The importance of sound in gaming cannot be underestimated. A faint step in a distance can tell a gamer the location of an enemy, while serene ambient background noise can elevate an ordinary gaming experience into the realm of the sublime. But with so many gaming and regular headphones on the market, which are worth your money? We have the answer.
High-End: SteelSeries Siberia 840
The SteelSeries Siberia 840 headphones are not for people who like to compromise. This top of the line headset features a number of unique capabilities, matched by uncompromising sound and build quality to create what many consider to be the best high-end gaming headphones on the market.
Actually, we should say “best high-end wireless gaming headphones,” since the 840 delivers crystal-clear audio wirelessly, and does so while retaining compatibility with all major operating systems, gaming consoles, and mobile devices.
Apart from the distinctly orange inner padding, the Siberia 840's are black, sleek, and feel like they're crafted from high end material. The earcups are made from memory foam padding, ensuring long-lasting comfort.
Included in the box is an OLED transmitter with more than enough options to customize the 840's sound. The same transmitter box also serves as a charging cradle for the hot-swappable batteries, which reduces charging downtime.
The transmitter box also features an assortment of various inputs and outputs, giving you a wide range of connectivity options. All the necessary cables you'll need are included in the box.
Built into the left earcup is a unidirectional retractable microphone, which does a great job when it comes to picking up subtle voice details. The mic has a red LED at its end, telling you when it’s muted and when it’s on. You can also use the included on-ear cup controls to make quick volume adjustments on-the-fly.
The sound quality of the SteelSeries Siberia 840 headphones is fantastic right out of the box, but it can be made even better through the use of SteelSeries Engine 3, which lets you manage your profiles, equalizer settings, and OLED GameSense features.
The Siberia 840 does have some downsides though. Like its cousin the SteelSeries Siberia 800, the 840's price tag is steep - somewhere around $330 - and at $30 more expensive than the 800, we're not sure if there are enough extra features to justify the cost increase (the only one being bluetooth compatibility).
Another point to consider is the Siberia 840 doesn't really take advantage of its bluetooth capabilities; you can't change the equalization of the headset, mute the microphone or control phone calls without the transmitter. On top of that, bluetooth uses up a whole lot of battery life.
Mid-Range: Kingston HyperX Cloud II
For gamers with limited budgets, the HyperX Cloud II's are often the first choice for audio equipment, not too mention Kingston is an active sponsor of many professional gamers, making their products highly visible. But the question remains - are they truly the best headphones at this price range, or are gamers just blinded by the glitz and glam of Kingston's marketing? We think the former.
The HyperX’s high-fidelity listening experience revolves around a pair of 53mm drivers optimized for maximum acoustic balance and bass response. The Cloud II's also come with a dedicated USB sound card, which ensures that you get the best possible sound quality on absolutely any system. The headphones deliver 7.1 virtual surround sound experience, and their digitally enhanced microphone reduces background noise and automatically increases voice volume as in-game sounds get louder. When not in use, the microphone can be detached and easily plugged in later.
As one of only a few headphones on the market, the Kingston HyperX Cloud II are TeamSpeak certified headphones, which guarantees a complete absence of audible echoes, background noises or voice distortions. Of course, the headphones will work just as fine with any other chat client, including Skype, Mumble, and Ventrilo.
The headphones feature ample padding, interchangeable memory foam earpads, stitched headband, and an extensive set of accessories, including an airplane adapter, leatherette and velour ear cushions, and a mesh bag for storage.
While the Cloud II's tout surround sound as a key feature, we found that this was only true for desktop systems (PC + Mac), so gamers considering this headset for other systems may want to reconsider or be content with stereo.
Another feature that was missing was audio customization options - presets for specific types of games, genres, etc. The generic settings are pretty darn good though, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue, but if you do feel like messing with the headset's settings you'll have to do it through your OS.
Do we think the pro's outweigh the few con's on the Cloud II? Absolutely - especially at this price.
Budget: Sades SA903S
Are you looking for a great pair of gaming headphones for less than $50? Well, how about less than $30 - because that’s exactly how much the Sades SA903S cost (marked down from $119 on Amazon). What you get are 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets and membranes, 7.1 virtual surround sound, and microphone with noise-cancelling functionality.
What you don’t get are premium materials/build quality, bass quality (53mm drivers on the Cloud II's vs. 40mm drivers on the Sades, although this doesn't necessarily translate into noticeable differences), or extra accessories to go along with the headphones. This is a no-frills headset, but when you consider the price, the value of the SA903S becomes apparent very quickly.
The sound is fine-tuned for games and games only. Use the headphones for music and you end up listening to a muddy mess. But thanks to Sades’s Clamping Speaker Technology, it’s easy to pick out enemy’s footsteps and enjoy the rumble of a powerful explosion.
Keep in mind that the headphones connect only via a USB port. That means that they won’t work with Xbox or PS4. Included in the box is software for Microsoft Windows, which offers a few handy customization options and a useful microphone-boost feature. The only downside to the boost feature is how it amplifies all background noise, such the fans in your PC.