Whether you’re immersed in a fast-paced multiplayer arena battle or listening out for the footsteps of your enemies coming up behind you, a good headset is a must-have for any serious gamer.
You’ll need to look for a headset that provides optimal comfort for long periods of use as well as something that best suits your style of play and your favorite games.
Headsets provide a number of advantages over speakers.
In noisy surroundings, they lend to a more immersive gaming experience without disturbing others around you.
Gaming headsets can also replicate the surround sound found in 5.1 and 7.1 speaker systems, bringing a whole new level of immersion as a result.
Following are some of the most important factors to consider before you go out shopping:
Comfort and Ergonomics
Many gamers spend several hours at a time absorbed in their favorite titles, in which case comfort should be the number-one priority.
Even if a headset provides outstanding sound quality, your gaming session will rapidly be spoiled if your ears start feeling fatigued.
The most comfortable headsets tend to be those featuring an over-the-ear design and, since they have the largest speakers, they also tend to provide better sound quality.
On-the-ear headsets, by contrast, are rarely comfortable when used for extended periods, and though they can offer good sound quality, they don’t lend very well to immersion.
You’ll probably want to avoid earbuds too, unless portability is a major concern, since these can harm your hearing and cause discomfort after excessive use.
When it comes to connectivity, there are two different options to choose from.
However, most gaming headsets simply require a USB port.
Instead of using the sound card inside your computer, USB headsets provide their own audio drivers. By contrast, headphones that connect to your computer’s audio ports use the on-board audio card.
USB connectivity offers more variety and a wider range of features.
You can find both wired and wireless designs but, while wireless connectivity provides a greater degree of freedom, you’ll be best off going for a solution that features a charging station so that you don’t have to constantly swap the batteries over.
Another advantage of USB connectivity is that there will be more power available to the headset, potentially providing you with higher audio quality and louder sound.
Positional Audio and Surround Sound
Audio is almost as important as graphics in many modern video games, so you’ll want to pay close attention to any features that help to immerse you in the scene.
Most games feature positional audio, allowing you to hear which direction things like gunshots and footsteps are coming from.
Surround sound is an important enabler of positional audio, and some gaming headsets make quite a good job of approximating the surround sound experience afforded by 5.1 and 7.1 speaker systems.
The current industry leader in surround sound technology is the DTS technology, which can offer a truly cinematic experience.
However, headphones sporting this technology rarely come cheap.
Lower-end headsets generally only have two (stereo) drivers (speakers), using software to approximate positional audio.
Software and Audio Presets
Headsets that connect directly to your sound card don’t come with any software, since they use the hardware inside your computer to render the audio.
However, USB headsets require additional drivers, though they often sport audio presets and other features that can further enhance their functionality.
Dedicated USB gaming headsets often come with audio presets created for specific titles, although you can usually create your own presets from scratch as well.
These additional functions may include a graphic equalizer, surround sound emulator, crystallizer and various other features.
Popular gaming headset manufacturer Turtle Beach even allows users to upload and share presets with the community, potentially allowing gamers to get even more out of their sound systems.
If you play online multiplayer games and MMOs, you’ll also want to pay close attention to the microphone.
Almost all microphones feature noise-cancelling drivers to eliminate most background noise, but they vary enormously in quality.
Some mid- to high-end gaming headsets feature a microphone which you can disconnect when you’re not using it, and this is particularly useful when you don’t want it getting in your way during single-player gaming sessions.
However, if you choose not to go for a headset with a removable boom-arm microphone, make sure it can be moved into an upright position so it’s out of the way when you’re not using it.
Alternatively, if you have no intention of paying online games, you might be better off going for a pair of headphones instead.
A gaming headset can transform your gaming sessions into truly immersive experiences, and it’s also not likely to disappoint when it comes to watching movies or listening to music either.
However, as with any kind of peripheral device, gaming headsets span an enormous price range, and you can easily spend in excess of $300 on a top-of-the-range model.
Just make sure to research individual products and manufacturers before making a final decision, and be wary of paying over the odds for gimmicks like customized lighting and ear-cup plates.