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I test gaming headsets for a living — and this is the best one under $100

Corsair HS65 Surround used by woman for gaming
(Image credit: Corsair)

If there’s one piece of equipment you don’t want to skimp on, it’s a gaming headset. While you can get by with a mediocre mouse or keyboard (at least if you’re playing single-player games), a headset is what keeps you immersed in the action, and brings whatever game you’re playing to life. An uncomfortable headset will ruin your experience much faster than just about any other peripheral, while a headset with poor audio quality is simply a waste of money. As such, I recommend buying a high-quality gaming headset — but that doesn’t have to mean an expensive one.

When it comes to PC gaming headsets, $100 tends to be the sweet spot, at least for wired models. (Console headsets go for about $50, while wireless models can get up to $150, or more.) In the $100 range, you can expect USB connectivity rather than a 3.5 mm audio jack. Connecting via USB lets you activate surround sound and play with programmable software. For $100, you’ll usually also get plush earcups, robust drivers and a clear mic — everything you need for either immersive single-player or competitive multiplayer, in other words.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I reviewed the Corsair HS65 Surround, and found that this $80 headset provides a $100 experience in almost every way.

Why the Corsair HS65 Surround is worth your money

Corsair HS65 Surround on desk

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It’s no secret that I generally like Corsair gaming gear. I think the company makes the best gaming keyboards on the market, as well as some surprisingly good wireless gaming mice and internal PC components. The company’s headsets are generally good, although some of them cost to much relative to what they do. The HS65 Surround, however, is not one of those models.

Without rehashing the entire review, I can say that the HS65 Surround is comfortable, thanks to its large, plush earcups. It’s versatile, thanks to its 3.5 mm audio jack and optional USB adapter. And, most importantly, it has excellent sound, thanks to its high-quality drivers and novel SoundID technology.

For those who aren’t familiar with SoundID, it’s a software protocol that helps you set up a custom equalization profile, without having to know the first thing about soundscapes or frequencies. The Corsair Utility Engine (iCUE) software plays a series of A/B sound tests, and you choose your favorite one, until SoundID can “learn” your tastes and configure your perfect audio profile. Once you have it set up, SoundID elevates everything from games, to movies, to music. It almost singlehandedly takes a headset that sounds good, and helps it sound great.

I’m also a fan of the HS65 Surround’s compatibility with various systems. With its USB adapter, you can plug the headset into a PC and get top-notch sound. But you can also disconnect the adapter and plug the headset into a PlayStation or Xbox controller, or a Switch in handheld mode. While the sound quality is understandably a little less impressive in this mode, it’s still useful to have a peripheral that works with almost every system right out of the box.

Granted, no headset is perfect, and the HS65 Surround does have a few nagging issues. The boom mic isn’t removable or retractable; if you paid the full $100 for a gaming headset, it would probably offer that feature. If your mobile device doesn’t have a headphone jack, the HS65 Surround won’t work with it at all. Getting a good fit can also be a pain, since the expandable headband doesn’t have any notches or numbers.

Still, the HS65 Surround performs like a $100 gaming headset — it just costs $20 less. That’s a good deal in my book, especially if you’re new to the world of gaming headsets and don’t feel like dropping hundreds of dollars on your first purchase.

If you’re not sold on the HS65 Surround, then the SteelSeries Arctis 5 is a reliable $100 choice, as is the Razer Blackshark V2. On the other hand, that extra $20 could conceivably buy a pretty good game in a Steam sale, so choose wisely.

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.