A good pair of headphones is key to victory in many games - particularly shooters like Fortnite, PUBG and Counter-Strike - where hearing a single footstep from a wayward enemy could mean the difference between a 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 flatmates.
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 2019. Click the links to jump straight to the pick you're interested in, or scroll on to read the whole piece!
- Best gaming headset
- Best cheap gaming headset
- Best premium gaming headset
- Best value gaming headset
- Best Xbox One headset
- Best open-back headphones for gaming
- Frequently asked questions
Best gaming headset: SteelSeries Arctis 7
The Arctis 7 is our favourite gaming headset right now, thanks to its comfortable design, impressive durability and excellent acoustic performance.
The fabric suspension headband is the secret to the Arctis 7's comfortable and well-balanced fit, while controls on each earcup allow you to balance chat volume and in-game volume. Bass, treble and mids are all well-represented, and although the sound isn't the cleanest or widest we've heard, it is still excellent for a gaming headset. Microphone performance is also outstanding, even in loud environments. Battery life is also good, at 24 hours.
The Arctis 7 connects via 2.4GHz wireless to its base station dongle, which can then be plugged into PCs, consoles or mobiles with a USB or 3.5mm input. You can also use a straight 3.5mm cable, i.e. when listening to music on the go or while the headset is recharging. The Arctis 7 works best on the PC and PS4, with no wireless support for the Xbox One.
Best cheap gaming headset: HyperX Cloud Stinger
Its distinctly 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 or less, that sounds like a winner.
Best premium headset: SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC
The Arctis Pro + GameDAC has the best sound of any PC or PS4 gaming headset on the market, achieved through the pairing of well-tuned, high-end 40mm headphones with a quality DAC (digital to analogue converter) that replaces 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 easily adjustable using a built-in graphical equaliser and mixer. However, the GameDAC doesn't allow for volume adjustments to be made on your Windows PC; you'll need to use the GameDAC's oversized volume wheel or those on the headphones themselves.
The Arctis Pro is also incredibly comfortable, with the same fabric suspension headband that shines on the rest of the Arctis range. The headset has a well-regarded extendable microphone too, with the option for the mic to light up when it's muted so you don't end up talking to yourself. If you don't need wireless connectivity and you can afford the premium price, the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is the best gaming headset we've ever tested.
Best value gaming headset: HyperX Cloud Alpha
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. The Cloud Alpha headphones are an evolution of that winning combination, offering a more durable design and slightly better audio quality at a similar price. Note that this headset doesn't work with first-gen Xbox One controllers, which lack a 3.5mm jack - you'll need a Stereo Headset Adapter here.
Best Xbox One headset: Sennheiser GSP 300
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 HD 598
Sennheiser is a legendary name in the world of audio, and for good reason. The HD 598 and HD 599 open-back headphones are some of the 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 or Ebay.
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.
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.