sounds great, and it’s big enough to fit the largest of noggins comfortably for hours on end. Despite its all-plastic construction, the Cloud Stinger feels more solid and durable than many of its high-priced competitors. And while its sound isn’t as neutral or impactful as our pick’s, the results are far better than you might expect, with good detail, solid bass, and midrange that doesn’t sound nasal or quacky.

Also great

LucidSound LS30

Finally, a wireless gaming headset done right. Great sound, a terrific price, simple installation, universal platform support, and intuitive controls make it a clear winner.

If you want a wireless gaming headset, we recommend the LucidSound LS30 for its solid performance, intuitive controls, great battery life, sleek design, cross-platform compatibility, and attractive price compared with other wireless gaming headsets. Although it’s designed specifically for use with gaming consoles, we tried this headset with two different desktop computers and didn’t have any issues. However, if your PC doesn’t have an optical audio port, you can’t use all of its features, such as its onboard volume controls, and its dongle does take up a USB port—no Bluetooth here. The mic picks up a lot of environmental noise, especially from ceiling fans, but a cheap third-party windscreen fixes that issue.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

I’ve been fortunate enough to review affordable headphones, speakers, receivers, and home theater gear, as well as high-end audio gear, for more than a decade now. I served as East Coast contributing editor for Home Entertainment magazine and editor in chief of HomeTechTell, and in the past I’ve contributed to Electronic House, Big Picture Big Sound, Digital TV & Sound, and Home Theater magazine. I write about all manner of audio gear here at The Wirecutter, as well as at Home Theater Review and Residential Systems.

But perhaps more important for the purposes of this guide, I’ve been a hardcore gamer since 1980. Like 87 percent of the Wirecutter readers who responded to our survey, I’m primarily a PC gamer these days, although I do dabble in consoles from time to time (when a new Gran Turismo game is released, for instance, or for the occasional round of Worms). And whether I’m playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), strategy games like Civilization V, shooters like Doom, or the latest version of Magic: The Gathering, chances are good that I’m logged in to my private Ventrilo chat server, either to coordinate group attacks or to chew the fat with my gaming friends and guild mates. Granted, I’ll probably never break the personal record I set back in October 2011, when I played Rift for 24 straight hours during an Extra Life charity event, but I tend to spend at least 15 to 18 hours per week wearing a headset.

Who should get this

A good gaming headset usually costs a little more than dedicated headphones that deliver equivalent audio performance.

Once a solitary hobby, or one shared among friends sitting together in the same room, video games these days are largely played online, with friends and even complete strangers coming together in virtual spaces to share in an adventure or blow one another up. And that means it’s essential to have a good gaming headset—that is, headphones plus a microphone and usually some sort of volume control, all built into one device.

Not everyone feels that way. When we announced we were working on a Wirecutter guide to gaming headsets, the emails started pouring in from irate audiophiles who insisted that there’s simply no such thing as a good gaming headset—that the only ethical recommendation would be for us to tell our readers to buy a good pair of headphones and a $50 clip-on microphone.

Although it’s true that a good gaming headset usually costs a little more than dedicated headphones that deliver equivalent audio performance, most gamers I spoke with in the past year or so expressed a preference for the convenience, the often-enhanced bass, and in some cases even the aesthetic of gaming headsets with built-in microphones and easy access to volume controls and microphone muting.

How we picked

Digging through the hundreds of currently available gaming headsets in search of the right model is a daunting task. I know this because it took me more than 40 hours just to compile a list of currently sold gaming headsets and weed out the obvious losers by reading owner reviews on and posts on /r/pcgaming. I then turned to expert sources such as Tom’s Guide, Digital Trends, PCWorld, PCMag, TechRadar, and the forums at for help in whittling down the 237 potential candidates to the 37 headsets we listened to in the first round of testing in 2015, plus another 12 in 2016 and 11 new models at the beginning of 2017.

The aforementioned survey of Wirecutter readers helped us narrow down the pack and determine which models we should test based on the following criteria:

  • PC compatibility is the primary concern. The vast majority of survey respondents (87 percent) said they were primarily or exclusively PC gamers, and 77 percent told us they were perfectly fine with a headset that wasn’t cross-platform compatible.
  • Comfort is essential. About 62 percent of survey participants told us that comfort was as important as sound quality. In light of that, we not only paid close attention to notes on comfort when scouring customer reviews but also divided our hands-on comfort testing into two distinct categories: instantaneous comfort, and long-term comfort on a wide variety of head shapes and sizes.
  • Performance on games is more important than on movies or music. In fact, only 18 percent of respondents said they cared how their gaming headset performed with music and movies at all. The rest seemed to view good music and movie performance as a nice bonus (65 percent) or a complete nonissue (18 percent).
  • With microphone quality, intelligibility beats fidelity. When evaluating microphones, we prioritized whether our teammates on the other side of the Ventrilo connection could understand what we were saying in the heat of battle, not whether our voices sounded broadcast quality on the other end.
  • Value is tough to define for gaming headsets. A plurality of surveyed readers (34 percent) told us they would like to spend no more than $100 on a dedicated gaming headset but would be willing to spend up to $200 for something special. That’s a pretty wide spread, so we did our best to keep our top pick under $100 but felt we had a reasonable amount of leeway when evaluating upgrade picks.

How we tested

We primarily relied on two PCs for testing: my own custom-configured Maingear PC, which is built on an MSI Z97-G45 gaming motherboard with an integrated headphone amplifier, and my wife’s 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.

One thing that I was careful to account for in our testing was just how contentious a topic gaming headsets can be. In reading reviews from headset owners, you’ll probably notice that even the mostly highly rated headset usually has some number of one-star reviews proclaiming it to be the worst headset in the history of ever. So my primary goal for this guide was to find a headset (or headsets) that no one could reasonably hate. As such, my testers and I agreed on a veto system: If any of us outright loathed a particular model due to comfort, construction, or sound quality, we cut it from the running with no further discussion.

I started the testing myself, digging through all of our headsets in three large chunks grouped by price (below $100, $100 to $200, and $200 and above) and setting aside any models that fell egregiously short in any significant way as compared with others in their price range.

We sometimes wore the same headset for as long as nine hours at a stretch.

Then I brought in my wife, Bethany, for extensive testing and discussion of the models that remained. By day, she works in video production, audio editing, and communications. By night, she’s as dedicated a gamer as I am, and her input was inestimable given how different our tastes in games are (and as such how different the audio we listen to tends to be). While we both enjoy massively multiplayer online role-playing games, she tends to focus the bulk of her remaining gaming time on 4X games (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) like the Civilization series, as well as on puzzle and strategy games (which she often plays while wearing a headset even when she’s gaming solo). The shape of her noggin is also quite different from mine, and she’s more particular than I am about the shape of earcups, which made her input on the fit of the headsets critical.

After she and I had a chance to cull the herd, we brought in my friend Dave Calhoun, a guitarist with more than 20 years of recording experience, whose hat size is significantly larger than either of ours and whose input on comfort was invaluable.

Clarity of communication was our primary concern, not whether the microphone was broadcast quality or suitable for recording podcasts or other audio material.

I also relied on the assistance of the people I play online games with the most, including a number of old guild mates and gaming friends, who have great familiarity with the sounds of one another’s voices and were able to provide extensive feedback on microphone performance during real-world testing. Clarity of communication was our primary concern, not whether the microphone was broadcast quality or suitable for recording podcasts or other audio material.

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 nine hours at a stretch.

Our pick: Kingston HyperX Cloud

”Our pick” gaming headset on a wooden surface next to a keyboard.

The HyperX Cloud may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid! Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick

Kingston HyperX Cloud

Our top pick boasts great sound quality, comfort for long gaming sessions, a choice of earpads, and better build quality than anything else in its class.

Even now, after thoroughly testing 60 headsets for over a year and a half, our testers still agree that Kingston’s HyperX Cloud is the right gaming headset for most people, thanks to its excellent long-term comfort, great sound quality for the price, light weight, exceptional build quality, and fantastic durability. Among all the headsets that sell for less than $100, it was the number one pick for two testers and a close second overall for another, whose only complaint was that she found its sound isolation to be a bit too much for her taste.

Unusual among gaming headsets, the HyperX Cloud relies on a pair of 53-millimeter drivers, rather than the traditional 40 mm or 50 mm size. I’m not really sure if that’s what gives it a sonic edge over its competitors, but in our tests it didn’t suffer from the bass problems that so many of the other headsets did. With large explosions, heavy gunfire, and other hard-hitting action, it never left us underwhelmed, but neither did it distort or egregiously overemphasize such low-frequency sounds.

The HyperX Cloud’s frequency response is as true to life as you could hope for from a headset that sells for less than $100. Pitting this pair against the Sony MDR-7506 (our top pick for the best over-ear headphones under $200, three years running), our testers found that the HyperX Cloud wasn’t quite as neutral as the Sony model. We found its treble response slightly less even, its midrange a tiny bit less smooth, and its bass a touch fuller. But we liked its sound better with games and even with some music and movies. We also found the HyperX Cloud more comfortable over long periods of time, though not by a lot, and it offered better isolation from external noise.

For the vast majority of gamers, there’s little reason to spend more than the HyperX Cloud’s current asking price.

The HyperX Cloud is pretty traditional in overall design, so if you’re shopping for something with flashing LEDs or an aggressive look, it might not be the right pick for you. It’s a reskinned, slightly tweaked version of QPAD’s QH-90 gaming headset, which was a popular import item for gamers in the know before Kingston introduced it to North American buyers. The QH-90, in turn, is essentially the Takstar Pro 80 Monitor headphones with the addition of a removable boom mic and gaming-oriented connectivity. So the Kingston HyperX Cloud started its life as a highly respected, very affordable high-fidelity pair of headphones, which contradicts the popular notion that you’d be better served by dedicated headphones and a clip-on mic for your gaming needs. If you were to purchase the Takstar Pro 80 and add a decent mic, you would end up paying more than you would for the HyperX Cloud.

And you would be missing out on some valuable gaming-centric add-ons, such as the dual 3.5 mm 2-meter extension cable with in-line volume control and mic mute, plus the easily swappable leatherette and velour earpads. The HyperX Cloud also comes with a short adapter cable (dual 3.5 mm to single 3.5 mm) for use with mobile devices, as well as an airplane adapter and a cloth carrying case. And since it’s an analog headset, it works just fine with PCs, Macs, and consoles alike, although you will need an adapter (sold separately) for the Xbox One.

We also found this model less fatiguing for long gaming sessions than any other headset in its price range. Only the much more expensive Sennheiser Game One seriously outmatched it in that regard. The HyperX Cloud features genuine viscoelastic memory foam in its earpads (both the leatherette and velour options), not the cheaper foam found in many other headsets and headphones. Our panel split on which of the earpads we preferred. Dave and I leaned toward the leatherette pads for their better sound isolation and the more bass-rich sonic profile they created. Bethany preferred the enhanced breathability and open sound of the velour pair. We all agreed that having a choice between the two kinds (and the ability to so easily switch them) was a nice touch. And neither of the HyperX Cloud’s earpad sets caused me any amount of appreciable discomfort when I wore my thick, cellulose-acetate-framed glasses, whereas many of the other headsets in our roundup did.

We found the HyperX Cloud less fatiguing for long gaming sessions than any other headset in its price range.

Even without the benefit of surround sound, the HyperX Cloud did an admirable job of creating a nice sense of space for all of our games. With shooters such as Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Star Wars Battlefront, Doom, and Dishonored 2, I always felt like I had a good idea of where my enemies were and in which direction I needed to focus my attention. The addition of Razer Surround software (which we discuss in detail below) enhanced that effect even more.

The headset also did wonderfully with music-rich games. The soundtrack for Civilization V ranks among my wife’s favorite music in any form of media, and we both loved the way the HyperX Cloud rendered the orchestral cues as well as the more percussive world-music themes peppered throughout the game.

In addition, the HyperX Cloud performed admirably when we fitted it with its mobile adapter cable and paired it with my iPhone 5s. Bass-heavy tracks such as Björk’s “Hyperballad” and Beastie Boys’ “3-Minute Rule” have nuances in the lowest octaves that most game soundtracks simply don’t deliver, and this Kingston headset proved to be more than up to the task of delivering them faithfully.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

If listening to well-recorded music on the HyperX Cloud revealed one sonic downside, it’s that some high-pitched sounds in certain songs tended to be slightly overemphasized. This effect didn’t bother Bethany as much as it bothered me. And the issue didn’t crop up with any of our games, so since the HyperX Cloud is a gaming headset, we couldn’t really hold that against it.

Other potential drawbacks include the fact that the HyperX Cloud doesn’t fold down in any way. Its earcups do retract into the headband, of course, but they don’t swivel, so you can’t fold the headset flat and stick it in a pocket of your Bag of Holding.

As for the HyperX Cloud’s gaming performance, the one serious criticism we all had was that its flexible boom microphone was only good, not great. It delivered voices clearly (with no distortion and very little noise), but all of our online testers who have met me in meatspace reported that my voice sounded a little high-pitched and nasally through the Cloud’s mic. My regular Magic Duels opponent, who graciously tolerated constant pauses to our matches so that I could swap out headsets, summed it up: “You’re coming through loud and clear; it’s just that your voice is missing that booming radio-announcer quality that makes you sound like you.”

Still, in terms of clarity and overall ability to communicate with friends and teammates, the HyperX Cloud’s mic ranked pretty high among the headsets we loved overall.

Who else likes our pick

Hayden Dingman of PCWorld sums up his impressions of the HyperX Cloud with: “The sound quality is second to none in this bracket, the build quality is superb, and it’s extremely comfortable.” He did have many of the same issues with the microphone that we did, though, calling it “just okay.”

Mitch Dyer of IGN writes in his review: “The HyperX Cloud doesn’t just offer a comfortable fit, though. It sounds great, too, with 53mm drivers delivering clear mids and highs. Particularly guttural metal albums or the harsh ballistics of Halo 2: Anniversary’s sniper rifle really highlight the punchy power of this headset’s strong low tones, which balance well with the mids and highs without overwhelming either. They’re fantastic for something like an amazing, low-mix electronic album, and gave me phenomenal spatial awareness when playing chaotic multiplayer matches in busy action games.”

A totally redesigned runner-up: Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver

The ”Runner-up” gaming headset on a wooden surface next to a keyboard.

The Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver features a new, original design with 50 mm drivers, a sturdy steel frame, and an auto-adjusting headband. Photo: Michael Hession


Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver

Kingston’s completely redesigned HyperX Cloud Revolver is more open and spacious sounding, and great for gamers with larger heads.

If you have a larger head or want a little extra oomph in your action-gaming audio, you’ll find a lot to love about Kingston’s newer HyperX Cloud Revolver, if you don’t mind spending a little more money. Unlike the original HyperX Cloud (and the Cloud II), the Cloud Revolver isn’t based on a previous headset. It’s a new design with a steel frame, a self-adjusting headband, a better-sounding microphone, and 50 mm drivers instead of the 53 mm drivers in the original Cloud line.

Despite the smaller drivers, the Cloud Revolver delivers a more open, spacious, detailed sound than the original, which we really appreciated when we played first-person shooters like Doom. Was it an even match for the Sennheiser Game One in that regard? Not quite, but for a closed-back headset it came surprisingly close. It also didn’t quite match the Game One in all-day comfort, but I still found it to be an improvement over the excellent HyperX Cloud in that regard.

Not all of our testers agreed. Bethany preferred the manual adjustments that the original Cloud offered. “The fit of the new one is almost there … but not quite,” she said. Similarly, not all of our testers were as smitten with its zippier audio performance. While we loved the extra sense of space, as well as the extra punch it gave to action games, it proved to be slightly too bright-sounding with games where action wasn’t the focus, such as Civilization V and Civilization VI. Not egregiously so, and if we hadn’t had the original Cloud for comparison the effect wouldn’t have been a big deal, but the original sounded great with more types of games.

If you have a larger head or want a little extra oomph in your action-gaming audio, you’ll find a lot to love about the Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver.

Overall, we think the original HyperX Cloud is still a better buy for most people, but if you find most headsets too snug, or if you want a little extra whiz-bang in your action-gaming audio, the HyperX Cloud Revolver is a great buy, especially when it’s on sale, which it seems to be quite frequently.

If your budget allows: Sennheiser Game One

The “Budget pick” gaming headset on a wooden surface next to a keyboard.

The Sennheiser Game One not only boasts stellar sound but is also lightweight, well-ventilated, and comfortable enough to wear for hours on end. Photo: Michael Hession

Upgrade pick

Sennheiser Game One

Sennheiser’s Game One costs more than most people are looking to spend, but its spacious sound, stunning bass performance, and noise-cancelling mic make it worth the premium for serious gamers.

While the HyperX Cloud is a great headset for most people, no headset is perfect for everyone. If you’re more discerning when it comes to sound quality in games, movies, and music, or if your gaming sessions run a little longer than the norm, consider the Sennheiser Game One. This headset was by far the favorite of all our testers (even our online helpers) due to its stellar audio performance, exceptional long-term comfort, and fantastic noise-cancelling microphone. The only thing we couldn’t agree on was whether it’s worth the extra expense. I said yes, absolutely so. Dave decided to buy one for himself after trying it out. Bethany thought that it cost a little more than she would be willing to spend, though she said she would be thrilled if Santa brought her one—plus a new sound card to drive it.

The Game One carries a suggested retail price of about $250. You can find it on Amazon for a lot less, depending on your timing, but it still costs more than most people are willing to spend on a headset. In our gaming-headset reader survey, 29 percent of respondents said they would be willing to spend $200 on a headset that blew them away in performance. (Meanwhile, 18 percent of respondents noped out at $300, and only 9 percent said they would be willing to spend more than $300.)

The Sennheiser Game One was by far the favorite headset of all our testers (even our online helpers) due to its stellar audio performance, exceptional long-term comfort, and fantastic noise-cancelling microphone. The only thing we couldn’t agree on was whether it’s worth the extra expense.

The Game One truly blew us away. Perhaps the most significant feature that sets it apart from most of its competition is that it sports an open-back design. The earcups of the headset are vented, leaving the back side of its drivers open to the air instead of encasing them in a solid shell of plastic or metal. You’ll often see this design in high-end headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 5XX series, from which the Game One derives its drivers and “Eargonomic Acoustic Refinement” sound-channeling technology. But you rarely see the design in headsets in general, primarily because it comes with one disadvantage: Open-back headphones and headsets don’t offer a lot in the way of noise isolation, either incoming or outgoing. Anyone sitting in the room with you can hear what you’re hearing to some extent, and you can hear, to a lesser degree, the sounds of people and things in the room with you.

I assumed at first that this effect would be a major downer for our testers, but we all ended up loving this aspect of the Game One. Sounds from around the house didn’t end up being nearly the distraction I worried they would. When we played games, we couldn’t hear the air conditioner, for example, nor the ceiling fan in my office. We could, on the other hand, hear the ringing of the phone or a knock at the front door, which both Bethany and I really appreciated. In other words, the only things that really distracted us from our gaming experience were the things we actually wanted to be distracted by. Keep in mind, however, that your non-gamer housemates may be a little annoyed by the game sounds leaking out of your headset if they prefer absolute silence.

The open-back design of the Game One had several other key impacts on our gaming experience. For one thing, it made everything sound absolutely awesome. One of the reasons audiophiles enjoy open-back headphones is that they offer a spacious, outside-of-the-head quality. The sounds they create seem to emanate from out in the room, not from the bits of plastic and metal strapped to your head. Quite frankly, I never found myself inclined to engage any sort of surround-sound processing when gaming with the Game One; its expansive, detailed sound was enough to transport me into the environment of whatever game I was playing, whether that be Guild Wars 2 or Dying Light. With Star Wars Battlefront, in particular, I loved the way the headset generated a genuine sense of aural depth. Blaster fire and explosions in the distance actually sounded farther away, not merely quieter and more diffuse. Bethany loved the way this headset enriched the expanded soundstage of the music in Civilization V. As much as all of our testers enjoyed using Razer Surround Pro fake-surround processing with a variety of other headsets, it didn’t add much to the already engrossing, “room-filling” sound of this model.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the audio performance of the Game One was just how staggering and hard-hitting its low frequencies were when necessary. Dying Light, for instance, is a particularly tactile game that mostly consists of the player thwacking zombies in the head with large metal pipes and other blunt instruments. Few headsets in our roundup came close to matching the visceral thuds the Game One rendered. (Really, the Astro A40 and A50, along with the Turtle Beach Elite Pro, were its only serious competition in this respect.) In our Star Wars Battlefront sessions, the thermal imploder bombs that occasionally wreak havoc on the battlefield felt and sounded as if they were cranked out by a good subwoofer.

Regular Wirecutter contributor Brent Butterworth also helped me articulate a distinctive aspect of the Game One’s comfort. It doesn’t feel special the instant you put it on; the velvet earpads are nice, and the headset is notably lightweight, but it isn’t as cushy or soft as other headsets or headphones. The strange thing is that it feels pretty much the same after hours of use, even when you’re wearing glasses. Its comfort doesn’t degrade over time, as the comfort of so many other headsets does. The other consequence of the open-back design of the Game One is that it never gets too warm—it’s well-vented, allowing your ears to breathe.

The other big advantage of this headset is that we all found our own voices easy to hear, even without the benefit of mic monitoring. The Game One doesn’t mix the input from its microphone into the output of the headphones, as some gaming headsets do. Instead, its open-back design allowed our voices to reach our own ears with very little encumbrance and no delay. Our online testers also loved the way our voices cut through the sound mix on their end. The Game One’s mic uses active noise cancellation, which does a good job of taming room noise but creates a slightly thinner tone that make it less than ideal for recording voiceovers, podcasts, or other professional audio material. But again, clarity of communication was our primary consideration when we were gauging the quality of the microphones, and on those grounds this Sennheiser headset excelled.

Another bonus is the fact that you can activate mic muting by simply rotating the boom mic up and out of the way. In terms of controls, though, that’s just about it; the only other thing you’ll fiddle with is the handy rotating volume control on the right earcup.

Like all other analog headsets, the Game One is compatible with PCs, Macs, and consoles alike, and the newest version comes with both dual and single 3.5 mm cables, so you won’t need to purchase a separate adapter. You will need Microsoft’s Stereo Headset Adapter if you want to use it with the original Xbox One controller, though.

One final caveat: The Game One reaches its full potential only with extra amplification, so it’s not the best pick if you game exclusively on consoles. When powered by the onboard analog audio output of my wife’s computer, it sounded good enough to become her favorite headset by far in terms of audio performance, and it was even better with the onboard sound card of my computer, although we had to crank the volume quite high. It didn’t reveal all of its nuances or its powerful bass capabilities until we connected it to the Creative Sound Blaster E5 DAC/amp with the amp’s high-gain mode engaged. In other words, the more power you give the Game One, the better it sounds, so if it seems like the right headset for you, consider adding a dedicated sound card or an external amp to your gaming PC. If you can’t or don’t want to add a sound card to your rig, we recommend the Sennheiser PC 363D, which comes with its own USB sound card, instead. The PC 363D is also a better bet for console gamers: Since it requires less power to drive, it’s a better match for the headset output found on the bottom of most wireless controllers.

For gamers on a tighter budget: Kingston HyperX Cloud Stinger

The “Budget pick” gaming headset lying flat on a wooden surface next to a keyboard.

Kingston’s HyperX Cloud Stinger is a great, no-frills headset that boasts better construction and sound quality than its price might lead you to expect. Photo: Dennis Burger

Budget pick

Kingston HyperX Cloud Stinger

The HyperX Cloud Stinger doesn’t have the bulletproof build quality of our top pick, but it is better built and better sounding than a $50 headset has any right to be.

We’ll likely be accused of playing favorites with this one, but after thorough testing in which only one of our testers was aware of the brands involved, we all agreed that Kingston’s new HyperX Cloud Stinger is the clear choice for gamers looking to spend $50 or less on a new headset. Compared with most budget headsets, the Cloud Stinger is surprisingly well-built and comfortable thanks to its cushy headband and relaxed fit. In our tests its audio performance was noticeably better than that of anything else in its price range, thanks to its beefy 50 mm drivers and well-balanced sound. Our testers also went gaga over the Cloud Stinger’s new microphone, which is a substantial upgrade over the mic of even our top pick: Not only does it sound better, but also you can mute the mic just by raising the boom into the vertical position. This design does mean that the mic isn’t removable, which has long been a selling point of our top pick, the original HyperX Cloud, but the mic is especially sturdy, and it stays locked in place and out of the way when not in use.

Compared with the results from its larger siblings, the Cloud and the Cloud Revolver, the overall tonal balance of the Cloud Stinger isn’t quite up to the same standards. In our tests the bass wasn’t quite as rich and impactful, and the treble exhibited a comparative lack of smoothness that two of our testers described as “slight harshness.” That said, this slight edge to the higher frequencies wasn’t as bad as what we heard from some other headsets costing considerably more.

Unsurprisingly for a $50 headset, the HyperX Cloud Stinger is all plastic in its construction, but unlike most plastic headsets—even those costing two or three times as much—it doesn’t feel fragile, and its joints don’t creak when you adjust the rotation of the earcups or the length of the headband.

In the end, we all agreed that you’d be better off saving up the few extra bucks for the HyperX Cloud (or the HyperX Cloud Revolver if you want improved comfort and a bit of extra kick for action games), but if you refuse to spend a penny more than $50, you’ll find a lot to love about this overachieving budget headset.

A pick for those who hate wires: LucidSound LS30

The “Also great” gaming headset on a wooden surface next to a keyboard.

The LucidSound LS30 benefits from great wireless sound quality, intuitive controls, simple setup, and a fantastic price (windscreen sold separately). Photo: Michael Hession

Also great

LucidSound LS30

Finally, a wireless gaming headset done right. Great sound, a terrific price, simple installation, universal platform support, and intuitive controls make it a clear winner.

In the previous version of this guide, we offered a wireless pick only because we felt we had to. This time, all of our testers were completely smitten with a new offering: the LucidSound LS30. Would we trade any of our wired picks for it? Probably not, except for our budget pick. For a wireless headset, however, the LS30 delivers exceptional sound quality, simple connectivity, intuitive controls, good long-term comfort, great mic monitoring, and—perhaps most surprising—an amazing price. It doesn’t cost much more than wired headsets with similar build quality and audio performance, and it’s right around half the price of our previous wireless pick, the SteelSeries H Wireless. Really, we found only two things about the LS30 that we didn’t love. First, its proprietary wireless transmitter requires both an optical audio connection and a USB connection if you want to access all of the headset’s features. But that’s a minor gripe. More concerning is that the microphone is overly sensitive to environmental noise, especially from fans.

Note too that the LS30 doesn’t officially support the PC platform—it’s marketed as a console-only headset and sold as such. That said, we didn’t have any issues getting it up and running with either of our test PCs, nor with our MacBook.

For a wireless headset, the LS30 delivers exceptional sound quality, simple connectivity, intuitive controls, good long-term comfort, great mic monitoring, and—perhaps most surprising—an amazing price.

Unlike with so many other wireless gaming headsets, which come with complicated control boxes or transmitters, setup of the LS30 is simple. If you’re using it with a PC, you plug the included USB dongle into a free port and then connect the dongle to your sound card with the included optical audio cable. If you don’t have an optical audio output, the LS30 will work with only the USB dongle plugged in, but you won’t have access to one of its standout features: independent on-headset volume controls for gaming sounds and voice chat.

Adjusting the volume of each (assuming you are using the optical connection) is a matter of twisting the rings around each earcup. Muting either is as simple as tapping the center of the earcup. If you don’t have optical, both volumes move together (so you need to adjust them separately in your computer’s settings or chat client, not a huge deal).

The headset charges over USB when powered off, but if you run out of juice and need a wired connection, you can also connect it via the included 3.5 mm audio cable and keep playing. (For PCs, you’ll need to purchase a separate 3.5 mm audio splitter.)

Much like our previous wireless pick, the LS30 has a microphone that’s especially sensitive to air movement. My ceiling fan, which was barely audible over other headsets’ mics, sounded like a helicopter landing until I added a third-party windscreen. Although that add-on cut the noise completely, it also produced a slight deadening of my voice for listeners on the other end over the Internet, though it didn’t diminish vocal intelligibility.

One other drawback: If you turn the volume up past reasonable listening levels, the bass can get a little distorted. I’m talking about volumes a good bit above comfortable listening, though, so this shouldn’t be a concern unless you’re trying to harm your hearing.

Battery life is pretty good overall, tracking fairly closely in our testing to the company’s claimed 15-hour play time, and while the wireless range may not be as great as that of our previous wireless pick, we were still able to get a good 25 feet away from the transmitter before it disconnected.

A note on surround sound

The one aspect in which our experience contrasted sharply with the majority desires of our reader-survey respondents was surround sound. About 70 percent of survey participants expressed a strong preference for surround-sound support in their gaming headset, and because of this result we tried our best to find a headset with surround performance that impressed us. For the most part, we weren’t able to. We tested one headset with multiple drivers in each earcup, plus a number of USB headsets with built-in Dolby, DTS, or Creative surround technologies (which create a surround-like experience using only two drivers, through a combination of delay and other audio processing).

None of them sounded great. In fact, most of them sounded appreciably worse than standard stereo sound.

If you’re truly interested in surround sound, all of our testers agreed that your money would be better spent on buying a good stereo headset and purchasing the Razer Surround Pro software.

Of all the headsets we tried, the Razer Tiamat 7.1 created the most convincing surround experience, which didn’t surprise us since it includes five distinct drivers in each earcup: a 30 mm front-channel driver, a 30 mm center-channel driver, 20 mm surround and surround-back drivers, and a 40 mm low-frequency effects driver. Still, the surround-sound experience wasn’t entirely convincing, and the Tiamat 7.1 failed to create a satisfying front soundstage. For example, when playing first-person shooter games with my daughter, I often found that the sounds of objects moving across the screen would leap, sonically speaking, from left to right without passing in front of me.

In our tests, most of the surround-sound processing technologies included with the virtual-surround-sound headsets fared even worse, coloring or distorting the sound without offering any real advantage in aural positioning. Everything sounded diffuse and not really confined within the earcups; I guess that counts as surround sound, but it didn’t help us in any way to determine where our enemies were by sound alone.

The one exception was another Razer product—Razer Surround—a software download that adds surround-sound processing to any stereo headphones or headset. It comes in two versions: a basic free download that offers surprisingly convincing “7.1-channel” surround effects, and a Pro version that adds selectable bass boost, adjustable dynamic range compression, voice-clarity processing, an equalizer with 11 presets as well as custom settings, and (most important) the ability to calibrate the surround-sound experience specifically for your headset, your head, and your ears. The Pro version is a free download for anyone who purchases a Razer headset, or you can buy it stand-alone for $20 (at the time of this writing).

If you’re truly interested in surround sound, all of our testers agreed that your money would be better spent on buying a good stereo headset and purchasing Razer Surround Pro.

The competition

No roundup of gaming headsets would be complete without a look at Astro’s offerings, so we brought in the A40 with MixAmp Pro, the A30 with MixAmp Pro, and the A50 Wireless. None of us were overly fond of the on-ear design of the A30, but I was smitten with the hard-hitting sound of the A40 and A50, especially with games like Dying Light. But noisy mics and the MixAmp Pro’s constant background hiss bothered all of us. After we wrapped up our original round of testing, Astro introduced a new digital MixAmp and a new version of the A50; we plan on giving them a listen for a future update to this guide.

We also tested the HyperX Cloud II, Kingston’s updated version of our top pick, which features a USB sound card, surround-sound processing, a slightly superior microphone, and better padding on the headband. If you’re a laptop gamer without access to good analog audio jacks, it’s a smart buy. For most people, though, none of those enhancements justify the extra price.

Price is also the biggest reason Kingston’s new HyperX Cloud Revolver S failed to make our short list of recommendations. Its USB connection is the quietest and cleanest we’ve yet tested, and the Dolby Headphone processing is actually shockingly good, but this model costs too much.

We all loved the new Sennheiser GSP 300 for its simple design, onboard controls, and spacious sound, but currently it’s $20 more than the HyperX Cloud, which sounded better.

The new Creative Sound BlasterX H5 and Sound BlasterX H7 impressed us with their build quality and audio performance, but their fit doesn’t accommodate as wide a range of people.

Our previous low-budget pick, the Creative Draco HS880, is still a great buy if you want to save a few extra dollars, but we like the HyperX Cloud Stinger a bit better in pretty much every way.

All of our testers loved nearly everything about the Fnatic Gear Duel, especially how every piece can be swapped out, including your choice of ear cushions. But it costs twice as much as our top pick, the HyperX Cloud, and its performance does not warrant that steep price increase.

The Monster Fatal1ty FXM 200 stood a real chance of dethroning our top pick, but we found that its build quality and padding didn’t match those of the HyperX Cloud. In our tests the sound was definitely tuned for action gaming, but the emphasis on midrange frequencies cost this headset a few points with atmospheric games like The Witcher 3 and orchestral-music-heavy games like Civilization VI.

All our testers liked the Turtle Beach Elite Pro. It’s comfortable, with a hard-hitting, visceral sound, and it boasts a solid mic. The problem is that if you want to get the most from this headset, be prepared to be nickel-and-dimed half to death on accessory upgrades. If you already have a powerful headset amp, you might consider the Elite Pro, but just know that the box doesn’t even come with a pink-green 3.5 mm audio splitter.

On the surface, the Sennheiser PC 363D is virtually identical to our audiophile pick, the Game One, save for the inclusion of a USB sound card and surround-sound processing. The PC 363D doesn’t require as much amplification, and it boasts a little more high-frequency sparkle at lower levels. We concluded that the extra money would probably be better spent on an entry-level sound card, since the Game One sounds better at higher amplification levels. That said, if you game on a laptop or can’t add a sound card to your computer for whatever reason, or if you’re purely a console gamer, the PC 363D is an impressive headset that’s worth every penny, if you can still find it for sale. Sennheiser has since replaced it with the PC 373D, which we didn’t like as much.

Two of our testers loved the Thermaltake Tt eSports Level 10 M gaming headset, but one simply couldn’t abide the fit. So if you have a larger head, steer clear.

All of our testers adored the fit of the Thermaltake Tt eSports Verto. We loved its self-adjusting headband, and the fold-flat design was a big hit with everyone. Sadly, its sound quality was lacking.

We brought in the V-Moda BoomPro Microphone to go along with my V-Moda Crossfade M-100 over-ear headphones. We all found the sound performance to be good, although not especially fun with more action-oriented games. More important, this pair was far less comfortable than much cheaper alternatives after hours of gameplay, and the mic was disappointing.

The Audio-Technica Open Air (ATH-ADG1X) and Isolation (ATH-AG1X)—functionally the same headset, though the former is an open-back model and the latter is a closed-back version—were without question the most comfortable headsets any of us had ever tested. But they’re voiced to appeal to audiophiles, with lots of emphasis on high frequencies, which doesn’t play well for games.

We brought in both the Beyerdynamic MMX 300 and the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro Plus with Custom Headset Gear as potential upgrade picks. Although we all loved the comfort of the MMX 300, as well as its neutral, balanced sound and its overall design, we found that it required too much amplification to be a viable recommendation. The Game One delivered more bang for fewer bucks.

The Custom One Pro Plus was a crowd favorite thanks to the ability to tune its bass performance on the fly without resorting to software equalization. We liked, but didn’t love, this pair in tests for our best over-ear headphones guide. Out of the box, however, our pair’s mic cable had a short in it, causing the sound to cut out if the cable wasn’t positioned just right. Judging from owner reviews, this problem is disturbingly common.

Our testers found the Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D and Omega Wireless headset bundle to be too midrange-heavy, and we didn’t think it was nearly as comfortable as the SteelSeries H Wireless or the LucidSound LS30, especially when we wore glasses. It also felt quite fragile for the price.

The Logitech G35 Surround Sound Headset and G430 Surround Sound Gaming Headset were among the first models we researched for this guide, since my wife and I have owned them for years. The two of us agreed that we would trade them for the HyperX Cloud and HyperX Cloud Stinger, respectively, due to those models’ superior audio and build quality, even though both Logitech headsets boast superior microphones.

We also tested the company’s G633 Artemis Spectrum RGB 7.1 Surround Gaming Headset, which represents a big improvement in styling and especially the layout of the controls, but a step down in build quality and potential long-term durability.

The design of the new Logitech G231 Prodigy Gaming Headset is very reminiscent of Logitech’s G230 and G430, which we liked. The only problem is that it’s not significantly better than the HyperX Cloud Stinger, which sells for a lot less.

The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q.5 Stereo Gaming Headset and F.R.E.Q.7 Surround Gaming Headset made the long list since they were a perfect match for my Mad Catz R.A.T.7 mouse. (We gamers do like to accessorize, after all.) Our testers, however, found them to be unbearably uncomfortable in the long run.

While the sound of Monster’s Fatal1ty FXM 100 was tuned well for gaming in our tests, the small earcups were too compact to work as over-ears for our male testers but too large to really work as on-ears. They also got very hot very quickly.

The Plantronics GameCom 380/388 and GameCom 780/788 (nearly identical headsets, except that the latter has USB connectivity and surround processing) impressed us with their light weight and good sound quality, but they didn’t feel very comfortable over long gaming sessions; they also prompted concerns about build quality and durability.

Also from Plantronics, the RIG Flex split us. I adored the sound and loved its build quality, especially for the price, and I also found it quite comfortable despite its small size. But Bethany absolutely hated the way the earcups fit on her ears. We felt the same about the RIG stereo gaming headset with mixer, but we all agreed that its connectivity arrangement was more of a fuss than most gamers would willingly put up with.

The newer Plantronics RIG 500 could have been a contender in the budget category, since we all loved its modular design and audio performance for the price. Concerns about cumbersome connectivity and iffy durability kept it out of the running, though.

Except for the addition of USB connectivity and surround-sound processing, the RIG 500HD is quite similar to the RIG 500. The surround was sorely lacking, which made it hard for us to justify the extra expense.

The RIG 500E, also a modular design, comes with almost enough pieces to build two complete headsets; you would simply need an additional headband. Like the 500HD, though, it offers only lackluster surround-sound processing.

The SteelSeries H Wireless (now known as the SteelSeries Siberia 800) was our previous top pick for cord haters. But the problems with its overly sensitive microphone can’t be fixed with a windscreen due to its retractable nature and slim design, and it sells for a lot more than the LucidSound LS30.

The SteelSeries 9H proved very similar to our previous wireless pick in many respects, but we all thought it was overpriced for what it delivered (especially given the quality of the mic), and Bethany found the included software package to be a constant source of frustration.

She had similar complaints about the SteelSeries Siberia Elite Prism, and we all agreed that this model was far too quiet to provide a satisfying gaming experience.

The SteelSeries Siberia V3 didn’t make the cut due to a number of reviews that described it as a huge step backward from its predecessor, the popular Siberia V2.

The new SteelSeries Arctis 3 and Arctis 5, which were designed to mimic the aesthetic of less flashy headphones, impressed us with their light weight, though not necessarily their build quality and high price. The Arctis 7, meanwhile, is priced very attractively for a wireless headset and gives the LucidSound LS30 some stiff competition, but in our tests we found its microphone frustrating, and long-term comfort was an issue.

For in-depth thoughts about the Razer Tiamat 7.1, see the section above about surround sound. We also tested the Tiamat 2.2, and we all found that headset to be way too bass heavy; all of us had concerns about its build quality, as well. I found myself unable to spend much time with the Razer Kraken Pro or Kraken 7.1 Chroma at all—in both cases the earcups weren’t very comfortable, especially with glasses, and the bass was overwhelming, sloppy, bloated, and indistinct.

Bethany really enjoyed the Razer BlackShark, at least in terms of its looks and performance, but neither Dave nor I could adjust the headband such that both earcups comfortably covered our ears.

In our third round of testing, we added the Razer ManO’War 7.1, immediately falling in love with its comfortable fit, solid audio performance, and great surround-sound processing. The problem with the ManO’War 7.1 is its design: Owners report frequently broken headbands, and we have our own worries about that, as well.

The Sennheiser Game Zero is a more gaming-oriented headset than our audiophile pick, the Game One, thanks to its foldable design and flashy accents. The Game Zero’s bass performance was disappointing in our tests, though, and we really missed the open, spacious, immersive quality of the Game One’s sound.

The company promotes the newer Sennheiser PC 373D as an upgrade to the 363D, but we preferred the earlier model. In most respects they’re identical, and they sell for roughly the same price (while you can still get the 363D, that is), but the software necessary to get the most out of the 373D left us underwhelmed.

Sennheiser’s GSP 350 wasn’t quite so universally loved among our testers as the GSP 300 was. Compared with other USB-powered headsets, the GSP 350 was quite noisy in our tests, and its Dolby Headphone processing is among the worst we’ve heard.

The Skullcandy Slyr surprised our testers with its quality, especially for the price. The only things holding it back from being our budget pick were its build quality and its unwieldy rat’s nest of cables.

We brought in the Tesoro Kuven Devil as a wild-card pick in light of its shocking number of five-star reviews at the time of our research. But all of our testers agreed that it felt flimsy, and we couldn’t get in touch with the company despite numerous efforts, prompting concerns about customer service.

We found the Turtle Beach Ear Force Z60 to be lacking in treble, and the headset itself to be a bit uncomfortable.

The Ear Force Z Seven turned us off due to its poor build quality and spotty performance.

The Ear Force Recon 320 was unbearably uncomfortable from the moment we put it on our heads.

The Ear Force Z300 left us flat with its lackluster bass performance and poor wireless range.

I removed all Sades models from the running despite their popularity. Their distribution in the US is iffy, and a number of counterfeits seem to be flooding stores. Plus, even the genuine models have poor support from the company, and by all accounts they are not well-constructed.

Likewise, I dismissed all Sentey headsets due to the troubling customer-support issues detailed in owner reviews, and I dismissed all Sharkoon models due to distribution and customer-support concerns.

I left all Speedlink headsets off the list for now, because they’re still so new to the US that we have no indication of what the company’s customer service is like. Plus, even the best Speedlink models appear to have poor microphones, according to owner reviews.

Aside from those models, the list of headsets that we chose not to test is too long to spell out in much detail. Broadly speaking, we avoided models from Arctic, Asus, CM Storm, Corsair, Gamdias, Klipsch, PDP, Polk, Roccat, Rosewill, and Tritton, as well as other models from companies included in our roundup, due to issues with performance, build quality, and comfort raised in professional reviews, owner reviews, and forum discussions.

What to look forward to

Logitech has announced the G533 Wireless Gaming Headset, a $150 model designed solely for use with Windows PCs. It has a noise-cancelling, foldable microphone, as well as volume controls on the left earcup, and it uses Pro-G audio drivers. Logitech claims the headset has a 15-hour battery life and a wireless connectivity range of about 49 feet, but we have to test those things ourselves. The G533 is available now, and we hope to add it to our next update.

Two headsets that we’re especially excited about testing in the future are the LucidSound LS40, an upgraded version of our wireless pick with integrated DTS Headphone:X surround-sound processing, and the LucidSound LS20, a smaller, non-wireless powered model.

We’re also planning on bringing in a few headsets that I had dismissed for various reasons but that readers compellingly lobbied for, namely the Sony PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset and the Corsair Void in both its stereo and USB surround configurations.


Published at Tue, 09 May 2017 20:21:26 +0000

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