Basic Rundown Of Why Gaming Headsets Are A Meme Marketing: Gaming gear is heavily focused on marketing tactics, gimmicky features, etc.
The marketing and cost to sell these gimmicky features usually come at the cost of providing you with quality components and assembly.
Unlike hi-fi audio equipment, which is generally sold and discovered by word of mouth, you rarely see advertising-although can be seen a bit more frequently as of lately, but still nowhere near the amount of advertising as the gaming industry.
And yes, hi-fi audio has it's gimmicks, but they're usually in a much more obviously exaggerated form, and it's own topic alone that we won't dive into.
Build: What comes in a gaming headset? Usually your drivers, often a microphone, and a lot of the time some kind of hardware processor.
alongside the cables, connectors, headband, mountings, earpads, etc.
To manufacture a product, that meets a competitive price and still has decent-high profit margins for the manufacturers, certain components will be compromised greatly on build/sound quality to achieve this, and you will basically be getting overcharged.
They still have to make money, as well as all that marketing.
Sound: Hand in hand, the sound quality you can expect from 99% of gaming headsets will be utter garbage.
You may put it on, and think it sounds good but in reality you just haven't heard better.
From this you may be getting overcharged, or believing marketing gimmicks to try to sell you on their brand or product.
You may ask, "If it sounds good to me, then what's the issue?".
well this is true to a certain extent.
It is like giving into a lie.
You have been informed something is bad, you are being overcharged, you are being lied too, and falling for gimmicks, yet you keep defending the product because you fell for these lies, and paid your money.
This is bad, and the gaming industry, especially when it comes to audio.
is absolutely terrible.
And it's not just about the gaming industry, it's about life.
This can happen with anything, it's important to be able to spot stuff like this.
In the end, back on the topic of sound quality for gaming headsets, you will be better off simply focusing your money into a nice setup, for around the price or slightly more than the cost of most gaming headsets on the market.
but will be 10x better built, 10x better sounding, 10x nicer overall.
Sound is just as important as video.
An example would be a 60hz monitor, to a 144hz monitor.
I'd argue it's even more drastic than that change to be quite honest.
But it's 100% worth your investment.
Open Back and Closed Back
Open back and closed back headphones tie into soundstage and imaging, as well as many other factors of your listening experience.
So what are open back and close back headphones?
Closed Back - Headphones in which are completely sealed around the back.
Closed back headphones are likely what you are most familiar with.
They are completely sealed around the back, the benefits of this are many.
For one, generally people cannot hear what you are listening too, and you cannot hear (or have a harder time hearing) other people around you.
Closed back headphones generally have a smaller soundstage, and could possibly have trouble with imaging, in comparison to open back headphones.
Closed back generally also do much better with bass.
But this bass can often be overpowering and muddy the other frequencies, causing inaccuracies.
Open Back - Headphones in which are open around the back.
Open back headphones are something you may have never seen before.
They are not very common in consumer headphones, but they are extremely important.
Due to their open back nature, they can produce an incredible soundstage, and amazing imaging.
The downsides though, are that you can hear absolutely everything around you, from your air conditioner, to people talking in the other room, It's as if you weren't wearing headphones at all.
They can also hear everything you can pretty well.
Open back headphones can also often lack bass in comparison to closed back, this is due to a lack of pressure and isolation in the chamber.
But the bass that is there is generally much superior in terms of accuracy, in comparison to closed back.
This is the trade off you take.
Semi-open Back - Headphones in which are partly closed, and partly open.
This is basically closed back headphones, and open back headphones combined.
They are open back headphones, but slightly sealed, to try to produce a greater soundstage than just closed back, but give you more bass.
Sound leakage can vary.
Semi-open is technically a venting cavity.
It is worth noting that sometimes Semi-open back can look like open back headphones.
As to which are better, that's up to you and your use case.
Personally I prefer open-back and semi-open back headphones greatly to closed back headphones, but I will keep aside a pair of closed back headphones to use if I ever need them.
If you don't have a lot of room noise or people bothering you, for gaming I'd say personally I'd go with semi-open or open back.
I'm not really a fan of closed back headphones personally.
Sound Signature and Dynamic Range This is a very straightforward, but important topic.
Terminology:Sound Signature - This is the overall profile of the sound, basic characteristics, and what it will sound like.
Every headphone (and certain equipment) sound different, and each put together can change the effect on one another, either slightly, or drastically.
It is completely dependent on the equipment in question.
Dynamic Range - The ratio between the strongest and the weakest sound intensity that can be transmitted or reproduced by an audio system.
Super Basic Sound Signature Terms:
Neutral - A neutral sound is exactly what it says.
It is neutral.
Levels are not emphasized in any range, and the sound is reproduced as faithfully as possible.
Reference equipment is generally tuned for a neutral sound signature.
Perfect for mastering and studio work.
As stated, neutral will not add any coloration to the sound.
Neutral could possibly be replaced with balanced or flat, depending on the context.
But there are subtle differences.
Analytical - Analytical sound signatures are very neutral, but tend to have a slight bump in the treble range.
Details in certain instruments can be a little bit clearer and complex.
Bright - Bright is a bigger bump in the higher range of the listening spectrum.
It is basically a sharper, brighter treble.
The human ear is more sensitive to these frequencies, and longer sessions can possibly lead to listening fatigue quicker.
Warm - Warm signatures apply a slight boost to the mid-low frequency ranges.
Instruments like cello and bass guitar will sound more rich with better depth.
Good for rock and blues.
This can be referenced as smooth or musical at times.
Dark - Dark sound signatures can give a bigger boost to the lower frequencies.
Lows can be rich and intricate, but can cause highs to sound rolled off or recessed as if it was hidden.
V-Shaped - V-Shaped sound signature is exactly what it sounds like.
It gives a boost in the top end and the low end, and leaves a bit of a dip in the middle range.
Generally this can make the audio sound louder, and reduces ambient noise, but also can make it sound unnatural, but some may find it enjoyable.
This can also be referred to as U-shaped, with a more rounded sound signature.
There are many other terms that can be used, generally you can read through reviews and get the idea by referencing these basic sound signature terms.
These are important to know and keep in mind though, as every headphone is different, and can sound slightly different.
Also keep in mind everyone's ears are different, so you may like one thing whilst another person doesn't like something.
This is great to know for review reading, as once you get an idea of what the reviewer likes, and how their ear works, it can help you make better decisions based off the comparison of what you enjoy.
Remember, everyone headphone is different, every ear is different, and also every persons taste in music is different.
As for gaming, depending on what you're playing this will vary.
For people who mainly play shooters, you may prefer something that's fairly analytical giving you that neutral signature with a slight boost in treble.
Helping you hear everything well, with a slightly emphasis on footsteps, and gunshots.
For someone who plays lots of rpgs, something along the warmer or maybe even darker side may be good for you, with lots of rich low end.
For people who play lots of musical games, or casual gaming, something warm and musical may be be best for you.
You may even just want something fairly neutral or analytical all around if you play a lot of different games, and also want to do a lot of music listening.
You may even want different pairs of headphones for different things.
It's all up to you.
Again remember these are just suggestions, they are not guidelines.
You are free to mix and match at your pleasure.
These are your decisions.
Dynamic range is a very important consideration, especially with gaming.
It is a very simple concept with not much to explain.
An example of good dynamic range is, when you're walking in a game as quiet as you can, the sound that you can hear can be very very quiet.
Your headphones have to reproduce that well, as well as staying true to the sound.
And then you fire a bullet and it can be extremely loud and realistic sounding.
Your headphones have to reproduce that once again.
It may sound like an easy thing to do, but it is something many headphones can struggle with.
A poor replication of dynamic range can be imagined with this example.
When playing a gunshot sound, Footsteps may sound just as loud as the gun, when in reality they should be much quieter than the gunshots.
This is a poor example of dynamic range.
Dynamic range is also dependent on the sound design of the game or source in question.
And this is all just as important with music.
Imaging and Soundstage Imaging and Soundstage receive their own section here because I personally believe it is an extremely important part of immersion, especially for gaming.
Soundstage - An imaginary three-dimensional space created by the high-fidelity reproduction of sound in an audio system.
Imaging - The separation of the instruments or percieved sounds.
A greater sense of imaging makes certain instruments or sounds more distinguishable.
Imagine being inside of a theater, dead center between the stage and the rear of the theater, and all other axis's, sitting in a seat watching an orchestra perform.
You can see the strings seated closest to the conductor and fanning outward from center stage to the wings; the woodwinds perfectly centered and stacked in two rows slightly further back than the strings; the percussion section sounding in a crash from the very back of the stage.
Now close your eyes, can you still "see" the orchestra? Are the drummers drumming from just as far away? Are the strings still dense with detail? This, in so few words, is the basic idea of soundstage.
It is the ability to recreate the entire three-dimensional "scene" with only your two ears, your equipment and the recording.
This does vary greatly on your equipment and the recording in play.
Reference Used: Audio Engine USA - What is a Soundstage?[audioengineusa.
This goes hand in hand with soundstage, but is more directly focused on being able to allow you to identify each of instruments, placement and position.
This in return can help create a great soundstage.
As you can see, Imaging and Soundstage are pretty similar, but each have their own purpose.
Imaging and Soundstage are absolutely important for proper immersion into a video game, and can help create a nice listening experience for music.
The Surround Sound Experience Surround sound in gaming headsets, is a marketing strategy for edgy 12 year old gamers who are uninformed.
Surround Sound Audio:Terminology:
org] - basically the part of the headphones that produce the sound.
It is a transducer that converts an electrical audio signal to sound waves.
org] - Short for sterophonic sound, its the basic idea of an auditory illusion using two speakers to reproduce the sound.
Mono: - Short for monaural or monophonic sound reproduction has audio in a single channel.
You can have Mono in speakers/headphones, but the same exact sound will be playing in both speakers/sides of headphones.
Mono is generally considered outdated technology, and you rarely see it today.
But is generally just worth noting, as it does popup from time to time.
You have two ears, your headphones have two speakers
Basically just think, Stereo is two, Mono is one.
Surround Sound With Multiple Drivers:
This is a gimmick.
Basically, a handful of gaming headsets will come with multiple small drivers in each ear.
This is absolutely pointless.
You have two ears, you do not need more than two drivers.
This isn't a case of "oh, it costs more so it's better".
They simply just do not add anything to the experience.
It's a marketing gimmick.
Avoid these at all costs.
You will very very rarely see a proper pair of headphones with multiple drivers.
They will all generally have one big driver on each side (or other forms of sound production such as planar magnetic or electrostatic)
Virtual Surround Sound:Generally, surround sound is labeled with 5.
1 or other.
The first number is generally the amount of speakers you have, generally with 5.
1, you have two side speakers, two front speakers, and one center speaker, and the .
1 is the subwoofer.
1 is basically 5.
1, but with two rear speakers behind you.
It can be 5.
depending on how many subwoofers you have.
The amount of speakers you have can surpass 5 or 7 depending on the technology.
For example Dolby Atmos[en.
org] is able to have many more.
All this is more applicable to home theater rather than headphones, so it is not extremely important for this guide.
Just worth noting.
So, with a home theater system, it is different, due to having a large room, surround sound can be good to have sound coming from many different directions, all at equivalent volume as well.
But with headphones you simply do not need more than two drivers.
You have two ears, you do not need more than two drivers.
They sit right on-top of your ears.
The part that matters most is the quality and recording of the sound and programming in the game being played, that determines positional audio and the dimensional sound environment.
There are a handful of different kinds of sound encoding, but in general almost all sound in games is in a form of software simulated binaural or virtual surround sound.
It does not matter if you are using a headset or sound setting outside of the game that claims to create "3D sound", you are just screwing with what the game developers have already done for you.
When you play a 3D game, you can easily distinguish left from right, front and behind and in general all around to differentiate between all directions, intensitve and distance of sound without any kind of software.
It is all done right into the game, the devlopers intended to do it this way.
You do not need any kind of software like Razer Surround.
The proper way to establish in game audio, is to do not use any kind of software, just untouched audio, and in game select the software processing you want.
For example in Counter Strike: Global Offensive, the option HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function)[en.
org] will do just that.
Some games just label it as "Headphones", others will state something along the lines of "Directional Processing".
If you are using headphones, do not select "7.
1", these are for people who are using a home theater style setup with that actual amount of speakers as discussed above.
Use "Headphones", if there is no option for headphones, use "Stereo" (or use the software processing mode, such as HRTF).
An example is given below on Counter Strike's implementation of HRTF processing.
Use regular headphones, or turn off any and all kinds of sound processing and EQ on your current headset and listen to the video.
You don't need that crap on, as demonstrated by the video.
For fun, a few more cool tests:
The Virtual Barbershop - This was recorded in proper/true, binaural format[en.
Chesky Records Binaural - Chesky Records have quite a few amazing quality binaural recordings.
Amber Rubarth's Album - Sessions from the 17th Ward is one of my favorite personal examples of a Binaural abum.
These are the same idea of what games do, but games generally achieve this all software, with music the proper way is to use a faux head and ear microphone placements.
Read the wiki above to learn more about Binaural audio.
Binaural audio can sound slightly flat/wonky on speakers, and this is why many albums don't use this technique.
But do sound absolutely amazing and immersive on headphones.
There has been attempts to try to fix the issue with speakers, but it never took off.
Anyways in the end, please don't waste your time thinking you need virtual surround sound software, or especially multiple drivers in headphones.
It's all marketing gimmick.
Also a lot of virtual surround software will mess greatly with the tone and soundstage in music.
Let the games do their processing, that's it.
Don't waste your time, money, or fall for the marketing brainwashing.
What About My Microphone?
Majority of microphones built into headsets are pretty crap, and the ones that are "good" generally will have compromised on sound/build quality in the other components of your headset.
Wired Headphones:Simply put, wired will always be the best for the lowest latency, competitive gaming solid and consistent connection, and overall sound quality.
This is my highly recommended option.
There are also quite a lot of headphones that allow for detachable cables, which are very nice features.
It's important to keep in mind, wireless will always have latency, range limitation, possible interference, the need to recharge, and possible disconnects.
As far as all those go, obviously they will and have improved the technology with time, but it's not there yet.
Latency is very minor, yet still there with wireless.
For people who want the lowest latency possible to get the fastest audio response from game to headphones to ears, wired is the best option.
Also keep in mind, wireless will have more, generally meaning higher cost, compromise on other components, and possibility of having issues/breaking quicker.
In the case of Wireless headphones though, do you really even need to be talking to people while you go to the bathroom or go get a drink? Just take the headphones off.
But if you really feel the need keep reading:
Something like the Antlion Audio ModMic Wireless Microphone[antlionaudio.
com] will provide you pretty damn good quality microphone audio to your friends so they don't have to suffer, while giving you wireless capability, and allowing you to use this on any pair of headphones you wish.
Also giving you the versatility of using them wired still if you wish.
Even better if they has a removable cord.
There are other alternatives that may be cheaper or more expensive, but this is just to get the idea I will be showcasing this one throughout the guide.
I am in no way affiliated or sponsored with this company.
If you want truly great quality, you can pair this alongside a desktop microphone, and switch back and forth between getting up and sitting back down at your desk.
But you obviously have that lessened convenience of needing to switch it, but you be sending amazing quality sound.
If you don't need/want wireless, Antlion Audio has wired solutions too, but I'd personally suggest just getting the desk microphone over.
It will provide much superior audio quality.
Depending on which desk mic you get, it could cost you a little bit more, but you end up with a solid setup in the end.
I would recommend straying away from USB microphones such as the Blue Microphones, they can have issues.
Note, with Condenser Microphones you will you will end up needing to provide phantom power[en.
org] (similar to how you need an amplifier with certain headphones).
I will not go much into microphones, but I recommend reading up on the Beginner's Guide To Microphones below, there are a few things to know such as pickup patterns, the difference between dynamic, ribbon, and condenser microphones, polar patterns, buying guides and more.
This is all fairly important for desk microphone buying to avoid issues, or possibly stuff not working well.
A few resources to read up on headphones can be found below:
/g/ Install Gentoo - Microphones Wiki[wiki.
Tuts+ Beginner's Guide To Microphones[music.
DACs and Amplifiers Basic Terminology:
Analog - Microphones pick up the sounds of voices and instruments as analog audio signals.
Recording engineers store the analog signals as digital.
(Hence the need for a DAC to playback)
Amplifier - Amplifies the sound signal
DAC - Digital To Analog Converter, it does exactly what it says.
It converts digital audio (converts your music from 0s and 1s into analog signals)
Do I Need A DAC and Amplifier?First to be clear, your computer has a DAC in it.
Your phone does too, your TV.
many of your devices that produce sound have a DAC built in.
Otherwise you would not be able to plug in your headphones to your phone or computer via a connector such as 3.
5mm, and get sound out of it.
You need a device to convert the 0s and 1s from your computer, into an analog signal.
This is the job of the DAC.
So you may be asking, if most of my devices already have a DAC, why would I need another one?
Audio can be a wonky thing to deal with, but in general, internal DACs can be highly prone to interference.
This can cause an audible noise/hissing/EMI (electromagnetic interference).
DAC's come in a few varieties, but at it's base you have on board, meaning on the device or built into the device (Like the example with the phones, TV, etc.
), and you have external, meaning it's a seperate unit from the internal one (It will bypass the internal DAC).
You have can have a portable DAC, meaning it is generally able to put in your pocket, usually powered by rechargeable battery (This is more commonly in the form of a DAC/Amp combo, more about this in a bit).
You can also have a desktop/stationary DAC, meaning it is generally wall powered and isn't really portable.
Amplifiers, Imedance, Resistance and Sensitivity:
Amplifiers at it's base are simple, they boost the sound signal.
Depending on your headphones, they may require more power, or they may not produce any sound or the sound may sound poor/not at it's greatest.
This is because the headphones are being underpowered.
Impedance - A measure of the total opposition to current flow in an alternating current circuit, made up of two components, ohmic resistance and reactance, and usually represented in complex notation as Z = R + iX, where R is the ohmic resistance and X is the reactance.
Basically though, impedance is the resistance of an electric circuit to the alternating current that passes through it.
This resistance is expressed in Ohms (Ω)[en.
org] - a unit of electrical resistance or impedance
org] - a basic law of electric circuits.
It states that: the current in amperes in a circuit is equal to the voltage [V] in volts divided by the resistance [R] in ohms; thus, I = V/R.
Sensitivity - The sound pressure level directly in front of the speaker (on axis) at a given distance (usually 1 meter) produced by a given amount of power (usually 1 watt).
Sensitivity is often measured in SPL/mW @ 1kHz.
What this essentially means is that at 1mW, a 1kHz tone played through this headphone will be in *Insert SPL here*.
As the output voltage (but not power) of a headphone amplifier is essentially constant for most common headphones, dB/mW is often more useful if converted into dB/V using Ohm's Law.
Once the sensitivity per volt is known, the maximum volume for a pair of headphones can be easily calculated from the maximum amplifier output voltage.
For example, for a headphone with a sensitivity of 100 dB (SPL)/V, an amplifier with an output of 1 V RMS will produce a maximum volume of 100 dB.
Headphones will often come with a few specifications like frequency range, sensitivity and impedane/resistance.
The most common impedance would be 32ohms.
Although some headphones will have impedance all the way up to 600ohms.
Generally, more impedance will require more voltage and less current, and vice versa.
Amplifiers can change the sound of the headphones significantly too, some amplifiers can make the headphones sound warmer, some colder, in general people like to find an amplifier that has a neutral and transparent sound signature, meaning the amp doesn't change the sound in anyway.
However, others prefer amps that change the sound, because of this, many vacuum tube[en.
org] amps are made with the specific intention of reproducing a colored sound.
Back on point, you will use that information to determine whether or not the headphones you are looking are capable of being powered by your equipment.
As stated, some headphones simply cannot run off of your computer's output, or your phone.
You will need an external amplifier to power them.
This will obviously cost you more money, if you are looking to avoid this, just find another pair of headphones.
There are still MANY options that don't have a requirement for such and you probably don't need one.
But just be wary of this.
Sounds Expensive & How To Pick What To Buy? Not everyone can currently go splurge on nice equipment.
That is understandable.
But keep in mind, at some point, your current equipment will break or fail, you will have to replace it.
I highly recommend saving and researching and putting aside money for this.
It's a wonderful world, and you most likely haven't ever experience anything like it.
This is all only the start, there is so much to be explored and had.
This isn't just about gaming, this is about audio in general.
Music, the experience.
It can be life changing.
Now, for starters, this can seem expensive, but can be done on a budget with a bit of research.
First you need to figure out your budget and what you need to buy.
I cannot tell you what to buy as it is very situational, depending on what headphones you may decide on, you may need an amplifier, while someone else may not with a different pair of headphones.
Costing you more for that amplifier.
Someone may want a desktop microphone, someone else may not want any microphone.
One may want an external DAC, another may not.
It is very situational, and this will all reflect off one another in your final cost.
This can be cheap, or this can be expensive.
In the end it is up to you, how much you want to spend and the amount of effort you want to put in to figure out how to get the best bang for your buck.
But taken from the /r/pcmasterrace - Gaming headset guide, a few price examples for some of the popular gaming headsets:
Steelseries H wireless gaming headset - $299
Audio-Technica ATH-AG1X gaming headset - $246
Astro A50 gaming headset - $299
Sennheiser GAME ZERO Gaming Headset - $150
Razer Tiamat 7.
1 Gaming Headset - $220
Razer Kraken gaming headset - $100
These prices are variables, I am not going through and price checking everything.
This is just to give you a generalized idea.
And sure there may be better sounding gaming headsets for the price.
But they will simply not compete with a proper setup.
I would say as a starter unit, you can get a decent setup that can compete for all those prices depending on what you need.
How do I even begin looking at what I may want?
This is completely dependent on your budget, to give you ideas though-you can start off with a basic $70-$100 pair of headphones, there are many headphones that can sound amazing to a beginner at that price range.
Check out /r/headphones for buying guides and suggestions.
Alongside a $50-100 amp/dac combo (if needed).
You have right there a solid $180-200 setup.
And if you want the microphone, you have to factor that in.
It can range from $50-$200 for the microphone + audio interface/power.
I would argue you really don't need more than that for VOIP calls and conversations and wouldn't recommend spending over $200 unless you know you have a need.
You can also just get the Antlion Modmic as I mentioned, and that currently runs around $100.
If you went that route, you'd be looking at around $300 setup of headphones, amp/dac and the Modmic.
Which is a SOLID setup for a beginner.
It may sound pricey, but you get quality equipment, with money dedicated right into each individual component, resulting in higher quality of every component, in comparison to a headset with the same price that will have compromises in each of the equivalent components.
From there you can see if you want more, save up and invest in better equipment, or be happy and enjoy yourself from there.
It's your call, but I recommend the exploration route myself.
You don't need RGB on everything, grow up.
First of all, any pair of headphones/headset you pick up, that have flashing RGB's on them will be utter garbage.
Secondly, you don't need flashing lights on something you literally can't even see while you're wearing them.
Please stop being stupid, you don't need RGB on your head.
Resources & Suggested Reading
If you'd like to read more, a few common places to start learning and get introduced can be found from some of the following places, I also used them to help me build out this guide to make my life easier:
Headphones & Audio Audioholics - Large List of Audio Terminology[www.
/g/ Install Gentoo - Headphones Guide, /hpg/[wiki.
/r/pcmasterrace - Gaming audio and you.
5% of) gaming headsets suck, and how you can enter the world of high fidelity sound on a gaming headset budget!
Microphones: /g/ Install Gentoo - Microphones Wiki[wiki.
Tuts+ Beginner's Guide To Microphones[music.
There are many other resources, this is just to get you started and to explore.
I highly recommend you conduct your own research.
Please note, this guide was a late night writing, I may add some sections, edit stuff.
There is most likely quite a few spelling errors and stuff.
I will edit with time.
Frequency Range of Instruments Info-Graph:
Videos I do not suggest taking sound advice from anyone, unless you know what you are interested in.
These videos are to give you another perspective besides this guide, on headphones, gaming headsets and gaming audio as a whole.
Don't believe everything you read or watch, do your own research and form your own opinions.