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How to Pick the Best PC Gaming Headset
December 6, 2018
Picking the best gaming headset is a critical component to a gamer’s experience. Gaming headsets enable you to chat with teammates and gather sound details that you can’t through a speaker system. Here is our updated gaming headset buying guide.
Common gaming headset features
Before you buy, you should know the features to look for. Since every gamer is unique, what you see as most important in a headset may not be the same as someone else. Read on for all the information you’ll need to make the best buying decision.
A gaming headset’s sound quality is probably the most important feature of all. One of the ways that it’s measured is through bitrates, expressed in kilobits, which is the amount of data that’s processed each second.
The higher the bitrate, the more information that’s stored in the audio file. For example, music on iTunes is 256 kilobits per second (kbps), which means that each second of a song has 256 kb of data.
Higher bitrates also take up more space on computers, which is why the files are often compressed so they can fit on the hard drive or other systems.
However, compressing audio files means losing some data. And that’s where discussions about “lossless” formats (in which the original file is not compressed or altered) and “lossy” formats (involving compressed, and therefore altered, files) usually begin.
Audio compression trades off between the sound quality and file storage. For instance, lossy files with lower bitrates may lose audio quality, but they’re easier to stream without buffering. And lossless files have a higher audio quality but are slower, and thus more cumbersome, to stream.
So if the bitrate is the way that audio quality is measured, why do we not always see it mentioned when it comes to headsets? The answer is that it doesn’t always matter.
And that’s because enjoyability of sound and what comprises good sound quality can be highly idiosyncratic. Some people are more attuned to compression effects. One person’s love of deep bass tones, for instance, directly contradicts another’s preference for bright and shiny treble.
But what is true is that the right headphones can make all the difference to your personal listening experience. Wireless headsets, for example, don’t support higher bitrates as well as wired headsets do. And higher bitrate can matter for high-quality headphones, as the subtleties of certain sounds from lossy files will be more apparent with speakers that are able to produce higher ranges and more detailed sound.
One of the great things about wireless headsets is the freedom of movement that they allow, but that comes at a price - both figurative and literal. And that price is the reliance on batteries for charging. Most wireless headsets must be charged at least every few days, and some need to be charged every few hours. If you’re not paying attention, that can occur right in the middle of a critical moment in your tournament or other gameplay.
Fortunately, there are now wireless headsets available with longer battery life. Most on our list below, for instance, have at least 10 hours while some last up to an entire day without needing a recharge. Battery life will vary from model to model along with how much you actually end up recharging it.
Latency is the time it takes for a signal to reach its destination. In headsets, latency is the delay that occurs from the time the audio signal is sent (or played) until it’s actually heard through the earcups.
Based on mechanics alone, wireless headsets will always have more latency than wired headsets even if certain manufacturers claim otherwise. And this is often an issue with Bluetooth headsets. Since the latency occurs in milliseconds, it’s not usually noticeable while listening to music. It can be evident when playing a game, though, as the sound may not match up to the video. And this, in turn, may affect your gameplay.
Wireless gaming headsets most often use either Bluetooth or 2.4 GHz radio frequencies (RF). The 2.4 GHz provides longer range than the Bluetooth. But Bluetooth often provides better sound quality. In addition, Bluetooth is often smoother than 2.4 GHz and other WiFi frequencies, which may experience interference with other connections in the area.
A standard for wire-replacement communications, Bluetooth is also generally more secure than other wireless networking setups. Like any wireless technology, it’s as secure as its network. So, like WiFi, it is vulnerable to remote access.
However, Bluetooth technology uses device-level security involving authorization and identification to protect Bluetooth devices from unauthorized data access and transmission.
While 2.4 GHz RF wireless headsets offer wider range than Bluetooth, they will also need their own wireless dongle to connect to USB ports on different devices. On the other hand, Bluetooth - although somewhat more expensive - enables the ability to connect to multiple devices simultaneously.
The range of Bluetooth-enabled wireless headsets is up to about 33 feet, and connected devices don’t need to be within the line of sight to work successfully.
The convenience of longer range often means the difference between choosing a wireless headset over a wired headset. The wires and cables inherent in wired headsets can be an impediment to smooth gameplay and certain gaming activities that require more movement.
Wireless headsets, on the other hand, enable more freedom of movement, which can be incredibly convenient if you need to attend to something in the middle of your game but don’t want to end it completely.
Wireless headsets also help you avoid the annoyance, and potential hazard, of tripping over wires. You may not only damage equipment but also more importantly hurt yourself if you end up stumbling over an errant wire.
Pricing on gaming headsets is something to consider as well. Because wireless technology is often more expensive than wired technology, wireless headsets tend to be more expensive than wired headsets.
Nonetheless, there is a large price range in both wired and wireless headsets and within wireless headsets themselves. At one end of the spectrum, you can get a decent no-frills wired headset at a price of under $20, and at the other end, a high-end, superb-quality wireless model can run $500 or more.
While the extremes of this range may make it difficult to make a selection, there are also enough models of good gaming headsets in the mid-range prices of $50 to $100 to choose from.
Wired gaming headsets
1. HP Pavilion 600 gaming headset
The trusted HP Pavilion brand of gaming laptops with performance features also includes like-minded accessories. The HP Pavilion 600 gaming headset is specifically designed for gaming and entertainment. It has 7.1 virtual surround sound to deliver immersive and life-like acoustics, providing greater precision, depth, and clarity for your media.
So you can experience a clear, immersive soundscape all around you whether you’re in the heat of battle or listening to your favorite song.
The lightweight, padded, and self-adjusting headband provides a comfortable, effortless fit during extended use. The earcups also feature soft, synthetic leatherette padding for long-lasting, cushioned comfort.
2. HP OMEN 800 gaming headset
If you’re playing competitively online, you’ll appreciate the HP OMEN 800 gaming headset. This elite wired gaming headset has incredible tech specs to help ensure that you’ll be ready and able to communicate with friends, teammates, and even enemies on the battlefield or in the arena.
It features an immersive soundscape with a large, 53 mm diameter driver to produce each and every footstep with amazing clarity. For a heightened surround sound experience and multi-dimensional audio, select the custom DTS Headphone:X® profile that’s built into most HP OMEN PCs.
The HP OMEN 800 Headset is compatible with PCs and other devices that support 3.5 mm audio output. And the lightweight suspension headband evenly distributes its weight for comfortable extended gameplay.
3. HP OMEN Mindframe gaming headset
The HP OMEN Mindframe gaming headset is the world’s first headset with active earcup cooling technology. This headset was designed with absolute comfort in mind with features such as Virtual 7.1 surround sound, on-headset audio controls, a self-adjusting headband, and more.
The active earcup cooling technology is called FrostCap. This patented, proprietary technology uses a thermoelectric device inside each earcup that cools the speaker grille plates and transfers heat away from your ears.
The HP OMEN Mindframe is positioned with the cool side on the cool plate in the earcup and the hot side on the outside. It maintains a neutral, comfortable environment that prevents your ears from overheating. Now you can remain calm, cool, comfortable, and focused in-game, especially during long gaming sessions.
The HP OMEN Mindframe features Virtual 7.1 surround sound, so you can experience an immersive soundscape with realistic positional audio, as well as 3D spatial awareness that boosts sound localization.
Precisely pinpoint the sounds that you’re hearing in-game, whether it’s far-off weapon fire or an enemy’s approaching footsteps. Stay fully absorbed in your game by using the easily adjustable volume controls that are located right on the headset’s earcup.
What’s more, the earpads and the unidirectional microphone provide excellent noise cancellation. The self-adjusting, suspension headband is flexible and displaces the headset’s weight, and the earcup cushions are made with breathable, moisture-wicking fabric. You can keep your head comfortably in the game for a long time.
You can customize your HP OMEN Mindframe, too, by choosing different lighting modes and animations for the RGB LED outline around each earcup. In addition, you can control the intensity of FrostCap by selecting from three levels of cooling settings to find the ideal comfort level.
Wireless gaming headsets
4. HP Pavilion 600 Bluetooth headset
This wireless HP Pavilion 600 Bluetooth headset lets you experience crystal clear audio from a headset that doesn’t hold you back from your gaming needs. This headset is compatible with Bluetooth-capable PCs, tablets, and smartphones - as well as PCs, tablets, and smartphones with 3.5 mm audio output. And it automatically connects to the last device paired via Bluetooth.
Since your voice plays through the headset, it produces the natural sound of an in-person conversation. It has a nice extended 12-hour battery life, so you can continue your gameplay when you need to. A cushioned design keeps you comfortable while gaming, as well as for all of your other entertainment and productivity requirements.
5. Beoplay H4 Wireless Over-Ear headphones
The Beoplay H4 Wireless Over-Ear headphones delivers acclaimed, high-quality Bang & Olufsen (B&O) Signature Sound, which is designed to bring you sound that stays true to the source material. This Bluetooth-capable wireless headset has a 10-meter operating range, and it remembers the last eight paired devices (but connects to only one).
With a charging time of approximately 2.5 hours, the battery can conveniently last up to 19 hours for your pure listening and playing pleasure. You’ll want to keep them on for a while since they’re built with simple yet durable materials like lambskin leather, aluminum, stainless steel, and braided textile cord, all of which were selected for comfort and fit.
The Beoplay H4 headset features an omnidirectional microphone and on-device controls with three buttons on the right earcup for Bluetooth pairing, controlling music, and taking phone calls.
6. Beoplay H9i headphones
To level up to a premium wireless headset with Bang & Olufsen Signature Sound, check out the Beoplay H9i headphones, which is finely tuned by B&O sound engineers to deliver a rich, powerful sound experience. This top-notch wireless headset is part of B&O’s flagship line of headphones that are now upgraded with enhanced sound and voice quality, more powerful active noise cancellation (ANC), and advanced features.
Advanced ANC, in particular, lets you immerse yourself completely in your music or gameplay, or you can just enjoy total silence. Transparency Mode, which is accessible with a touch on the earcup, lets you amplify your surroundings so you can hear what’s going on around you.
And it features a Proximity Sensor that automatically pauses when you take them off - an especially welcomed feature for when you need a break in that intensive gaming session.
These headphones also feature Touch Control with an intuitive touch interface, so access to all the features is just a tap away. With simple gestures - such as back and forth, up and down, or around - you can control everything directly from the earcup. If you want to answer a call, change a song, or turn up the volume, it’s just a matter of a single touch. Because the aluminum plate is both mechanical and sensitive, it always works, even if you’re wearing gloves.
Like the Beoplay H4, the rechargeable lithium-ion battery charges in about 2.5 hours. However, the Beoplay H9i gives you up to 23 hours of battery life with Bluetooth only and up to 24 hours longer with an included wired audio cable.
These headphones are designed for style and comfort with adaptive memory foam on the ear cushions, so you’ll never want to take them off. They’re constructed with luxurious materials such as polished, anodized aluminum, soft lambskin, and genuine cowhide leather. The leather patinates over time, so Beoplay H9i also ages beautifully.
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About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.