Video games used to be 8-bit, mono affairs with very little to offer in terms of audio. These days, a decent gaming headset can make the difference between victory and complete pwnage. Even before virtual reality became reality, surround sound became a must in FPS and other online games, where audio cues supplement visual ones as to the direction of other players in the battle.
I contacted all the headphone companies to ask them for their best gaming headsets to see what they can do and put them through a series of tests gaming on PC, PS4, PSVR, and mobile devices. Here’s what showed up in the office and how they fared.
SteelSeries Arctis 3
($79.99 at SteelSeries.com)
The entry-level gaming headset from SteelSeries is still a beast, with the same S1 speaker driver used in the company’s higher-end headsets. When connected to a PC running Windows 7 or higher, you can even get 7.1 surround sound through the SteelSeries audio drivers, which is typically only found in USB-connected headsets.
Lightweight and capable of handling everything from PCs to consoles and gaming devices, Arctis 3 is an ultra-portable headset. The mic tucks cleanly inside to make it look less obtrusive, and the volume and mute controls are located on the can instead of the cable like most.
Gaming on the PC you get the full effect of what these headphones can do, and the surround sound worked well. Playing Smite, the audio was enough to help me stay alive when Loki popped up.
Using Arctis 3 outdoors, traffic was a bit loud, but they fit more comfortably with a hat than some of the larger headsets on this list. Music was sufficiently loud, though the bass in my Lil Wayne station was a bit lacking. However, the rest of the sonic range sounded pretty good, even if not as good as on the PC.
They also felt comfortable worn over the PSVR headset, which was a major plus. It’s definitely a more immersive experience than the included earbuds, but I was still able to hear noises around me like the doorbell. Overall, Arctis 3 is a fully capable headset, but it mostly wins for its sleek, simple design.
Logitech G231 Prodigy
($69.99 at Logitech.com)
If you’re mainly going to be gaming indoors, Logitech’s G231 Prodigy is a great all-around gaming headsest that runs off Logitech’s drivers to produce enhanced sound on your PC.
While the plastic design isn’t great for listening to music outside, the Prodigy line still produces great sound for a low price point. However, they’re the second cheapest headphones on this list and look it.
At half the price of the others, this is a great entry-level headset for gaming and listening to movies on a PC, but for console gaming or mobile music buffs, another headset will likely serve them better (check out Logitech’s Artemis series below).
They fit with PSVR but aren’t the most comfortable. Prodigy’s cans are somewhat elongated, so part of the headphones will end up on the headstrap, further allowing outside sound in.
Still, Logitech is known for designing quality products, and if you’re on a budget, this is a great way to get the functionality without the bells and whistles of higher-end sets.
Polk Audio Striker Pro ZX
($149.95 at PolkAudio.com)
The Striker Pro ZX is a nice mid-range headset that’s great for gaming on the Xbox One, PC, and mobile devices. Whereas the microphone on other headphones on this list fold up or retract, the Striker Pro ZX microphone is removable, so you can wear them at the gym without looking like a call center employee.
The leather around the cans helps isolate the sound, but when wearing them outdoors, I could hear the traffic just as well as the sub-$100 pairs.
Striker Pro ZX has small cans that work well with the PSVR headset, although I did feel a bit more pressure on my head when donning both.
Polk’s headphones don’t skimp on the accessories though, including a wireless adapter for Xbox One along with a variety of hi-fi audio cables to enable connection to any sound system. For an all-around pair of headphones, Polk Audio’s are great and even though they’re designed for Xbox One, they’ll work well on any source.
Audio-Technica ATH-ADG1X OpenAir
($299.95 at Audio-Technica.com)
I didn’t realize I could fall in love with a pair of headphones until I tried on Audio Technica’s OpenAirs. Also they look much larger than other gaming headsets on this list, they’re actually the lightest pair of headphones I think I’ve ever tried on.
The sound quality and construction of the Open Airs is next to none, and indoors, they provided a full range of sounds. The bass isn’t as great as the Isolations (which I’ll discuss next), and they do lack the type of noise-cancelling you’d want for studio headphones.
Listening to music outside, I could hear the sound of the traffic bleeding through, but that’s actually the point with these – providing an immersive experience while allowing you to keep an ear on reality.
Both of Audio Technica’s headphones fit with PSVR well, and the Isolations were welcome as they added virtually no weight to the experience.
The OpenAirs include high-end speakers and headphones that make them an ideal headset for podcasting and such while on the go. I’ll definitely be sporting these in Las Vegas at CES 2017 in January.
Audio Technica ATH-AD1X Isolation
($299.95 at Audio-Technica.com)
A little heavier than the OpenAirs, Audio Technica’s Isolations provide much of the same feel and feature set, but with the added value of noise-cancelling for some heavy bass.
Whereas I preferred wearing the OpenAirs for virtual reality, the Isolations are much better for purposes of listening to music, surround sound movies, etc.
Bringing them outside to listen to music, the noise-cancelling was sufficient enough that I could only hear Lil Wayne’s gleeful squeals and the bass-heavy rhythms. No engine noise bled through the music like the others above, but the occasional siren could still be heard as an emergency vehicle sped by.
Razer Kraken Pro V2
($59.99 at Razerzone.com)
The Kraken Pro v2 is part of Razer’s nautical line of gaming headsets, which also includes the Leviathan bluetooth speakers (which we’ll showcase in the speaker roundup). Although they’re an entry-level headset, they still provide decent noise isolation and sound.
The retractable microphone makes them look much sleeker when listening to music out in public, and it’s easy to position where you like it in front of your mouth when gaming. I could still hear traffic through the music though.
What I loved about Kraken Pro v2 is the look – they’re a modern take on the throwback look of high fidelity headsets from the 1970s and 1980s. Having grown up in that era, they appealed to me. They have the small form-factor of the SteelSeries Arctis, but the metal casing makes them feel more durable (it’ll take a few years to know for sure).
If you’re a Razer fanboy looking for a cheap set, these definitely look and feel more expensive than Logitech’s Prodigy headphones, but the functionality is the same.
Logitech G933 Artemis Spectrum Snow
($199.99 at Logitech.com)
Moving up into more higher-end listening experiences, Logitech also provided me with their Artemis Spectrum Snow headset, a limited edition coloring of the Artemis Spectrum headphones. Aside from color, both pairs have the same features, drivers, and construction.
The Artemis Spectrum headphones are easily the largest of the bunch. While Audio Technica’s are a bit wider in the cans, they’re much thinner so don’t stick out from your head as much.
Logitech packed these oversized headphones with a lot of power and customization options though, including the ability to change the color they light up while playing. Also the mic folds up and becomes basically invisible when not in use, so you can wear them outdoors to listen to music.
PC drivers are necessary to customize and personalize these headphones, but it’s definitely worth the effort. In addition, there’s a USB dongle in the headphones to allow you to game wirelessly.
Wearing these over PSVR, I couldn’t help but appreciate the white on white and feeling like a stormtrooper. They’re a bit oversized and overlapped the headset, but they looked cooler than any of the other headphones on this list.
The cables that come with Artemis Spectrum and Spectrum Snow are easily the highest quality of the headphones on this list, and since they also work wirelessly, they can be used for other products easily.
If you’re looking for a mid-range gaming headset that can perform on the same level as higher priced products, Logitech’s Artemis Spectrum Snow is a great choice.
SteelSeries Siberia 840
($329 at SteelSeries.com)
Another of my favorites, SteelSeries Siberia 840 uses a receiver to produce 7.1 surround sound wirelessly. The noise-cancellation in these headphones even when off was enough to mostly block out traffic, and audio sounds great, from high trebles to deep bass.
SteelSeries Siberia 840 was one of the first gaming headsets I tested and it’s still one of my favorites. The design is sleek and the retractable microphone isn’t too gawdy. Movies, music, and games all sounded great, regardless of the source.
Siberia 840 works on PSVR and provides an immersive experience comparable only to Audio Technica’s Isolation headset. Although these are much heavier than the Isolations, they’re not too heavy or overbearing.
This makes SteelSeries Siberia 840 my pick for the most hardcore gaming headset of 2016.