Why Buy a PC Gaming Headset?
The top performers in our review are the Gold Award winning Kingston Hyper X Cloud II, the Silver Award winning LucidSound LS30 and the Bronze Award winning Sennheiser PC 363D. Here’s more on choosing a great PC gaming headset, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of the 10 best.
Visuals are among the most important elements in video games today. High framerates, realistic lighting effects and detailed textures all contribute to an immersive experience. But visuals aren’t the only aspects of a game that is important. In modern games, countless hours go into crafting an audio experience that complements the visuals and draws you deeper into whichever game world you choose to explore. You’d invest in a quality display in order to experience the visuals as intended – why not think of audio in the same way? No matter the quality of your display, you’re still missing the full experience without a gaming headset.
In addition to granting you a fuller, more immersive gaming experience, headsets give you a competitive edge in online gaming, or at least put you on par with those who are already in the know. In shooters, you can often hear an enemy before you see them, which can mean the difference between virtual life and death in today’s fast-paced games. And of course, there’s the added benefit of being able to coordinate with your friends via your headset’s built-in mic. If you find that your computer is what's holding you back, then you may want to check out our reviews for gaming PCs and gaming laptops.
To learn more even more, check out our articles on PC gaming headsets.
PC Gaming Headsets: What We Evaluated, What We Found
Raw specifications aren’t always the best indicator of sound quality when it comes to gaming headsets. Each company tunes their drivers differently and so they each have a unique sound. In order to balance our ranking, we also spent hours with each headset playing a wide variety of games and ranking each one based on how appealing it sounded to us. While these specs still make a difference, our sound quality score has allowed us to inject some hands-on experience into the mix.
Comfort is something that no specifications can really quantify. Although you can look at the weight and perhaps the construction materials of a particular headset, it’s impossible to know how it all comes together without trying them for yourself. We tested these headsets for hours, switching headsets in and out constantly to allow us to compare them against each other as accurately as possible. What we found is that the price of a headset has virtually no impact on how comfortable it will be. For us, it came down to how well the cups fit over our ears, how much pressure the headband applied to the tops of our heads and how well the headset could adjust to the size of our heads.
Our durability tests didn’t necessarily feature any intensive stress testing – that is, we weren’t willing to break any of our test models just to see how far we could push them. Instead, we carefully analyzed each device for weakness and strengths. The most durable headsets we tested were those that had braided cords to protect against fraying and steel or aluminum head bands that’ll bend before breaking if you were to accidently sit on it. Again, we were surprised that some of the most expensive models were made entirely of plastic, while the cheaper options were made from primarily aluminum or steel.
Top performance across the board is elusive. We found that it's difficult to get a PC gaming headset that scores high marks in all audio categories. Some headsets have excellent microphones and subpar headphones, while others have the reverse. A couple of headsets scored average marks for all audio categories, and a couple of others mixed high and average marks. We didn't find any headset that had excellent scores across all audio categories. This means you need to decide what's most important to you: high-fidelity audio capture (the microphone), high-fidelity audio reproduction (the headphones) or consistency between the two.
Likewise for design and features. The design of a gaming headset is important because it can directly affect how comfortable the headset is. You can have the most capable headset in the world, but it's not helpful if it becomes uncomfortable after 10 minutes of use. We found that most PC gaming headsets struggle to find a good balance in design. A couple of headsets combine a long list of features with low weight and high comfort, but they are the exception.
Rarely do gaming headsets offer you everything you want. More often than not, they'll have a feature you want, like chat volume control, but lack another, like a carrying case. We found that a few gaming headsets give you much more than others in this regard. Generally, the more options you have, the better off you'll be.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in a way that best serves the consumer. For this project, we drew the data for product specifications (including all frequency response, sensitivity and impedance measures) from the manufacturers. The companies had no input or influence over our evaluation, nor was the evaluation method provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a PC Gaming Headset?
There are several key features and attributes that every gamer should look out for when deciding on the best PC gaming headset:
Audio Impedance & Driver Size
A lower impedance is usually a good thing because it indicates higher efficiency, which allows the option for louder sound output to your ears from the signals piped into the headset. Another important consideration is the size of the drivers in the headphones. The larger the drivers, the more air they can move, which results in better audio reproduction.
Specs for the Microphone
Not all microphones are made equally. Most microphones in gaming headsets are unidirectional, which means that the mic picks up less ambient noise; however, some headsets have bidirectional or omnidirectional microphones. The sensitivity and frequency response ranges for microphones are also important to consider. Higher sensitivity means it's easier for the microphone to pick up quiet sounds. The frequency response range dictates what frequencies the microphone can capture and resend. Large ranges allow better audio capture.
Controls & Accessories
This category covers all the features that make using and adapting these PC gaming headsets more convenient and multifunctional. Specifically, we looked to see if there was a USB connection. You should look for gaming headsets that have separate microphone and gaming volume controls. A protective carrying case is important if you travel a lot and like to game on the road. The best PC gaming headsets come with all of the accessories you need to take advantage of any situation. Ideally, you won't need to buy anything else after you open the headset's box.
Help & Support
Nothing is more frustrating than shelling out money for a headset that doesn't work when you get it in the mail. It does happen sometimes, so take into consideration the amount of support available to you should there be a manufacturing defect. Also consider the information and different kinds of support the manufacturer provides to help you understand and use your PC gaming headset properly. Live chat is an excellent way to contact manufacturers and resolve issues.
PC Gaming Headsets: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Before testing we were convinced that the headset with the highest price tags, the most advanced accessories and best specifications would win out over cheaper, simpler models. But as testing progressed, we found that there were many affordable options that do well too.
If you need the ability to finely adjust your audio settings or simply want the best possible specs, then sure, an expensive option is certainly what you want. But for the vast majority of gamers, we think that the emphasis should be more on the games and less on the buttons switches and dials distracting you from that.
We also found that audio quality didn’t really differ that dramatically between high-end products and some of the best budget options we found. At least not dramatically enough to affect the average person. In fact, we found that comfort and durability were the most important factors when differentiating the models on our lineup. It’s for that reason that Kingston’s Cloud II gets our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award despite being far less expensive than others.
We also liked the LucidSound LS30 for its wireless capability for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. It uses a unique and elegant system to send sound from an included USB dongle to your headset. On the Xbox One, an optical cable feeds the game audio directly into the dongle which, in turn, broadcasts it to your headset. The result is crisp, high-quality audio with no wires to get in your way. You’ll still need to plug into your control to chat on the Xbox One though. For its elegant wireless design, durability and comfort, the LS30 gets our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
Finally, our Bronze Award winner is the Logitech G933. While it wasn’t the most comfortable or durable headset we tested, we were constantly amazed by its customizability –a feat that Logitech performs well across the board. It features several customizable buttons and the ability to tweak and equalize your game audio however you like.
Ultimately, there was nothing on our lineup that we were very disappointed with. Every headset performed very well and so ranking them was difficult. If you value audio specs above all else, check out the Sennheiser – it has the widest frequency response range and one of the best mics we used. The Razer Man O’ War also really impressed us. It has a magnificent sound stage and is incredibly comfortable; unfortunately its all-plastic construction isn’t exactly confidence inspiring.
For comfort, simplicity and a great price, check out the Creative DRACO HS880 and the SteelSeries Arctis 3. Both are absolutely phenomenal headsets in their respective price ranges. We were particularly impressed with the ski-goggle headband on the Arctis 3, as well the high quality of its microphone. We also loved its low-profile design – it’s the kind of set you could wear out and about without turning heads.