If years of reviewing and testing both traditional headphones and gaming headsets have taught us anything, it's that a high-quality gaming headset needs to do a heck of a lot more than be a good pair of headphones with a microphone attached. Whether you like to play pensive indie titles from the comfort of your couch or engage in high-octane eSports competition in front of a mouse and keyboard, you're looking for a very particular set of skills.
The best gaming headset doesn't just sound great. It renders your voice with crystal clarity, and clamps firmly but gently over your ears while feeling as light as possible—ensuring it doesn't create excess heat or discomfort during longer sessions. More than just producing balanced audio, it emphasizes the frequencies within the aural spectrum that are most important in competitive gaming: footsteps, object-based sound orientation, and so on. The best gaming headset puts the game in the forefront, and is content to let you forget all about it.
Case in point, after testing a bunch of 'em, our favorites are the SteelSeries Arctis Pro (available at Amazon for $169.99). These high-price gaming cans knocked it out of the park during our testing process, offering a combination of great features, long-term comfort, and excellent sound fidelity where games were concerned. However, you don't have to shell out a bundle of money to get a great set of gaming headphones. We tested a bunch of the best around to make for smart recommendations in every budget.
These are the best gaming headsets we tested, ranked in order:
SteelSeries Arctis Pro
HyperX Cloud II
SteelSeries Arctis 9X
Razer Kraken Pro V2
Razer Nari Ultimate
HyperX Cloud Alpha
Turtle Beach Stealth 700
Razer Kraken X
SteelSeries Arctis 5
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If you’re going to pay over $300 for anything—let alone a gaming headset—it needs to be downright impressive. Thankfully for SteelSeries, the Arctis Pro most definitely is. One of the more comfortable gaming headsets on the market, the Arctis Pro uses a flexible suspension band to customize size, with super soft ear cups that stay comfortable even for hours—even while wearing glasses. Sure, comfort alone isn't enough of a reason to buy such an expensive headset, but the Arctis Pro doesn’t stop there.
Both music and games sound fantastic using the Arctis Pro. I played both a quiet indie game, Atma, and loud, booming matches of Overwatch while using this headset and I was pleased with both. While playing Atma, the headset balanced the quiet soundtrack with in-game sound effects, like the crunching of grass beneath my character's feet. In Overwatch, I was able to clearly distinguish my allies' voices from in-game noise, which can sometimes be a struggle for me. That's largely thanks to the mixer that comes with the SteelSeries. For me, the mixer made for a perfectly customizable balance between game and chat.
From there, customization extends into the equalizer which lets you change frequencies without any extra software. It's a pricey headset, but where that money is going is clear. Better still, you can find the Arctis Pro for a lot less money online these days, making it an easy choice for serious gamers.
HyperX's new and improved Cloud II headset replaces the original Cloud, our previous top pick. It's extremely comfortable and comes packaged with leatherette or velour ear cups, an audio control box, and a detachable mic. The aluminum body is strong, and durable enough to last a good long while if you plan on taking your gaming on the go.
When it comes down to the audio performance, you'll need to be a little cautious. These things are explosively loud—if you're not careful they could destroy your ears. But once you've dialed in the correct volume, you're left with a headset that delivers every note and range of your game audio with beautifully detailed clarity.
I was constantly surprised by new sound effects I heard while playing Overwatch, a game I've logged well over 400 hours on. That's not to mention the detachable mic that—while not as clear and powerful as the Razer ManO'Wars—still left me impressed.
I'm Nicole Carpenter, a freelance video game and tech reporter from Massachusetts. By nature of my job, I play a lot of video games—but it's a perk of the gig that I love. I've been working in the industry for nearly four years, both covering the video game industry and reviewing the technology that goes along with it. But I was playing games well before that—competitive ones—and was always looking for a headset that could provide me with the sound I needed and comfort that lasts a long time.
Primarily, I'm playing Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch, a first-person shooter with an emphasis on team play. (In particular, I'm trying to level up my alternate account to get a new in-game rating.) I'm a support main. I primarily play Zenyatta, and it's important to me to have a clear view of what's going on around me. I listen for ultimate cues from the enemy team so I know when to protect or fight.
But I also like playing indie games, quieter games with emotional soundtracks. During testing, I played Jo-Mei Games' Sea of Solitudeand a bit of Team Atma's Atma. In all three games, sound is important in creating an atmosphere. In Overwatch, that atmosphere can mean winning or losing. But in story-based games, that sound is essential in the emotional drive of the game.
Sound is super important, but a big part of competitive video games is communication. One of my biggest gaming pet peeves is being able to hear people breathing into the microphone — and it's even worse when it's someone complaining that it's me. During testing, it was important to me to ensure that game sound works just as well as the communication system.
Things to Consider When Buying Gaming Headphones
While gaming headphones are still headphones, gamers typically have a different set of priorities than audiophiles listening to music on the go. Even within the gamer population, different gaming headsets will be more or less useful, depending on their preferred gaming genre. Once you've decided that regular headphones are no longer adequate for an hours-long session of Red Dead Redemption 2, here are a few features that can help you make your decision.
• Sound Quality—Are you playing games that mainly soundtrack music? Or can your headphones' transmission of audio cues make or break your ability to level up? If you're playing online with friends, can you hear their instructions and comments? If you're constantly listening for gunshots or footsteps, you may want to invest in a pair of headphones that emphasize bass tones; otherwise, if you need to hear more than audio cues, it's best to get headphones that have a more expansive sound profile.
• Microphone—Having a high-quality mic is key, especially if you're playing with teammates. The best microphones should cut out any electric humming or ambient noise, and have voice clarity that is comparable to talking to someone on a cell phone when you both have great reception. Ideally, the microphone is also adjustable so that you can get it at just the right distance from your mouth so that it doesn't transmit your breathing more than your voice.
• Comfort—Listen, we've all gone on gaming binges before, but you can't really enjoy a gaming marathon if your headset starts squishing your head and ears after only a couple of hours. The headphones themselves should be adjustable so that you're not stuck with ill-fitting headphones. Thick ear pads, a padded headband, and a relatively lightweight are necessities for a pair of gaming headphones if you're going to be spending quality time in front of your TV or computer.
• Isolation—Gaming can be a form of escapism; to ensure that you're really escaping, your headphones should really block out ambient noise, both so you can better hear what's going on in the game, and so that the outside world doesn't distract you from your task. Granted, in an emergency, it's best to be able to hear some of the outside world, but gaming headphones should ideally be able to block out humming from air conditioners, refrigerators, and other appliances.
• Cable/Wireless—If your gaming headphones have a cable, it should be a long cable (ideally, longer than 10 feet). While it's easier when you're gaming on your computer, when you're gaming on TV screen, you're typically not sitting right up in front of it, like you would with a computer. Having a long cable allows you to sit at a comfortable distance from your gaming system. If, on the other hand, you prefer to be cable-free, then you may prefer wireless gaming headphones. Wireless gaming headphones usually have either a USB connector that you plug in, or are connected over Bluetooth. Keep in mind that wireless gaming headphones have a battery life, and that you may want to keep an eye on said battery life, lest they cut out at a key point in your gaming experience.
• Platform—Before you lay down cash for a pair of gaming headphones, make sure they're compatible with your game system. Some brands have different products for different platforms, and others just have a regular headphone jack that can be plugged into any system. Additionally, some features may not work equally well across all platforms.
Other Gaming Headsets We Tested
SteelSeries Arctis 9X
SteelSeries Arctis 9X is probably the best Xbox One headset that I've tried. It's unique for a few reasons, the first of which is its ease of use: the headset has a built-in Xbox wireless adapter, which means it connects seamlessly like a controller. But it also has simultaneous Bluetooth integration so it can be connected to your phone there and to the Xbox One with the wireless Xbox adapter—listen to music or take a call while doing mundane tasks in an expansive, open-world game like Red Dead Redemption. ("Old Town Road," anyone?)
It works wirelessly on PC, too, but SteelSeries suggests using a USB Xbox wireless adapter for that. I really didn’t have any problems with Bluetooth, though I thought the microphone quality may have decreased over Bluetooth. My friends complained about my voice cutting out while using it on PC. That said, any sound quality difference from Bluetooth to using it wirelessly on Xbox One was negligible. Bass, in particular, stood out: in really intense matches, rich booms rang clear over most other sounds.
I was also impressed by the comfort—in fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say this is the most comfortable console headset I've ever worn. Using a flexible suspension band like in the Arctis Pro, rather than something fixed, it feels light on my head. It doesn't squeeze my glasses to my face but still feels secure, like it won't shake loose. The band for the Arctis 9X is only slightly different than the Arctis Pro, and that's in the color: for the Xbox One-optimized 9X, the headset takes on the console's signature green details on the band. It's understated, though, and not garish.
Razer's Kraken Pro V2 is a simpler, wired version of the pricier (and heftier) Nari Ultimate. It strips away any and all so-called extra features and is, simply put, a simply solid headset. The Pro V2 provide full-ear coverage with a soft cushion; they're big, but weight is distributed in a way that makes them less noticeable on your head. They do their job and nothing else, and that's why I like them so much. Everything just works: the audio is balanced—even in loud, booming team fights in Overwatch, I could distinguish my teammates screaming in a group chat—and the microphone has clear output.
The Kraken Pro V2 is a good-looking headset, too. It's a lot less "gamer-y" than some other offerings, which I like—the all-black design wouldn't look terribly out of place in an office environment (though you’ve still got a snake insignia on the side). Of course, Razer offers a bright green option for those who want the signature colors, but the variety is still nice. In fact, it doesn't stop there: Razer also released an all-pink version of this headset, with optional cat ears that sit on top of the band. (There's also an all-white version and a blue-and-black one, too.) For under $100, there’s a bunch of value here.
There’s no two ways about it: Audeze's Mobius gaming headset is expensive—really expensive—at $400. But if you're angling to acquire a top-of-the-line model, this is the one.
Directional, three-dimensional sound is what ultimately sets this pair apart from the rest. Using its Waves NX software, the headphones use "integrated high-precision head tracking" and planar magnetic drivers to create an immersive experience. In English, that means the Mobius creates a full and multi-directional audio effect, utilizing precisely placed sound.
For example, while playing Overwatch, I felt more aware of my surroundings compared to my usual headset. I didn't struggle at all to pick up on enemy footsteps and was able to pinpoint where sound cues from characters were coming from. It felt much more precise than other headsets I've used, immersive in a way that really feels like sounds are surrounding you. This is especially important for competitive games, as it's essential to gather as much information about your enemy as possible. And it doesn't hurt in other games, either—it makes for a more engrossing experience overall.
The downside, of course, is that this experience was available with a wired setup—sound quality dropped noticeably when I switched over to Bluetooth. The same goes for the microphone. Fortunately, it's a high-quality microphone that's flexible, and I never heard any complaints of static or distortion from teammates. Unfortunately, on Bluetooth, I had some issues with connectivity of the mic and had to fiddle around with the settings to figure out the problem (my computer was trying to read the microphone from elsewhere).
The big question I'm left with is: Who this headset is for? The sound quality is stunning, but gamers won't ignore the price. $400 is well over even the highest quality gaming headsets available by more traditional gaming brands. If you’ve got the deep pockets for it, however, the Mobius is pretty amazing.
I’m guessing the first thing you'll notice about the Razer Nari Ultimate headset is its size: these things are massive. The cups are almost comically oversized, and you can feel it when you wear it. They're heavy, and it was hard to ignore the sheer weight on my head.
However, the reason they're so big is because there's a lot going on in there. The Nari Ultimate uses THX spatial audio to create a "360° sphere" of sound, and it works great. Sound always felt crisp and precise. I was impressed by the accuracy of sound in Overwatch, able to place enemies in the area by sound. But I was most impressed when playing Jo-Mei Games' Sea of Solitude. It's a much quieter game that emphasizes its emotional soundtrack; with the Nari Ultimate headphones, I felt immersed in the swell of the music — it was almost good enough that I forgot the heft of the headset on my head.
Razer stuffed in a system called "HyperSense" in the Nari Ultimate headset. This feature uses haptic technology to let players "feel" the sound with vibrations. It feels like an unnecessary feature that was more distraction than immersion.
At a baseline level, this is a good headset that's been overworked—I much prefer the Razer Kraken Pro V2's, which is a very similar, albeit smaller design, pair that feels better overall.
I actually very much prefer the HyperX Cloud Alpha headset over the more expensive Cloud Revolver. For the Cloud Alpha, HyperX used a more traditional band with notches for size customization. The Cloud Alpha just fits right and is not a distraction, which is exactly what I want to see in a headset—something that can just fade into the background so I can concentrate on the game.
For being so affordable, I was impressed by the sound quality here. Directional sounds were precise, and bass boomed without overpowering the more nuanced sounds that gamers listen for while playing—the kind of noises that hint at an enemy behind you, or the environmental noises like wind and leaves rustling.
The microphone here is a step down from the Cloud Revolver, but it'll do just fine in any competitive game. I found that it picked up more ambient background noise, but did a decent job of preventing the dreaded mouth breathing sounds.
The Logitech G635 is a gamer's headset. While others on this list have a more subtle appearance, this headset really leans into the design details stereotypically attributed to gaming products: LED lights, bold and maximal design, and tons of buttons.
It makes for a sturdy and absolutely eye-catching headset, but perhaps not eye-catching in the right way—depending on your style. I personally prefer minimal design, and I can't figure out why anyone would want LED lighting on a headset that the user cannot see or experience, but maybe that means this product isn't for me. I'm sure that, paired with Logitech's line of gamer stuff, all chock full of lights, it creates a cohesive environment.
Alongside the strips of LED lighting, the Logitech G635 has three programmable buttons (and they feel great, with a very distinct tactile click), a wireless on/off switch, a quick-mute button, and a volume wheel. They're all easily accessible, but I don't know if there's a real, practical use for the extra buttons.
Also tucked away on the left cup is a flip microphone. On paper, it's pretty cool—but in practice, it's kind of awkward. There's a retractable piece that adds some length and flexibility, but I had a hard time keeping that part where I wanted it. Also on the left cup is the wireless USB adapter, hidden under a magnetic cover. It's neat that all these details are all embedded in the headset itself to ensure you've always got what you need.
As someone who wears glasses, I found the headset uncomfortable—it clamped onto my head with enough force to to be a bit painful in conjunction with my glasses. It's a shame, because the headset sounds lovely. I was able to hear all the distinct sounds while playing Overwatch (have you guessed what my game of choice is?), from the character voice lines to the small, atmospheric sounds of a character's body moving through the world.
Like the Arctis 9X, the Turtle Beach Stealth 700 is a wireless headset designed for the Xbox One. For just over $100, it's a decent headset that's low on frills and easy-to-use. You won't get the build or sound quality of the higher-end headsets here, but this does a good job for the price.
I found the Turtle Beach Stealth 700 earcups to be a little harder than the cushions on other headsets, but not necessarily uncomfortable. The firm cups helped lend the headset an air of stability without making it overly heavy or tight. These are the on-ear style, too, which made them easier to use with my glasses—they weren't pushed tight to my head. Another neat little feature is the mic, which is designed to mute automatically when it's flipped up. I like that there's no need to fiddle with buttons if you need to mute the mic for any reason. But because the mic needs to be able to flip up, the microphone arm is really short. It didn't seem to impact how people heard me, though, which surprised me.
Razer's Kraken X is the light-weight iteration of the Kraken Pro V2, dropping off some of the more premium features for a simple budget headset that's slightly cheaper. At first glance, the major differences are in the microphone—it doesn't retract—and the controls. The controls are on a cup for the Kraken X and in-line for the Kraken Pro V2.
Unfortunately, the sound quality from the Kraken Pro 2 doesn’t make it down the ladder to the cheaper version. With the Kraken X, the sound is dramatically worse. There's no better way to describe the sound than tinny—everything feels a little too high-pitched, and I found sound tended to cluster in the right ear rather than creating a multi-directional experience, something known as a tracking error.
For example, when playing Overwatch, you can hear a satisfying little tick when you're hitting shots—separate from whatever character-specific sounds are coming out from the gun. I can typically hear these sounds separately with no problem, and I use the tick from shots tick to gauge my accuracy via sound. I couldn't distinguish the tick at all during most high-impact gameplay, and it was barely noticeable when I tested it in the practice range, where there are much fewer sounds.
It's a tiny, small detail but something that's so distracting while in-game; because of it, I wouldn't use the Kraken X again, which really surprised me—I use the Kraken Pro V2's everyday and expected a similar experience.
The culmination of a lot of time and energy, the Logitech G533 Wireless headset is feature-packed and ready to take on everything from "Battlefield 1" to "Forza Horizon" and deliver superb control over your sound. The wireless is easy to use thanks to the plug and play USB adapter and the battery easily lasted enough for a few marathon sessions before needing a good charge. In each of the games I played, there was a definite emphasis on bass and heavier sounds that lent itself really well to first-person shooter games where explosions and rapid gunfire are normal.
For those tense matches where communication is key, a mic is crucial and the noise-canceling mic on the G533 never let me down. It comes with a handy micro pop filter that reduced the ambient sound (like my breathing) that would get picked up. Instead, my callouts were clear and easy to hear, albeit a bit tinny.
Out of the entire Arctis line, I felt like I had to recommend the middle-of-the-road Arctis 5 above the rest. It lacks the wireless of the Arctis 7s, but that's a small price to pay when you're talking about a moderate difference in price. They sound great, offering enough clear distinction in the audio cues that it's leaps and bounds above the cheaper headsets you might be tempted to buy.
But the audio isn't the real winner here. The Arctis 5s—and the whole Arctis line—are beautiful headsets that lack the jagged edges and red/black color scheme that dominate gaming peripherals. I don't know if style is going to be the determining factor for you, but if it is, the Arctis 5s are the way to go.
Nicole Carpenter is a reporter and reviewer based out of Massachusetts. For the past few years, she’s specialized in the technology and gaming sectors, reviewing a number of different headphones with a specialty in gaming gear.
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