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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 headset. To straddle both these worlds, here are our picks for the best gaming headphones.
Why is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x the best pair of gaming headphones?
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.
Read on: The best Audio-Technica headphones
These headphones don’t have active noise cancelling (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.
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 RBG gaming keyboard, chances are you like snazzy accessories too.
Currently, Amazon sells these color variants:
- Metallic orange
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.
The best gaming headphones for sound quality is 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 taste 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.)
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.
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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.
The best open-back gaming headphones is the Philips Fidelio X2
If you want an audio profile that can only come from open-back headphones, then the Philips Fidelio X2HR is the choice for you. Gaming with this headset means you’ll be able to better pinpoint the locations of sounds, which is handy for knowing where enemies are in relation to you.
The Philips Fidelio X2HR has large velour ear pads and a suspension headband that’s reminiscent of the ski-goggle-style band on the SteelSeries Arctis 7+ Wireless. You can wear this for hours on end without feeling weighed down—even with glasses on. Plus materials like leather and metal make these headphones not only feel great, but long-lasting too. Because of the open-back design, high frequencies are amply audible, ensuring you don’t miss any details in soundtracks or in-game events.
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.
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Being open-back means these headphones should only be used in a quiet room, and they will leak lots of sound. Still, if you want the playback profile and frequency response that only open-back headphones can bring in a package built for gaming, the Fidelio X2HR fits the bill nicely.
The most comfortable gaming headphones is 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 a 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 all without worry
The QuietComfort 35 II boasts excellent noise cancelling, 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 microUSB, which while not awful is pretty outdated these days.
The best value in gaming headphones is the Sennheiser HD 559
If you have already spent big bucks on your gaming PC and monitor, then you might be reluctant to dish out on headphones. Thankfully, the Sennheiser HD 559 is a great value pick. You get an open-back design with velour ear pads at a much lower price than many other brands.
For a bit less than $100 USD, you can even leave this pair of headphones with your PC and use another pair for your daily listening. Sennheiser headphones generally don’t look fancy, but the HD 599 is solidly built and you can replace the ear pads to extend the headset’s life.
You will have to make some tradeoffs in terms of sound quality and whiz-bang features, but the Sennheiser HD 559 still makes for an affordable and reliable pick to use with all sorts of games.
Is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 worth buying?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x makes for a great pair of gaming headphones, but what if you want that same package with the flexibility of Bluetooth, too? That’s where the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 comes in. It’s the same model of headphones as the former, but you can use either wired or wireless listening.
You get the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs, so you can use this set of Audio-Technica headphones for better on-the-go listening (though LDAC is sometimes unreliable). It also has all the bells and whistles of a modern pair of wireless headphones, including USB-C charging, button controls, and an app that lets you EQ the sound. Most gaming platforms don’t support Bluetooth audio—for good reason, given the latency it often has—but there’s always the wired connection option when you need it.
If being tethered to a wire all the time is a deal-breaker, but you otherwise want everything Audio-Technica offers, the ATH-M50xBT2 is worth a look.
What makes the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro a great set of headphones for gaming?
The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is an over-ear option that costs around $100 USD, but it 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.
This is comfortable to wear with glasses and it doesn’t leak sound, so you can use it in a room with another person.
The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro might start to feel hot if you wear it for a very long time. Another minor quibble: it kinda looks kind of boring, but if you aren’t concerned about seeming cool during streaming, it’s a solid budget pick.
The best gaming headphones: Notable mentions
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40x: 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.
- Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X: 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 USD, but if you don’t mind those factors, it works quite well as gaming headphones.
- Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX: Open-back headphones can get pricey, but the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX bucks that trend. For around $220 USD, you get soft velour ear pads, and a good frequency response. However, depending on the amount of power your PC’s headphone jack can pump out, you may need an amp, too.
- Shure AONIC 50: 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: True wireless ear buds 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: 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.
See also: The best gaming earbuds
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.
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)
We have a guide on the external best 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 cancelling 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, 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 is 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
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.