If you’re seeking more immersion in games or looking to experience the detailed sound engines of modern titles, a good pair of headphones should be the first thing for you to upgrade. Gaming headsets are all-in-one packages that come included with a mic and accessories and don’t require any additional setup. Gaming headsets are often overpriced, underwhelming and include a bevy of unnecessary features, and, contrary to popular belief, regular headphones are more than capable to handle your gaming needs. Keep reading for a comprehensive headphone guide on buying the equipment best suited to your needs.
Before we get started, I’ll clarify a few misconceptions. Firstly, surround sound doesn’t make a difference. A stereo headphone and a “7.1 surround sound” pair of headphones will perform similarly. Moreover, artificial surround sound tends to be finicky and often messes up the soundstage. Secondly, no matter the technology, a wired pair will always offer better performance than a wireless pair. If wireless is a must, then I suggest trying the FiiO Q5 wireless DAC.
Below you’ll find a few of my recommendations. I won’t be including any high-end audiophile equipment as this guide is more focused on the mainstream market. I’ve also included some recommended mods at the end that will improve your experience.
Audio Technica ATH-M40x
- Drivers: 40mm
- Impedance: 35 ohms
- Frequency Response: 15 – 24,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 98 dB
- Weight: 240g
The ATH-M40x are the entry-level studio monitors from Audio Technica, featuring 40mm Neodymium drivers and great build quality. For a closed-back pair of headphones, they offer an exceptionally natural sound signature with a great soundstage. They also come with swiveling earcups that can rest on your shoulders easy and a detachable cable. The ATH-M50x, which come at $179 offers a more neutral soundstage with a flatter bass response, making them better as studio monitors. However, with the extra detail in the ATH-M40x’s bass response, they’re much better suited to gaming.
- Drivers: 50mm
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Frequency Response: 12 – 35,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 101 dB
- Weight: 320g
The Philips SHP9500 can be classified as the open-back cousin to the ATH-M40x. Both feature a similar sound signature with the SHP9500 boasting a wider soundstage, thanks to its open back design. Only one downside is the sound bleed due to its design. This is one of the best pair of open back cans for $100 and offers great performance without digging a hole in your wallet. For $75 more, the FiiO E10K DAC really makes it shine.
Sennheiser HD 598SR
- Drivers: 50mm
- Impedance: 50 ohms
- Frequency Response: 12 – 38,500 Hz
- Sensitivity: 112 dB
- Weight: 337g
The HD 598SR is Sennheiser’s entry-level open back studio monitors. They feature top-notch build quality and a great, flat sound signature. The open back design also results in an exceptionally wide soundstage. These are also one of the most comfortable pair of headphones and the default earpads are at par with top-end third-party ear cups. The signature
Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO
- Drivers: 45mm
- Impedance: 32 ohms /250 ohms
- Frequency Response: 5 – 35,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 96 dB
- Weight: 270g
The Beyerdynamic D770 PROs brings great build quality together with great bass performance that reflects heavily in-game. The sturdy metal headband results in an extremely premium feel and you can comfortably wear it for those long gaming sessions. For a closed-back design, it offers
KOSS Porta Pro Stereophones
- Drivers: 30mm
- Impedance: 60 ohms
- Frequency Response: 15 – 25,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 101 dB
- Weight: 181g
Even though it might look like something out of an 80s sci-fi flick, the KOSS Porta Pro is a portable on-ear headphone offering audiophile-grade performance at a great price-point. Fun Fact: the design was actually introduced by KOSS in 1984. The lightweight design is great for commute and the bass performance is frankly baffling. For such a small pair, it has a great full sound signature and an exceptionally high dynamic range. For $25, they have no right being as good as they are, and if you’re in the market for portable headphones, the KOSS Porta Stereophones is a no-brainer.
A good pair of headphones sound better with an AMP, DAC and more comfortable ear-cups. Below are a few recommended modifications:
Brainwavz HM5 Earcups
A lot of headphones come with thin, stiff earcups that often result in ears touching the drivers and sweat after prolonged use. The Brainwawz HM5 earcups are extremely soft and much thicker than most default offerings and are highly recommended for the ATH-M40x as well as the SHP9500.
FiiO E10K DAC/AMP
Most gaming headsets have a built-in DAC and an AMP and don’t require additional power to run. While most headphones on this list work well enough without one, a lot of them will benefit from a good AMP and those with higher impedance need that extra power to perform to heir fullest. The FiiO E10K is a USB DAC and a headphone amplifier that will not break the bank.
Antlion Mod Mic/ V-Moda Boom Pro
Most gaming headsets often come with a built-in mic with tinny audio output and underwhelming noise isolation. The Antlion Modmic and the V-Moda Boom Pro both offer studio-grade performance in a compact package. Moreover, they magnetically affix to the headphones for zero distractions while gaming.
While a gaming headset might seem like an easier solution for all your audio needs, the trade-off is in sound quality, cheap materials and a scuffed lifetime, with most lasting less than 2-3 years. While a regular pair of headphones might be an initial high investment, the payback is huge: detailed sound (hearing the footsteps of their enemies while they’re sneaking up on you and gaining information just off of audio is extremely satisfying), great comfort (for those overnight 7-8 hour grinds) and lasting performance (often extending to >5 years). With the recommended headphones and the right modifications, you’ll have a much more immersive audio experience while performing better individually.
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