Ambassador Jonathan West
Jonathan West - Moon Audio Ambassador
Headphones for Video Games
For those who don't know me, I'm a 24 year old firefighter for the Army. I take great pride in fighting fires for the Army. One of my favorite things to do in my off time is listen to music on high quality headphones. No better way to relax and unwind after a hard workout or day fighting fires than with great sounding music and gear that puts you front row at a masterful performance. Musical bliss.
I also love to play video games. Video games keep my mind active, helps me think, provides rewards for trying hard (usually) and I get to meet some awesome people. Over the years I've combined my hobbies. Combining music and video games helped me to discover just how amazing and rewarding listening to your favorite game can be. My favorite game is Destiny.
I've gained an appreciation for how much work goes into developing video games. The average gamer has no idea what it takes to create even the smallest action. I created this Video Gaming Audio Guide down and dirty. My goal is to help you experience high fidelity audio in video gaming's many worlds by knowing what gear to buy.
Headphones for Video Games Buying Guide
“Firedawg, why do you need great headphones for Destiny? Everyone knows Destiny's audio cues aren't as good as Call of Duty.”
Destiny is more than just a PvP, enemy horde-and-loot grind. Slow down, relax and realize:
- Destiny is a visually breathtaking video game.
- Destiny's music and ENVIRONMENTAL cues are phenomenal.
Doubters Do This
Go to Destiny's Cosmodrome. Turn around, stop, sit down, close your eyes, and listen. Hear wind brushing the trees and rustling leaves? Hear birds flying in the distance? Open your eyes to see Destiny's stunning mountain ranges, quite beautiful isn't it?
Sub par equipment doesn't create the kind of immersion described in our Doubters Do This exercise. By the end of my Headphones for Video Games Guide you will know what makes a great audio setup for video games for any budget.
Finding the right headphone depends in large part on user preference, but in my experience over ear headphones or In-Ear-Monitors (IEMs) provide the best space and depth of video game sound ("soundstage") and excellent control of audio loudness and softness (dynamic range). Let's dissect sound in video games a little since preferences may vary.
Comfort is key when considering IEMs. Look for a comfortable pair of IEMs that can be worn for extended periods with minimal fatigue. Consider buying memory foam tips such as Comply (if memory foam earpads aren't included with your IEMs at purchase). Memory foam fits in your ears helping noise isolation, comfort, and lightly tightening up bass response.
Something never brought up or even thought about when considering IEMs is the size of the horn (the piece the foam tip goes on). The smaller the horn the better.
A larger horn may lead to discomfort. You don't want your I.E.M.s to fall out or be too big to fit snuggly in your ears. Brands I like include:
Great companies that make lightweight comfortable IEMs with variations for every video gamer no matter the budget.
On-Ear Headphones (Supra-aural):
I can't wear supra-aural headphones. Supra-aural headphones put too much pressure on my ears causing discomfort in about 30 minutes; unacceptable since I play video games for hours, but some players like on-ear headphones.
You will want open or semi-open designed on-ear headphones. Open means sound isn't isolated to your ears. Sound goes into your ears and out the back of the headphones via an open panel. Open headphones have more air for drivers and so may sound better, but immersion and isolation isn't as complete and open headphones may disturb those around you. Open headphones for video games brands that come to mind:
Closed headphones work for those who play around people and don't wish to disturb them. You'll want your closed headphones to be well padded and have plenty of room to accommodate your ears and a flexible sizing option to fit your head.
My Personal Bowers & Wilkins P7 headphones
Closed headphones for video games brands that come to mind:
Bang & Olufsen
Bowers & Wilkins
Over-Ear Headphones (Circumaural):
I find over-ear headphones the best sound option for video games. Over-ear headphones comfort, dynamic range, customization, and quality outshine other options.
I look for an open-back circumaural headphone for the same reasons described in the on-ear section. Depending on driver (thing that makes the music) quality closed-back headphones provide viable options too.
Headphones weight is something to bear in mind too. You will be wearing your video games headphones for a good while. Look for a pair of video game headphones that don't strain your neck.
Padding that is comfortable and breathable (ear sweat sucks) is important. Velour pads are the standard of comfort for me. On-ear headphone brands I like:
Bowers & Wilkins
Video Game Headphones Sound Signature
What sound do you want to achieve? Do you want accuracy and true representations of your video game surroundings? Maybe you want a fun, boomier sound capable of making action movies and shooters sound and feel more lively? Or perhaps you want a sound that boosts sounds such as footsteps or movement? Each sound has a "signature." Let's look into some options to help the sound YOU want the most.
Accuracy needs a "reference" class headphone. Reference headphones show little or no bias to any frequency range. Reference headphones provide a true representation of sound as it was recorded.
Wouldn't everyone want "reference" quality sound? New listeners to reference class headphone sound may find them to be boring. The absent of tonal coloration takes some getting used to. Brands to think about:
- Harman/Kardon AKG reference series
- Klipsch (Reference series)
And then there's the bass heads.
Headphones strong in mid and bass sound frequencies is what "bass heads" like. Bass heavy cans (headphones) are the popular choice by for many mainstream gamers. Bass may make action and shooter games sound alive. Heavy bass coloration headphones may heighten sound of low end explosions with sub bass vibrations helping to improve a feeling of immersion. Brands to consider:
- Sennheiser (closed back variants)
And then there's the treble heads.
Treble biased headphones are the best for competitive play. Headphones with great clear upper sound frequencies hone in on a video game's detail. Call of Duty's footsteps on the other side of a wall are easier to hear. High frequency headphones help distinguish between Call of Duty footsteps or someone throwing a grenade. One of those sounds may hurt you, the other is sure to "kill" you.
Headphone brands with great high frequencies:
- Bang & Olufsen
- Oppo (PM-3 only)
Other Gear for Gaming
Products and video game gear in this section aren't mandatory, however adding a DAC or amp will heighten your video game experience wonderfully especially if you are new to video games.
Digital Sound Processors (DSP)
A DSP alters a video games audio signal to what a user wants it to sound like. The first time you play with a DSP don't be surprised. Everything will sound different than what you're used to. With a good DSP you can even change sound of voices in the video game.
PlayStation 4 go to the audio settings. Change the audio output to "Dolby DTS" to get a sense of how different things sound. I'm not sure if or where a similar feature exists on Xbox One.
DSP brands to look for:
- Turtle Beach
Once a signal has been processed into a DSP it can't be changed. “No change" means externally powering headphones doesn't destroy the surround sound despite what some forums say to the contrary.
Digital Analog Converters (DACs)
Digital to Analogue Converters help every aspect of video game play audio. A DAC reads binary code. DACs turn code into audio signal (analogue) we can hear.
DACs have components that enhance the accuracy of video game sound without adding coloration or bias.
DAC brands to look into:
Most gaming headphones come with microphones. For video game headphones that don't include microphones you can buy a clip-on microphone. Things to look for in a good gaming microphone is low range sensitivity (transmits your voice and not noise from the ceiling fan blowing above you), minimal static and a clip on feature.
External microphone brands to look for
Don't get so hung up on reviews. There are great headphones for video games options for any budget. You can find wonderful sounding gear for reasonable prices. Possible to find one product in just about every list mentioned for around $250.
Here is my video games headphones setup:
- Playing by myself:
- PS4 on linear audio> Astro Mixamp Pro 2011> Garage1217 Project Horizon 3> Sennheiser HD650
- Playing with friends:
- PS4 on linear audio> Astro Mixamp Pro 2011> Bowers & Wilkins P7
- PS4 on Dolby DTS> Bowers & Wilkins P7 via controller
Till next time my friends.
Army-Firedawg (Jonathan West, Moon Audio Ambassador Link)
Moon-Audio.com doesn't sell every brand mentioned in this Ambassador Headphones For Videos Games post. Moon-Audio.com evaluates brands on several dimensions including sound quality, value, brand partnerships and support for customers and business partners. We linked brands and products who met or exceeded our brand partnership criteria. Where appropriate we noted similar products and brands who we work with. Brands we don't work with aren't linked, but are easy to find on Google.