Most of the time, the best gaming headset isn’t a “gaming headset” at all. Although these devices are often thought of as a distinct niche within the wider headphone market, they’re ultimately still headphones. And while it’s certainly not impossible to get a gaming headset that sounds nice, doing so still tends to come at a higher cost than a comparable pair of wired headphones (yes, those still exist).
A good wired headphone remains your best bet if you want the most detailed sound possible at a given price point and don’t need something especially portable, which is usually the case whether you’re gaming on a console or PC. If you need to chat with friends, you can always buy an external microphone, whether it’s a USB mic, a cheaper clip-on mic or a standalone headset mic like the Antlion ModMic or V-Moda BoomPro. In many cases, those will make your voice sound clearer and fuller than the ones included with a gaming headset.
But we do recognize that many people just want the convenience of an all-in-one combo, value and aesthetics be damned. So after testing out a few dozen pairs over the past several months, we’ve put together a list of good headphones for gaming and dedicated gaming headsets. We recommend you consider the former first, but all of them should make your play time more enjoyable.
What to look for in good gaming headphones
Evaluating headphones is a particularly subjective exercise, so calling one pair the absolute “best” is something of a fool’s errand. At a certain point, everything becomes a matter of taste. For most, a headphone with a wide soundstage and strong imaging performance – i.e., the ability to position sounds correctly, so you can more precisely tell where footsteps and other game effects are coming from – will provide the most immersive gaming experience, the kind that makes you feel like your head is within a given scene.
For that, you want a high-quality headphone with an open-back design. That is to say, an over-ear pair whose earcups do not completely seal off the ear from air and outside noise. The big trade-off is that these are inherently terrible at isolating you from external sound and preventing others from hearing what you’re playing. So if you often play games in a noisy environment, their benefits will be blunted. But in a quiet room, the best open-back pairs sounds significantly wider and more precise than more common closed-back models.
More up for debate is how a good gaming headphone should sound. If you want something that’ll help you in competitive multiplayer games, you’ll likely prefer a headphone with a flatter sound signature, so a game’s mix won’t be overly boosted in one direction and mask the smaller details of what’s happening around you. A slightly brighter sound, one that pushes the upper frequencies a smidge, may also work. Open-back headphones almost never have huge sub-bass, so you rarely have to worry about low-end sounds muddying up the rest of the signature. In this light, the fact that an overwhelming amount of gaming headsets are closed-back and bass-heavy seems counterintuitive.
Lots of people love bass, though. And if you aren’t just worried about competitive play, some extra low-end can add a touch of excitement to heavy action scenes or a rousing soundtrack. You still don’t want a pair that boosts it too hard – which many dedicated gaming headsets do – but the point is that what makes a pair “immersive” to one person may sound dull to another.
Best headphones for gaming: Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X
The Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X should please a wide swath of people willing to pay for a capital-N nice set of headphones for their gaming sessions. This pair has great imaging performance and the kind of spacious soundstage expected from an open-back design. Bass is a little more present here than on many open-back headphones as well. There still isn’t much in the way of deep sub-bass, as expected, but there’s enough warmth to give in-game explosions a bit more juice without muddying up the mid-range frequencies. The mids get the most emphasis overall, but they’re clear and that forwardness isn’t a bad thing when you’re trying to listen for enemy players in a competitive FPS like Counter-Strike. The treble isn’t pushed quite as hard, but it’s neither overly recessed nor harsh.
All of this means the DT 900 Pro X sounds detailed but not boring, so it should play nice whether you’re trying to win a multiplayer game or taking in a more cinematic single-player experience. And when you’re not gaming, you get an enjoyable sound for music.
Everything’s built well, too. It’ll clamp down slightly harder than average if you have a large head, but it balances its weight well, and its wonderfully soft velour earpads go a long way toward keeping the pair comfortable over long sessions. It comes with two detachable cables, including a three-meter option that’s convenient if you sit far from your PC. This design can’t fold up, though.
Like all open-back headphones, the DT 900 Pro X leak game audio and let in lots of noise, so it’s not great on the go. Clearly, if you can afford an ultra-premium pair like Sennheiser’s HD 800 S, you’ll get more space and true-to-life detail. But for a relatively attainable $250 to $300, the DT 900 Pro X should satisfy.
Best headphones for gaming under $200: Sennheiser HD 560S
If you’d rather not spend as much, the Sennheiser HD 560S is another excellent open-back headphone that’s typically available for around $150. Like the DT 900 Pro X, it has a wide soundstage that’ll help you feel immersed in a given game. Its sound is slightly more neutral on the whole, so you won’t feel like you’re missing any part of a mix, and it retrieves a lovely amount of detail from the treble and mid-range frequencies. There’s less bass power for explosions, though, and the treble, while more present, may sound piercing at times. Imaging isn’t quite as nuanced either, though it’s nowhere near poor.
Design-wise, the HD 560S are plenty comfortable to wear for extended periods. They don’t clamp down too hard on those with big heads (like yours truly), and the velour earpads hug your ears softly. The included cable is removable, too. The plastic frame doesn’t feel as sturdy or premium as the DT 900 Pro X, however, so you won’t want to chuck them around haphazardly. It won’t block much outside noise either, nor will it prevent those around you from hearing what you’re playing. Nevertheless, the HD 560S is a pleasure and a great value.
Best headphones for gaming under $50: Koss KSC75
If you can’t spend more than $50, it’s still hard to top the Koss KSC75. It costs $20, but judging purely on audio quality, it’s better than some headphones priced closer to $100. This pair is very obviously devoid of deep bass, so you won’t get that full-bodied oomph from in-game effects. You also won’t hear all the intricate details you’d pick up with the pricier headphones above. But it locates sounds accurately and its open design gives it a real sense of width. It’s a superb value for competitive play.
The catch is that it’s built like a set of free airline headphones. The KSC75 has an odd clip-on design that, while lightweight, won’t be a comfortable fit for everyone. It certainly looks like it costs $20, though Koss backs it with a lifetime warranty that essentially lets you get endless replacements for $9 each. Even if the KSC75 are pushing 20 years old, its sound remains relatively well-balanced and particularly well-suited for gaming.
Best gaming headset: Astro A40 TR
If you must have a dedicated gaming headset with a built-in mic, consider the Astro A40 TR. Another open-back pair, it has a more spacious soundstage than usual for the category – though it’s not on par with better non-gaming headphones – and it generally localizes sounds correctly. This profile emphasizes the bass, giving explosions a smooth and satisfying thump, but it doesn’t overdo it like many other headsets marketed toward gaming.
The sound here is still a step behind the DT 900 Pro X or HD 560S, especially for online shooters, as the pushed upper-bass and lower-mids can blunt finer details a bit more. Footsteps usually won’t sound as clear. But compared to most gaming headsets, the A40’s profile is better balanced, and it does well to envelop you in the sounds of a busy scene.
Comfort shouldn’t be an issue, either. The A40 is on the bulkier side, but its weight is evenly distributed and doesn’t clamp down overly hard. The fuzzy earpads are soft and breathable, while the earcups are roomy enough to fit larger ears. The headset has the usual open-back shortcomings, though: It leaks a bunch of sound and blocks almost zero outside noise. The design looks “gamer-y,” too, and there’s no built-in volume control. The whole thing is mostly made of plastic, though it doesn’t come off as flimsy.
The A40’s mic, meanwhile, is just OK. It picks up background noises while you chat, and voices sound somewhat muffled. It’s serviceable but you’d buy the A40 for its sound quality first. The mic isn’t detachable either, but you can easily flip it up and out of the way.
The A40 has been around for four years now, but its price has come down from $150 to a more reasonable $130 in that time. Astro sells an optional DAC with extra controls for $130, but at that price we’d strongly advise buying a good “normal” headphone and external mic.
Best budget gaming headset: HyperX Cloud Stinger 2
You won’t find a good open-back gaming headset under $50, so if you’re on a tight budget and require a built-in mic, you’ll have to compromise on sound quality. With that in mind, the HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 is a decent buy at its typical street price of $40. Its mic belies that low price, making voices sound relatively clear and accurate. In fact, it’s a clear step-up from the Astro A40. It’s not detachable but it’s flexible and automatically mutes when you slide it out of the way. This pair also gets the comfort part right, as the pleather earcups don’t clamp down hard and have enough soft padding where it counts.
The Cloud Stinger 2 has a V-shaped sound profile, which is to say it exaggerates the bass and treble while recessing the mid-range. It’s not bad for what it is, and it’ll definitely give action scenes a heavy sense of impact. But the upper-bass is pushed to the point where it may get tiring over time, and you lose some of the fine details you’d hear on a more natural-sounding headphone. Since this is a cheap closed-back headset, the Cloud Stinger 2 also doesn’t sound nearly as wide as the pairs above, nor is it as nuanced about positioning sounds accurately. It’s less than ideal for competitive games as a result, though it can still sound “fun” with many other titles.
Beyond that, the build-quality and plastic design feels cheap-ish, it doesn’t block much outside noise despite being closed-back and its cable isn’t removable. Nevertheless, you have to pick your battles in this price range. The Cloud Stinger 2 is flawed, but it does enough well enough to be a good headset for a certain type of person.
A quick PSA on wireless gaming headsets
Most people do not need a wireless gaming headset. PS5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles have a headphone jack built into their controllers, and it’s still readily available on the Nintendo Switch and most gaming PCs. The cost of an OK wireless model is usually higher than the cost of a comparable wired gaming headset, and for the money you often get worse audio quality and a less clear microphone on the wireless versions. You also risk introducing issues with latency. The latter is why non-gaming Bluetooth headphones are a no-go here.
Best wireless gaming headset: HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless
If you really want a wireless headset – say, if your gaming PC is situated at the far end of your desk – you should look for a pair that makes the “wireless” part of the equation a little less apparent. The HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless does this thanks to its absurdly long battery life. HyperX rates it at 300 hours, but we were able to squeeze out a couple dozen more at moderate volumes. iFixit did a helpful teardown if you’re curious as to how this is possible, but it’s not a stretch to say one charge here could last you months of play time.
The sound here is typical of many gaming headsets: slightly V-shaped, with overemphasized bass that can make game effects sound exciting but often presents footsteps and finer details with less clarity. As a closed-back headphone, it also won’t sound as spacious or natural as the more open pairs above. (Wireless gaming headsets with an open-back design are virtually nonexistent.) It’s not bad by wireless gaming headset standards, and it generally places sounds in the right place; it’s just not tuned or designed as optimally as a pair like the Astro A40.
The headset itself is comfortable to wear for hours at a time, with plush padding that doesn’t feel too tight, though the faux leather material on the earpads may make your ears feel mildly warm. Everything is sturdy, and the headband is nicely flexible. The boom mic is also fine, though that’s relative to other wireless headsets. It cancels out background noise well and keeps voices legible, but they won’t sound as crisp or full-bodied as they could be on wired headphones with good mics. It’s better than the A40, though.
A word of warning: Don’t bother with HyperX’s companion software. While you can use the company’s Ngenuity app to customize the headset’s EQ and activate a DTS:X surround sound feature, several users have reported that this introduces noticeable latency, and HyperX doesn’t look to be fixing it. If you really want these features, use a third-party EQ app and the spatial audio tools built into Windows and the PS5. By default, the included USB dongle offers a steady wireless connection.
The other caveat is that the Cloud Alpha Wireless only works with PCs and PlayStation consoles, or a Switch while docked. It also can’t connect over a cable or Bluetooth. If you’re looking for a competent alternative for Xbox, we note a few recommendations below.
Best premium wireless gaming headset: Audeze Maxwell
The Audeze Maxwell isn’t an amazing value at $299 (or $329 for the Xbox model), but if you’ve got cash to burn, it’s a wireless headset with genuinely impressive sound and mic quality. Its planar-magnetic drivers do well reproducing smaller intricacies in a given scene, and its default signature is like a more refined version of the common “gaming headset” sound. Bass is smooth and impactful but not bloated, while highs are crisp but not overly sharp. Some effects in the mids can sound thin, and as this is a closed-back headset, it can’t provide the same immersive width and precise imaging as the open-back models above. Ironically, it may be better for music than games. Still, for a wireless headset, it’s unusually pleasant and detailed. Audeze’s app includes several EQ presets as well.
Similarly, the Maxwell’s detachable boom mic is a standout. It does a phenomenal job of muting background noise, and while voices lose some air, they still sound clearer and fuller than on most wireless headsets we’ve tested.
The Maxwell is on the bulky side, and its headband uses an odd suspension mechanism that effectively isn’t adjustable without taking the headset off. The squishy padded ear cups will likely make your ears feel warm, but they keep the headset comfortable and isolate a fair amount of outside noise. The high-end design also feels substantial, with the headband made from steel. The essential controls are built into the left earcup, and the device can connect over Bluetooth or a 3.5mm cable in addition to a USB-C wireless dongle. You can even pair with two devices at once, one over the dongle and another over Bluetooth. The headset needs to be powered on in order to play music over a cable, however.
Audeze rates the Maxwell’s battery life at roughly 80 hours, though you’ll get less than that if you play at high volumes or use features like Bluetooth or sidetone heavily. While this can’t touch the Cloud Alpha Wireless, it’s still much better than most wireless headsets.
Other notable gaming headsets
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro is overpriced at $250, and it can make higher frequencies sound harsh, but its bass and mids are good, it’s super comfortable and its retractable mic is noticeably clearer than the Astro A40’s. Its included DAC is also useful, letting you adjust the headset’s EQ and game/chat mix. But while the closed-back design is mildly better at blocking outside noise, it won’t provide the same sense of width as the A40.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless
SteelSeries also sells a wireless version of the Nova Pro, which typically retails between $300 and $350. The Audeze Maxwell will sound better to most, but this is likely its closest competitor and it has useful bonus features like the ability to connect to multiple gaming devices simultaneously (with the Xbox model) and hot-swap battery packs.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro 7X
If you need a wireless alternative to the Cloud Alpha Wireless for Xbox, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X should work. It’s another bass-forward pair, and its mic is comparable to the one on Cloud Alpha Wireless. Like the other Nova models, it offers multiple connectivity options, including Bluetooth and a 3.5mm cable. And while it’s marketed for the Xbox, it can also connect to PCs and PS5s. Its 30 or so hours of battery life are well short of the Cloud Alpha Wireless, though, and its sound signature can make the treble sound somewhat wonky.
HyperX Cloud Alpha
The wired HyperX Cloud Alpha is often on sale for $80 or less, and at that price it’s a decent middle ground between the Cloud Stinger 2 and Astro A40 if you absolutely need a closed-back gaming headset. It’s old, but its plush earpads and headband remain comfy, and its detachable mic, while not superb, is still better than Astro’s pair. Its treble is underemphasized, however, and again it sounds more “in your head” than the A40.
The Logitech G535 is an impressively light (236g) and comfy wireless headset that’s often available for $100. It has a more neutral sound signature than the Cloud Alpha Wireless and Arctis Nova 7X: not flat, but less beholden to big, thumping bass. It can make mid-range details sound thin, and if anything it could use a little more sub-bass, but it’s an agreeable listening experience overall. It can also connect over Bluetooth. However, its mic gives up some fullness compared to the Cloud Alpha Wireless (which already wasn’t superb), and its 30-ish hours of battery life are a massive drop-off. Plus, it doesn’t work with Xbox, and it strangely forces you to crank the volume to reach a listenable level. But if you don’t want to spend a ton on a wireless headset, it’s the best of the $100-and-under options we tested.
This story originally appeared on Engadget