A good pair of headphones is key to victory in many games - particularly shooters like PUBG, 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 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 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 7 - best wireless gaming headset
- Logitech G Pro X - 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 One headset
- SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless - best Switch headset
- Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee - best open-back gaming headphones
- Corsair Virtuoso SE Wireless - best tough gaming headset
Best wireless gaming headset: SteelSeries Arctis 7
The Arctis 7 2019 is the best gaming headset available, thanks to its comfortable design, impressive durability and excellent sound quality.
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.
A strong alternative for PC and PS4 is the Corsair Void RGB Elite Wireless (£109/$75). This headset is supremely comfortable and well-constructed with metal components. In terms of audio, expect reasonable levels of bass, average mids and excellent treble with a wide sound stage. The Void Elite misses out on the top spot because of its relatively bulky frame, which isn't great for portable use, its minimal sound isolation and distinctly average non-detachable microphone. It's also missing the low-latency slipstream wireless of the more expensive Virtuoso headset, but this didn't prove impactful in our testing. For gaming at home on PC or PS4, the Void RGB Elite Wireless is a great value choice.
Best wired gaming headset: Logitech G Pro X
Logitech's G Pro X headset is the best wired headset for the money we've tested. First, these headphones sound great, with a wide sound stage and good imaging provided by well-tuned 50mm drivers; we recommend sticking with stereo for competitive gaming but simulated 7.1 surround sound is also available if you'd prefer a more immersive (but less realistic) experience. The G Pro X's mic is one of the best we've tested too, with Logitech leveraging their recent Blue Microphones acquisition to provide additional tuning options in the G Hub app.
Logitech'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 Counter-Strike or trying to get some work done in the din of a university cafe. The leatherette-covered memory foam ear pads remained comfortable for hours in our testing, aided by the relatively light weight of the headset. Velour ear pads are also provided in the box, which provide a softer feel and slightly different sound signature you may prefer. Dual 3.5mm, single 3.5mm and USB-A options are all provided, so you can use these headphones on the go as well as at home on your PC or console.
If you can't stretch to the G Pro X, Logitech's vanilla G Pro headsets drop surround sound and the extra ear pads but cost significantly less.
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.
If your budget is a little larger, consider the very similar Corsair HS60 Pro Surround as well. This wired headset has the same comfortable fit as the HS35, supports surround sound and feels better constructed. It also looks more mid-range, with pleasant yellow accents on the unit we tested. At the time of writing, it's going for £65 in the UK or $70 in the US. This is a newer option, so expect prices to fall a little over the next few months.
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 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 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 ear cups. 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.
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: Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee
Sennheiser is a legendary name in the world of audio, and for good reason. Their collaboration with Drop.com resulted in the HD 58X Jubilee, an open-back model that provides a wide sound stage, neutral sound reproduction and a supremely comfortable fit thanks to their light weight and velour ear cups. Bass is also surprisingly strong here for an open-back headset. 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 58X Jubilee doesn'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: Corsair Virtuoso SE
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 Corsair's top of the line Virtuoso SE Wireless.
This variant of the regular Virtuoso swaps plastic for aluminium throughout the headset, making an already durable headset become even tankier. Other touches, like USB-C charging and subtle coloured point lighting on each ear cup contribute to a feeling of tasteful modernism. These are wireless, so there's no need to worry about running over the cable with your chair's wheels either. As well as getting the form right, the Virtuoso SE function well too, with a bright sound signature, reasonable microphone and good battery life of up to 20 hours. The only downsides to this headset are its relatively high clamping force out of the box, which does subside after a few days of use, and its relatively high price. Still, these are only minor drawbacks on what is otherwise a very strong offering from Corsair.
One alternative worth knowing about is the Poly Rig 500 Pro Esports Edition. These headphones have a metal exoskeleton that holds up well to harsh use and lends the headset a rugged military-style appearance. However, their wired connection, only middling sound quality and disappointing microphone make the Virtuoso SE headphones the better choice overall.
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. 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.