The bottom line, if you want to stop reading here, is don’t buy a gaming headset unless you want an all-in-one package and are willing to sacrifice audio/build quality to get it.
Because of how much time I spend using headphones and recording audio, I feel as though I’m somewhat of a novice authority on audio equipment. Yes, there are tons of people with more experience and expertise, but for the purposes of this post, I think my experience justifies its message.
If you’ll indulge me and read on, however, I think you’ll see the light if the bottom line isn’t enough.
Gaming headsets, in a nutshell, are the swiss army knife of headphones. No matter how much you spend, you’re always going to get something that offers a lot of features at the cost of functionality, quality, and above all value. While I wouldn’t go anywhere without my leatherman, it’ll never replace my tool kit. So while a headset might make sense for day-to-day gaming use, eventually, you’ll end up wanting more and have to reach for the headphone drawer.
What I mean by this is two-fold; first, no gaming headset is going to match the audio quality of a comparably priced, well-made set of headphones, ever. It just isn’t physically possible, especially for headsets with integrated sound cards like the Corsair Vengeance 2100. The reason for this is that Corsair has to spend that $100 they make selling their headset on drivers, a sound card, wireless functionality, USB connectivity, a battery system, microphone functionality, and heck knows what else if you buy something with multiple drivers in each ear piece. Obviously, when you buy a pair of headphones, all you’re really buying is the drivers, and maybe a wireless transceiver. So in terms of per-part value, headsets might offer more features, but they offer much less value per feature.
Of course, being a swiss army knife has it’s advantages. You don’t need a mic or a sound card for a headset. But anyone that has a headset gamer on their friends list will tell you their mic sounds awful and is more annoying than helpful. And when it comes to sound cards, $30 is going to get you something better than any headset has to offer in the ASUS Xonar DG. So while upfront, you might save some money and hassle in buying a headset, in the long run, if you intend to get any use out of it other than just as headphones, you’re paying for useless features and inferior headphones.
That said, console gamers are in a tough spot in that you really don’t have much in the way of options when it comes to microphone input. That said, given that the consoles all output somewhat compressed audio, the difference in audio quality between a gaming headset and regular headphones might not be great enough to warrant sacrificing VOIP functionality. Even so, there are most likely ways of plugging in some cheap 3.5mm or 2.5mm mic into your controller or console, so I wouldn’t totally overlook headphones as an option if you’re a console gamer.
In the end, if you’re willing to spend an extra $20 on a Snowball and $30 on a Xonar or bother downloading any number of free software surround sound drivers, I guarantee you will see a substantial gain in long-term value and quality with headphones and the aforementioned peripherals over a comparably priced or even more expensive gaming headset. For console gamers, your options are more limited, but if your friends don’t mind you using your Kinect or the inline-mic your PS4 comes with, there’s no reason not to consider a pair of headphones over a gaming headset.
Here’s a list of recommended items, should you choose to go the headphone route and want my personal “best of” for such equipment that won’t blow your Steam sale savings:
- ATH-M50s – Probably the best $100 headphones money can buy right now.
- ASUS Xonar DG Sound Card – Everyone, including me has or should buy one, seriously.
- Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS2 Dolby Surround Sound Processor – If you’re a console gamer, Turtle Beach makes a sound card that should work with the new consoles as well as the previous gen ones, and you can get it used for pretty cheap too.
- Olympus ME-52W – Cheap Mic. Don’t ask me if it’s good, I just know it’s cheap.
- Blue Snowball – This is the mic that all the nerds fawn over when it comes to cheap USB mics, it’s good and will work great for voip and streaming/podcasting.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully my advice helps you make a good choice this holiday season!