For PC gamers, crisp, high-quality sound can mean the difference between a final victory-sealing frag and a missed-opportunity defeat. Speakers work for some gamers, but they pigeon-hole the setup into 2.1 with no positional audio (nor surround sound for movies) or a 5.1 speaker system with cables running all over the room.
The gaming headset has evolved greatly over the last several years. What used to be a basic communication device with little to no frills and mediocre sound quality has transformed into a high-quality surround sound machine that breathes life into games, movies, and music. Many headsets operate on PCs as well as on game consoles.
Some of the lower-end headsets on the market aren’t going to blow gamers away with perfectly created audio, but $60-$100 will buy a solid peripheral that does justice to games and other media. With a slightly bigger budget, $150-$200 will net a headset audio system that brings Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic into the picture, which is good news for console gamers and movie buffs.
We’ve tested six headsets released in the second half of 2009, from companies including Astro Gaming, Tritton, Razer, Creative, SteelSeries, and Zowie. The latter four of these headsets are strictly geared towards PC gamers and enthusiasts while the other two can be used with consoles, as well. At the end of this review, one PC-only headset and one multi-platform headset will be crowned co-champions.
So, how do we figure out which headsets are the best and which ones should be left on the rack? Each headset is evaluated for five different criteria.
Design and Build Quality: For those willing to drop a Benjamin or two on a PC and console headset, it had better last longer than a handful of marathon gaming sessions. We analyze the types of materials used, the overall design, and how well the headset stands up to stress. The headset needs to look good, too, especially if you’re bringing it to the next LAN party or MLG event.
Comfort: The last thing you need during a five-hour session of Modern Warfare 2 is a headache or sore ears. This reviewer has a particularly large head (literally, not figuratively), so that cranium will be the ultimate benchmark for comfort. If it’s comfortable on my head for several hours, you should be in the clear.
Convenience: Convenience includes basic qualifications like easy installation and any extra features that may come with the headset. It also takes into account the in-line volume controls found on nearly every headset.
Sound Quality: A headset might make you look smooth and feel nice on your noggin, but if it can’t execute its job properly, what’s the point? Each headset will be tested for sound quality in three areas: games, music, and movies. Also, just because a headset excels in gaming conditions doesn’t mean it will be perfect for watching "Transformers 2" or "Star Trek." In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. Factors include positional audio, bass levels, stereo-sound quality, and surround sound quality.
Console Usability: As previously mentioned, four of these headsets are intended for PC use out of the box. However, the Tritton and Astro gaming headsets we tested are specifically meant to be used with consoles and PCs. We’ll explain how well each headset does these various jobs.
Overall Score: After we’re finished testing each headset, we score it in each category, with a maximum of five points possible for each section. The overall score won’t be an exact average of the category scores. If there are other small details about each headset that we liked or disliked, the score can go up or down slightly.