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Best Steam Deck gaming headsets
The Steam Deck is finally here and it’s one of the most unique gaming devices on the market. You can now hold the power of PC gaming in the palm of your hand thanks to Valve’s new portable powerhouse. We’ve spent several weeks testing various gaming headsets to see which work well with the device’s Linux-based operating system. We present to you the best Steam Deck headsets for gaming out in public, along with the easiest ones to grab and go for your busy morning commute.
Editor’s note: this best list was updated on November 7, 2022 to include the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Wireless and the Razer Barracuda X (2022)
Why is the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Wireless the best Steam Deck gaming headset?
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Wireless is a headset that maintains SteelSeries’ attention to detail when it comes to comfort and build quality. Although its default frequency response profile doesn’t quite match our target curve, it’s a great headset in all other areas that count. It feels nice to wear for long hours, and it isn’t too flashy when out and about. It also has fast charging in case you need to charge it quickly before leaving the house.
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 connects using a USB-C dongle, perfect for the USB-C port on the Steam Deck. It also has support for Bluetooth, which is a great option if you don’t want to bring the USB-C dongle with you. In either case it maintains pretty good wireless latency and decent battery life. That, paired with its decent isolation, makes it a fine option for when you’re out and about in noisy environments (if you want something that also has full active noise cancelling, the higher end SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is an even better choice, though you won’t be able to use it’s wireless base station with the Steam Deck).
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Wireless microphone demo (Ideal):
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Wireless microphone demo (Office):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Razer Barracuda X (2022) is a versatile wireless gaming headset
The Razer Barracuda X (2022) is a good headset if you want to accommodate a tighter budget. It features a fairly accurate frequency response, and the isolation is also pretty decent. Additionally the Razer Barracuda X (2022)’s microphone is fully detachable so you can remove it for on-the-go gaming. This headset uses a USB-C dongle to connect to the Steam Deck, which makes for lag-free wireless audio. It’s important to note that this means that both the dongle and the detachable microphone will have to be stored in a carrying case pouch when they’re not in use.
Additionally you can get the Razer Barracuda X (2022) in a nice black finish, matching the Steam Deck’s design and appearing modest enough to serve as your daily driver. It’s reasonably comfortable for long periods thanks to the mesh fabric ear pads and lightweight build. Additionally, this headset is designed without Razer’s Synapse software in mind, all of the controls you need are easily accessible on the side of the headset.
Razer Barracuda X (2022) microphone demo:
How does the microphone sound to you?
Why is the JBL Quantum 50 a good Steam Deck gaming headset?
Sometimes the ideal option for gaming on the go is something cheap you can easily throw in your bag without worrying about weight or potential damage. For this purpose, the JBL Quantum 50 is ideal. These wired earbuds are cheaper than anything else on this list, and they’re easy to toss around and use in public without care. Despite the low price, the earbuds deliver on isolation and sound quality, offering a fairly pleasant frequency response with a slight emphasis on bass.
Unlike most of the other options on this list, these earbuds connect using a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. JBL doesn’t feature any software for these earbuds, so you’re not missing out on any advertised features when you connect to the Steam Deck. We also recommend the Quantum 50 as a great Nintendo Switch headset for much the same reason: the buds are sleek, simple, sound great, and easy to throw into a bag at a moment’s notice.
The EPOS GTW 270 Hybrid is the best option for wireless gaming earbuds
If you’re looking for wireless earbuds designed with gaming in mind, the EPOS GTW 270 Hybrid is the ideal option. These true wireless earbuds can connect to the Steam Deck through either Bluetooth or with an included USB-C dongle. Both options provide a fairly enjoyable on-the-go experience, and Bluetooth support makes these earbuds especially easy to take with you.
The GTW 270 Hybrid delivers when it comes to sound quality and isolation, with only some slight deviation in frequency response from our in-house target curve (more on this in the buying guide section). The battery life comes in at just under five hours, roughly an hour more than the Steam Deck itself. While the case can’t fast charge the earbuds, it supplies an extra three charge cycles, totaling 20 hours of playtime.
The biggest issue with the EPOS GTW 270 Hybrid is that it doesn’t support using the microphone while using the wireless dongle, but this should be solvable by using the Steam Deck’s built-in microphone.
Below is an example of the GTW 270 Hybrid microphone performance before we standardized our mic sample system. You can use the mic for phone calls and conference calls from a PC but, again, the mic doesn’t work when you connect via wireless dongle.
EPOS GTW 270 Hybrid microphone demo (Old):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The HyperX Cloud Alpha is a simple wired headset that sounds great
For our final recommendation, the HyperX Cloud Alpha is for anyone who wants a simplified and stripped-down wired headset. This headset is a community favorite: it delivers on sound quality and comfort, while also providing excellent isolation for when you’re gaming out on public transit or in other noisy environments. To connect the Cloud Alpha, just use the removable 3.5mm headphone jack.
The only issue you might have with the HyperX Cloud Alpha is that it’s on the bulkier side, and not easy to fold up for transport. It will take up a fair amount of space in your bag because of this, but if you have room for it, this gaming headset will make game audio sound fantastic. Alternatively, there also exists the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless, which sports a meaty 327-hour battery life. We don’t recommend it for Steam Deck because its USB-A connector makes it difficult to use with the Steam Deck.
Below is an example of the HyperX Cloud Alpha microphone performance before we standardized our sample system.
HyperX Cloud Alpha microphone demo (Old):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The best Steam Deck gaming headsets: Notable mentions
- Sony WH-1000XM5: This is a fantastic pair of headphones with superb active noise cancelling (ANC). If you’re looking for a headset that isn’t built solely for gaming and which is a little more stylish than most, get the XM5 or its older sibling, the WH-1000XM4.
- Beyerdynamic Tygr 300 R: If you don’t need a headset with a microphone, but still want something built with gaming in mind, this is an excellent option. It connects using a 3.5mm headphone jack and is easy to use with the Steam Deck. The one caveat is that this headset doesn’t have an included microphone. In the future, you may be able to use the Steam Deck’s internal microphone but currently, it is disabled whenever a 3.5mm headphone jack is plugged in.
- SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless: A cheaper alternative to the SteelSeries Arctis 7+ that we recommended above, this headset boasts the same USB-C connector for audio and offers comparable comfort and sound quality.
- SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1: Following a similar design as the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless, this updated version of the headset is wired and just as comfortable.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ and notable mentions’ 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).
We’ve also updated how we demonstrate the microphone performance of products that we review with a standardized test setup. These will be made obvious in each new sample which begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What you need to know about gaming headsets on the Steam Deck
The Steam Deck separates itself from other gaming devices due to its form factor and use of SteamOS as its primary operating system. Since the Steam Deck is designed for use on the go, more importance should be placed on sound isolation, a portable form factor, and low key design, when choosing a headset for it.
How do you connect headphones to the Steam Deck?
The Steam Deck features a wide variety of connectivity options for headsets, including a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB-C port that supports audio input and output, and full Bluetooth audio support. There’s also a dual-microphone array built into the Deck itself.
The Steam Deck uses a standard Linux audio system called PipeWire for all of its audio needs, including handling Bluetooth audio. PipeWire is well supported by the Linux community, which makes it fully featured and robust; unfortunately, some of its settings aren’t always presented to the user. One of these is the choice of Bluetooth audio codec, with the Steam Deck most commonly defaulting to aptX (although this changes depending on what headset you’re using). While latency hasn’t been an issue in our testing, the community has found some workarounds to force the system to use a lower latency codec should you need it.
It’s also important to note that some gaming headsets, especially those that use USB, sometimes have a software suite for controlling the headset. These are almost universally designed for Windows and won’t work on SteamOS, locking out some of the more advanced features that these headsets advertise. This should not adversely affect regular use on any headsets since most of the headsets in this category are designed to be used without software when being used with devices like games consoles or mobile phones.
Do gaming headsets sound different from regular headphones?
While there’s not anything inherently different about how gaming headsets function compared to normal headsets, it’s important to note that they are often designed with different goals in mind. Often gaming headsets feature a frequency response that noticeably emphasizes bass, to make gamers feel more immersed and make the sounds of gunfire and other effects louder. This differs from our house curve slightly, which prioritizes a more even frequency response. However, an exaggerated bass response doesn’t mean a gaming headset is necessarily low quality. It’s sometimes a matter of taste. Indeed, the higher bass response on gaming headsets may actually suit the Steam Deck when out and about, making it audible over the sounds of cars and buses.
Why should your Steam Deck gaming headset block out noise?
If you intend to use your Steam Deck with a gaming headset while on the go, it’s important to consider the headset’s isolation performance. This influences how clearly you’ll be able to hear your games and music over the sounds of the outside world due to auditory masking. A headset’s ability to isolate you from your surroundings depends on how well it fits on your head, and around your ears especially. Making sure the ear cups fully encircle your ears, that there is nothing blocking them, and that they’re exerting a comfortable amount of pressure on your head to keep themselves in place is key. It can be hard to get a good fit and optimal isolation if you wear glasses. In that case, we recommend picking up velour ear pads to minimize the gaps that contour around the arms of your glasses and your skull.
How we choose the best Steam Deck gaming headsets
To select which headsets we recommend for this list, we consider several different factors. The most important consideration is evaluating which connections each headset supports. Some wireless gaming headsets, especially those designed with desktop PCs in mind, come with a USB-A dongle which isn’t supported by the Steam Deck—unless you have an adapter. That leaves headsets with USB-C dongles, Bluetooth, and/or a standard 3.5mm cord as the top candidates. From there we evaluate headsets based on their design aesthetic (excessive RGB lighting would be quite attention-grabbing out in public), sound quality, and sound isolation.
Considering that the Steam Deck ships with SteamOS, we make a careful effort to evaluate each of these headsets with this new operating system. We check to ensure the USB-C dongles included with these headsets don’t block the power button or the fan exhaust next to the USB-C port. We also ensure each headset that supports Bluetooth is connected properly and operates without excessive lag.
Why you should trust SoundGuys on the best Steam Deck gaming headsets
The team at SoundGuys is deeply invested in helping you find the best audio products for your needs and budget. We want to share our passion with our readers and minimize the legwork you need to put in. Whether we’re interviewing experts on hearing loss or submerging waterproof speakers, we do what it takes to get to the truth of the matter.
Our team has years of experience reviewing products, conducting lab tests, working in studios, and in the field of journalism. If you’ve wondered if we get paid to favorably review certain products: we don’t. In fact, it’s against the SoundGuys ethics policy to receive any compensation or gift for reviews or spots on our lists.
Frequently asked questions about Steam Deck gaming headsets
The Steam Deck disables the internal microphone when using the 3.5mm jack to connect a headset. The Steam Deck expects any attached headset to have a microphone and will disable its internal microphone when one is connected. As of right now, there is no way to forcefully enable the internal microphone. This issue is not present when using Bluetooth or USB-C to connect headsets, the internal microphone should still be available with those headsets.
Some users have reported issues with certain wired headphones where a certain amount of static or white noise is audible over the 3.5mm headphone jack. This issue was fixed by Valve in a beta update on May 20th, 2022, which was then rolled into the main branch. Ensuring you’re running the latest version of SteamOS (or switching to the Beta update channel in system settings) will likely solve this issue for you.