Headphones vs Headset for Gaming

Are gaming headsets just marketing, or is there actual value? While gaming headsets are popular and used by most pro gamers, they don’t go without criticism from audio enthusiasts who will often deem headsets a waste of money from an audio engineering perspective. In this article, we’ll discuss gaming headsets as well as headphones to find out which is the best for you because, in the end, audio is a personal experience, and each person is looking to get something different out of their product.

Gaming Headsets – Value or Scam?

Gaming headsets differ from traditional headphones due to the inclusion of a built-in microphone, an essential component for both competitive and casual multiplayer gamers. But what if we removed the microphone from the equation and pitted together a standard open-back headphone of a similar price point with the gaming headset based solely on sound quality? Is the difference that bad? Or do gaming headsets hold their own?

Obviously the products that one compare will influence the results, so instead of looking at two comparisons that would only be helpful to those with the same products, we chose to look at an aggregate across the market, comparing the results of some of the leading headsets with the performance of some of the more affordable, but quality headphones available at the moment.

As a whole, what we found was that the performance of gaming headsets weren’t as good as traditional headphones for versatile use, but that the pricing did somewhat compensate for this as the pricing on the gaming headsets were a bit more affordable than the headphones we’d recommend using. For example, one can purchase a fairly popular gaming headset for under $100, while our picks for quality headphones to replace the headset sits at around $150 excluding the standalone or attachable mic you’d look to add.

Another big issue that exists for gaming headsets is the quality of the microphone. A lot of gaming headsets either excel in their microphone quality or in their sound quality, but there are few that bring both high quality sound and high quality microphone to the table, though not to say they don’t exist.

Comparing The Two

However, it can still be noted that when looking at some products within a similar price range, for example if we compare the Logitech G635 which is designed as a gaming headset with a similarly priced pair of traditional headphones, the Philips SHP9600, both of which can be picked up for around $85.

When we compare the sound quality between these two pairs of headphones, the SHP9600 is the clear winner when it comes to music with a richer sound and a more balanced sound signature. In games, the difference was less noticeable and in some scenarios the Logitech performed just as well as the SHP9600, thanks to the way they are tuned. One can’t take away from the overall sound quality and versatility that the SHP9600 provides.

The G635 overall performed very well in games, with solid bass response and a rich treble, though the treble does fall off towards the high treble range a bit. In music, however, the G635 did not perform nearly as well as the SHP9600, with the highs feeling overtuned with recesssed mids and accentuated bass that can be a bit muddy.

This experience translates a lot between traditional headphones and gaming headsets, where we see gaming headsets performing well in game, but doing poorly for music. It’s not to say that gaming headsets always sound bad and for many users they may not even notice the difference, but if you’re a fan of good audio and plan to listen to a lot of music as well, this is something worth taking note of.

The TLDR is that if you’re solely looking for a headset to game with, and aren’t too concerned with the nuances of high quality sound representation for music, the ease of a gaming headset may be enough for you. But if you want to find the best balance between music and gaming audio, a traditional high-quality headphone and a standalone microphone will usually give you the most versatile results.

Why The Differences?

You may be wondering why we see these kinds of differences between gaming headsets and headphones sound. The primary reason is the way they are tuned, most gaming headsets are tuned to the gaming experience, which is great if you’re only just gaming, but when you move the same headset across the media or music, you start to see the flaws in this approach.

In addition, headset manufacturers do not specializing in audio, when you think about your favorite headset brand you’re going to be seeing computer companies who specialize in peripherals more than audio, and while these companies do employ proper audio engineers, the focus of the company will affect the result.

What To Look For In Headphones For Gaming?

If you opt to go with a more balanced and versatile audio option for gaming by picking up a pair of headphones, there’s still some things you should consider before rushing into a purchase. If you end up in the audiophile forums you’ll often see headphones presented as superior for their balanced sound signature, but while that’s great for reference and critical listening, they don’t do well for gaming.

Instead, we recommend focusing on products that bring a V-shaped sound signature. These types of headphones will present with elevated bass and treble, which when kept in check can work for both music and gaming. A slightly elevated V-signature will produce sound that is often described as ‘fun’ and lends itself more towards the gaming experience.

A good soundstage representation will also assist in being able to detect enemy location, as the separation of sound frequencies allow for easier distinction of enemy location.

And then finally, investing in a good desktop or boom-mic will in most cases provide far better

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Written by
Bryn De Kocks

Bryn learned of the importance of quality audio through competitive gaming. Since then he's expanded his interest in the audio sphere, focusing primarily on the headphone market.

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