I tried 3 popular gaming headsets, and they all failed

As a gamer who often plays online, a gaming headset seems to have become a necessity for me. After all, I don’t just need speakers or headphones — I need the whole package, meaning headphones and microphone. Considering the number of gaming headsets on the market, you might think it would be easy to find a good pair with a working microphone. Spoiler alert: No.

I gave gaming headsets too many chances and spent too much money using them, only to be disappointed again and again. After trying the three most popular options, I’m ready to say I’m done. Here’s what happened.

All at once

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There’s a problem with gaming headsets that’s rarely talked about, and it’s also the best thing: They do too many things at once, and that can affect build quality. While this is desirable, it can only be done up to a certain point. Once you’ve sacrificed too much just to get all these features in one package, it doesn’t make sense anymore.

I’ll be the first to tell you that a gaming headset can be a great option if you’re like me and don’t like having to deal with annoying cables, plugging in multiple devices, keeping track of where everything is, and so on. They’re just easier to use than other options, but unfortunately, packing all that into a headset comes at a price.

Not just headphones and a microphone. USB headsets come with their own internal audio drivers, while headsets with a 3.5mm audio jack rely on your motherboard to deliver audio. Gaming headphones often have closed backs, which means some level of noise cancellation. Then, there’s the unique gamer aesthetic and marketing that you have to pay a premium for. Many of these headsets in the mainstream sector cost less than $100 to $150, and some are under $50. If you add it all up and still try to make a profit, it’s clear that cost reductions on build quality are possible.

Gaming headsets are the epitome of the phrase “jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” The next adage is “but often better than the expert,” but that’s not always the case here. Gaming headsets can do everything they advertise, but they also lag behind in many ways.

Headsets give you the worst of it, be it microphone or audio, unless you are ready to pay for one of the two. the best gaming headsets — and they can cost $200 to $300 or more. This may be fine for gaming, but when you want to chat on Discord or play music, the audio (or microphone) quality tends to suffer. In my experience, these headsets are also prone to various problems, even if handled with care.

Buying a gaming headset also means paying the gamer tax which is also found on peripherals such as mice and keyboards. These headsets may be tailored to gamers’ needs, with features like surround sound, noise cancellation, or the ability to mute the microphone with the press of a button. But for me, these features do not solve the problems that arise.

I really tried

The HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless Headset leans into a gaming PC.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I’m definitely giving gaming headsets a proper chance. Over the past three years, I’ve tried a total of four, as well as a pair of non-gaming headphones. Of the five, there is only one model that I like, and it’s definitely not one of the headsets.

I started with the Razer Kraken headset. I felt uncomfortable, and the microphone quality was poor. Pleated ear pads also start to peel early on.

I finally gave in and bought a new headset, this time a wireless version of the HyperX Cloud Flight. I’ve only heard good things about it, and while I like it for its wearing comfort and great sound quality, there are a few things that bother me. First, the volume control on the left headphone is very easy to trigger by simply moving my arm or neck. As a result, I would randomly shift the volume up or down, because once it started, it didn’t stop. Of course, my ears weren’t happy.

What finally prompted me to return this headset after only a few months of use was the fact that the battery would die after 1 to 3 hours — and that’s even if it was fully charged.

The Razer Kraken V3 sits on a table.
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I got a new pair as a replacement. This marks headset number three, or two if we can count both HyperXs as the same device. Once I get a replacement, I hope all these issues will be resolved. However, while the volume control is still fun, it often hurts my ears. This headset also has its own problem – random signal loss. It’s time to move on.

Currently, I have SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7, and I can’t say that hate he. The microphone is the best of the four. These headphones are quite comfortable, and while I don’t think they’re suitable for music or movies, they’re made for gaming. But, of course, there was just one problem.

The headset doesn’t stop turning off randomly, often in the middle of a sentence; for me, that’s a pretty big deal breaker. It’s still under warranty, but I’m not even sure if I want to get a new one at this point.

I’ve sworn off gaming headsets forever, and the alternative solution has been staring me in the face for months.

When two is better than one

Close-up of the earcups on the Audio-Technica ATH-GDL3 open-back gaming headphones.
Jaron Schneider / Digital Trends

Failed headset after failed headset, one pair of cans remained consistent and excellent — my sub-$100 Audio-Technica ATH-AVA400 open-back headphones. They’re not even wireless, which I really like these days, but the quality makes up for it. I’m not an audiophile, so as long as something sounds good and doesn’t wear out quickly, I’m satisfied. My ATH headphones meet those criteria and sound much better than any gaming headset I’ve tried, and they’re cheaper than most headsets, too.

I finally realized that the solution was simple, and didn’t throw away the microphone. Here’s to getting a microphone in addition to a solid pair of headphones.

There are several advantages to swapping one device for two (or three, if you also want to get a DAC/amp). First, you get two devices that are made specifically for that one purpose, either transmitting audio or transmitting it. It may not sound like a big deal, but that focus certainly makes a difference compared to a combination of gaming headsets.

Next, you’ll likely get something better for roughly the same price. Just like gaming headsets, you can mix and match to get something cheaper or more expensive, but this generally applies across many different price points. If you are on a tight budget, you can likely “build” the combo for under $80. Cheaper gaming headsets do exist, but they’re usually nothing to write home about.

Regarding headphones without a microphone, we have a rating of several of them the best headphones worth looking into. You’ll find that the brands in our rankings are different from the brands gamers are used to. You’ll find Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, and more. I personally highly recommend the Audi0-Technica as a fairly affordable option. It also makes some gaming headsets like the ATH-GDL3, but again — it’s often better to keep the two things separate.

Steelseries Alias ​​and Alias ​​Pro sit on the table.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

What about the microphone? You don’t need one of those big streamer-style desk-mounted boom mics, although that could be an option. The closest alternative to a headset is the expensive but sturdy Antlion ModMic. Cable options start from approx

and there is a wireless version for

. It’s basically an attachable microphone that you can combine with any headphone to create your own gaming headset. It sounds much better than any headset I’ve ever owned, and it can be taken with you after you replace your headphones with a new pair. If the price tag has you confused, the Zalman ZM-MIC1 is a great choice

and while it’s not amazing, it will work.

Then, there are microphones like the latest SteelSeries Alias ​​Pro or the famous Blue Yeti. It’s probably just as good without the additional audio hardware, but it takes up space on your desk, so it’s a trade-off. Be careful because once you fail to upgrade your headphones and microphone, you may end up spending more money than you originally planned.

Your mileage may vary, and this is just my personal experience, so if you’re looking for a headset, don’t be swayed by my opinion. Excellent gaming headsets that don’t cost a fortune do exist, like the HyperX Cloud Alpha. With a little research, you’re sure to find something that suits your needs if you like the concept of a gaming headset — especially if you’re willing to spend the extra money. I just know that for me, I felt much more satisfied once I let go of the idea of ​​a headset altogether.

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