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.

Editor’s note: This post was updated on September 15, 2021 to include more details on the Nintendo Switch Bluetooth compatibility, and also an entry about Roccat NEON.

What to know about gaming headset apps

A picture of the Razer Kraken Ultimate on a desktop with the monitor open to the Synapse software.

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. These days most gaming platforms, including PC, features built-in options for spatial audio, so you don’t need to look for an app-based solution on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. It’s features like lighting controls and custom EQ settings that are still locked to the app.

Be warned: almost all of these apps have stupid names.

Razer Synapse laid the groundwork for gaming headset apps

The Razer BlackShark V2 gaming headset sits outside on a wooden table under a tree

Headset’s like the Razer BlackShark V2 use Razer Synapse.

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.

A screenshot from the Razer Synapse software connected to the Razer BlackShark V2 Pro

The app definitely has a lot of unused empty space, but at least it doesn’t feel cluttered.

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.

Kraken 7.1 v2 synapse

If your app looks like this, you may be better off just skipping the features.

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 back experience

The HyperX QuadCast S is compatible with NGenuity, which can be used to adjust the color scheme and headphone volume, but you have to change the polar pattern manually, despite the icons in the app.

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.

A screenshot of the HyperX Ngenuity app connected to the HyperX Cloud II Wireless.

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?

The Corsair Virtuoso Wireless SE sits on a desk next to a Logitech gaming keyboard, a FocusRite Scarlett 2i2, and copies of the Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master's Guide, and various associated settings books.

This is a fantastic headset if you’re looking for something to play Dungeons and Dragons over the internet.

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.

A screenshot of Corsair's iCUE gaming peripheral hub app with the Corsair Void RGB Elite Wireless gaming headset connected.

A lot of this software’s features are oddly laid out.

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?

The main page of Logitech G Hub, which is connected to the Logitech G413 Carbon gaming keyboard and Logitech G Pro X Wireless gaming headset.

As soon as you open the app, you’re greeted with a carousel displaying all your different Logitech gaming devices.

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.

Related: How to get the most out of your gaming headset mic

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

A screenshot of SteelSeries Engine's menu for the SteelSeries Arctis 9 gaming headset

Engine offers pretty much the same features on every compatible gaming headset.

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)

The Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen 2 gaming headset sits on a table connected to a Google Pixel 4a via Bluetooth and a MacBook Pro using its USB dongle, next to a cup of coffee.

The Audio Hub App is a little laggy even when it manages to maintain a steady connection.

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.

The Turtle Beach Elite Pro 2 gaming headset SuperAmp sits next to a Google Pixel 3 running the Turtle Beach Android app.

The Elite Pro 2’s SuperAmp unit is actually what connects via Bluetooth, so you can’t use the headset wirelessly.

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

A screenshot of the Roccat Swarm app which is connected to the Roccat Elo 7.1 Air gaming headset

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.

Roccat NEON is new, slick, and not quite done yet

The Roccat Syn Pro Air lays on a metal table in front of a monitor displaying the Roccat Neon App

A software update or two could make this a real contender.

Not a lot of devices can use Roccat’s next generation of companion app yet, but it could be a solid foundation for more once it’s out of beta. NEON is far less cluttered than Swarm, with a streamlined interface, more empty space, and an easy-to-navigate layout. It offers all the same features you’d expect of a companion app, like surround sound (depending on the device), LED light controls, and EQ presets. It’s a little barren right now, but Roccat is planning to add more features and more devices as it develops the app.

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?

The Sennheiser GSP 670 lays on a table next to a PlayStation 4 DualShock controller and a Google Pixel 3.

The GSP 670 didn’t actually work with the Gaming Suite until a firmware update when we reviewed it.

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

A screenshot of Audeze HQ, which shows the settings page for the Audeze Mobius gaming headset

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.

A screenshot for Audeze HQ that shows the settings page for the Audeze Penrose.

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

The Legend of Zelda Astro A10 sitting front of a Google Pixel 3 and a Nintendo Switch running Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and all three are connected with the included splitter cord.

Just look at this dumb nonsense.

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.

A screenshot of the Nintendo Switch Online app, with options displayed for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Animal Crossing New Horizons, and Splatoon 2.

Just avoid this.

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. Now that the Nintendo Switch supports Bluetooth audio connections, you’d hope this situation would be a little easier, but connecting to the app and console simultaneously isn’t possible even with Bluetooth multipoint, so you’re still stuck with an awkward system.

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).

1MORE Spearhead

A man wears the 1More Spearhead VR sitting at a PC with a My Brother, My Brother, and Me poster behind him.

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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