Gaming headsets have always been the first choice of gamers when it comes to their audio device. But how do regular high quality headphones stack up against them?
Which Is Better For Gaming: Gaming Headsets Or Headphones
Headphones are better for gaming because they have a much higher sound quality than gaming headsets most of the time. Good sound quality is necessary for gaming because many games rely on sound for information (hearing where the enemy is hiding, for example) so using headphones and an external mic is best.
I created this helpful table below to give you a quick, summarized comparison of Gaming Headsets and Headphones. I put an “X” under which peripheral is better for each category. After the table, keep reading for a more detailed comparison.
|Accessories (Mic, RGB, etc.)||X|
|Sound Customization (Higher Bass, etc.)||X|
|More Budget Options||X|
Dollar for dollar, you are going to get much better sound out of a nice pair of headphones than you will out of a gaming headset.
If you have a budget of $100 – $200, then you’ll be able to get some pretty nice sounding headphones, while any gaming headset you purchase will be lacking in comparison.
If your budget is lower than $100, your options for headphones are going to be a bit limited, so grabbing a gaming headset may be easier.
Even at this price range, though, I’d probably try to find a nice deal on headphones. Since headphone manufacturers focus 100% on audio quality, it’s no surprise that they sound better than gaming headsets, which are more focused on looks, marketing, etc.
The one major downside to purchasing headphones over a gaming headset is that headphones don’t come with a microphone while most gaming headsets do.
But if you have an external microphone, plan on getting one, or just simply don’t plan to use a mic anyways, then headphones are the way to go.
The other less notable downside to getting headphones is that they will not have the “gamer” aesthetic that gaming headsets have.
You probably won’t find headphones with RGB or anything like that, but the “gamer” style isn’t for everyone anyways.
Overall, you’re going to get a much better sound quality out of a set of headphones than you will out of a gaming headset for the same price.
Better sound quality leads to a more immersive experience while gaming, so headphones win out when it comes to gaming.
With all that being said, there are some things that gaming headsets have that are better than headphones. Let’s go over different categories so you can see which peripheral wins and why.
Price: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Headphones are generally cheaper than gaming headsets for the same audio quality. Gaming headsets are usually built around an existing set of headphones with a microphone and other features (wireless, RGB, surround sound) added on top. Even factoring in an external microphone, headphones are usually cheaper.
If you’re not very hung up on quality and just want something that will work, then a gaming headset may be the most convenient and affordable option.
There are very cheap gaming headsets available. Of course the cheap gaming headsets won’t sound phenomenal and the microphone quality will be lacking, but they’ll get the job done.
If you don’t mind spending some extra time on setup though, and are looking to spend a little more on your headset / headphones, then a nice pair of headphones and an external mic is going to give you the best quality and the best bang for your buck.
Gaming headsets are pretty much built and priced around marketing. Some of them look absolutely beautiful and sound pretty good too.
However, the mic quality is almost always lacking, and when it’s not the headphones cost about $100 more than the headphone + external mic alternative.
So, again, while gaming headsets are extremely convenient and give you everything you need in one place – you can spend less and get better quality sound by going with a nice set of headphones, especially once you get to the higher price ranges.
Audio Quality: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Headphones have much better audio quality than gaming headsets. Gaming headset manufacturers need to make products that appeal to gamers, so they focus on branding, aesthetics, etc. Headphone manufacturers focus completely on audio quality which leads to headphones having better audio than gaming headsets.
There’s no debating this one, you can get much better audio quality out of headphones than you can gaming headsets.
If you pick any set amount of cash, whether it be $50, $100, $200, or $500 – if audio quality is what you want, then you have to go with headphones every single time.
Of course, once you start spending hundreds of dollars on headphones, the quality differences will start getting less and less noticeable.
Still, if you compare a $200 gaming headset to a $200 set of headphones, the headphones are going to sound much better to most people.
The reason is pretty simple, gaming headsets have a bunch of other things to worry about, so the brand spends less on the actual audio equipment.
The audio quality of headphones is their main selling point, so that’s where all of the manufacturer’s focus lies.
Versatility: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Gaming headsets are more versatile than headphones because they can be used for more situations than headphones can. Gaming headsets typically have a built-in microphone, for example, while headphones usually do not and would require an external microphone to be used for full voice communication.
Gaming headsets actually win a point for their versatility. They don’t sound quite as good as headphones do but they’re definitely convenient.
You can plug your gaming headset into your phone, your computer, and maybe even use them with your console (depending on the headset and the console).
You’ll be able to just plug the gaming headset in and have a working mic and audio. Headphones, on the other hand, can be pretty inconvenient.
Of course there are many headphones that you can easily just plug into your PC, console, phone, etc. just like gaming headsets. However, you probably aren’t going to have a microphone attached to your headphones.
Instead you’ll need to worry about buying and setting up an external microphone like a Blue Yeti, which uses up a USB port.
Of course, the quality jump is worth it for a lot of gamers that want high quality sound and a high quality microphone when they game.
As far as sound customization (turning up the bass, surround sound, etc.), gaming headsets may also come out on top again.
There is software out there for headphones, but many gaming headsets will come with software or even a device that can modify the sound, which makes it much more convenient to customize these things.
Durability: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Headphones are more durable than gaming headsets because they are built with higher quality material most of the time. Gaming headsets are usually focused much more on aesthetics than they are on durability and long-term usage, while headphones are usually the exact opposite so they tend to last longer.
If you’re like me then this answer probably isn’t a surprise because you’ve gone through 3 gaming headsets in 3 months before. Gaming headsets just aren’t that durable, especially low – mid range gaming headsets.
Once you start spending more money on gaming headsets, they catch up with headphones, but cheap gaming headsets almost never last long.
Take it from me. I have had the same pair of headphones for over 3 years now and they still work great. On the other hand, I have gone through three pairs of gaming headsets in that span. These headsets just don’t seem to last long.
There are exceptions to every rule of course, and some gaming headsets can last years. However, for general durability, I have to give this point to headphones.
The only issues I have experienced with headphones is the ear padding wearing down a little bit over time.
This doesn’t affect comfort much, but you can hear the outside world a little more while gaming on an older set of headphones.
Of course, I’ve experienced the same thing with gaming headsets too, so it just comes with the ear padding territory.
Portability: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Headphones are more portable than gaming headsets because gaming headsets are created to be used at home, while gaming. Therefore most manufacturers do not consider making them easily foldable / portable. Headphones, on the other hand, are usually designed with at least some kind of portability in mind.
Not all headphones are going to be designed with portability in mind, don’t get me wrong. But it’s much easier to find a nice set of portable headphones than it is to find a portable gaming headset.
Many gaming headsets can actually be very bulky because they usually have a microphone attached to them.
Sometimes this mic is built into the side of the headset, which makes things easier, but this feature is usually reserved for high-end headsets.
So, in general, you’re going to spend much less money on a portable set of headphones than you would spend on a “portable” gaming headset, and even then it’s probably not going to be very portable (it probably won’t sound super great either).
Looks: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Headphones look better than gaming headsets because many gaming headsets have a particular style of branding that many consider “over the top”. While many gamers like this look and enjoy having LEDs in their headset, many people much prefer the subtle and versatile look of mid-range to high end headphones.
Personally, I don’t mind the way that gaming headsets look, especially if I’m just using them at home. LEDs and RGB are both pretty cool and they can look pretty sick sometimes.
On top of this, there are some great looking gaming headsets out there that capture the nice subtle look that I prefer.
However, just in general, headphones look better. Gaming headsets are usually too “in your face” for a lot of people.
Many are very bright colors, with huge logos plastered on them somewhere and (of course) bright LED lights shining all around.
Many people do like the look of gaming headsets, but it seems that the more subtle look of headphones is gaining a lot of popularity in the gaming community.
This is why more expensive gaming headsets, like the SteelSeries Arctis, have started adapting a subtle look as well.
But all in all, this is why I ranked both headphones and headsets equally in the table above. It comes down to what you like and some people want a flashier headset. Not me though.
Comfortability: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Gaming headsets are more comfortable than headphones because they’re built with long gaming sessions in mind. Gaming headsets are usually more ergonomic and have better ear padding than headphones. With that being said, comfort is mostly subjective and will come down to the individual person and device.
It’s hard to choose a real winner here because everyone has different shaped heads and ears. However, some headphones, like the Sennheiser HD 560 S, are just built for comfort and pretty much everyone finds them comfortable.
The HyperX Cloud II gaming headset is similar and most gamers find them extremely comfortable even after long gaming sessions.
However, there are still people that find these headsets and headphones uncomfortable because everyone has different ear shapes.
With all of that being said, I have to give this point to gaming headsets because they’re usually built with long gaming sessions in mind.
So a lot of effort and thought is put into the ear pads. Don’t get me wrong, headphone designers think about comfort too for long studio sessions, movies, music, etc., but not quite as much.
In my image above, my gaming headset is slightly more padded than my nice headphones. They feel like cushions on my ears.
Sometimes it takes trying out and returning a couple headsets and headphones before finding the perfect one. You can even do like I have done and buy covers to put over your headphones if you want a cloth feeling on your ears.
Some people even prefer to use high performance earbuds like the Moondrop Aria ear buds when they game, listen to music, etc.
Earbuds are usually much more comfortable than gaming headsets and headphones, of course it’s at the cost of audio quality and noise cancellation.
Connectivity: Gaming Headset Vs Headphones
Headphones have better connectivity than gaming headsets because headphones are usually built with higher quality material, which means the wires are more durable and less likely to get damaged. With that being said, connectivity is usually determined by the price of the gaming headset and headphones.
Connectivity is going to be similar between gaming headsets and headphones, with headphones taking a slight advantage.
Overall, the more you pay, the better connection you’ll probably have and the longer it will last because the cords will be better.
But, headphones generally have higher quality parts than gaming headsets of the same price, so headphones win.
How To Choose Between A Gaming Headset And Headphones?
If you want something that is convenient that will work out of the box with no set up, then a gaming headset is the best option because they have built in microphones and just need to be plugged in. If you want the best quality for your money and don’t mind spending extra, then headphones are the best option.
To choose between a gaming headset and a pair of headphones, take a look at the table at the very beginning and think about which features are most important to you.
In summation, a gaming headset is going to have a microphone built-in and will also have features like RGB, wireless connectivity, etc. However, the sound quality is not going to be anywhere near a set of headphones for the same price.
If you don’t want to spend money on the highest quality equipment and want everything all-in-one, then the gaming headset is the best option for you.
If you want the best quality possible, and don’t mind having your mic and headset being separate, headphones are what you want.
Recommended Gaming Headsets
The SteelSeries Arctis gaming headsets are always high quality and they’re very well-known in the gaming community. They have a fantastic reputation for great sound and an overall high-end feel.
The Arctis headsets are not made with cheap plastic and you can tell when you feel them in your hands and on your head.
The Arctis 7P+ is great because it’s wireless, it sounds phenomenal, it has a great microphone attached, and personally I think it’s one of the best looking gaming headsets available.
The only real downside is that some people find the Arctis headsets uncomfortable. This is true for pretty much every gaming headset, though.
Some people find them comfortable, others find them uncomfortable. The nice thing about Arctis headsets is that you can find replacements for the ear cushions and try out a couple different options.
HyperX Cloud gaming headsets are another extremely popular option in the gaming community. These have the classic “gamer” aesthetic, unlike the SteelSeries Arctis, and still look amazing.
They’re built with high quality parts and feel great. They’re wireless, which is extremely convenient. They perform well and sound great.
The main selling point of the HyperX Cloud headset, though, is that it is extremely comfortable. Of course, everyone’s head is shaped differently, but these are known as one of the most comfortable gaming headsets available.
I use a cheaper version of the HyperX gaming headsets and for the price they have been a great gaming headset for me.
These sound absolutely beautiful and are very affordable compared to other headphones on the market. These things sound like $300 – $400 headphones while only being a fraction of the price.
Compared to similarly priced headsets (like the ones listed above), they are miles ahead in sound quality. They’re extremely comfortable and are made with high quality material.
I don’t have a single negative thing to say about these headphones. They’re perfect for anyone wanting a substantial upgrade to their audio quality.
The Sennheiser HD 560 S are known as neutral headphones. This means they don’t do anything at all to the sounds they’re receiving.
Some headphones will add “color” to the sound coming through to make music sound “better”. The Sennheiser HD 560 S headphones take a different approach – they try to give you the clearest, most accurate-to-life version of the sound coming through.
It comes down to a personal preference, but I like neutral headphones like these because they let you hear things how they were meant to be heard and give a very pure sound.
This is great for video games as well. The Sennheiser HD 560 S headphones are very high quality, they’re priced very fairly, they’re comfortable, and they sound fantastic.
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Eric streams 3 days a week on Twitch and uploads weekly to Youtube under the moniker, StreamersPlaybook. He loves gaming, PCs, and anything else related to tech. He’s the founder of the website StreamersPlaybook and loves helping people answer their streaming, gaming, and PC questions.