As a gamer who frequently plays online, a gaming headset has always seemed like a necessity to me. After all, I don’t just need speakers or headphones – I need the whole package, which means headphones and a microphone. Given the amount of gaming headsets on the market, you’d think it would be easy to find a good pair of cans with a working mic. Spoiler alert: It’s not.
I’ve given gaming headsets a lot of chances and sunk a lot of money into them, only to be disappointed time and time again. After trying out the three most popular options, I’m ready to say I’m done. What happened here?
Everything, all at once
There’s a problem with gaming headsets that isn’t talked about enough, and at the same time it’s the best thing about them: they do a lot of things at the same time, and that can affect build quality. Although this is expected, it is only feasible up to a certain point. Once you sacrifice too much to get all these features in one package, it doesn’t make sense anymore.
I’ll be the first to tell you that gaming headsets can be great if you’re like me and hate dealing with annoying cables, plugging in multiple devices, keeping track of where everything is, etc. They’re easier to use than other options, but sadly that comes at a price for jamming them all inside the headset.
It’s not just headphones and microphones. USB headsets come with their own onboard audio drivers, while headsets with a 3.5mm audio jack rely on your motherboard to deliver audio. Gaming headphones are often closed-back, which means some level of noise cancellation. Then, there’s the unique gamer aesthetic and marketing that you’ll pay a premium for. A lot of these headsets in the mainstream sector cost less than $100 to $150, and some of them even cost less than $50. When you add it all up and still try to make a profit, it’s clear that cost cutting can outweigh build quality.
Gaming headsets epitomize the phrase “jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” The rest of that saying is “Sometimes one is better than one’s master,” but that’s not always the case here. Gaming headsets may do all the things they’re advertised to do, but they also fall short in many ways.
A headset gives you the worst of both sides, whether it’s mic or audio, unless you’re willing to pay for one of the best gaming headsets — and they cost $200 to $300 and up. Can. This may be good for games, but as soon as you want to chat on Discord or put on some music, the audio (or microphone) quality degrades. According to my own experience, these headsets are susceptible to various problems even when handled carefully.
Buying a gaming headset also means paying the gamer tax that also exists on peripherals like mice and keyboards. These headsets can be tailored to the needs of gamers, with features like surround sound, noise cancellation, or being able to mute your microphone with the press of a button. But for me, those features didn’t compensate for the problems encountered.
i really tried
I actually gave the gaming headset a fair chance. Over the past three years, I’ve tried a total of four, as well as a pair of non-gaming headphones. Out of all five, there’s only one model I’m happy with, and it’s definitely not one of the headsets.
I started with the Razer Kraken headset. I found it uncomfortable, and the microphone quality was pathetic. The pleather earpads also started tearing long ago.
Eventually I gave up and bought a new headset, this time the wireless version of the HyperX Cloud Flight. I’d heard only good things about it, and while I liked it for the comfort of wearing and good sound quality, there were a few things about it that bothered me. For one, the volume control on the left headphone was very easy to trigger by simply moving my hand or neck. As a result, I would randomly slide the volume up or down, because once it started, it wouldn’t stop. Needless to say, my ears were not happy.
What ultimately prompted me to return this headset after a few months of use was the fact that the battery would drain after 1 to 3 hours – and that too on a full charge.
I got a new pair as a replacement. This marks headset number three or two if we can count both HyperX as a single device. Once I got my replacement, I hoped all of these issues would be resolved. However, the volume control remained trigger-happy, causing my ears to hurt repeatedly. This headset also came with its own issue – it lost signal randomly. It was time to move on.
Right now, I have the SteelSeries Arctic Nova 7, and I can’t say I Hatred it. The microphone is the best among these four. The headphones are quite comfortable, and although I certainly wouldn’t consider them good for music or movies, they were made for gaming. But, of course, there’s only one problem.
The headset won’t stop powering itself off suddenly, often in mid-sentence; For me, this is a huge dealbreaker. It’s still under warranty, but I’m not even sure if I want to get a new one at this point.
I’ve been putting off gaming headsets forever, and the alternative solution has been staring me in the face for months.
when two are better than one
Failed headset after failed headset, one pair of cans remained consistent and excellent – my sub-$100 Audio-Technica ATH-AVA400 open-back headphones. They’re also not wireless, which I’m so fond of these days, but their quality makes up for it. I’m not an audiophile, so as long as something sounds good and doesn’t break down unreasonably quickly, I’m satisfied. My ATH headphones meet that criteria by sounding significantly better than any gaming headset I’ve tried, and they were cheaper than most of them, too.
Eventually I realized the solution was simple, and it wasn’t to leave the microphone on. Apart from a solid pair of headphones, you will also get a microphone.
There are some benefits to trading one device for two (or three, if you want to get yourself a DAC/Amp as well). For one, you’re getting two devices that were built specifically for that one purpose, whether that’s delivering audio or broadcasting it. It may not seem like much, but this focus definitely makes all the difference when compared to gaming headsets combined.
After this, you are likely to get something better at almost the same price. Like gaming headsets, you can mix and match to get something cheaper or more expensive, but this is generally true at many different price points. If you’re on a budget, you can probably “make” a combo for less than $80. Inexpensive gaming headsets do exist, but they’re generally nothing much to write home about.
When it comes to headphones without a microphone, we have a ranking of some of the best headphones that are worth checking out. You’ll find that the brands in our ranking differ from what gamers are used to. You’ll find Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, and more. I personally recommend the Audi 0-Technica as a fairly affordable option. It also makes some gaming headsets like the ATH-GDL3, but still – it’s often better to break those two things out.
What about the microphone? You don’t need one of those giant streamer-esque boom mics that attach to desks, although they are an option. The closest alternative to the headset is the expensive, but solid Antlion ModMic. Wired options start around
And there’s a wireless version for it
, It’s essentially an attachable microphone that you can pair with any pair of headphones to make it your own gaming headset. It sounds far better than any headset I’ve owned, and it can move with you once you swap out your headphones for a new pair. If the price puts you off, the Zalman ZM-MIC1 is worth it
And although it’s not excellent, it will do.
Then, there are microphones like the recent SteelSeries Alias Pro or the famous Blue Yeti. They’re probably as good as it gets without additional audio hardware, but they take up space on your desk, so it’s a compromise. Be aware that once you get into the trap of upgrading your headphones and microphone, you may end up spending much more than you initially planned.
Your mileage may vary, and this is just my personal experience, so if you’re in the market for a headset, don’t be swayed by my opinion. Excellent gaming headsets exist that don’t cost an arm and a leg, such as the HyperX Cloud Alpha. If you like the concept of a gaming headset, with a little research, you’ll find something that suits your needs – especially if you’re willing to spend some extra cash. All I know is that I found myself much more satisfied when I gave up the idea of a headset altogether.