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Since 2019, most major online communications platforms have seen a large increase in use largely thanks to the pandemic — Zoom, for example, grew its business customer base by 470 percent in 2020 alone. And this rise in digital communication isn’t just limited to traditional video calls or text messaging — virtual spaces are growing just as rapidly as (usually young) people continue to communicate virtually. Some of the most popular games in the world — like Fortnite and Minecraft — often double as virtual spaces to relax and chat with friends.
One of the best ways to hear and be heard, especially for gamers, is a gaming headset. As a games writer who has used dozens of different gaming headsets, I’ve found them to be amazingly convenient and comfortable for long gaming sessions. To recommend the best ones available, I combined my own expertise with that of a few experts.
What is a gaming headset?
A gaming headset is a pair of over-the-ear headphones with an attached boom microphone on the left ear. Visually, they are similar to what you might see pilots wear in a helicopter or aircraft.
Gaming headsets deliver immersive, detailed sound while doubling as excellent communication devices for chatting with friends online. Anyone with a home gaming console like a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X will find a gaming headset very useful, as most televisions do not let you plug in headphones or speak with friends without a headset.
Even when compared to computer monitors and laptops, gaming headphones come out on top as well. This is because gaming headsets, unlike many other types of headphones, prioritize communication.
“Dedicated gaming headsets tend to have better microphone quality than a laptop or pair of [traditional] headphones,” said video game journalist Melissa King. “A [gaming] headset typically has a microphone that will only pick up your voice, and doesn’t pick up background noise or other people talking in the room,” added Jake Rabinowitz, a software engineer and developer of PogoChamp. (Full disclosure: Jake is also my brother.) “Built-in microphones have terrible audio quality and often pick up tons of stray ambient noise.”
Best gaming headsets in 2022
The experts we spoke to mentioned comfort and compatibility as the most important parts of any gaming headset. Regardless of the price, features or aesthetics, if the headset is uncomfortable or doesn’t work with your system, it won’t be very useful. Our experts’ recommendations and my own highly rated picks based on my experience using numerous gaming headsets reflect that emphasis on comfort and compatibility.
HyperX is well known for its gaming headsets, and the HyperX Cloud IIs is one of the brand’s best pairs. Our experts lauded their comfort, build quality and simplicity.
“[The HyperX Cloud II are] by far the most comfortable pair of headphones I've ever had,” said Rabinowitz. “I can easily wear them for 8 hours daily without any discomfort. That's especially impressive because I wear glasses, and most headphones aren't comfortable for even an hour when worn over glasses.”
Our experts also loved the HyperX Cloud II’s build quality, noting the metal headband and lack of loud “gamer” aesthetics. “They’re a straightforward, minimalist headset that you can [also] use at work without being embarrassed,” said Rabinowitz. “Just plug them in and you’re good to go.”
The HyperX Cloud IIs are wired and compatible with just about every system out there, including PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (in handheld mode), PC and Mac. To use their virtual surround sound, you need to plug them into a computer via the included USB input rather than a 3.5mm audio jack.
The Razer Kraken is a relatively affordable wired gaming headset option our experts recommended. Razer has been making gaming headsets for a long time, and the Kraken is one of its most iconic models.
“[The Razer Kraken] strikes a good balance between price and quality because it has a mid-range price point and immersive sound,” said King. “My headset came with a 7.1 surround sound program, but I don't even need to use it to get good audio quality.” She added that she finds the headset particularly comfortable, noting that she’s able to “wear the headset for hours chatting with friends and playing video games without any discomfort.
The Razer Kraken comes in a wide variety of colors and looks. The black and pink versions even have an optional light-up kitty ear version, adding a fun, colorful touch. The (non-kitty) Razer Kraken are wired and compatible with most systems, including PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (in handheld mode), PC and Mac.
While wired gaming headsets offer simple connectivity, not everyone wants to be physically tied to their controller or computer. Enter the SteelSeries Arctis 9, a wireless and Bluetooth gaming headset that feels and sounds great. The main advantage of the Arctis 9 is its Bluetooth and wireless connectivity options that allows it to connect to a wide variety of devices and switch between two devices easily. Personally, I’ve been impressed with this headset’s sound quality — it offers a balanced and immersive soundscape in games, music and calls.
The Arctis 9 is compatible with PC, Mac, PS5, PS4 and Bluetooth devices. For Xbox users, the Arctis 9X version is compatible with Xbox Systems.
Wireless gaming headsets tend to be a lot more expensive than wired ones. Not only that, but wireless gaming headsets are usually not compatible with a wide variety of devices.
The Arctis 1 is an exception to the norm — it’s compatible with many different devices. This is because the Arctis 1 comes with a wired 3.5mm cable as well as a USB-C wireless dongle. From my own experience, I’ve found that the Arctis 1 is slightly less comfortable than the HyperX Cloud II, but the connectivity options and affordable price make this headset a great wireless option.
The Arctis 1 is compatible with PC, Mac, PS5, PS4 and Nintendo Switch via wireless dongle or 3.5mm cable, and Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One exclusively via wired 3.5mm cable.
How to shop for a gaming headset
Picking out the perfect gaming headset has more to do with your own gaming needs than finding the most premium option. Our experts said to consider the following before buying a new gaming headset:
What gaming systems do you use?
Not all gaming headsets are compatible with every gaming system. Before deciding on any pair of headphones, it’s important to make sure they are compatible with your favorite devices.
“Make sure your headset is compatible with your platform,” said King. “If you have a PC, for example, you might need a splitter for the audio jack, if your headset doesn't come with one.”
Wired or wireless?
Deciding between a wired or wireless headset is one of the biggest decisions to make when it comes to buying a new gaming headset. Wireless headsets offer comfort and freedom of movement, while wired ones offer convenience and simplicity. Wired headsets are also usually cheaper than wireless ones.
Our experts mostly favored wired gaming headsets. “I'm a wired guy overall,” said Rabinowitz. “I don't want to have to deal with low battery issues, Bluetooth or weird latency stuff, so I keep pretty much all of my peripherals wired, even when they can be wireless.”
When buying a wireless headset, you also need to be aware of compatibility issues. “Some consoles only work with approved Bluetooth headsets,” said King.
In general, wired headsets can connect to more types of gaming hardware than wireless ones can.
What about a separate microphone?
Many of the experts we spoke with remarked that, for their computer setup, they use a separate microphone and headphone (in addition to a proper gaming mouse) instead of the combination offered by gaming headsets. For computer use, multiple experts recommended the Blue Yeti microphone, a beloved stand-alone microphone known for its great audio and affordable price point. Headphone recommendations varied across a wide range of brands including Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic.
For most gamers, though, especially those on consoles, gaming headsets are simpler, cheaper and more convenient. “If your computer doesn't come with a microphone at all, a headset saves you the trouble of buying a microphone and headphones separately,” said King.