Part 2: Music to your ears, comfort for your head.
In all honesty, headsets haven’t changed much in the last 12 months. The best things here are mostly either the same as last year at a more reasonable price point, or slightly upgraded versions. If you have the previous version, there’s little reason to upgrade. But if you want to skip a tier, then it’s definitely worth it.
Spoiler alert: Astros A40/50s are still bad. Very, very bad.
Astro make some of the most comfortable headsets money can buy. That is where the good ends, because literally everything else about them is terrible. I can’t stress enough exactly how terrible they are at making sound, or recording sound.
I need to restate this: If you think they sound good, you are objectively wrong and do not know what 'good' sounds like (whoa, dude, like... harsh - Ed). The quality might be acceptable for, say, a quarter of the price, but even a 50% discount would be nowhere near enough. I got my A40s for free and I gave them away. They were given back. If you do get some for free, it’s possible to make them sound vaguely acceptable if you EQ them within an inch of their life, which you can do on a Mixamp (which is actually wonderful) using the Command Center software.
But wherever possible, don’t spend money on them.
I’m just getting started:
Logitech G430: $49.99
The non-wireless version of the G930, the G430 is comfortable, sounds good, and has a good quality microphone. This is important because the G930 suffers terribly from driver issues under Windows 10 that causes it to constantly disconnect. No wireless, no wireless issues! Hooray! They’ve got plenty of bass without sounding too muddy, crisp-ish high-ends and just feels good when gaming. It’s actually surprising that these are only $50, because they sound and feel like something more expensive. The look is a little last-gen with the xx3 series gear going a bit more futuristic, but overall it’s difficult to fault this little headset.
Hyper-X Cloud: $69.99
I’m just going to come out and say it - I love these headphones, I really do. The frequency response is wide and deep, and the closed-back design is reminiscent of the Plantronics GAMECOM Commander used for many live esports events, giving good isolation and containing the sound from escaping into your lounge room. That said, you will never forget you’re wearing them - the closed-back also creates a very tight soundstage. A TeamSpeak-certified detachable mic makes them great for voice comms in game, which is clearly the primary focus of this device. There’s a huge gulf of performance across different gaming headsets, ranging from ‘excellent’ to ‘how did this get past prototyping’, and many different design philosophies. This one sits firmly in ‘quite good’ and ‘we copied something we know works and made it a lot cheaper’. A solid choice.
Steelseries 200: $59.99 (25% off)
Steelseries headsets are underrated and I don’t know why. The current discounts on some of the range is indicative of new models dropping soon, so get in while you can. Like the others in I’m Just Getting Started, there’s not a heap to say about them. Good headsets at a low price, comfortable for long periods of time, sizeable drivers with reasonable detail levels.
I want to do better:
Let’s just get this out of the way first - Logitech wants to be Razer, but I’m not terribly upset about it. Both the headsets at this tier just happen to be wireless, and similar to each other. While this definitely wasn’t the plan, don’t underestimate how good wireless headsets are for streaming. It’s super easy to stream in different places in different ways when your audio and mic aren’t tethered to anything; cooking streams, Pokemon Go, working on cars, whatever. It is far, far easier than trying to use fixed mics in random places.
Logitech G933: $99.99
The G933 is a successor to the G930, which I’ve tested and used extensively, even getting a pair for myself to use permanently as a headset for travel, and have accompanied me around the world several times. Hardy, durable, they sound great, can drive hard, with great battery life and an excellent microphone, it’s difficult to find anything to complain about. The frequency response isn’t the flattest thing you’ve ever heard, emphasising gaming immersion over accurate reproduction, and when I use the microwave they tend to drop out. Range-wise I can walk all over my apartment or downstairs while using them and not lose signal. I won’t buy G933s for myself, but if my G930s die (god forbid), then I’ll replace them with G933s. Easily worth the $100, and a notable upgrade in every way from all of the IJGS headsets.
Razer ManO’War Wireless: $139.99
The ManO’War Wireless is the only Razer headset you should consider buying (with the possible exception of the Tiamat 7.1). They’re definitely better than the G933s. Are they 40% better to justify the 40% price difference? Maybe. They’re staggeringly impressive though. They feel great over any time period, they don’t ever feel heavy, and the sound stage is impressively open. Great battery life, good sound, good mic, great for streaming, and absolutely sounds better than the wired version. The only real complaint is the same as my complaints about the majority of wireless headsets - if there’s a PC driver issue or you want to connect it to something else, you literally can’t; you’re tied to the dongle. On the bright side, it does also work on PS4 and OSX out of the box. The mic sounds crisp and clear, and has fooled people on-stream a few times asking what off-screen mic we were using. Surprise! ManO’War.
After-sales support is truly spectacular as well - this year one of ours bought in Australia failed in Hong Kong, and they shipped us a replacement from a local warehouse in HK the same day. The only caveat was that they asked us to destroy the failed unit, so no-one else attempted a warranty claim on them. It’s honestly one of the most sensible, pragmatic customer support experiences I’ve had and it makes it easy to recommend purchasing.
Time to get serious:
Audio-Technica ADG1x: $299
These headphones are really, really great. So great, in fact, I bought them twice. With my own money. There are two variants available, an open-back and closed-back version, and I own them both, at nearly $300 each, and with no regrets.
They sound better than anything else on this list, and possibly anything else available for less than $600 that doesn’t need amplifying.
I need to restate this again for avoidance of doubt: ADG1x’s sound absolutely spectacular. I’ve heard things in-game and taken my headphones off to see what that noise in my apartment is. My long-suffering reference headphones, the Denon AH-D2000s, were $1600 when they were new, and they are only slightly better than the ADG1x’s.
They’re so comfortable there is literally no time period of wearing them which will hurt your head. They come with good cabling options and a USB sound card, if you need such a thing (it is not very good so probably just throw it away). The soundstage is open and reproduction is accurate. There’s only one confusing thing about them, and it’s in the way the mic works. It can’t be fully slid out of the way, and the mute button isn’t on-off, it’s push-to-mute. And it’s on the inside, so you hit it with your thumb. I don’t understand this, but it is very easy to use for a quick aside while streaming, so questionable design aside, it sounds good. It could stand to be more directional, as it has a tendency to pick up room noise, but that can be worked around with a noise gate and a limiter in your effects panel, if you have one.
If you have to choose between the open and closed-back models, it’s really down to whether you want to annoy your coworkers. The open back spills sound like a drunk white girl dancing to a cover band, and there is a slight tradeoff in sound quality for going to the closed-back version, but not much. The comfort comes from the four-points-of-contact design that uses your head for suspension, however if you have a small head like our director, you can increase the tension by attaching a rubber band between the two suspension arms, which will firm the damping rate nicely.
To re-iterate: if you want a wired headset and value sound quality & comfort for long sessions without fatigue, buy these.
Steelseries 800: $229 (25% off)
There is no other headset on this list, or in fact anywhere in the world that can do what the Steelseries 800, and its soon-to-be-arriving-replacement the 840. I almost don’t know where to start.
- Sounds great: ✓
- Great mic:✓
- Myriad of connectivity options: ✓
- Even more connectivity options: ✓
- Configurable: ✓
- Replaceable standard battery: ✓
- Compatible with everything: ✓
The 800 series is discounted because the 840 is coming soon, which is basically the same but also WILL BLUETOOTH PAIR TO YOUR PHONE SO YOU CAN USE IT AT THE SAME TIME AS YOUR PC. Jesus christ Steelseries. You calm down. You’ve made a headset that can literally do anything. There’s even a 3.5mm out on the headset - you read that right - so you can daisy chain a second pair of headphones off them. You can connect with USB as an interface, the transmitter can take multiple inputs of 3.5mm or optical S/PDIF with levels separately adjustable. You can use it with your phone, your xbox, your PS4, your PC. If your microwave had a line out, you could use it with that too. I’m actually angry this exists, because it makes me re-evaluate how stupid any headphone is in comparison. The ADG1x does sound a little better, but that’s a totally fine trade-off for what the 800 brings to the table.
At $229, I can’t give any reason not to buy these immediately, so get them before they sell out in preparation for the release of the 840.
Audio-Technica BPHS-1: $160 + interface
Do not buy the BPHS-1 unless you have a mixer/recording interface. This is a professional broadcast headset with an XLR-cabled dynamic microphone, and a 3.5mm TRS stereo cable for connectivity. It is useless to you unless you own the appropriate hardware to connect it to, and even then it’s going to sound worse in your ears than either of the TTGS recommendations. However.
If you intend on running a broadcast from an event, these headsets are brilliant. Solid isolation, plugs directly into your audio equipment, and headset mics that properly mirror the performance of a real dynamic stage mic, for $160 these are a steal compared to competing models like the Sennheiser HME 26-600(4)-XQ going for $550 (which Riot uses at major events).
Nothing more to say. A workhorse designed for getting work done, and will make your life much, much easier if you’re doing live events.
Read the rest of the series!
- Part 1: Streaming Programs
- Part 2: Headphones
- Part 3: Microphones
- Part 4: Audio Interfaces
- Part 5: Lighting
- Part 6: Camera
- Part 7: Capture cards
- Final Thoughts