A good pair of headphones is key to victory in many games - particularly shooters like Fortnite, PUBG and Call of Duty - where hearing a single footstep from a wayward enemy could mean the difference between delicious chicken dinner and an ignoble defeat. That's why we've gathered up our picks for the best gaming headsets on the market right now.
Whether you prefer the lower cost and audio fidelity of wired headphones or the convenience of wireless headsets, we've got you covered. We've also included recommendations for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC, so no matter what system you game on, you'll be able to find at least a couple of top-tier gaming headsets to consider, each far better than your TV or monitor's built-in speakers. We'll also consider both open-back and closed-back headphones, as the former tend to offer a wider soundstage that's conducive to locating enemies, while the latter minimise sound leakage to ensure you don't bother your housemates.
Before we get into the recommendations, it's worth mentioning what we'll be looking for when choosing the best gaming headsets. We want a comfortable pair of headphones you can wear for hours without discomfort, perfect for marathon gaming sessions. Sound quality is also key, so that you can hear each sound clearly and become totally immersed in the game. Naturally, you'll need to communicate with your friends or teammates too, so a built-in mic with good noise mitigation is also important. Finally, we also would like to see support for multiple systems, so that if you own a console and a PC, or multiple consoles, you can use the same headset on both. With that out of the way, let's get straight into the Digital Foundry picks for the best gaming headphones available in 2018.
Best premium gaming headset for PC and PS4
The genius of the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is the pairing of well-tuned, high-end 40mm headphones with a quality DAC (digital to analogue converter), replacing the often lacklustre DACs built into most onboard sound cards and games consoles. This provides excellent sound quality from a variety of sources, including standard game audio all the way up to hi-res lossless music, all of which is adjustable using a built-in graphical equaliser and mixer. The Arctis Pro is also super comfortable, courtesy of a fabric suspension headband that distributes the weight evenly, and has a well-regarded extendable microphone too.
The Arctis Pro is a wired headset that connects via optical or USB, but there's also a wireless version simply called the Arctis Pro Wireless (£297 UK/$330 US). You should also consider the SteelSeries Arctis 7, a much more affordable wireless headset that drops the separate DAC but retains the comfortable design and excellent drivers (£115 UK/$113 US).
Best value gaming headset for PS4 and PC
When they were released in early 2015, the HyperX Cloud 2 headphones were among the best wired gaming headphones on the market. They were comfortable, thanks to a memory foam headband, and boasted excellent aural clarity with their 53mm drivers. With these headphones having since being superceded by the more feature-rich Cloud Alpha and Cloud Revolver, the Cloud II is sometimes available for far less than its RRP - I picked up a set for just £40 a few years back, making it a great value-for-money pick.
If no deals are forthcoming, the more recently released Cloud Alpha Pro offers a more durable design and slightly better audio quality thanks to 'dual chamber drivers' for a slightly higher price (£100 UK/$100 US). Note that both of these headsets work on the Xbox One as well if you have a second-generation controller with 3.5mm, or if you pick up a Stereo Headset Adapter.
Best Xbox One headset (that also works on PS4 and PC)
These closed-back wired gaming headphones from Sennheiser offer best-in-class sound quality and out-of-the-box compatibility with the Xbox One, making them the best choice for the Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X. They're also reasonably comfortable, thanks to memory foam ear pads and a split design headband. Good noise isolation, excellent durability and a decent flip-up microphone complete the package.
Best open-back headphones for gaming
Sennheiser is a legendary name in the world of audio, and for good reason. The HD 598 open-back headphones are one of their best-loved models, providing a wide sound stage, neutral sound reproduction and a supremely comfortable fit thanks to their light weight and velour ear cups. As with all open-back headphones, some sound does leak out, and you'll be able to hear background noise too, making them best suited for quiet environments. The HD 598s don't come with a built-in microphone, so we recommend pairing them with a desk mic like the Blue Yeti or Blue Snowball. Once again, these wired headphones have been available for a few years, so keep your eyes open for discounted models on Massdrop, Ebay and other sites.
Alternative: The Sennheiser Game One headphones are tuned a little differently than the HD 598, but they're equally comfortable with an open-ear design and a wide sound stage. They also come with a built-in mic and cost less than the HD 598: $120 in the US or £134 in the UK.
Best budget gaming headset
Its unwelcoming name aside, there's plenty to like about HyperX's entry-level gaming headset. It connects to the Xbox One, PS4 and PC with a simple 3.5mm wired connection, features a decent flip-up microphone and sports a reasonably stylish black and red look crafted from durable plastics. You can't expect amazing audio quality from a headset at this price point, but the Cloud Stinger's larger-than-average 50mm drivers still mean it sounds better than most built-in TV or monitor speakers and many entry-level headsets too. At $50, that sounds like a winner.
Frequently questioned answers
Is it worth using 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound?
It depends. If you want to immerse yourself in a game or movie, the virtual surround sound mode offered on many gaming headsets can be fun to play with. You can even add surround sound processing to headphones that don't come with it on PCs running Windows 10 and the Xbox One using Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos for Headphones. However, if you're looking at surround sound to gain a competitive advantage, my recommendation is to keep surround sound disabled - the processing that tries to fake surround sound often makes it harder to hear footsteps or other quiet audio cues, adds delay and tends to remove detail. Instead, look for headphones with a wider audio stage, eg many open-back headphones, as this will actually make it easier to place your enemies on the map based on the noises that they're making.
Should I get wireless headphones?
Wireless headphones give you a lot of freedom, so you can make yourself a sandwich in the kitchen or sit on the opposite side of the couch without worrying about taking off your headset or rerouting its cables. However, you will need to recharge your wireless headset every few days or weeks, and it's certainly annoying when your headphones go dead mid-firefight. If you tend to sit in different positions while gaming or just hate being tethered to your desk, wireless is a sensible choice; otherwise, save the money and the hassle of recharging and get wired headphones instead.
What brands should I consider?
This is no by no means an exhaustive list, but headphones from HyperX, SteelSeries and Sennheiser tend to be well-respected. Razer, Logitech, Turtle Beach and Astro have also made some great headsets in their day, although they've also produced a few relative stinkers as well. Ultimately though, gaming headsets can vary massively from model to model, so it's best to look for reviews on the headset you're considering rather than shopping by brand alone.
Why do headsets that work for PS4 or PC not work for Xbox?
Largely because PS4 and PC support connection options that the Xbox One does not. The PS4 and PC both support headsets that connect via 3.5mm (either dual 3-pole or 4-pole), optical, Bluetooth and USB. Meanwhile, the Xbox One didn't include 3.5mm on its first-generation controllers, requiring the use of an Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter to add this option. The Xbox also only works with certified USB devices and uses its own proprietary wireless standard rather than Bluetooth, so you'll need to look for headsets that are specifically marketed as Xbox One compatible. The final option is getting a headset that connects via optical (S/PDIF), although this is somewhat rarer. We've marked the connection options for each headset we recommended above for your information.