For online gaming, you need a good headset. Without one, you don’t have a reliable way to talk trash to your enemies, and your lexicon of expletives will stagnate. Oh, and you won’t be able to coordinate strategies with your friendly team or guild.
Your choices range from basic wired earpieces and boom mics you can pick up for $20 at a drug store (or are included with your game console), to expensive, simulated surround sound, e-sports-oriented, wireless over-ear headphones available at enthusiast sites. You should get the one that fits your budget and needs. You don’t need a ton of cash for a solid headset; about $30 can get you started if you don’t want to jump into high-end features and connection options.
Wired or Wireless?
Headsets can be either wired or wireless, with wireless models generally costing more. More important is that each gaming headset supports different system, handheld, and computer connections. For the PlayStation 4, Xbox One S, most mobile devices, and some computers, you can use Bluetooth for a wireless headset (the original Xbox One lacks Bluetooth support). Other systems require a different wireless connection, often with a separate base plugged into your console or computer. Bluetooth has made great strides in the last few years, but proprietary wireless connections generally offer better audio quality and a stronger signal. Proprietary wireless connections are generally designed for only one console, or one console and a PC; you’ll have to choose between Xbox One and PS4 for most wireless gaming headsets.
Console or PC?
If you game on the PlayStation 4, the Nintendo Wii U, or handheld gaming devices, you can just plug a single 3.5mm headphone jack into the controller or system and start playing. The Xbox One works in a similar way, but if you have an older Xbox One gamepad you might need Microsoft’s Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter to use a wired headset with it. Most headsets on this list can connect to your preferred system one way or another.
If you want to use your headset with last-gen systems like the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, you’ll need to see if the headset supports their own unique connections, or if adapters are available. PCs are the most flexible with gaming headsets, since they can work with USB headsets (which are generally only compatible with PCs), 3.5mm analog connections (though you might need a splitter adapter if your headset ends in just one plug), and often optical audio.
Most high-end gaming headsets claim to offer some form of surround sound, but this isn’t accurate. The vast majority of surround sound headsets still use stereo drivers (often a single 40mm driver for each ear) to produce sound. The surround aspect comes from Dolby and DTS processing technologies that tweak how the headsets mix sound between the two ears to give an impression of 360-degree audio. This isn’t very effective, and while you might get some subtle differences in noises coming from in front of or behind you, it won’t provide much of a tactical advantage. It’s an artificial effect that wouldn’t provide a true surround sound image even if the headset had individual driers for each channel; there simply isn’t enough space for the sound to resonate to produce the impression of accurate directional audio.
If you already have a favorite pair of headphones that either has a cheap inline microphone or no mic at all, consider the Antlion Audio ModMic 4.0. It’s a boom mic that attaches easily to your favorite pair of headphones, and can be removed when not in use thanks to a two-piece magnetic mount. You won’t get any of the gaming-specific features of dedicated gaming headsets with the ModMic (and wireless is right out), but it lets you use your beloved old cans for voice chat. Just make sure you have the right connection or adapter to use it with your preferred game platform.
If you prefer single-player games and live alone, you don’t need a headset at all. You can use speakers and enjoy the room-filling atmosphere, and shout into the inexpensive and mediocre monoaural headsets the Xbox One and PS4 come with. But the next time you’re in a deathmatch, raid, or capture mission, make sure you’re shouting into the boom mic of a good headset. To find the right one, check out our reviews below.
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