The best gaming headsets

Competitive shooters, which require clear voice communication and positional audio, and the rise of the Nintendo Switch, which has mediocre onboard speakers, have boosted the video game headset market. The sheer variety of options, this late in the life span of the current console generation, can be intimidating. We’re here to help.

Over the past three years, Polygon has solicited samples from many of the biggest names in the gaming audio industry, building out a huge library of test units. Once again this year we’ve put them all to the test, playing everything from experimental indie games to big-budget AAA shooters and role-playing games. The goal is to find the very best headphones for each of the four major platforms: PlayStation 4, Mac and Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

A lot has changed in the headset market since we started doing this roundup more than four years ago. Much of that has to do with adoption of software-based spatial sound solutions like Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic, which help give even the most basic stereo headphones remarkable fidelity. Because of these advances, having features like built-in virtual surround sound or multiple drivers in your headset is no longer a necessity. That’s freed headset manufacturers to experiment with lots of different bells and whistles.

Read on for Polygon’s picks for the best gaming headphones on the market today.

Polygon Essentials is a collection of persistently updated lists of the best of the best games for each platform — from the hardware’s launch to its end of production — as well as the best entertainment across virtually every medium. For folks new to a platform, think of this as a starter kit. For long-term fans, consider it a list of what to play or watch next. We’ll be updating these lists often, with entries listed in reverse chronological order. To see a collection of other titles we recommend that might not have made the Essentials lists, check out Polygon Recommends.

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PlayStation 4

Winner: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless

SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless Gaming Headset

The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless topped our list again this year due to its superb sound quality and a host of useful features, including Bluetooth. It also works with the PS4’s optical-out port, and includes a pass-through for your high-end audio equipment.

Still at the top of the heap after last year’s analysis, SteelSeries’ flagship Arctis Pro Wireless is the best solution for the PlayStation 4. This $329.99 kit bundles up some of the best features of the Siberia 840, which made our list a few years ago in the multimedia category but is no longer in production. It’s nice for watching movies and television shows, but it truly shines for gaming.

The Arctis Pro Wireless provides excellent sound quality thanks to its extremely wide frequency response range. That means it can handle the light, delicate open-world environmental sounds in games like Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 as well as the action in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It also supports DTS Headphone:X 2.0, which is designed to simulate the sound of modern 11.1 movie theaters. Just be sure to turn off the volume limiter in the settings, which the manufacturer says is required in some international markets, to boost its power.

The most unusual feature, and likely the best, is the inclusion of a replaceable onboard battery. The Arctis Pro Wireless actually comes with two, each one good for a solid week of gaming. One goes in the headset, while the other one sits fully charged inside the unit’s diminutive lossless transmitter.

The Arctis Pro Wireless features an optical pass-through for your home theater setup along with hooks for standard 3.5 mm input and output jacks. That means it’s compatible with your Nintendo Switch while it’s docked with your TV. Finally, it also features integrated Bluetooth support, meaning it works with the Switch’s mobile app at the same time. Of course, that makes it compatible with your PC and your phone, too. It’s by far the most feature-rich device in our roundup.

Runner-up: Astro A50 for PS4 and PC (2019 version)

Astro A50 for PS4 and PC (2019 version)

Astro, now part of Logitech, is back this year with a brand-new version of its flagship A50. The audio issues that plagued it in the past are pretty much gone, and the battery life is much improved. It also includes an optical pass-through and a 3.5 mm input. The big selling point is the friendly toggle on the side to adjust the volume of game and voice chat audio.

After navigating a transition to its new owners at Logitech, Astro is back with a long-overdue update to its flagship A50 wireless headset. I’m here to say that the new 2019 model is exceptional, with all the rich and nuanced audio I’ve come to expect from Astro. Overall, this is a refined headset that’s been altogether trouble-free. It’s well worth the $299.99 price tag.

The biggest complaint with the previous A50 model was poor battery life. Logitech promises 15 hours on the new version, and that feels about right. I’ve been using Polygon’s pair since the summer, and I consistently get more than 10 hours of use before needing to charge it. It also feels a touch lighter, so it’s easier to wear over longer gameplay sessions.

Another common complaint with the previous model was unwelcome audio noise, especially at startup. That quirk has been completely eliminated in this latest model. The range of the transmitter also seems to be greatly improved. Logitech lists it as 30 feet, but I’m able to get decent reception all around my house. That helps keep the party together in Destiny 2 while I run to the kitchen for a fresh beverage.

The A50 comes in two varieties, one for PS4 and another for Xbox One. Both will also work with your PC. Just like the SteelSeries above, the A50 includes an optical port with pass-through for your receiver. The sound stage is big, clear, and distinct all across the spectrum. Aside from rock-solid audio quality, the A50 also features a new, streamlined base station that doubles as a charging stand. Plunk down the headphones when you step away, and they’re ready to go the next time you put them on.

Nintendo Switch

Winner: Kingston HyperX Cloud Mix

Kingston HyperX Cloud Mix

The new HyperX Cloud Mix is one of the few in our roundup that comes in multiple colors, including the white-and-champagne number up at the top. The wired headset features a sound profile similar to the larger units in the HyperX line, but in a slightly smaller package. It also includes a Bluetooth connection, and a second microphone for that connected device only. That makes it an excellent match for the Nintendo Switch.

The Nintendo Switch is an outlier as far as headphones go because of Nintendo’s bizarre chat system, which requires the use of a smartphone app for some games. That’s less of a problem today since Fortnite, by far the biggest multiplayer title on the Switch, established its own workaround with the team at Vivox. Nevertheless, for a full-spectrum solution you’ll need both a wired connection (to the Switch itself, and for games like Fortnite) and a Bluetooth connection (for the chat app). That means you’ll want to get the new HyperX Cloud Mix.

Offering the same kind of wide frequency response as the venerable Cloud Alphas, the $199.99 Cloud Mix is actually pretty classy as far as gaming headsets go. There’s an all-black set as well as a model with a white and rose gold finish. Combined with leatherette earcups, it’s about as fashion-forward as you’re likely to get. Best of all, the Cloud Mix is physically smaller than other headsets in the Cloud line. For a console that’s made for mobile play, that’s a very desirable feature.

Runner-up: SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless

SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless won’t let you chat with players in games that require the Nintendo Switch Online mobile app, but on the flip side, it is especially easy to use. The included USB-C dongle is smaller than your average thumb drive, and provides true plug-and-play wireless audio with no fuss.

While the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless won’t allow you to chat with other players online in Splatoon 2 or Mortal Kombat 11, it does allow for voice chat in Fortnite and other games. The big bonus here is that the Arctis 1 Wireless is a true plug-and-play, cordless solution.

The secret to the simplicity of the Arctis 1 Wireless is its tiny transmitter. Just pop it into the USB-C port on the bottom of the Switch and you’re done. Docked play is only slightly more complicated, requiring you to move the transmitter to an adapter cord hooked up to your Nintendo Switch’s dock. While the Arctis 1 Wireless doesn’t offer the same sound quality as the Arctis Pro Wireless or the HyperX Cloud Mix, it’s a much more reasonable expense at $99.99. The only downside is that you can’t charge your undocked Nintendo Switch while using the headset.

Windows PC

Winners: Sennheiser GSX 1000, Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha S

Sennheiser GSX 1000

The Sennheiser GSX 1000 works great as an amplifier and DAC combo, and is compatible with both desktops and laptops. It features three separate outputs, one each for a microphone, a pair of headphones, and a set of desktop speakers. It also supports high-bitrate audio.

Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha S

The brand-new Cloud Alpha S is an upgrade to the award-winning Cloud Alpha. It features upgraded drivers and adjustable bass. It also has an in-line 7.1 surround sound DAC, which can be turned off or detached entirely for use with other sound profiles such as Dolby Atmos.

After two solid years on my desktop, the GSX 1000 Gaming Audio Amplifier is still my preferred solution for PC gaming. It’s a combination amplifier and digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Originally retailing for $229.99, it’s now down to $169.99 via Sennheiser and even a bit less at other places online.

The amplifier bit is fairly straightforward: The little black box attaches to a USB port on your computer, and pushes a bit more power to your headphones than would otherwise be available. It has the effect of making the sound in your games richer, with more character and definition even at low volumes. The DAC inside performs an even more important function, filtering your computer’s ones and zeros into an analog audio signal. DACs are integral components in everything from your smartphone to your computer itself. With traditional PC gaming headsets, they’re usually buried inside a tiny, in-line dongle.

Sennheiser’s GSX 1000, on the other hand, has more in common with audiophile-grade preamps than it does with anything in the gaming space that’s come before. The closest approximation is a dedicated internal sound card, but those require you to crack open the case of your computer, and aren’t compatible with modern gaming laptops. The bottom line is that you can connect virtually any pair of gaming headphones to the GSX 1000 and experience high-quality sound on your Mac or Windows PC.

The other benefit of the GSX 1000 is that it removes the need to regularly wade into your computer’s dedicated sound settings. Once you set it up, the included OLED touchscreen provides access to all the options you need. It’s also motion-sensing, with a built-in dimmer that responds when you hover your finger over the control surface. The four LED lights at the corners aren’t for show. Each one is a hotkey for a different programmable preset. It also includes a 3.5 mm output, so you can easily toggle between a headset and a pair of stereo speakers.

The GSX 1000 isn’t perfect. It could use a proper equalizer, rather than the presets it comes with. To set it up for high-bitrate audio mode, you need to dip into your computer’s system settings. It’s also not at all powerful enough to drive audiophile-quality headphones. For that, you’ll need something like Creative’s Sound BlasterX G6, which can handle up to 600 ohms. We weren’t able to get a hold of any demo units in that range this year, but we’ll certainly give it a try next year so we can give the GSX 1000’s biggest competitor its due.

Of course, in addition to the GSX 1000 you’ll also need a headset. This year we’ve paired it with the recently upgraded HyperX Cloud Alpha S. It’s a virtually bulletproof design with a much wider frequency response range than previous models had. Like its predecessors, the Alpha S is light, strong, and exceedingly comfortable. It’s currently a Best Buy exclusive, but you can pre-order it on Amazon for delivery starting Jan. 1.

Runner up: Audeze Mobius

Audeze Mobius

The Audeze Mobius headphones feature a completely different kind of driver, one that provides richer and more robust sound than just about anything else we tested this year. But they also have some quirks, including a wild three-dimensional sound field generator that tracks your head movements. We’re big fans, but they require a bit more care and feeding than your average pair of headphones. They’re available in black, blue, and the copper color shown here.

The Audeze Mobius headphones are entirely too complicated for their own good. In fact, setting them up required that I measure the circumference of my head and the distance between my ear canals, not just the gummy bits on the outside. And, at $399, they’re also a bit too expensive. But their sound quality is hands down the best of any gaming headset we’ve tested in the last three years. That’s no doubt thanks to their 100 mm audiophile-grade planar magnetic drivers.

There are more caveats, however. The USB cable that the Mobius comes with is cheaply made and far too short. The built-in Bluetooth mode is difficult to manage with onboard controls, aggressively pairing with my cellphone when I’d rather it not. There have also been a few audio issues with my connection while taking calls. If you’re looking for an all-around desktop audio solution for a business setting, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

On the plus side, the Mobius doubles as a motion controller for your head. That’s a lot, I know. Stay with me.

Using the included AudezeHQ software, I’m able to create a fluid sound field that stays in one position while I move my head around. The built-in motion sensor is extremely responsive, updating itself more than 1,000 times a second. As a result, it doesn’t sound like I’m wearing headphones. It sounds like I’ve got a really nice pair of speakers mounted somewhere in my office.

What does this kind of fluid sound field earn you when it comes to your average first-person shooter? Not a whole hell of a lot, frankly. Audeze claims that you’ll get more pinpoint precision on positional audio cues, but in reality I don’t find my head moving around a lot while playing on my 24-inch monitor. If you’ve got an extra large setup — an ultrawide monitor or a multimonitor situation — you might be in for a treat.

In my opinion, the real benefit of Mobius’ unique technology comes in simulation-style games. Elite: Dangerous and War Thunder both become much more immersive while wearing these headphones. Sitting inside the cockpit and using headlook, there’s an enhanced sense of presence in those games. I’m sure that the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and Flight Simulator will benefit just the same. Cockpit and simpit builders, including those who get way into PC racing games, should put the Mobius on their wishlist right away.

What has me most excited, however, are the hooks that Audeze provides for supplemental in-game controls. They allow you to do things like lean left and right with your head. With the right API tweaks, these headphones could easily fit into the elaborate control schemes of DayZ and Arma 3 or any number of virtual reality games. I’m excited to see how the software evolves as more and more folks get their hands on the headphones.

In the meantime, the Audeze Mobius headphones sound spectacular even with the three-dimensional audio turned off. My advice is to pick up the HyperX-badged version, labeled as the Cloud Orbit S, for $329.99. The only thing they’re lacking is Bluetooth, and they also come with a much longer, cloth-braided USB cord.

Xbox One

Winner: Astro A50 for Xbox One and PC (2019 version)

Astro A50 for Xbox One and PC (2019 version)

Astro, now part of Logitech, is back this year with a brand-new version of its flagship A50. The audio issues that plagued it in the past are pretty much gone, and the battery life is much improved. It also includes an optical pass-through and a 3.5 mm input. The big selling point is the friendly toggle on the side to adjust the volume of game and voice chat audio.

Unseating the much lower-priced Plantronics Rig 800LX this year is the revised 2019 edition of the Astro A50 for Xbox One and PC. It has all the rich and nuanced audio I’ve come to expect, but with additional refinements that make it altogether trouble-free. It’s well worth the $299.97 retail price tag.

The biggest complaint with the previous A50 model was poor battery life. Logitech promises 15 hours on the new version, and that feels about right. I’ve been using Polygon’s pair since the summer, and I consistently get more than 10 hours of use before needing to charge it. It also feels a touch lighter, so it’s easier to wear over longer gameplay sessions.

Another common complaint with the previous model was unwelcome audio noise, especially at startup. That quirk has been completely eliminated in this latest model. The range of the transmitter also seems to be greatly improved. Logitech lists it as 30 feet, but I’m able to get decent reception all around my house. That helps keep the party together in Destiny 2 while I run to the kitchen for a fresh beverage.

The A50 comes in two varieties, one for PS4 and another for Xbox One. Both will also work with your PC. Just like the SteelSeries above, the A50 includes an optical port with pass-through for your receiver. The sound stage is big, clear, and distinct all across the spectrum. Aside from rock-solid audio quality, the A50 also features a new, streamlined base station that doubles as a charging stand. Plunk down the headphones when you step away, and they’re ready to go the next time you put them on.

Runner-up: Razer Nari Ultimate for Xbox One

Razer Nari Ultimate for Xbox One

The Razer Nari Ultimate headphones for Xbox One are completely wireless, and communicate with Microsoft’s console on the same radio channel as its wireless controllers. There isn’t a dongle. Just turn it on, and your Xbox will recognize it. The haptics are also entirely optional, but we really enjoyed that feature — especially in military shooters and action films — when turned down to its lower settings.

Aside from the bizarre — and exceptional — Audeze Mobius above, the biggest surprise this year was the Razer Nari Ultimate for Xbox One. The gaming peripheral manufacturer has released a bunch of new audio gear in the last year, including USB-C-powered active noise-canceling headphones and affordable wireless earbuds to compete with Apple. But where those items are primarily for the mobile PC and phone market, the Nari Ultimate for Xbox One is built specifically for Microsoft’s game console.

The biggest feature? Right out of the box, it’s 100% compatible with the Xbox One wirelessly, pairing to your console the same way a controller does. There are a few other new headsets with similar features available as of this year, including a decent option from SteelSeries. But none of them sound as good as the Nari Ultimate. Its 50 mm drivers and wide frequency response range mean the sound is both rich and powerful. It also has a much more flat sound overall — a big departure for Razer headsets, which tend to be extremely bass-heavy.

For the $199.99 price tag, know that you’re getting a little extra as well. These are haptic headphones, with an adjustable vibration powered by technology from Lofelt. Honestly, I thought I would hate it, but dialed down to just below halfway, it enhances the gaming experience, especially with shooters. I’ve begun using the Nari Ultimate exclusively on PC, in fact, to replay the campaign in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The PC/PS4 version also comes highly recommended, and also sells for $199.99.

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