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Many gamers do not realize how important game sound is or how using the absolute best gaming headphones is mandatory for the ideal gaming experience.They still think that having some mediocre (inbuilt) speakers or cheap headphones is all they need as long as they can play Battlefield 3 in the highest possible resolution on a HDTV screen.
Sorry pal, but we are here to tell you that sound is perhaps 70% of your overall gaming experience, or 50% at least.
Perfect 360° Sound is more important than HDTV
Do you really think Star Wars would have been such a huge success without a prescient George Lucas, the first director ever to hire a trained “sound artist”? This artist’s job was to always be on the lookout in the world around him for natural sounds to make the Star Wars universe sound “rusty”, as George Lucas had envisioned.
And what would Star Wars be without this grandiose RRRRROOOOOOAAAAARRRR of a passing TIE Fighter (technically a prolonged elephant’s roar), the blaster of the Stormtroopers (the artist hit a long cable supporting a tall tower in his backyard with a wrench and recorded the sound), or the buzz of Darth Vader’s light saber? For sure, Star Wars would not mean to us what it does today, it wouldn’t have made history, and Disney would not have paid billions to purchase the franchise.
Game Studios invest into 3D Sound
Today’s game studios also understand that the human brain reacts much stronger to sounds than to vision. While our brain actively processes what we see and by that puts a filter between our eyeballs and the more primitive brain centers where our emotions and instincts reside, sound (as smell) is a direct portal to our limbic brain.
For orientation in a 360° map we need 360° sound. We need to hear it so we can locate moving things in our gaming (and real) world. Noise reaches our pair of ears and the brain, with amazing speed and accuracy, calculates where the enemy is coming from.
That is why every game studio today does its best to deliver grandiose sound next to great graphics. Interestingly, game testers still put more emphasis on the graphics part and mention the game’s audio environment qualities in a half sentence, if at all.
Best Gaming Headphones Mandatory for Success
Not us. We are here to tell you that excellent 3D sound is even more important than the visual gaming experience. Sure, we would all be disappointed if someone relegated us back to the old days shooting at far-away dots on the screen.
Do the test: Get yourself one of the best gaming headphones and play Battlefield 3 on a low graphical resolution. Yes, granted, non-ideal. Now turn it around and play on the highest possible graphics resolution but plug in very, very cheap speakers. Playing a game with sound that bad is spoiling all the fun, ain’t it?
Surprised? Don’t be. No game except perhaps for Pac-Man is any fun without the proper sound, and the better the sound experience, the better the game!
Get Yourself the Best Gaming Headphones
Convinced? Then what makes a pair of headphones qualify for this list of the best gaming headphones available for your PC?
Have you ever tried to play Battlefield without optimal sound? You hear an enemy and turn and turn to see from where she is coming, because your ears are forced into believing that the attack will be coming from the wrong direction. Or have you tried find and shoot a passing helicopter with sub-par sound equipment like cheap speakers? Battlefield itself does a great job at creating an accurate 3D sound environment.
But without the best speakers or headphones? You think you know the heli is at 9 o’clock, but hey, it ain’t. Your equipment was imperfect, and now your poor little on-line ego is dead.
Definition of Best Gaming Headphones
Let us start with our definition of what makes the “best gaming headphones”: Only those headsets make our list which offer a fantastic sound experience while we still can hear our teammates perfectly. It is also a prerogative that our buddies hear us crystal clear too, so no good headset with a bad microphone will do.
You will probably be surprised to hear that quality is not so much about technical features. Yes, the microphone’s sensitivity (as expressed in decibel, or dB) plays a role, as does the headphone’s frequency bandwidth (expressed in Hertz [Hz] – the average human ear hears sounds between 20-20,000 Hertz).
No, since every gamer is different, some will actually be able to enjoy a headset that can go up to 28,000 Hz, though this sound is technically far outside the normal human experience. If you are old enough to remember, you will know that many Hi-Fi enthusiasts complained that the then-new CD sounded “flat”, while others claimed that the CD exactly covered what the human ear could hear anyway and heard no difference between CDs and records.
Higher Frequency Bandwidth makes sense for some
The record aficionados might have a point. There exists a phenomenon called “resonance”, meaning that even if you cannot hear the high-pitched note itself you can hear something as its echo, making the sound “fuller”. If you strike a note on a piano, several other strings will start to resonate with it, giving the single tone much more “fullness”.
If you have extremely sensitive ears and are very musical you should make especially sure that your future gaming headphones have a higher frequency range than the standard 20-20,000 Hz. Otherwise the sound might be “flat” to you, though it is unlikely that you will miss the high notes in your favorite ego-shooter game.
Great Bass is important for Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard
What is even more important for most (ego shooter) gamers is the bass. The lower the lowest “Headphone Response Bandwidth” in Hz actually is, the better the sound in action games even if the normal ear cannot hear sounds below 20Hz, as the resonance principle applies for bass too.
Put differently: The better the bass, the fuller the game sound experience. It is no wonder that the best gaming headphones can go as low as 15 Hz, while most standard headsets can only playback down to 20 Hz.
The Gold medalist on our Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard actually has this extra-wide frequency band (15-28,000 Hz). More about that later.
What we also found is that the best gaming headphones do not always come with closed earcups, even though external sounds might disturb your gaming experience because closed earcups keep the game sound within and the disturbances outside. Some gamers say the closed design (circumaural) has a worse bass sound than open (supra-aural) earcups, which is not our finding.
The alternative is the open design (supra-aural), with smaller earcups just sitting on your ear and we often found them much more comfortable and better sounding. One of our best gaming headphones comes with closed earcups. Depending on your head, you might find this design uncomfortable and after some time feel warm and sweaty below the cups.
Experiences Influence The Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard
In our experience the cabling is often a problem with many headsets, especially if you play for more than an hour. Feeling frustrated by being killed in the game, we destroyed more than one game DVD in our drives by moving sharply in frustration with cabling that was either too short or too entangled for the movement not to reach our PC. Furthermore, having your favorite game disc in a DVD drive exposed to such a shock is really a bad idea. The drive’s reading head crashed onto the DVD and left fatal scratches. So make sure that you always play with untangled cabling that is long enough.
Also, it can become unnerving after some time if you have more than one cable dangling around.
Another very important aspect is the ability to control the volume of the game and the chat channel separately.
Last but not least, reviews are a very effective way to do research about longer-term quality issues. That is why we made especially sure to read the negative results on web shops like Amazon.
How Great Sound Comes Into Being
We were absolutely curious to learn how each manufacturer implemented high-quality sound for his headset, because sound quality is so much more than just response bandwidth. The quality and positioning of the drivers (little speakers), the quality of cabling and connections and the software all play a major role.
If you are familiar with home theater systems, you know about the discussion: Is a 7.1 (7 satellite speakers, one subwoofer) system better than a 5.1 or 2.1 system? In our opinion, this debate for gaming headsets is moot, because (as always) it simply depends. For us it did not play any role if it was “just” a stereo or a virtual 7.1 gaming headset. The total setup decided if a headset made the Leaderboard, not any of the components alone.
We decided to let our ears decide and not the specs, and to our astonishment it was not the number of implemented drivers which made a headset “extraordinary” to us but mostly the digital audio converter (DAC), a small piece of hardware plugged between your PC and your headphones (in Bronze and Silver medalists). This amazing technology turned the high-quality headsets into the sound powerhouses on our best gaming headphones list.
The Gold medalist though did not need an external device to produce this breathtaking sound, which makes for more comfort playing with it. Next to the brilliant technical design of the Gold medal winner, this is due to the fact that the Silver and Bronze medalists were originally designed for console gamers and so need more cabling; A clear advantage with PC gamers for the #1 on our Leaderboard.
Best Gaming Headset: Microphone Quality
Since gaming is a team effort it is not only important that you hear exactly where the enemy is and what your teammates say, but it is as important that they hear exactly what you share with them in combat. So the headset’s microphone quality is very important and part of our testing.
The microphone has to make sure that your teammates do not hear your game sound and are not disturbed by what happens around you in your living room. The speech quality should be crystal-clear and any echo is intolerable, making noise canceling mandatory.
A Personal View
When researching and testing all these different gaming headsets to create our PCGamerhub’s Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard we realized that there is something like “company DNA”.
What we mean is that you simply can feel if the company loves designing (gaming) headphones and innovation or if you deal with a company that has its focus elsewhere and just offers gaming headphones in its product line. They also often offer great products, but you can feel this little difference, the edge the gaming-headphones-only companies have.
Not surprisingly, on our Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard you will find three companies who love to design high-quality headphones for gamers.
The Best Gaming Headset Companies Leaderboard
As we have seen, a pair of headphones is only as good as its maker. While preparing this article, we concluded that it would be a good idea not only to rate the headphones, but also the manufacturers. Therefore, if you happen to read this article in 2020 for the first time, we still think that getting a premium gaming headphone from one of these companies will be a good investment.
Though we had to decide about the spots on the podium, we feel that the differences in these companies’ qualities is all but nonexistent. All of these companies live and breathe for the perfect sound. Such is life but that we had to come to a conclusion.
It is the same as with the Olympics. A 1/1000th of a second might be all there is between the Gold and Bronze medal. We were the judges, though we had no stopwatch to make a crystal-clear decision based on numbers.
Our Best Gaming Headphones Companies Leaderboard
Bronze: As No. 3 on the podium of the unmatched masters of the gaming sound universe comes an American company which has been active in the audio business for more than 30 years and took this experience into the world of video gaming. We are speaking of Turtle Beach, which actually also has high-quality audio equipment in its company DNA, being a spin-off from Voyetra Turtle Beach Inc., a Hi-Fi specialist for over 30 years.
They absolutely focus on creating high-quality audio components for gamers, acquiring many industry accolades in this quest. We feel though that they are offering so many different headphones, versions, and editions at once that it becomes a bit confusing. Here we prefer their competitors’ approach to design only a few headsets with a focused sub-niche in mind (like casual or pro gamer). We absolutely prefer the “German carmakers'” approach of offering only a small line of products which are constantly updated. The BMW 5er, for example, is not the same car it was 20 years ago, but it still serves the same type of customers very well (there is a lot to be learned from German carmakers, but that is another story).
What Turtle Beach does exceptionally well is give the gamer a community, the feeling of being at home with this brand of gamers.
Turtle Beach has developed an excellent technology for converting digital to analogue sound, and by that letting the gamer experience a full surround sound experience.Their company slogan is “Engineered for Gaming” and their products breathe this mantra. A Turtle Beach headset is a gamer’s best friend.
Silver Medal: On the second spot we see the privately owned and worldwide renowned German company Sennheiser.
Since their foundation in 1945 they have done nothing but invent and produce the highest quality audio equipment, and even though they are not a company especially focused on gaming headsets, their quality and research simply shows in every one of their products.
They come in second on our Leaderboard not because their headsets are not as great as their competitors, because they are. To the contrary, when we only talk about the “quality feel” of a product, how durable and lasting it feels when you take it into your hands, Sennheiser is pure “Made in Germany” quality.
A gamer though might feel a little less at home. Sennheiser does not take marketing to gamers (bags, apparel, editions) as seriously as the other medalists. They focus, and we think that is the more important factor, on creating the optimal sound worlds.
Choosing a Sennheiser gaming headset for your perfect experience is always an excellent choice.
Gold Medal: Last but not least we see the California-based Astro Gaming on the top spot. Astro Gaming is a company with the sole focus on creating Pro Video Gamer equipment. Being a spin-off of Astro Labs, the design studio behind top gaming equipment like Alienware and the Xbox 360, their company DNA combines years of designing unmatched high-quality gaming products with love for the perfect game sound. On their website they proudly show their origin, and rightly so.
Compared to their co-medalists, they focus on “Pro” gamers and offer only three highly-focused products at the time of this writing. One of them is the official headset of Major League Gaming, the Pro League for serious and serial video gamers.
It is our opinion that this total “BMW-ly” audience approach (Pro gamers) and focus on only one line of products shows in the products. We are sure that 10 years from now this company will still be a household name in the gaming arena.
So all three companies are absolute experts in gaming audio equipment and we are sure that we will still utter their name in awe when we will do the PCGamerHub Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard 2025.
The Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard
You will probably not be surprised to find these exact companies again in the PCGamerHub’s Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard 2013, though we had a lot of internal discussions about how to rate and rank these amazingly excellent headsets. Here is our verdict.
Bronze: Turtle Beach Ear Force DPX21
The Bronze medal goes to a high-quality headset made by Turtle Beach, the Ear Force DPX21 Dolby Surround Sound Gaming Headset.
The DPX21 combines the top-of-its-class Ear Force DSS2, a digital-to-audio converter with impressive sound abilities, with the P11 headset in an impeccable package.
- 40mm diameter drivers with neodymium magnets
- Microphone Frequency Response: 50Hz – 15,000 Hz
- Speaker Frequency Response 20Hz – 20,000Hz (standard)
- Sound Pressure 120dB
- Closed earcups
- Hi-Fi Dolby Digital Surround Sound
- 5.1/7.1-channel 3D audio – never be shot from behind again
- immersive, exceptional sound
- included digital optical cable
- superb bass experience with integrated amplifier
- game and chat can be adjusted separately
- very light
- designed with Ego Shooters (Surround Sound) in mind
- lowest price on this Leaderboard
- several reviewers on amazon complain that the headset did not last long for them
- ratio 20 of 125 reviews are negative
- 3.8 stars (of 5) on Amazon all in all [Feb 2013]
- PC gamers need an optical port, otherwise optional USB sound card needed
Summary: One of the best headphones on the market, but some durability issues. Also, Turtle Beach has decided that console gamers are the main market so many of their gaming headphones “also” work with your PC. Before you decide to buy this product, make sure that your PC has a digital port, otherwise you will need to buy the Audio Advantage(R) Micro II USB soundcard.
It is also the headset with the lowest price on this Leaderboard.
Silver:A40 Audio System ASTRO 2013 ED.
The Silver medal for the best gaming headphones for PC this time goes to California. The 2013 edition has been technically revamped and now offers even better sound experience than before. The A40 2013 needs the equally improved MixAmp™ Pro as the DAC (DAC – Digital to Audio Converter) between your headset and your PC and can be connected by optical cable, USB or 3.5mm.
You can buy just the headset but without the Mixamp DAC it does not make any sense, so make sure to buy the bundle.
- Microphone Frequency Response: 35Hz – 20,000 Hz (extraordinary)
- Dolby Digital 7.1
- Microphone with noise canceling
- Speaker Frequency Response 15 – 28,000 Hz (extraordinary)
- Sound Pressure 104dB
- circumaural earcups
- adjustable game to voice settings (make voice louder compared to game or vice versa)
- can be worn on your shoulders instead of your head for longer game sessions
- Mic can be put on right or left side
- responsive chat support with Pro Gamers, even on a Sunday
- high price
- several bad reviews on Amazon
- ratio: 8 of 25 reviews are negative [Feb 2013]
- 3.1 stars (5) on amazon all in all [Feb 2013]
Summary: Without a doubt Astro is the Pro Gamer choice. In our Best Gaming Headphones Leaderboard the A40 is second only to Sennheiser because of Sennheiser’s “PC exclusivity” and German-quality approach.
Gold: Sennheiser PC 360 Headset for Pro Gaming
The Sennheiser PC 360 Headphones are designed exclusively for the PC and not a byproduct of a console headset (ie. “also for PC”). Sennheiser decided to make this headset supra-aural (open earcups), so that you can still hear what is happening around you, while those around can still hear what you hear. We prefer it this way, because in our opinion closed earcups make your ears sweaty and too warm after some hours, so we prefer the Sennheiser also for this design decision.
As PC gamers we appreciate that these headphones were designed with us in mind and though you can connect them to a console, this time the console gamers will need an adapter. So PC gamers, we are the target market.
The design is excellent and “business”-like, and Sennheiser designed it in cooperation with the professional eSports team “MTW”, so Pro gamers had a lot of say in the development of this fantastic headset. It is lightweight and easy to take out for tournaments.
The sound is crystal-clear, the microphone is excellent, and it does not feel heavy for hours on end.
- 2.1 Stereo Headset
- Microphone Frequency Response: 50 – 16.000 Hz
- Speaker Frequency Response 15Hz – 28.000Hz (extraordinary)
- Sound Pressure 112 dB
- open (circumaural) earcups
- high-quality noise cancellation Mic
- Headphones have extraordinary frequency range
- international, 2-year warranty
- compatible to any PC
- employs Sennheiser’s High End Hi-Fi Headphone System “Eargonomic Acoustic Refinement”
- German engineering
- high price
- some complaints on Amazon about quality problems
- ratio 5 of 147 reviews are negative
- 4.5 stars (5) on Amazon all in all [Feb 2013]