Matt James - Moon Audio Ambassador
Headphones for Video Games
By Moon Audio Ambassador Matt James
I make hi-fi choices that double as gaming gear. I just can’t make myself start the other way around. I hate trying to find the best sounding headphones branded as gaming headphones and mass-marketed as such.
Here is my gaming headphones selection criteria priority:
- Comfort (mild clamping force/deep cloth ear cups/light weight)
- Sound Quality
I’d rather find audiophile grade headphones that serve the purpose of gaming as a “happy accident.” I get the benefit of using the same headphones to listen to music while checking up on a website dedicated to the video game I enjoy and then going straight into playing a video game without having to swap a bunch of gear.
My Soundblaster X7 has a wire headphone rack that attaches to the back. I simply hang whatever headphones I currently enjoy (for me, it's the Audioquest Nighthawks). I enjoy the Nighthawks outstanding comfort for both long music sessions and long MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online games) sessions.
Neutral and “warm” headphones are best. If you have a top shelf pair of “clinical” headphones with excellent bass extension you get good explosions. Neutral headphones still have sharp accurate dialogue in cut scenes thanks to the baritone voice actors they tend to use in video games.
Moon Audio's favorite Neutral Headphones
Shure SRH1540 Headphones
Sennheiser HD 630VB Headphones
Warm headphones just give you MORE of an emphasis but they still deliver the same frequencies. I think the treble-forward in-ear-monitors designed for listening to oboes and flutes in orchestral music would be the only “bad” video game headphones / earphones choice.
For gaming, sound is paramount. Whether wanting to hear environmental cues like gunfire in a first person shooter or loving the atmospheric soundtracks of AAA games from top game developers, sound plays a massive role in gaming enjoyment.
Choosing the right headphones can make game play more enjoyable and real.
I will spend coin on top-shelf graphics cards to enjoy a video game's eye-candy. However, no matter how good my graphics card is, I can’t fully enjoy video game splendor without the right aural experience.
Sound is sometimes an afterthought for game developers. Magic happens when a great game takes sound design seriously especially with a fantastic pair of headphones. The experience of playing a game with well designed sound great headphones is without rival.
Open vs Closed Headphones
- Allows outside noise interference
- More air for drivers
- Reduces outside noise
- More immersed gameplay
Open or closed headphones? The short answer is the best headphones solution for video games is situational. Much like movie watching, video game playing can be a social event or a late-night solitary getaway where you don’t want to wake up a significant other or child.
I have closed back headphones I use when my fiancée is reading on the couch next to me. I have open back headphones for when we game together and I need to discuss battle strategies.
Closed back headphones can feel more immersive. Open back headphones provide more air for drivers (where the music comes from) and more air can help sound, but your headphone noise may disturb those around you.
In-Ear-Monitors (IEMs) vs Full size Headphones
This debate hits same hot buttons as for audiophiles. Preference depends on how long you game, how hot the room is, or how much you tolerate in-ear pressure from IEMs. Never is the IEM answer for some.
For gaming on the go, you can’t beat a good pair of easier to transport in-ears. Lugging around a pair of Audeze LCD-3s can be a pain. I typically play computer games, so a comfortable pair of supra-aural (on-ear) headphones is best for me.
JH Audio Sirens Series Roxanne Universal In-Ear-Monitors
Comfort and Build
The longer you play video games, the more comfort moves up the priority list. Gaming for hours at a time requires a comfortable pair of over ear headphones. If it is hot I prefer cloth ear cups. If it is cold leather works fine.
Headphone weight is also important. I love a lot of things about the EL8s from Audeze, but Audeze's new headphones are not lightweight. When I game for a long time headphones need to disappear and become an afterthought.
I don’t need gaming headphones that can take a bullet. I need lightweight headphones. If a pair of headphones feel cheap but are lightweight and have clear sound I would buy those over higher quality but heavier headphones (at least for gaming).
Additional Platform information
I have a pair of Astro Gaming A50 headphones for console gaming. For computer gaming, all I need are headphones with a quarter-inch or eighth-inch jack. I have a separate mic and don’t see the appeal of a “gaming headset” anymore.
Other Recommendations: Beyerdynamic (anything from the T or DT line), Audioquest Nighthawk