What to Look for in a Headset for PC Gaming?
Let’s be honest. You’ll find many of the same features on PC gaming headsets, as you will on non-gaming headphones. Gaming headsets don’t have crazy, unique technology in them. Instead, it’s about how those similar features are implemented. What might be comfortable for a few hours of listening to music might start to hurt after a few hours of gaming. What might be outstanding for hi-fi stereo might be insufficient for surround sound.
Here are the specific features you want to look for in a PC gaming headset, and why they matter for gaming. Don’t worry if these sound like they’re going to jack up the price of a headset – you can still score a very good gaming headset for less than $50.
It goes without saying that you want a PC gaming headset that’s comfortable. But comfort is personal, so it’s impossible to classify one headset as comfortable and another as uncomfortable. Instead, you should look for the features that will make a headset comfortable for you.
In general, lighter is better. It may be tempting to buy a gaming headset with a massive set of drivers in each ear, customizable LED lighting, and a big, padded headband, but if it weighs too much you’ll want to rip it off your head long before you’re ready to quit the game. Remember: This PC gaming headset is going to be on your head for as long as you’re playing. You wouldn’t wear high heels or dress shoes to go for four-hour trail hike… just sayin’.
Take a look at the ear cups. Are they designed to sit on the ear, just over the ear, or way over the ear? Each of these shapes will affect the comfort of the headset and you’ll probably much prefer one of them to the others. What are they made of? Tons of padding might look appealing, but if that padding is poorly made, or covered in a non-breathable material, it won’t be as comfortable after an hour as it is when you first put them on.
Is the headband fully adjustable to the size of your head? And once adjusted, will it stay put? Is it uniformly comfortable, without any pressure points? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you need to keep looking for another gaming headset.
Wired vs. Wireless
Just like keyboards and mice, when it comes to gaming, gamers have a strong preference for wired PC gaming headsets. Unlike mice and keyboards however, it doesn’t have as much to do with latency or lag time. Most wireless gaming headsets will be able to transmit sound fast enough. However, battery life, weight, sound quality, and price all become potential problem spots when considering a wireless headset for gaming.
The whole point of a wireless headset is to free you from wires that can get in the way. But if your rechargeable battery dies mid-game (easy enough to have happen if you forget to charge it) you’ll be right back to using a wire, or worse, you may have to leave the game while your batteries recharge. Those batteries will also add weight to your headset, and more weight can mean more fatigue after the minutes turn into hours.
Wireless gaming headsets typically use their own proprietary transmitter/receiver, not Bluetooth®. This lets them support features like Dolby® Surround (some, not all headsets), but it’s not consistent – it may work on a PC, but not a Mac or gaming console. This may not be an ideal arrangement if you mostly game on a gaming laptop. You’ll still have to plug in a cord if you want to use the headset with a smartphone, unless you can find a wireless headset that is also equipped with Bluetooth.
Wireless PC gaming headsets used to cost way more than wired ones. These prices have come down in recent years, and the quality has improved, but they’re still expensive when compared to wired models.
Open vs. Closed Headsets
The audiophile headphone world continues to debate the merits of open or closed-back earpieces. Some say that open back designs offer a more natural sound, letting the air move in all directions. Others say the opposite. In a gaming headset context, there are advantages to each approach.
An open-back headset lets you keep a level of awareness of what’s going on in the room around you. Does a parent, sibling or roommate often need to get your attention? Open headsets let some of that external sound in, without completely compromising your game audio. Open designs also breathe better, reducing temperature build-up and the discomfort of sweating.
Closed designs are best when you’re in an especially noisy environment (gaming tournaments come to mind) and you need to concentrate your focus on what’s happening on-screen. These gaming headsets are for those who value a purity of sound – especially directional surround sound – above everything else. A closed earpiece will trap heat and moisture more however, so if you tend to get bothered by either of these things, you’ll have to weigh the sound benefits of closed headsets with the comfort of open models.
It’s easy to forget about the microphone on a PC gaming headset. After all, you don’t really have to listen to yourself, so how your voice sounds take second place to how everything else sounds. But if you think about how the other players sound to you when they speak, you quickly realize you do have a preference.
Unidirectional mics are much better at isolating your voice from outside sounds, than omnidirectional designs. Some headsets incorporate a bidirectional design, which makes noise-cancelling circuitry possible. You’ll want to mute the mic now and then, so make sure you like the way muting works. Some headsets use a button on the mic’s earcup, while others engaging muting when you swing the mic boom up and away from your mouth.
Some models have a retractable mic design, which is a serious consideration if you plan to use your gaming headset for other listening activities. Let’s face it; walking around with a boom mic pointed at the clouds isn’t the best look.
If you’re a FPS fan and mostly plan to use your PC gaming headset with games like Call of Duty, PUBG, or Overwatch, a headset that can support full 7.1 surround is a must. These games are an assault on the senses, and if you can’t hear what’s going on behind you, or to the sides, you could end up dead before you can say “what the –.”
Look for models that pack a lot of drivers into each earcup. Each driver will have a slightly different angle. The more drivers, and the more angles, the more precise the surround effect will be. If you’re not into first person shooters, surround sound is still awesome, especially if you watch Blu-ray movies using your headset, but it’s not going to give you a competitive advantage.
Needless to say, if you’re going to invest in a PC gaming headset, you want one that will last. This mostly comes down to avoiding the very cheapest headsets on the market, as they are the most likely to suffer from poor build quality and highly breakable materials. But don’t forget, some models are built like tanks for your head. They’re nearly indestructible, which can also mean heavier materials and thus more fatigue/discomfort. Once again, it’s about finding a balance.
This is one place where customer reviews can really help. Look for complaints (or compliments) about quality, durability, and workmanship – all indicators of possible problems. Sometimes it’s a little thing, like a headband that gradually loses its ability to hold a size setting, but little things can be just as annoying as big things, over time.