A good pair of headphones is key to victory in many games - particularly shooters like Valorant, Fortnite 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 PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch 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 sound stage 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 2020. Click the links to jump straight to the pick you're interested in, or scroll on to read the whole piece! You can also find answers to frequently asked questions at the end of the page.
Best gaming headset 2020
- SteelSeries Arctis 7X and 7P - best wireless gaming headset
- Razer Blackshark V2 / V2X - best wired gaming headset
- Fnatic React - best value gaming headset
- Corsair HS35 - best cheap gaming headset
- SteelSeries Arctis Pro - best premium wired gaming headset
- Sennheiser GSP 370 - best premium wireless gaming headset
- SteelSeries Arctis 9X - best Xbox Series X/S headset
- SteelSeries Arctis 9 - best PS5 headset
- SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless - best Switch headset
- Astro A40 TR with MixAmp Pro - best open-back gaming headphones
- Sennheiser GSP 600 - best tough gaming headset
- Creative SXFI Gamer - best surround sound on a gaming headset
- Corsair HS60 Haptic - best rumble headset
- Bonus: Sound Blaster G3 - best DAC for PS4 and Switch
Best wireless gaming headset: SteelSeries Arctis 7X and 7P
The Arctis 7X and Arctis 7P are the best gaming headsets available, thanks to their comfortable design, impressive durability and excellent sound quality. The new models supersede the earlier Arctis 7 (2019), with 24 hours of battery life (up from 20), next-gen console compatibility and a matching look - the white/blue or black/blue 7P for PlayStation fans and the black/green 7X for Xbox users.
The fabric suspension headband that debuted on the original Arctis 7 remains the key to the new models' comfortable and well-balanced fit. Controls on each earcup of the 7X allow you to balance overall volume and the mix between chat and game sounds, although the 7P doesn't allow this mixing and instead uses its dial for sidetone adjustment. 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.
The Arctis 7 headsets connect via low-latency 2.4GHz wireless to a USB-C dongle, which can then be plugged into the next-gen consoles plus PCs, the Nintendo Switch and Android smartphones. This includes devices with full-size USB-A ports only, as a USB-C to USB-A adapter is included in the box. You can also use a straight 3.5mm cable, ie when listening to music on the go or while the headset is recharging. Sadly, SteelSeries hasn't opted to include USB-C charging here, meaning you'll need to keep an archaic Micro USB cable around for this purpose.
If you'll only be getting the Xbox Series X/S or the PlayStation 5, our recommendations are simple - get the 7X if you're going for an Xbox and the 7P if you're plumping for the PlayStation. If you're planning to get both - even eventually - then the Arctis 7X makes more sense, as it supports both consoles at the same price and the only downside is a slightly larger dongle.
Best wired gaming headset: Razer Blackshark V2 / V2X
The Razer Blackshark V2 is the best wired headset for the money we've tested. First, these headphones are a treat to use for gaming or music, with a wide sound stage, accurate sound and good imaging provided by newly designed 50mm drivers that Razer says it'll use for upcoming headsets too. This is a stereo headset, which we recommend for competitive play, but a 7.1 surround sound mode with "THX Spatial Audio" is also available for games where you want maximum immersion. The BlackShark V2's mic is also quite reasonable, although we'd recommend a more professional-grade alternative for streaming.
The BlackShark V2's design is also worthy of some praise. For starters, the ears are well sealed to block out distracting background sounds - useful whether you're clutching in Valorant or trying to get some work done while working from home with your spouse. The athletic-knit-covered memory foam ear pads remained comfortable for hours, no doubt aided by the light weight of the headset - just 262 grams. There's a convenient volume knob on the left earcup, and the microphone is removable. The BlackShark V2 also lacks any kind of RGB lighting, with only green cables and a subtle Razer logo on each earcup betraying this design's gaming focus.
In terms of connectivity, three options are provided: dual 3.5mm (for PCs), single 3.5mm (for PC, mobile, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One) and USB-A (for PS4 and PC). That means you can use these headphones on the go just as easily as at home on your PC or console. USB comes via an included dongle which adds the simulated 7.1 capabilities, microphone settings (like a noise gate and side tone) and compatibility with Razer's Synapse software.
If you could do without all that, consider instead the BlackShark V2 X, which ditches the sound card to hit a much more competitive price point. There's also the BlackShark V2 Pro, which adds wireless connectivity with the same excellent sound and comfort, making it a good alternative to the SteelSeries Arctis 7X and 7P in the "best wireless headset" slot.
Our previous pick, the Logitech G Pro X, remains a strong alternative. We didn't find it quite as comfy or as accurate-sounding as the Blackshark V2, but it offers a broadly similar range of features, has a decent microphone and both leatherette and velour ear pads.
Best value gaming headset: Fnatic React
As well as being a longstanding esports team, Fnatic also produces a solid line of branded gaming peripherals - including excellent mechanical keyboards. Now, a truly top-tier headset designed expressly for competitive gaming has joined the mix with the £60/$70 Fnatic React.
Fnatic used the design of the popular HyperX Cloud line of gaming headsets as a starting point when designing the React, with a durable metal frame and comfortable plush earcups. Building from a proven design makes sense for Fnatic, as a smaller player within the space, especially when this particular configuration is so well-loved by players. However, I did notice some creaking as I twisted the headset gently, something I've not experienced with any HyperX headset.
While the design is very familiar, the audio quality is slightly more novel. Fnatic opted to emphasise highs and mids while flattening lows, providing a bright sound signature with plenty of clarity that makes it easier to hear that single errant footstep that can give you an edge in competitive games like CS:GO or PUBG. The good seal produced by the plush earcups also ensure great passive noise isolation, making these an ideal choice for playing competitive or immersive games where you don't want to be disturbed by the world around you. Finally, the mic quality is surprisingly good, and it's removable if you prefer to use a USB or XLR mic instead.
All things considered, the React is perfectly tuned for competitive multiplayer games, thanks to its clarity and comfort, especially given its killer £60/$70 price point. Given how much Counter-Strike I play, these headphones could be sitting on my desk for a long time.
Alternatively, if you like the look of the Fnatic React but you prefer a more premium experience and/or a more balanced sound signature, the HyperX Cloud line-up is ideal. These headsets offer slightly better build quality and some include simulated 7.1 surround sound, which can be nice for singleplayer gaming. We've linked to several strong examples from HyperX below, including the latest example we've tested, the Cloud Alpha S. While this headset is more expensive than the React, it boasts an innovative bass adjustment slider, a powerful USB dongle with 7.1 surround sound and game/chat mixing and dual chamber drivers that make it a worthy alternative if you have the cash to spare.
Best cheap gaming headset: Corsair HS35
Corsair's entry-level HS35 stereo headset is far better than its price point suggests. It connects to the Xbox One, PS4, Switch, mobile and PC with a simple 3.5mm wired connection and features a decent detachable microphone. We found the headset offered a surprisingly comfortable fit, staying comfortable for hours at a time thanks to its memory foam construction. It also includes reasonable sound dampening so that you won't be distracted by background noise - and you can use these on the bus without fear. You can't expect amazing audio quality from a headset at this price point, but the HS35'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 £40/$40, that sounds like a winner.
Best premium wired 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 premium wireless headset: Sennheiser GSP 370
The Sennheiser GSP 370 is a uniquely capable wireless gaming headset, boasting a sturdy design, good sound reproduction and up to 100 hours of battery life. We found its sound signature to be warm and inviting, with reasonable imaging and a wider sound stage than you could might expect for a closed-back headphone. The microphone sounds decent too, although we'd recommend a dedicated USB or XLR mic if you're looking to produce #content rather than just speak to your mates on Discord.
The GSP 370 is a little heavy at 285 grams, yet it is well balanced and comfortable to wear for long periods. Connectivity is handled via a 2.4GHz USB dongle, limiting connectivity to PC and PS4, with no option for Bluetooth or 3.5mm inputs. However, given the set's bulky silhouette, the lack of more mobile-friendly connectivity isn't a big deal. Altogether, the GSP 370 is a sensible choice for gaming, with that stellar battery life making it an easy recommendation over less enduring alternatives.
The more expensive GSP 670 is also worth considering in this category. While battery life is a modest 15 hours and its mass goes up to 400 grams, the GSP 670 sounds better and includes Bluetooth connectivity, meaning it works with a much wider range of devices. Whether this is worth the extra premium is up to you.
Best Xbox Series X/S headset: SteelSeries Arctis 9X
The Arctis 9X is the best gaming headset we've ever tested for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X, 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 or Xbox Series X 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.
If the Arctis 9X is a bit beyond your budget, the Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox is worth considering too. This headset might look familiar if you looked at our current best Switch headset pick, as it's essentially the same lightweight and comfortable headset we loved for Switch - plus Microsoft's proprietary wireless tech. That means it'll work well with both the Xbox One and the Xbox Series X, so you can pick one up before next-gen without fear of missing out. The Arctis 1 Wireless doesn't sound quite as good as the full-fat 9X, but if you prefer a lighter headset at a lower price then it makes a lot of sense. The Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox also works just fine on PC, Nintendo Switch and Android, making it a great all-around choice if you game or listen to music on multiple platforms.
Another more affordable alternative to the 9X is the HyperX Cloud Flight. This headset offers the same convenient features - including a 2.4GHz wireless connection to the Xbox One, a comfortable fit and a game/chat volume mixer - while boasting about 10 hours more battery life at a substantially lower price. These do require a USB dongle, unlike the Arctis 9X, and the audio quality here isn't quite up to par with SteelSeries' finest - but still, these are great headphones given the price differential.
Best PS5 headset: SteelSeries Arctis 9
The Arctis 9 is another predictably strong wireless gaming headset from SteelSeries, following in the footsteps of the cheaper Arctis 7 and the Xbox-focused Arctis 9X. Like its brothers, the Arctis 9 sports a comfortable 'ski goggle' headband underneath a durable steel frame, a convenient retractable microphone and breathable sports fabric ear cups.
We don't know exactly how the PlayStation 5's 3D audio solution will work yet, but assuming it adds a surround sound effect to stereo headphones like Windows Sonic does for PC and Xbox users, then the Arctis 9 should support this as well; on PC you'll have access to DTS 'Headphone:X v2.0' surround sound.
The Arctis 9 is at its best when connected via its 2.4GHz wireless USB dongle to a PC, PS5, PS4 or docked Switch, but it also includes Bluetooth to work with mobile phones and tablets. Adding this functionality is great, as the Arctis 9 is comfortable enough to justify using it when you're on the go as well as when you're at home playing games. You can connect to two sources simultaneously, one with each radio, so it's easy to use your phone for Discord when you're playing on PlayStation for example. SteelSeries promise 20 hours of battery life, which seems about right - I ended up recharging these after about three long work days. Sadly, this is done through Micro USB rather than USB-C.
If you'll use the Arctis 9's Bluetooth functionality, at a £20 RRP premium over the Arctis 7 it makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, we recommend the cheaper headset as the two are very similar. Likewise, if you want a solution that works wirelessly for both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, check out the slightly cheaper Arctis 7X or the significantly cheaper Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox.
Best Switch headset: SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless
The Arctis 1 Wireless is another solid gaming headset from SteelSeries, a pared-back version of the company's usual design that drops the elastic headband from other models but keeps the athletic foam earcups. While the more normal fixed headband makes these headphones a little less comfortable than their peers, the light weight of the design makes up most of the difference in long-term usability.
Where the Arctis 1 distinguishes itself is in terms of connectivity: it offers 2.4GHz wireless via a USB-C dongle, which happens to fit very snugly into the bottom of a Nintendo Switch or an Android smartphone. Using a dongle removes the pairing nonsense associated with Bluetooth and also allows for a much lower-latency connection, which is vital for gaming or even just watching a movie. There's also a USB-C to full-size USB-A converter for use with older laptops, PCs and PS4. Finally, wired connectivity is also possible via simple 3.5mm cable.
While the way these headphones work is exciting, that enthusiasm doesn't translate completely to their aural characteristics. Music, films and games sound fine, perfectly clear and intelligible, but aren't particularly rich, detailed or bassy. Likewise, the microphone will get the job done talking to your teammates on Discord, but doesn't rank amongst the nicest we've heard. Still, given the cost, comfort and convenience of these wireless headphones, having merely good sound quality is hardly a deal breaker.
Update: The Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox has now been released, adding support for Xbox One and the Xbox Series X. Critically, this version of the headset still works for Switch, PC and mobile, so if the cost is similar then it's a no-brainer to get the headset that'll work across two extra platforms. SteelSeries also told us that the headset will work for PlayStation 5 too, making this one of the best cross-platform options available.
If you're willing to spend a little more, the best premium Switch headset we've tested is the Asus ROG Strix Go 2.4. This headset nails the same essential features as the Arctis 1 Wireless, offering the same convenient range of connectivity options in a lightweight package, but distinguishes itself in a few key areas.
Most importantly, the Strix Go 2.4 is considerably more comfortable than the SteelSeries offering thanks to its excellent balance and plush leatherette earcups. It also comes in a more portable folding design that tucks nicely into the included hard case. Audio quality is also improved, with the 40mm drivers offering better bass response and a warmer sound signature overall, while the headset mic does a better job of noise cancellation. The Strix Go 2.4 is undoubtedly the better set of headphones, but it does come at a significant premium compared to the Switch 1 Wireless - around £45 at the time of writing.
Best open-back gaming headphones: Astro A40 TR with MixAmp Pro
The best open-back gaming headset we've tested so far is the Astro A40 TR with MixAmp. These premium wired headphones are comfortable, with soft memory foam earcups and a lightweight design, making them easy to wear for hours on end - even for glasses users.
How does it sound? The default tuning is warm with nice emphasis on low and low-mid tones, but the Astro Command Center software makes it easy to find a more neutral EQ setting. Imaging is pretty good, helping you locate enemies in-game, and there's the option for both stereo and simulated 7.1 surround. 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 microphone is also of good quality, and can moved to either side of the headset or removed entirely if you prefer.
The headset is available standalone, but we recommend picking up the version with the bundled MixAmp. The MixAmp provides convenient dials for adjusting the volume and game/chat balance, compatibility with the Astro Command Center software, plus easy connections to PCs and either Xbox One or PS4 units depending on which variant you purchased.
While they aren't strictly gaming headsets, Sennheiser's HD 598 and HD58X Jubilee are also great options. These open-back headphones boast neutral sound reproduction and a wide sound stage, with velour earcups and a lightweight design that stays comfortable for hours on end. These headphones don't come with a built-in microphone, so we recommend pairing them with one of the best gaming microphones, like a clip-on ModMic or a freestanding unit like the Blue Yeti.
Best tough gaming headphones: Epos Sennheiser GSP 600
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 tougher could be just what you're after. The best build quality we've found on a gaming headset we've tested is Epos' excellent GSP 600 - which is also available in white as the GSP 601 and in blue/tan as the GSP 602. No matter which colour you choose, the headset feels extremely robust with its metal and plastic construction.
Of course, something that's well-built but rubbish isn't worth buying - but thankfully the GSP 600 is also a really good wired headset too. It offers incredible noise isolation, thanks to its thick ear cups and moderate clamping force, making it easy to lose yourself in a virtual world. The sound quality is good too, with an mild emphasis on bass that makes cinematic singleplayer games sound fantastic - although this does mean that more subtle highs and mids can be lost, making it less suitable for competitive multiplayer games like CSGO, Valorant or Warzone. The flip-down microphone works well enough, and the chunky volume wheel on the right ear cup makes it easy to adjust your sound in between firefights. Overall, it's a strong option - befitting its premium price point.
If you'd prefer a wireless headset, then the Corsair Virtuoso SE's aluminium construction, USB-C charging and bright sound signature make it a strong choice. However, the Virtuoso SE's high clamping force out of the box makes it slightly less comfortable than the GSP 600, consigning it to our back-up choice for this slot.
Best surround sound in a gaming headset: Creative SXFI Gamer
The Creative SXFI Gamer delivers some of the best surround sound we've experienced on a gaming headset. Interestingly, it slightly alters its surround sound implementation based on the topology of your ear, which it calculates based on photographs of your ear that you provide via the company's (slightly buggy) smartphone app. This provides a really lush aural environment, perfect for enjoying single-player games. If you prefer more competitive fare, then there's a battle mode which emphasises sounds like footsteps and reloads to help you track down your Warzone or Valorant opponents. I found this most helpful in games with more detailed soundscapes, like Warzone and Battlefield 5, as competitive-focused games like CSGO and Valorant already have quite a stark audio mix that makes it easy to locate an errant misstep.
Even with its special modes disabled, the SXFI Gamer still impresses. The headset is relatively comfortable to wear for long periods, with suitably cushy ear cups, and the clamping force here is just right. The microphone has a built-in pop filter, which works well, although the mic does feel much more sensitive to correct placement than others I've tried. The USB-C connection means that audio processing duties are handled internally, rather than relying on potential suspect motherboard audio, and also allows for tasteful RGB backlighting. Ergonomics are good, with well-differentiated buttons backed up with aural confirmation of which mode is enabled and a smooth volume wheel. The only major complaint I had concerned the cable, which produces a ton of noise when it's handled or it rubs against the edge of your desk. Given that this looks to be a regular USB-C to USB-C cable, replacement could be an option if this bothers you too. Overall, the SXFI Gamer is a strong headset that delivers on its key promises without any major stumbles. If a good surround sound implementation is key for you, then the SXFI Gamer is definitely worth a go.
If you have a higher budget, the ROG Theta 7.1 is another USB-C gaming headset that offers an even better surround sound implementation, thanks to four discrete ESS 9601 drivers - three 30mm drivers for the centre, rear and sides, respectively, and one 40mm driver for the front. This provides rich, full-bodied sound with plenty of warmth - ideal for listening to music or playing immersive single-player games. Convenient earcup volume controls, a performant "AI-powered" mic and RGB lighting are also included, ticking all the boxes for a high-end gaming headset. While the ROG Theta sounds great, the heavy weight of the headset makes it fatiguing for long gaming or listening sessions. The USB-C and USB-A connectivity allows easy use with the PC, PS4, Switch and Android smartphones, but the thick cables emerging from each side of the headset are hard to ignore. Despite these flaws and a relatively high asking price, the ROG Theta is an intriguing option.
Another possibility for surround sound junkies is the JBL Quantum One. This headset has a number of novel features, including active noise cancellation and an HRTF surround sound mode that adapts to each user based on measurements taken by a special in-ear mic worn under the headset itself during setup. Unfortunately, this latter mode didn't work well for me, with the initial setup process playing extremely loud noises into my ear, pausing and then repeating ad infinitum for about 10 minutes. Later, I pushed the earbud in even further and completed the setup successfully, but the results weren't noticeably better than the default tuning.
Despite this initial stumbling, the other surround sound modes performed better, and features like head tracking were quite fun to experience for the first time. The headset's acoustics were solid as well, with good imaging, although the relatively high weight of the headset made it uncomfortable for spectacled-me over long gaming sessions. However, others who tested the same headset found the surround sound much more engaging and the fit more comfortable, so I think the Quantum One is still worth a try.
Bonus: Best rumble on a headset: Corsair HS60 Haptic
I've always been intrigued by headphones that offer extra bass, the kind that actually massage your melon when a particularly impactful explosion occurs in-game. Ages ago, I bought some £20 'bass vibration' headphones that just started up a motor whenever it detected low-end notes, buzzing violently. It was brilliant for movies, but super distracting for playing games. Since then, headsets have become more adroit in their implementation of bone-jangling bass, and I can announce the first model I actually recommend for regular use: the Corsair HS60.
Like the earlier Razer Nari Ultimate, Corsair's headset provides convincing tremors given the slightest provocation, whether that's the bass section of seminal Daft Punk jam 'Around the World' or the unexpected explosion of your squad's cargo truck in Call of Duty Warzone. While the Nari Ultimate allowed you to adjust the strength of the effect in software, the HS60 Haptic's key innovation is allowing you to use a dial on the right ear cup to ratchet the haptic response up or down at a moment's notice. This makes it easier to keep the effect at a reasonable level as you jump between games and movies or different in-game situations, so it doesn't end up being distracting rather than immersing.
The actual lower-end sound quality is pretty good too, with convincing bass from the lowest lows to the highest lows. Combined with the respectable audio reproduction of the regular HS60, a fetching camo colour scheme and a decent microphone, and you've got a headset that does something quite interesting at its just-over-$100/£100 price point.
Bonus: Best DAC for PS4 and Switch: Sound Blaster G3
There are plenty of great DAC/AMP combos for use with desktop and laptop PCs, but those that effortlessly support consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch are much rarer. The best console DAC we've tested so far is the Sound Blaster G3, a tidy USB-C dongle that packs a ton of functionality into a compact and reasonably priced package.
Let's take a look at what's included. At the bottom of the device, there are three inputs for headphones, microphones and optical (via a short adapter cable), while on the other end is a USB-C plug that can be converted to full-size USB (with another included adapter). This setup covers you on the PS4, Switch and computers of all kinds, but while Xbox is supported via the optical input you won't be able to use voice comms here.
The left side of the device allows you to mute or adjust the volume of your mic, while the right side allows you adjust the volume of your headphones. There's also a switch here; flip it and you'll be able to adjust the mix between game and chat volume on PS4 or PC - so you can turn down your annoying teammates to focus on the game or vice versa. Finally, there's a button at the top that enables another key feature, the built-in footstep amplifier mode, intended to give you an edge in competitive shooters.
The whole package works well, with each setting you'd need within easy reach. It's great to be able to adjust things like the chat mix or enable the footstep boosting equaliser setting without needing to dive into game menus - something that's likely to get you killed in games like Call of Duty Warzone. The boost in audio quality is evident out of the box, and you also have the ability to customise your EQ (either by hand or by selecting per-game presets) using apps on Android, iOS or Windows.
At around £55/$60, the Sound Blaster G3 is a significant investment. However, it is something that you can use with a wide range of consoles and computers, or even Android phones, and you'll get some benefit out of it even for listening to music or playing non-competitive games. For that reason, if you want to take your audio quality seriously and you're using wired headphones, the G3 is a sensible acquisition.
For more external sound card recommendations, check out our picks for the best gaming sound cards.
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 £100/$100 or less and can improve audio quality substantially. (We also highlighted the Sound Blaster G3 just above!) Of course, you can spend way more if you want to go even further into the audiophile realm.
What about speakers?
We've added a round-up of the best computer speakers from £50 to £250 here.