A good pair of headphones is key to victory in many games - particularly shooters like Fortnite, Apex Legends and CSGO - 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 top recommendations for the best gaming headsets for the money 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: SteelSeries Arctis 7
- Best cheap gaming headset: HyperX Cloud Stinger
- Best premium gaming headset: SteelSeries Arctis Pro
- Best value gaming headset: Logitech G432
- Best Xbox One headset: SteelSeries Arctis 9X
- Best open-back headphones for gaming: Sennheiser HD 598
- Toughest gaming headset: RIG Pro 500 Esports Edition
- 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; we recommend the Arctis 9X (below) on 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: Logitech G432
The venerable Logitech G430 has long been a LAN party favourite, thanks to its solid acoustics, surround sound support and low price. The revamped G432 continues that tradition while updating the design and acoustics to better suit a modern audience. The blue colour scheme of the G430 has been toned down a bit for a more professional look, while the earcups have gone from foam to synthetic leather. This is comfortable, even for extended periods, but you may find yourself getting a little hot under the 'cups after a couple of hours.
In terms of audio quality, the G432 is competitive with other entry-level gaming headsets. Mids and highs are well produced, but lower tones are a little lacking. The microphone is a good one though, with a flip-up design that sadly isn't removable. The headset also includes support for 7.1 surround sound, which produces an immersive experience and isn't included on the similar Logitech G Pro headset. The G432 also distinguishes itself through its connectivity options, with both a straight 3.5mm connection and a USB sound card included in the box. (We recommend using USB unless you already have a good DAC.)
As an alternative, consider the HyperX Cloud Core, Cloud II or Cloud Alpha if you can find them at a good price. At the time of writing though, the lower cost of the G432 makes it the better bet for most people.
Best Xbox One headset: SteelSeries Arctis 9X
The Arctis 9X is the best gaming headset we've ever tested for the Xbox One, boasting excellent, neutral audio reproduction, a comfortable fit thanks to the ski-goggle headband and long wireless battery life of around 20 hours. Mic quality is strong too, with a retractable design that's easy to position correctly. Convenient volume, game/chat balance and connectivity controls ensure this headset isn't frustrating to use, either.
While the Arctis 9X uses Xbox Wireless (2.4GHz) to connect to the Xbox One with no dongle required, the headset also comes with Bluetooth; handy for listening to music or taking calls on your smartphone while gaming. The 9X can also be used with Windows PCs in concert with Microsoft's Xbox Wireless Adapter - which you might already have if you use an Xbox One gamepad for PC gaming.
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.
Toughest gaming headphones: Poly Rig 500 Pro Esports Edition
If you're constantly breaking your headphones by running them over in your chair or tossing them off in a fit of rage, then something a little more durable could be just what you're after. The strongest gaming headset we've tested is the Poly Rig 500 Pro Esports Edition, thanks to its metal exoskeleton, replacement ear cushions and suspension headband. These headphones are a great fit for consoles too, thanks to a 3.5mm cable that terminates in a volume knob, allowing you to adjust the volume without moving your hands off the controller. If you prefer to use surround sound, a code for Dolby Atmos on Xbox One or Windows 10 is included in the box. Comfort and audio quality are solid here, but the Rig 500 Pro misses out on a higher placing thanks to its relatively heavy design. These headphones aren't worth their original Ł140 RRP, but price cuts to Ł90 make them a much more worthy option.
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.
How can I improve the sound of my existing headphones?
Good and totally not just made up question! A lot of this comes down to personal preference, but we prefer to turn off audio "enhancements" like surround sound and aggressive equaliser settings; you want things to be as "bare metal" as possible if you trust in the intent of sound engineers and headphone designers alike. From there you can use a DAC, which takes audio processing duties off your PC or console and entrusts it instead to dedicated hardware which tends to do a better job, removing jitter and changing the characteristics of the sound for the better. Desktop or portable DACs like the Audioengine D1, Fiio E10K or Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS cost around Ł100/$100 or less and can improve audio quality substantially. Of course, you can spend way more if you want to go even further into the audiophile realm.