The only one of your five senses that can be truly immersed in an online game is your hearing. Your eyes can see the edges of your screen, and your fingers feel the plastic of your control, but your ears can be encased in the cushioned isolation of a quality set of headphones and filled with an alternate reality.
The best gaming chat headsets capture the sound of battle and the chatter of your teammates to the total exclusion of the outside world. You can’t achieve that effect with external speakers that don’t shut out the sounds of the real world, and you certainly can’t use external speakers all night if you share your home.
What’s more, the headset-mounted microphones included on the best gaming chat offerings keep you audible no matter how loudly you’re punching your keyboard or clicking your mouse to kill that boss-level monster.
VC Daily has previously taken a look at the best wireless headsets currently available for the video calling and streaming worlds, but today we’re interested in only one category: gaming.
We’re not going to make your choice for you, but we can guide you through the leading options–and there are many–that you’ll want to consider when looking for the best gaming chat headset for your online obsession.
The Best Gaming Chat Headsets Have Immersive Surround Sound
Your headset has two functions: to reproduce in-game audio and keep out real-world distractions. The first gets described in flowery terms such as soundscape and soundstage, but basically boils down to the breadth of frequencies your headset can recreate and the clarity of the delivery. We all want a crisp, resonating boom for every explosion and a clear line of audio to our friends for multiplayer mode, so if you’re going to pay extra for any facet of the headset experience, go for the audio.
Although we’re all used to thinking about sound in terms of decibels–a measure of loudness–the tightly enclosed nature of a headset means that any type you get will likely be able to give you all the decibels you need for a good experience. What’s more critical to your gaming experience is the detail that gets picked up by a broad pitch range, measured in hertz (Hz).
Leading headset brands will brag about their 7.1 virtual surround sound systems, even though most are ultimately produced by the same Dolby or DTS drivers, so it pays to check what you’re actually paying for.
The human ear safely detects pitch at a range of 20 to 20,000 Hz, and (surprise!) that’s the range you’ll find the typical video chat headset operates within. Deluxe models, such as SteelSeries’ Arctis Pro range will offer to take you up into the 40,000 Hz range at a cost, but it’s a bit like 4K gaming–a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. The Logitech Pro Gaming Headset is far more affordable, and your ears won’t be able to tell the difference.
What’s more important is the immersive nature of the sound. Leading headset brands will brag about their 7.1 virtual surround sound systems, even though most are ultimately produced by the same Dolby or DTS drivers, so it pays to check what you’re actually paying for. The 7.1 (or, sometimes, 5.1) number refers to the different “locations” sound appears to come from within your headset. The first number is the number of directions, the second is a dedicated bass channel. The term virtual gets thrown in because few headsets feature actually have seven distinct driver channels in each ear cup–it’s generally an illusion created by some fancy software. Don’t be snobby though about “virtual” versus “actual” surround sound–virtual surround sound headsets are generally just as good at producing an illusion of sound coming from multiple directions, and they tend to be much more affordable as well.
Now that you can clearly hear a range of pitches from several directions, let’s look at ways to shut out the noise of the real world.
Noise Reduction and Microphone Clarity
The chief form of noise reduction used in headsets is simple passive cancellation,, delivered by insulating your ears from the outside world in a soundproof cup. If your environment is noisy enough that passive noise cancellation isn’t sufficient, some headsets (Turtle Beach’s Stealth 700 headset is one) use active noise cancellation in their over-ear speakers to ensure that outside distractions don’t intrude on your in-game world.
It’s well worth seeking out a microphone that includes noise cancellation since fuzzy links between teammates are not only confusing, but they shatter the in-game reality.
You can also find headsets with that offer noise cancellation for the microphone. In units such as the Sound BlasterX H7 Tournament Edition, unwanted background noise is removed by software which employs an algorithm to sweep away unwanted frequencies associated with computer or air conditioning hum. It’s well worth seeking out a microphone that includes noise cancellation (although keep in mind it will impact the price), since fuzzy links between teammates are not only confusing, but they shatter the in-game reality.
Beyond the concerns of microphone and speaker audio, gaming headsets can be sorted by other (equally important, for many) features, such as comfort and build quality. Taking these into consideration as well can help you make a decision when it comes to choosing a model that suits your needs.
Comfort, Quality, and Compatibility
To start with, we’d suggest not getting swept up in the flashy design schemes on offer by some brands. Sure, if having red flames across your head helps your confidence, go ahead and invest in a snazzy color scheme–but it won’t affect your in-game experience. Several brands, including Logitech and Creative, have begun designing their headsets in consultation with pro gamers, and few, it seems, are concerned with decals.
The headset is one area of tech in which too much steel is not enough.
Technically, the quality of the ear cups won’t directly affect your gameplay either, but if you play online for more than a couple hours in a row, you may regret skimping on the ear cushions. Leatherette and basic foam are among the most common components, but you can come across a range of materials, all the way up to the memory foam of the HyperX Cloud Revolver S.
Then there are factors such as the build quality of the unit. Essentially, the headset is one area of tech in which too much steel is not enough. From the construction of the band to the easy sliding of the adjustments, you’ll want sturdy materials to keep your investment in shape even after you’ve put it on and taken it off hundreds of times.
Finally, while you might be buying the headset specifically for gaming, you’ll want to be able to put it to other uses, too, and different audio inputs require different settings. A movie will make fewer demands on your ear than music, so consider a headset that gives you some EQ options to cater to the media you’re currently experiencing. The otherwise-quality Corsair Void Pro, for instance, ships with gaming and movie settings, but offers little for music lovers. There’s enough variety in the headset market that you shouldn’t have to compromise on any of your personal preferences.