How to Pick the Best Gaming Headset

Posted by Jacob St. Martin on April 16, 2013 in Gaming Lifestyle -- Share:

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Sound is a key elements of PC gaming, and investing in a decent headset/headphones is a must have for both the casual and serious gamer. Although visuals and dependable controls are the skeleton of gameplay, sound really fleshes out and completes the gaming experience. Let’s take a brief look at why owning a good headset is important, and then check out some headsets which can make your gaming even more fun.

The importance of sound in gaming deserves its own article, but having a basic knowledge of what it does for a game is highly relevant when considering a headset. Understanding how a headset effects gameplay may dictate what you’re looking for, and even how much you’ll be willing to spend.

Sound in games is mostly two categories: cosmetic and functionally interactive, although there is a lot of crossover between the two. Cosmetic sound would include things like the game’s soundtrack and a good chunk of the sound effects. Like movies, big studio games need their own composed songs and musical scores to get across emotions or emphasize dramatic events.

In-game sound effects shouldn’t be overlooked either – even casual games are much more enjoyable with the pop and fizz which clicking around creates. While games are perfectly playable without this type of sound, they lose a lot of their fun factor without it.

Functionally interactive sounds would include in-game indicators and some environmental effects. These differentiate from cosmetic ones because they directly influence how decisions are made while playing the game. For instance, some games play certain music/sound in specific scenarios, like when an enemy/object is in close proximity. Hearing these sound queues will help the player avoid ambushes and/or take advantage of nearby objects.

Functional sound is absolutely essential for competitive gaming. For first person shooter enthusiasts, hearing enemy footsteps and being able to tell what direction they’re being shot at from is absolutely essential to winning a game. Real time strategy gamers benefit from hearing audio queues about in game events, such as enemy attacks or when tasks are completed. Games can be decided in seconds and equipment which picks up these audio queues will give the player an edge on the competition.

Choosing a headset is very much based on personal preference, so it’s very important to know what attributes you’re looking for before purchase. However, here are some headsets which should give you some ideas.

Astro A40

The Astro A40 is a high end gaming headset which has enjoyed a great deal of popularity. A big feather in this headset’s cap is that it’s the official licensed headset of MLG (Major League Gaming), the largest cross platform competitive gaming organization on the globe. If professional gamers use it for both the PC and Xbox, you can bet that there is a reason why.

One of the biggest selling points of the Astro A40 is comfort, an attribute which becomes very important (and apparent) after the first hour of gaming. Professional and hardcore gamers play for hours at a time, so it’s crucial for their headphones fit comfortably. During competitive/tournament play, games can be decided in seconds and a players need their hands on the controls, not adjusting their headsets.

Sound quality, the reason for headsets in the first place, isn’t skimped on but it isn’t as rich as high end audio specific headsets. The main reason for this is because they are designed for competitive gaming which prizes the ability to pick out details like direction and distance of sound, not depth of audio quality. This isn’t to say that the sound is by any means bad, just that you won’t find it in a music studio anytime soon.

Predictably, this headset also comes with its own microphone. While this is a good thing, it also means that it runs into some common microphone issues. It can be too sensitive, leading towards accidentally “shouting” at your teammates and picking up background noise. The mic boom isn’t the most flexible either, so it’s not a headset you want to be too rough with.

Overall, this is a good gaming headset which gets a lot of things right and, when it comes to comfort, delivers in spades. It is on the pricier side at a $250 to $300.00, but is well worth it for multi-hour gamers.

Sennheiser PC 360

The Sennheiser PC 360 is another very h3 gaming headset. Like the Astro A40, the Sennheiser PC 360 is built with the professional/competitive gamer in mind so it’s built for long gaming sessions. Although it covers the ears and a good portion of the head, the cushions mitigate any discomfort this could cause. The can be sized to fit a variety of head sizes and shapes, accommodating even those who wear glasses.

Sound-wise, it’s a very solid choice as it picks up a lot of audio details. In fact, the sound quality is good enough that it can be used for casual music listening and other non-related gaming activities. The bass isn’t particularly overwhelming, but this won’t bother most gamers. More relevant is that it does a good job of catching what direction sounds are coming from. This is a must for shooter fans. Audio controls are also located in intelligently strategic positions, so it’s unlikely that they’ll be accidentally bumped and need to be readjusted mid game.

A particular feature worth noting is that these headsets have a more open design on the ear portion, which impacts the headsets performance in a couple of areas. First, this likely contributes to its comfort as it’s less likely that your ear area will get hot and sweaty over a long gaming session. Second, it also allows for some cleaner sound quality.

The drawbacks to that design are that the headset doesn’t quite contain the game audio, and more importantly, doesn’t keep outside sound out. For anyone playing in a noisy or populated area, this will be a significant drawback due to the distraction and is probably the only deal-breaking technical feature.

While a bit large, the microphone design is well engineered. The larger size does make it less resistant to snapping and the overall quality is good too. A feature of the Sennheiser PC 360 microphone setup is that it can flick up, muting the microphone to prevent accidental transmissions. This prevents fiddling around with a small mute button or switch during a game.

Overall, this is a very good choice for a PC gaming headset as it has so few design flaws. However, at a price of a solid $200.00, it is expensive and may be outside the casual gamer’s need or price range.

Razer Kraken Pro

Razer’s Kraken Pro headset is a more middle of the road gaming headset. It is a sturdy meat and potatoes kind of equipment, despite it’s bombastic and venomous green colorful scheme. While having a lot of neat options on a headset is good, there’s also something to be said for simplicity. Equipment is designed to plug in and play immediately, so it works well for those on the go. The Kracken’s collapsible design also helps with that portability.

Like the previous two headset’s, the Kraken Pro is also designed for extended play sessions and is quite comfortable for most people. Possessors of larger heads and ears may feel some discomfort, but overall the cushions on this headset make gaming a pleasant experience. The mic is retractable and bendable, which is a somewhat unique feature and furthermore emphasizes its strength as a mobile product. The noise cancellation is decent too, so you’ll still be able to hear audio even in crowded areas.

The sound is generally good, though it’s not quite up to the quality of the higher end headsets. On a related note, the bass is quite h3, which may be bothersome for some. Really picky music people will probably pass on this headset, but the general audio is solid for gaming. One of the more significant limitations of this headset is that it doesn’t support surround sound. Also, it has no volume controls, so any sound adjustments will need to be made on the device it’s plugged into.

Overall, this is a very good no frills headset. While it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the more expensive headsets, it is a truly solid choice at the much more affordable price of $80.00.

Turtle Beach Ear Force X12 Gaming Headset

This is a very popular gaming headset and for good reason. First, it will provide the kind of sound quality and detail that a competitive gamer will desire. While it doesn’t have surround sound, the overall quality helps make up for this. It’s also quite customizable, with adjustable features ranging from the actual headset fit to volume controls.

For those interested in multiplayer, there is a microphone attached which lets the player communicate with their team, which is extremely important in a heated firefight or arena battle. The X12 mic plays sound back into the headset, which can help prevent shouting at teammates. The problem with this is that the Mic can sometimes pick up background noise and inject it into your in-game sound.

It should be noted that there are a few general design disadvantages. The primary one is the location of the audio and microphone controls. Sometimes they can be too easy to effect and settings can be accidentally changed by accidentally brushing an object or a part of your body.

Overall, though, this is a well designed all purpose gaming headset. As a bonus, it also works with the Xbox 360, so enthusiasts of both PC and Xbox games can use the same piece of equipment for both gaming platforms. This is an especially decent bargain since the headset runs at the reasonable price of $60.00 making it both affordable and high performance.

Skullcandy INK’D

The Skullcandy Ink’D product isn’t intended for gaming, or even a headset at all. Instead, it’s a commonly sold internal earbud designed for the most casual of music listeners. Strangely, not only does this earbud deserve to be on this list, but it makes it more comprehensive.

All of the above products were designed for competitive and hardcore gamers, but not all people who play games are competitive or hardcore. Some just want to hear the jingles, pops, and clicks of a match 3 or time management game and have no desire to go beyond that.

For this reason, the Skullcandy Ink’D is a perfect casual gamer option. Since it’s just a pair of corded earbuds, the Skullcandy INK’D can be transported in the smallest of pockets or containers and can be used in a large variety of devices. This makes it especially ideal for mobile gaming on phones and tablets. However, they aren’t indestructible and too much bending an yanking of key points can cause issues.

The sound quality is a bit tinny and certainly doesn’t equal that of high end products, but it is good and gets the job done. Audiophiles won’t like these at all, but they should work out just fine for the casual user as they handle both music and games reasonably well.

The rubber inside makes them fit snugly in the ear – this earbud also comes with a few rubber head options in case the default ones aren’t perfect. Because they are internal ear buds, these do a fairly decent job of blocking out surrounding noise and containing whatever you’re listening to. Naturally, they don’t come with a mic, but if one isn’t wanted then this is hardly relevant.

It is perfectly fine to be content with just wanting some sound besides the your PC/mobile device speakers – not everyone wants to drive a Ferrari and not everyone needs the latest and greatest headsets. For this reason, the Skullcandy Ink’D is a good option, and at just $10.00 is absolutely worth looking into for a casual gamer.

In summary, having audio and sound is very important to the gaming experience and anyone interested in either competitive or casual gaming should consider investing in a headset. There are thousands of headsets and other audio devices out there, but some certainly are better than others and/or give better bang for the buck. Checking out reviews is important and can help sort the wheat from the chaff. However, what’s most important is to know what you want and what you’re willing to spend for it; the rest will work out from there. Happy gaming!

Written by

Jacob works at Big Fish Games out of Seattle. He loves to laugh, enjoy good food (all food except Avacados), and play competitive games of all sorts. When not gaming, he practices martial arts and has recently picked up snowboarding and dancing, with very mixed results. He loves a good challenge! Feel free to get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+

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