Whether you’re a gamer who needs something easy to set up a team chat with, or you’ve unexpectedly found yourself confined to Zoom calls for almost a year, you’ve probably tried to figure out a decent communication setup. However, it’s daunting to buy a microphone, an interface, and a nice pair of headphones, and figure out how to configure it all—it can be expensive too. Conversely, gaming headsets are cheap, include headphones and a mic, and most of time they’re relatively simple to use.
Most of the time, if you just plug a headset into your computer it’ll work on a basic level. You normally can’t tinker around too much from the hardware alone, which is okay for some. However, if you want a little more control than a single volume dial can offer, you’ll need to install an app. Here’s what you need to know.
What to know about gaming headset apps
Proprietary apps have accompanied gaming headsets for a while, and mostly demonstrate why these brands develop hardware, rather than software. If you just bought a gaming headset for a plug-and-play surround sound solution, you may be disappointed to learn it likely needs additional software to work fully.
Most gaming headset apps are hub apps; they tie a bunch of products together so you can manage them all in the same place. If you own a bunch of gaming hardware with LED lights and programmable buttons, that sounds pretty good, but not so fast. All of these apps are brand-exclusive, so if you have a Corsair headset, a Logitech mouse, and a Razer keyboard, you’ll need a separate app for each to manage their features.
It’s also worth noting that these apps are mostly for PC. If you’re a console gamer and you really want surround sound and custom EQ profiles, you’ll need to find one with that stuff loaded onto the device, or use a console that offers it, like the PlayStation 5.
Be warned: almost all of these apps have stupid names.
Razer Synapse laid the groundwork for gaming headset apps
In a lot of ways, the gaming headset market wouldn’t really exist without Razer. The company’s iconic black and green designs basically built the product category. In a similar fashion, Razer’s Synapse app was among the first peripheral companion apps launched, and remains the highest profile one. It’s been a rocky road (something most of these apps share), but Synapse 3 finally seems to be moving towards useful. The app is cleanly laid out, and these days it actually works.
Depending on the headset you get, Synapse will turn on features like surround sound and mic monitoring, and tweak a headset’s EQ settings. Options like the Razer BlackShark V2 and its Pro model also let you tweak microphone audio. Synapse is an all-in-one software for Razer peripherals, so it controls every compatible Razer device connected to your computer, including mice and keyboards. It’s also where you change the Chroma LED settings.
If you have a fairly recent Razer gaming headset, this is the experience you can expect. Older gaming headsets like the Razer Kraken 7.1 V2 still use Razer Synapse 2, the previous (and vastly inferior) iteration of the software. Synapse 2 barely works at the best of times, and in my experience, going without the features it offers is generally preferable to using it at all.
HyperX NGenuity is a pared down experience
Gaming peripheral company HyperX makes some of the best gaming headsets on the market, from the perennial workhorse Cloud Alpha to fantastic multiplatform wireless headsets like the Cloud II Wireless and Cloud Flight S. On PC, headsets (and microphones) that connect using USB use the company’s NGenuity app.
NGenuity is a little more sparse than something like Synapse, but it’s also more intelligently laid out. Settings save appropriately (something plenty of apps struggle with), and it’s easy to find features with just a few clicks. The app often takes a long time to recognize when a compatible device is connected, but once it does, everything works well.
How does Corsair iCue work?
Much like Razer Synapse, Corsair’s iCue app is your one-stop shop for every Corsair device you own. Whether you want to change the color of the LEDs in your RGB ram, or the sensitivity in your mouse, or the EQ in a headset, iCue is the place to do it.
For headsets in the Corsair Void, Virtuoso, and HS lines, iCue will let you turn on surround sound (when applicable), as well as adjust EQ preset options, microphone settings, and RGB lighting options. The features available vary by headset, but they all depend on iCue.
However, while the app is versatile, it’s not terribly friendly to use. Corsair iCue has a bad layout: connected devices and their associated options are spread across the screen seemingly at random. It works well enough, but the UI often presents something of a barrier.
Is Logitech G Hub any good?
G Hub is the successor to Logitech’s truly awful Gaming Software app. This time around, Logitech presents you with a stripped back, centralized app for all Logitech gaming hardware connected to your PC. It’s laid out simply, and is robust for most devices. The firmware update function is a little finicky, again, device dependent, but G Hub generally doesn’t have issues connecting promptly with devices on PC.
Most Logitech gaming headsets offer the standard array of features through G Hub, like virtual surround sound, EQ profiles, and mic monitoring. However, newer gaming headsets like the Logitech G733 and Logitech G Pro X also benefit from the company’s relatively recent purchase of microphone company Blue. Blue Vo!ce is a suite of microphone options that genuinely improves audio quality and allows for a great deal of microphone customization. It’s arguably the only gaming app that really brings something additive to the table.
SteelSeries Engine is easy to use
The SteelSeries Arctis line of gaming headsets relies on SteelSeries Engine for its software-based features. Like most gaming headset companion apps, Engine offers the usual spread of features, like EQ profiles, basic mic settings, and virtual surround sound (when the headset supports it). It’s also generally the only place to get an accurate battery measurement for any of SteelSeries’ gaming headsets.
There’s not a lot to say about Engine compared to other apps. It works, and every headset’s additional features are typically contained on a single page and neatly laid out, making them easy for you to find.
Turtle Beach Audio Hub is for mobile and desktop use (kind of)
Turtle Beach gaming headsets don’t support software very often, instead relying on things like Windows Sonic for virtual surround sound. As such, the Turtle Beach Audio Hub desktop app is only meant for firmware updates, provided the headset you have has any firmware in the first place. However, the mobile version of Audio Hub provides a suite of audio features—like EQ presets, a bass boost mode, and a vocal clarity mode—for the company’s Bluetooth-enabled gaming headsets.
If you’re gaming on a Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen 2 or Turtle Beach Elite Pro 2, the app might be worth your time, but this is hardly a smooth experience. The connection between the headsets and the app is spotty, even when the Bluetooth pairing isn’t. To add insult to injury, the settings often don’t save when you quit out.
ROCCAT Swarm is a bit of a mess
ROCCAT’s Elo headsets use ROCCAT Swarm to access features like EQ customization, LED settings, and more. Swarm is one of the worst laid out apps on this list. There are three pages of options for a headset like the Elo 7.1 Air: Pinned, Settings, and Illumination. Illumination is exactly what it sounds like, and Settings is where you find all your options; this results in a mess of nearly identical-looking boxes of different sizes. The pinned page lets you choose which settings boxes to save on a separate page, so you don’t have to go hunting every time you want to know the battery level. Still, it feels very clunky.
Many headsets support Dolby Access
Dolby Access is the free app you can download to activate Dolby Atmos for Headphones on Windows. Headsets from a number of brands support the standard, and many come with a free subscription to the service. There aren’t a ton of options here: basically, it just exists to recognize the headset and let you tick the box that turns on Atmos.
What about EPOS Gaming Suite?
EPOS and Sennheiser made a few gaming headsets in partnership, and released a Gaming Suite app for additional features. It’s a pretty barebones app, but if you have a GSP 670, GSP 370, or GSX 300 external sound card, you can use the gaming Suite to tweak audio settings like EQ profiles, mic settings, and virtual surround sound.
The future of this app is a little unclear currently. EPOS and Sennheiser disentangled themselves from each other this year. EPOS is going solo to release gaming hardware in 2021, with no indication on whether the GSP series will continue.
Audeze HQ supports few headsets
Audeze only narrowly avoided offering an app for a single gaming headset this year, when it released the much delayed Penrose (look for our review in the new year). Audeze HQ now offers settings for two gaming headsets, the Audeze Mobius and Audeze Penrose.
The two headsets have pretty different features, so their individual settings pages are separated in the Profile menu on the right side of the app. If that seems strange, it’s because it is—usually when “profile” pops up in an app like this, it refers to a custom settings profile you create (which the app also does), not different headset pages. Additionally, your Audeze headset needs to be plugged into your computer to use the app—even though the Penrose is a wireless gaming headset that connects with a USB dongle.
The app itself is pretty cluttered, but the Penrose has far fewer options, so its profile is easier to navigate. However, Audeze HQ lets you adjust each headset’s EQ, and turn on mic monitoring. The Mobius side also lets you set up Waves Nx surround sound.
Nintendo Switch Online is unremarkable
Even more than 15 years after Nintendo launched its first internet-compatible device, nothing online is ever intuitive with this gaming mainstay. The Nintendo Switch gets close, with a functioning online store and cheap online service subscription, but its voice chat situation is frankly draconian.
The Nintendo Switch uses a mobile companion app to handle voice chat for games not called Fortnite (and a few others). To use it, you need to install the app on your mobile device, plug your wired gaming headset into a splitter (many Nintendo Switch gaming headsets come with one), and then plug the headphone input into the console and the mic input into your phone. Of course, if you’re one of the millions of people with a smartphone that no longer has a headphone jack, you’ll need a dongle for that as well.
Basically, it’s extremely inconvenient and almost makes voice not worth having. It’s usually easier to just open Discord on your phone and use that for voice chat instead.
What are single headset apps?
Plenty of gaming hardware companies release companion apps aimed at a single product or a specific use. These can be pretty hit or miss—sometimes they avoid the occasional glitchiness of software that’s supposed work with everything, offering an experience tailored to a single device. And other times they’re just as bad as anything else (or worse).
If there’s any candidate better suited to the “or worse” category, I haven’t used it. The 1MORE Spearhead VR is, frankly, not a good gaming headset, and its companion app made for the most fraught gaming headset experience I’ve ever had.
From a design standpoint, it’s rather clumsy, with a cluttered layout and a lot of options that don’t do much. However, the real issue with the Spearhead app is the risk involved in using it. If you install the app while you have the headset plugged into your computer, the installation will fail. When it happened to me, the failure put my computer into a bootloop, and I had to wipe my hard drive and reinstall everything. Really, you should avoid this headset, and this app.
HyperX Orbit Software
The HyperX Cloud Orbit and Cloud Orbit S don’t use the HyperX NGenuity app, instead opting for a bespoke app that may seem a little familiar (see: Audeze HQ). Yes, as the Cloud Orbit S is a wired reskin of the Audeze Mobius, the Orbit app is just the Audeze Mobius page of Audeze HQ with a red coat of paint.
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