If there’s one thing that we love here at RipTen, it’s gaming audio. Meaty explosions, sweeping composition and masterful voice acting can elevate a good game to epic status. As a community, we obsess over the television sets and PC monitors we use to view our favorite titles, but it seems that fewer aficionados respect the soundscape in the same way.
With the advent of voice communication for online gaming, even home theatre systems don’t really do service to intricate aural designs. Sure, the game sounds good, but you’re often left with a crummy packed-in headset for talking with your friends. Enter the gaming headset.
If you’ve never used one of these high-end, designed for gaming solutions, you probably have no idea what you’re missing out on. They offer mixed chat and game audio, so you can hear your friends footsteps sneaking up on you right before their exclamations of dread when they realize you have the drop on them.
RipTen’s Managing Editor, Michael Futter, and Features Editor, Stephanie Gutowski, have both gone through the research and purchase process for personal acquisition. They independently realized the same thing: there is no good resource for gamers when trying to figure out what product meets their needs. We’re here to help you out with some basic education, product evaluations and feature analysis so you can find the best headset match.
HOW TO — USE THE GUIDE
There are a number of ways to access the in-depth reviews of the products in the RipTen Gaming Headset Buyer’s Guide. If you have a particular manufacturer that you are fond of, you can scroll down for the list of participating brands. Those links will take you to a page with some basic information about the companies and a list of their products included.
You can also use the comparison guide at the bottom of this page to match up the features you want and use the links (underneath the picture of the product) to go right to those reviews.
Finally, at the bottom of most product analyses, we’ve included “Products to Compare” with links to similarly priced/featured units. There are a number of ways to find the product you’re looking for whether you’re looking for first gaming headset or need to replace the one you have.
As we planned to create the buyer’s guide, the first thing we decided on is that these would not be standard reviews. You won’t find scores or bullet points at the end of each writeup. Instead, we’ve broken down each product, focusing on the following categories:
- Basic product information (from the manufacturer)
- Basic description of the product
- What’s in the box?
- Aesthetics and durability
- Ease of setup and use
- Sound quality and performance notes*
- Differentiating features
- Accessories required/recommended that aren’t included in the base price
- Concluding summary
- Comparable product
* In order to standardize our testing environment, we’ve chosen the following samples:
- Xbox 360: Mass Effect 3
- Playstation 3: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
- PC: Fallout: New Vegas
- Movie: Hot Fuzz
- Music: Mass Effect 3 End Credits
- Additional samples will likely be used in addition to these standardized selections.
For the RipTen Gaming Headset Buyer’s Guide we have not put scores on the reviews. There are so many different features, configurations and platform alignments covered that we believe it’s more important to find the right feature set. Simply purchasing a product based on a numerical value isn’t the best use of your money.
Before we get started, there are a number of terms that we’ll be using throughout the process that you should be familiar with.
Stereo – This is the most basic of sound output in gaming headsets. The audio is split into two channels, Left and Right.
5.1 Surround – The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 both output in 5.1 Surround. PCs may or may not, depending on your sound card. This means that there are center (front), a left-front, a right-front, a left-side and right-side channels. Additionally, there is a subwoofer (bass) channel (that’s the .1 part) to create extra depth to the sound field. This creates a more immersive experience, especially through a headset. For instance, in first-person perspective games, turning your character will rotate the positioning of the sound to more easily help you identify incoming foes or quest objectives.
7.1 Surround – In addition to the 6 channels included in 5.1 Surround setups, this configuration includes two rear channels (left and right). There are some games that output natively in this format, but for many titles that only are designed with 5.1 Surround in mind, processors included with 7.1 Surround devices further artificially split the channels to create an the fully enveloping sound field.
Bass Boost – This feature enhances the bass output in a headset for additional depth.
Voice monitoring – Many models include this feature that allows players to more easily moderate the volume of their voice. This is especially useful for headsets that do a superb job of blocking out external noise. The outgoing chat channel is subtly mixed into the soundscape to ensure that it isn’t intrusive.
USB – Headsets with this connection method draw power, input/output chat and/or draw the audio signal through a standard USB port on a PC or game console. Only a stereo signal can be output through this connection method, but some headsets have advanced processing software to simulate surround sound..
Toslink (Digital Optical) – Headsets with this connection method draw surround sound (5.1 or 7.1) via a designated port on the back of the console or on the sound card. Your PC/Mac sound card may be equipped with a combination analog (stereo)/digital optical (surround) port. You will need an inexpensive adapter or Toslink-to-miniToslink cable to take advantage of this hookup.
Analog Surround – Available on some PC sound cards for use with wired headsets. There are three separate ports for sound output: Front Center/Subwoofer/Rear Center (for 7.1), Rear Left/Right, Front Left/Right.
Virtual vs. True Surround – Wireless headsets typically use virtual surround sound, which users a single driver (speaker) in each ear to mimic directionality of sounds. This is typically out of necessity, as more drivers would require additional battery consumption, thereby increasing weight. It would also necessitate transmission of 8 channels and four separate stereo receivers in the headphones. Put simply, it’s not practical. Some wired headsets also use this method, but some do have multiple (up to 10) drivers positioned around the ear for a “true” surround experience.
We’re pleased to be partnering with the following manufacturers for the creation of this buyer’s guide. Each link will take you to the our manufacturer landing page for each, where you can drill down further to the individual products we’ve reviewed. Additionally, we have a handy comparison chart (below) with direct links to each product page in the buyer’s guide.
We’ve created a handy comparison chart to match up buyers with the features they care about most. Please use the “Fullscreen” link at the bottom to get an expanded view of the chart.