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Best gaming headphones
Gaming headsets are tailor-made to work with some consoles and PCs, but what if you just want a solid pair of headphones you can also use for gaming? Something you can pair with a mic when you want to play and then take along with you on the bus or the office instead of having to buy a separate pair of wireless gaming headsets. To straddle both these worlds, here are our picks for the best headphones that work great for gaming.
- This article was updated on October 19, 2023, to add all new top picks and edit formatting to our current style.
- If you are looking for something more compact and portable for gaming, check out our list of the best gaming earbuds.
Top Pick: SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless
If you’re searching for the overall best gaming headphones, look no further. The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is a jack-of-all-trades without compromising on quality. It’s not just a gaming headset; it’s your daily driver for Zoom meetings, your commuting buddy, and your late-night Discord hangout all in one. It’s the Swiss Army knife of audio gear—equally comfortable at a LAN party or a business conference.
The wireless base station is the control center you didn’t know you needed. Complete with dual USB-C connectors and an OLED display, it offers unprecedented control over your audio experience, such as being able to toggle between your PS5 and your PC on the fly. The intuitive wheel and interface are just cherries on top, making the headset incredibly user-friendly. And if you have ever been annoyed by your headset’s battery dying mid-game, the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless has a solution: hot-swappable batteries that let you game infinitely.
When it comes to audio, the frequency response is near ideal, translating to an immersive listening experience that caters to all types of media. And if you’re playing in a noisy environment? No worries—the active noise canceling will keep those distractions at bay. So, if you’re willing to make an investment in a piece of tech that seamlessly integrates into every part of your digital life, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is a no-brainer. It’s a game-changer—literally.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is a close second place
For a pair of gaming headphones that can do everything from hearing sniper shots to mixing your music, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is a nearly ideal pick. These studio monitors deliver great sound a solid build from sturdy, lightweight plastic, and they even look cool during live streams.
You’ll enjoy a relatively neutral frequency response with a slight bass boost. This strikes a great middle ground where you can hear higher frequencies (e.g., the snap of twigs from an enemy stalker’s boots) and enjoy a game’s soundtrack at the same time. Your everyday music listening will sound great, to boot. And if you want to mix audio, the ATH-M50x can do that, too.
These headphones don’t have active noise canceling (ANC), but the isolation is good. The synthetic ear pads block out some background noise, but you’ll still hear low frequencies like a running dishwasher or dryer. While the synthetic ear cups are great because they’re easy to clean, they retain heat. You can get away with wearing the ATH-M50x for a couple of hours, but you’ll want to let your ears breathe every now and then. When you want to take the headset off, the cups rotate up to 90 degrees so that everything can rest flat around your neck.
A small foible is the proprietary nature of the included cords, which you’ll have to order exclusively from Audio-Technica if you lose or break one. That aside, however, these headphones make for a practically perfect pick for all sorts of gamers, from casual players to hardcore speedrunners.
Yes, these headphones come in many colors (though some are limited editions or only available at certain retailers). You can look cool when wearing them, though appearances aren’t everything. After all, if you’ve already got an RGB gaming keyboard, chances are you like snazzy accessories too.
Currently, Amazon sells these color variants:
- Metallic orange
The best gaming headphones for sound quality are the AKG K371
If you crave stellar sound above all else, then the AKG K371 is for you. This makes for a great pair of gaming headphones since its frequency response tracks the SoundGuys house curve quite well. In other words, the 50mm dynamic drivers reproduce sound that’s sure to please those with eclectic music tastes and gamers alike. If you play games with orchestral soundtracks, you’ll definitely appreciate the K371 and will likely reach for it when you want to dive into your entire music collection, too.
This pair of headphones is impressively comfortable thanks to memory foam ear pads with a soft-touch synthetic wrap, so you can keep enjoying that audio for hours, even with glasses. The ear cups also articulate upward 180 degrees, so you can hear your surroundings for a minute if needed. (This feature also makes it a solid option for DJs.)
Isolation performance is just okay, but if your gaming rig lives in a quiet room of its own, that won’t matter. The sound may leak out from these headphones, so a roommate may catch a bit of what you’re listening to. Those are minor pitfalls for such excellent sound quality, though. If you want to savor every nuance in the songs from your favorite games, this set of headphones fits that bill almost flawlessly.
You can’t use a 3.5mm mic with the K371 since the left headphone houses a mini-XLR connector. Instead, you’ll need to couple it with an external mic.
The best open-back gaming headphones are the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
Let’s get right to it. The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO is a heavyweight in the realm of open-back headphones, delivering impressive audio performance without taking a toll on your wallet. For less than $200, you get a pair of headphones that appeal not just to audiophiles but also to aspiring musicians and everyday listeners. The open-back design allows for a more natural sound experience, letting you catch those spatial cues in your favorite tracks that closed-back models often miss.
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO was not designed exclusively for gamers, but its particular sound profile makes it a winner in the gaming realm. The headphones emphasize frequency ranges that elevate footsteps and other subtle, in-game cues.
One caveat is the lack of hinges, which means they won’t fold into your backpack, and the non-removable cable isn’t your phone’s best friend—keeping these babies desk-bound is the safest bet, which won’t be a problem if you are primarily a PC gamer. The open-back design also means moisture and foreign object vulnerability, but again, these are meant for your battle station, not the battlefield.
Open-back headphones let air pass through the ear cups from the rear of the speaker driver. This means the internal reflection of low-frequency sound within each headphone housing is less of an issue compared to closed-back headphones. This allows for a generally “clearer” sound that lets you better perceive high frequencies and panning from one channel to the other.
Closed-back headphones, on the other hand, are completely sealed around the driver and do a better job of blocking sound out (and keeping sound in). The sealed rear chamber means that you can take closed-back headphones out and about during a commute or to class, but you may notice that it’s harder to hear high-frequency detail through closed-back headphones compared to open ones.
The most comfortable gaming headphones are the Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Comfort matters when it comes to gaming headphones because you’ll probably wear them for hours on end. That’s why the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, with its plush ear cups and durable build, is such a good choice. As a result, you can keep the QC 35 II on, move your head around, and even toss it off without worry
The QuietComfort 35 II boasts excellent noise canceling, further adding to the comfort factor in loud environments and making gaming sessions distraction-free. In fact, Bose even makes the QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset—It’s the same as the original but with a mic tacked on. It works well, and if you don’t want to supply your own mic, it’s a good deal (the mic isn’t sold separately if you’ve already got a Bose QC35II, though).
There are some small issues with the QuietComfort 35 II, but they aren’t deal breakers. Namely, it only supports the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, but you should be using the wired mode anyway when gaming for a lag-free experience. Plus, it charges via micro-USB, which, while not awful, is pretty outdated these days.
The best value in gaming headphones is the Sennheiser HD 560S
When it comes to gaming, you need immersive sound that doesn’t take a sledgehammer to your wallet. Enter the Sennheiser HD 560S, a genuine mash-up of affordability and audio quality. Their plush pad covers and soft foam are a godsend for long-haul gaming marathons. Angled transducers align with the natural tilt of your ears, making you forget they’re even there. Plus, these are open-back headphones, ensuring a natural, expansive soundstage.
These headphones play very well with others. A removable 2.5mm TRRS plug adds durability, and while the connection lock might seem quirky, it’s there for a reason. The Sennheiser HD 560S even throws in the option for a balanced connection, a sneaky feature that minimizes noise and elevates your gaming soundscape. Worried about compatibility? A 1/4-inch TRS connector ensures you can plug into a variety of sources, with a 3.5mm adapter also in the box. And no, you don’t need an amp. These headphones are powered just fine by your regular computer jack, so you can jump right into action without fussing over extra gear.
In summary, if you need a sturdy, cost-effective steed for your journey, the Sennheiser HD 560S delivers where it counts and should top your list.
The best gaming headphones: Notable mentions
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40x ($119 at Amazon): If you want most of the features and comfort of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x but don’t want to spend that much, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is a good pick. It’s not quite as snazzy looking, and its ear pads also retain heat, but otherwise, you get most of the same experience for less cash.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 ($198 at Amazon): These are the same as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, but you can use either wired or wireless listening.
- Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X ($269 at Amazon): The Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X is big, bulky, and heavy, but what you get in return is excellent sound from this open-back headset. This pair of open-back headphones might start to weigh you down after a while, though, and it costs around $300, but if you don’t mind those factors, it works quite well as gaming headphones.
- Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX ($199 at Manufacturer site): If you’re looking for a set of headphones to stay by the computer, few offer a better price-to-performance ratio than the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX. Based on the design of the legendary Sennheiser HD 650, the HD 6XX is a steal at half the price.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro ($87 at Amazon): This is an over-ear option that gives you plenty of features for the price. At the same time, it’s comfortable and doesn’t bump up the bass too much, which makes it good for gaming. You can even use these headphones to mix tracks or edit content, thanks to the relatively neutral frequency response.
- Shure AONIC 50 ($298 at Amazon): Gamers who value construction and sound quality above all else will like the Shure AONIC 50. This will cost you a pretty penny but in return, you get wired and wireless listening options with aptX, LDAC, AAC, and SBC codec options, removable ear pads, and USB-C charging with fast charge. If you want to spend slightly less and don’t mind less-than-premium materials, there’s the very similar Shure AONIC 40, too.
- Sony WF-1000XM4 ($278 at Amazon): True wireless earbuds can be tricky to use for gaming, but with LDAC Bluetooth codec support and a comfortable fit, plus great ANC, the Sony WF-1000XM4 makes for a good pick if you prefer buds. If your content supports it, you can even take advantage of their 360 Reality Audio support.
- V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition ($349 at Amazon): V-MODA is known for its sturdy headsets, and this is no exception with its MIL-STD 810G durability certification. You get SBC, AAC, and aptX Bluetooth codec options, and you can connect the headset to your console’s controller via the 3.5mm cable.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What to know about the best gaming headphones
Gaming headphones should be comfortable and durable because you’re going to be wearing them for hours on end. But besides the obvious features to look out for, here are some other things you should consider before putting down cash on a pair.
How to turn any pair of headphones into gaming headphones
If you already like your current pair of headphones or just bought one of our recommended pairs, you might be wondering if that’s all it takes. Chances are, however, when gaming, you’ll want a better mic than most headphones include. That way, you can interact with teammates or streaming buddies clearly. A simple way to upgrade your mic is by attaching a boom mic, like the cardioid V-MODA BoomPro X, to your headphones.
V-MODA BoomPro X microphone demo:
That mic isn’t the best one on the planet or anything, but it’s easy to use, relatively cheap, and you can attach or detach it as required without too much trouble. If you want to upgrade to something better, though, there’s a whole world of standalone mics to explore.
We have a guide on the best external microphones for gaming that you can dive into, another on the best podcast mics in case you want to make episodic content, or even USB mics if all your audio ports are full (or if your PC doesn’t have a mic jack).
Whichever option you choose, having a solid and reliable microphone will make your streaming and multiplayer experiences much more enjoyable.
There are plenty of add-on boom mics, and we recommend the following for your gaming endeavors:
- Antlion Audio ModMic Uni (3.5mm cable)
- Antlion Audio ModMic USB (USB-A cable)
- Antlion Audio ModMic Wireless Attachable Boom Microphone
- V-MODA BoomPro Microphone (omnidirectional recording pattern, mic sample here)
How should headphones sound when gaming?
You can quickly google and find plenty of headphones claiming to be suited for gaming, but there’s likely a large (actually, loud) problem with them: way too much bass. Headphone manufacturers do this because it’s an easy way to make headphones sound “impressive,” but it’s quite counterproductive to your needs when gaming. You can compensate for this to an extent by using an equalizer, but that can only get you so far.
Gaming headsets with too much bass are also less useful for chatting with teammates. That’s because their voices will sound “boomy” and “unnatural,” so you might strain to hear other people or have to ask them to repeat themselves. Being the one teammate who keeps asking, “What’d you say?” is never great.
Amping up the bass can make it hard to hear all other frequencies in your music or gaming mix, which means you’ll have a slower reaction time to nearby enemies. If your headphones keep pumping out way too much bass, you may miss key sounds in the mids and highs, like footsteps, distant voices, and other cues that enemies are nearby, or you’re missing key quest objectives. Passing a power-up because you couldn’t hear the special puzzle noise would be a big bummer.
Should gaming headphones block out noise?
Though this might seem obvious, it actually depends on what games you play and the types of environments in which you play them. There’s also the question of active versus passive noise reduction, so you’ve got a few factors to consider here.
If you plan to game in a relatively quiet room, that brings up the opportunity to use open-back headphones. These headphones offer no noise canceling or isolation, but in return, you get a large “soundscape” or “soundstage.” That means your ears can better discern the directional nature of a sound. Basically, the sounds coming from your game will better reflect where they originate from the in-game environment. As a result, you can better pick up where an enemy sniper or call for help is coming from.
However, the downsides to this configuration are, of course, no isolation or ANC. That means any external noises will make it to your ears, which can cause auditory masking or distract you from your play session. Furthermore, the sound will “leak” out of your headphones, and other people in the room with you may hear it, which they could find annoying. If you game in a home with distracting noises or other occupants, then choosing isolating or ANC headphones might work better for you.
You lose out on some of that spatial feeling, but you gain the ability to block out many external distractions and focus. These headphones also tend to have large, plush ear cups, which helps in the comfort department as well as isolation. Some people really dislike the “suction” or “clamping” feeling of strongly isolating or ANC headphones, however.
Ultimately, the choice depends on your budget (fancy open-back headphones tend to cost a lot, but so do many ANC models, so shop around), comfort level, play style, and the type of gaming setup you’ve got.
What type of headphones should you use for gaming?
At SoundGuys, we recommend over-ear headphones for gaming. They tend to have large, padded ear cups, which are more comfortable for long hours than on- or in-ear designs, though the JBL Quantum 50 earbuds are an exception here. They let you wear glasses (contacts are not ideal for staring at the screen) and tend to provide better isolation, sound quality, and ease of use than other options, too—all for a fraction of the cost of most over-ear gaming options.
In-ears may work for you, but keep in mind you’ll be gaming for long durations, so you might need to stop and take breaks to remove the buds. Plus, it is much harder to add a boom mic setup to in-ear headphones, whereas on over-ears, there’s always a handy place to pin one.
Frequently asked questions about gaming headphones
A gaming headset is specifically designed for gaming experiences, often equipped with a built-in microphone for in-game communication. On the other hand, headphones are primarily designed for audio playback and may not have a mic. Gaming headsets might also emphasize certain sound profiles, like boosted bass, to enhance gameplay.
Yes, you can use normal headphones for gaming. In fact, many regular headphones can offer a balanced sound profile suitable for both gaming and everyday music listening.
This is comfortable to wear with glasses. It doesn’t leak sound, so you can use it in a room with another person.
Yes, but it’s not ideal to use computer speakers for gaming at the same time as a mic. Consider the fact that it would be really easy to create a feedback loop and thus cause extreme ringing in the ears of your teammates or stream watchers. Plus, you might lose out on spatial cues within the game. Speakers might work if you’re enjoying a single-player game at home, but otherwise, they may not serve you as efficiently and easily as a pair of headphones.
If your preferred console has a standard wired mic jack (check to make sure), then yes. If you want a wireless option, you’ll have to get a console-specific headset for Xbox One or PlayStation 5. The one exception is the Nintendo Switch, which supports Bluetooth audio, but that also might mean latency issues.
Well, there’s technically nothing stopping you from trying, but we cannot vouch for or recommend any third-party or aftermarket modifications.