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I've noticed that a lot of people on this board tend to ask about what headsets they should buy, which - y'know - is fair enough. A lot of "gamers" buy headsets because they provide headphones and a microphone in the same package. You see companies like Turtle Beach, Triton, Astro, Razer, and so on marketing towards these sorts of people.

 

The problem is - and I have seen this repeated ad nauseum - headsets are generally not very good. People tend to buy them because they're looking for surround sound and/or a microphone. Basically, features they can't get from headphones. But there are some issues with that way of thinking:

 

  1. Virtual surround sound is pretty much worthless. The people who claim you'll become so much better at Call of Duty or what-have-you if you own a 5.1/7.1 headset usually don't know what they're talking about. Ever see someone ask how a company can get seven speakers and a subwoofer in their headphones? Answer: they don't. It's virtual. A similar effect can be achieved with dedicated headphones that have a wide soundstage, using the Headphones option in your game's audio settings. If you want real surround sound, get a speaker system.
  2. You really don't need a microphone on your headset. There are a lot of options for microphones in different budgets that will do the job you need them to. In fact, if you bought a webcam in the last few years, you probably have a microphone on it. A couple highly-popular options for microphones are the Antlion Modmic and the Blue Snowball (or if you want a really nice desktop microphone, the Blue Yeti).
  3. Wireless capabilities are probably the primary reason why someone might want to consider a headset. Most wireless headphones use Bluetooth, which isn't very good for audio to begin with, and the better-sounding wireless headphone options are much more expensive. That said, know the compromises you're making when you pick wireless peripherals in general.
  4. There are great headphones for all kinds of budgets. Although this list isn't really the most comprehensive, it'll give you a good idea of where to start with your search for headphones in your budget.
  5. Some good headsets do exist. You would still be better off buying a separate pair of headphones and a microphone, but make no mistake: headsets that do audio well are real. Sennheiser PC 360 and Beyerdynamic MMX 300 come to mind. Expensive? Well, that's why you should consider headphones. Better headsets generally come from manufacturers of actual headphones. Yes, even the Skullcandy SLYR isn't half-bad.
  6. Why wouldn't you want headphones? If you can use headphones for listening to music and playing games, there's little reason not to go with headphones. Headsets tend to only do an acceptable job at best at one of those two. Even the better headsets are no match for the audio performance of headphones at the same price.
  7. Many headsets have loads of bass. Razer headsets are notorious for this sort of thing. Others might just sound tinny or unclear. Even the most expensive Astro headset isn't going to compete with headphones that cost half its price.
  8. Manufacturing costs are divided amongst other assets when dealing with headsets. Styling is one, microphone functionality is another. With headphones, that dilemma is a lot less of a problem. Sure, many headphones don't look incredibly styling, but seriously, other people don't care as much about the look of your headset as you think they do. Headsets and headphones should be a tool, not a fashion statement. Otherwise, we might as well all go buy Chinese knockoffs of Beats.
  9. Headsets, in general, are not a good value. Anything that hovers above the price of a Sennheiser HD 598 (one of the best pairs of headphones in its price bracket) is usually a poor value. Similarly, if you're in the market for a headset and you find a low, low price on a pair, you probably shouldn't buy it. The Turtle Beach X12, for example, is not a good value. Tread carefully when looking about for headsets.

Does this thread exist to disparage headsets? No, and in fact, there may be some perks to picking a headset over headphones like console compatibility (though headsets designed for console gaming usually have poor PC support, see Turtle Beach). However, that isn't the standard. This thread exists in order to help people make a more educated decision about their audio purchases. It's up to the individual what they want from a headset. The above material is meant to inform the reader what features are ultimately irrelevant to a headset, and why headphones reign superior. Ultimately, there's no wrong decision. If you decide you still want a headset after reading this, by all means, go for it. But if audio performance means a great deal to you, you might want to try headphones instead.

 

If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them.

Want to find parts in your budget? Logical Increments is the guide you need. | In the market for a headset? Read this thread. | If you're looking for headphones, please refer to this thread. | Stop being backhanded when offering advice.

CPU: Intel i7-3770K @ 3.5 GHz | CPU Cooler: Thermaltake Frio OCK | Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77-V LK | Memory: 16 GB Corsair Vengeance LP (DDR3-1600) | GPU: MSI Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition x 2 (Crossfire) | Storage: 120 GB Kingston SSDNow V300 SSD, 2 TB Toshiba HDD | PSU: Corsair TX850 V2 | Case: In-Win Mana 136 (Black)
Monitor: ASUS VS248H-P | Keyboard: Corsair Vengeance K70 (Cherry MX Brown) | Mouse: Logitech G500 | Speakers: Logitech X-140 | Headphones: Philips Fidelio X1, Sony MDR-X05 | Webcam: Logitech C510
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Woah, now that's an article, nice and simple to understand....

 

About point no 1, the virtual surround sound. I've always noticed that virtual surround headsets always come with a small 'USB Surround Adapter' or 'built-in surround sound processor (inside the headset)'. Now I may be wrong, but aren't those adapters/processors the 'brain' behind all the majestic surround? And aren't those actually the same as audio cards (be it internal or external) with surround sound capability? Maybe just the surround processing algorithms that' are different, like CMSS vs Dolby Headphone vs etc, etc?

 

What I meant to say was, the headsets themselves don't have any surround sound capability, just regular stereo headsets. So when we buy a '7.1 virtual surround headset', we actually buy a '7.1 virtual surround sound processor, bundled with a stereo headset', am I right?

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Woah, now that's an article, nice and simple to understand....

 

About point no 1, the virtual surround sound. I've always noticed that virtual surround headsets always come with a small 'USB Surround Adapter' or 'built-in surround sound processor (inside the headset)'. Now I may be wrong, but aren't those adapters/processors the 'brain' behind all the majestic surround? And aren't those actually the same as audio cards (be it internal or external) with surround sound capability? Maybe just the surround processing algorithms that' are different, like CMSS vs Dolby Headphone vs etc, etc?

 

What I meant to say was, the headsets themselves don't have any surround sound capability, just regular stereo headsets. So when we buy a '7.1 virtual surround headset', we actually buy a '7.1 virtual surround sound processor, bundled with a stereo headset', am I right?

Yes, that's correct. For example, if you were to buy a Turtle Beach X12 headset, although on paper it's capable of surround sound, you need a DSS2 processor in order to enable that function.

Want to find parts in your budget? Logical Increments is the guide you need. | In the market for a headset? Read this thread. | If you're looking for headphones, please refer to this thread. | Stop being backhanded when offering advice.

CPU: Intel i7-3770K @ 3.5 GHz | CPU Cooler: Thermaltake Frio OCK | Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77-V LK | Memory: 16 GB Corsair Vengeance LP (DDR3-1600) | GPU: MSI Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition x 2 (Crossfire) | Storage: 120 GB Kingston SSDNow V300 SSD, 2 TB Toshiba HDD | PSU: Corsair TX850 V2 | Case: In-Win Mana 136 (Black)
Monitor: ASUS VS248H-P | Keyboard: Corsair Vengeance K70 (Cherry MX Brown) | Mouse: Logitech G500 | Speakers: Logitech X-140 | Headphones: Philips Fidelio X1, Sony MDR-X05 | Webcam: Logitech C510
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