It's a good time to be an audiophile gamer
What a time to be alive! Where gamers and audiophiles unite in the quest for premium sound for both hobbies; a perfect marriage where the two become one.
Welcome to: the Audiophile Gamer.
As I've argued in the past, (most) gamers don't care about sound. But it's not their fault. Most gamers have also never experienced what it's like to have true audiophile-grade sound. Luckily it's an easy problem to solve.
The development of gaming headsets today shows that the audio industry is starting to realize that gamers care not just about the sound of their games, but more so being immersed in the world they are playing in. It's not about "good sound quality," but rather the added realism that sound provides the player.
That doesn't mean deep bass and poppin' beats.
The quality in the sound lies in the subtleties of the sounds of the gaming world, and how transient they are in the activities you are participating in. The wind blowing on the top of a mountain, the crackles and pops of a campfire, the receding water line across the sand and shells when a wave goes out on the shoreline. But there's more to sound design than elemental effects of the natural world. The muffled interior of the engine noise inside a race car, the creaking of an abandoned house in a post-apocalyptic world - all of these elements help to create the realism of the game world. However, it doesn't help much if these auditory cues are masked by other effects in the game. That's where sound design comes in.
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Buying the best headphones on the planet isn't necessarily going to make your game better. If a game has bad sound design then audiophile-grade headphones aren't going to magically create an amazing high-definition auditory experience. It's like my audio engineer buddy says about bad recordings: "You can only polish a turd so much." The sound design of the game itself has a lot to do with the care and attention put into the game world, and thus, how alive it will feel.
Sound designers for games don't get enough credit in my opinion. Maybe it's because I pay more attention to the music, effects, and overall sound more than the regular gamer or consumer. Maybe it's because the game industry doesn't give enough credit themselves to the impact that sound design makes to the gaming experience. In my review of the Audeze LCD-GX Gaming Headphones, I argue that (most) gamers don't care about sound. Although that's a blanket statement which is obviously not true in some cases, it IS true in others. The fact is that gamers invest in their machines and peripherals, not their sound systems. Most gamers don't actually know what they are missing out on when it comes to high-fidelity.
The thing to consider when it comes to gaming is that immersion is key. If you're not interested in exploring the world or getting immersed in your environment then your gaming time will decrease for each session. The more immersed you are in the gaming world then the longer your gaming sessions will likely be. The goal of the sound design of the game is to make you believe that you are present in the gaming world. The highest form of flattery is imitation. In this case, it's an imitation of the real world. Realism in games are based on the sound design combined with the graphical detail. Sound designers have to create samples which best recreate elements of the real world in their games in order to realize a fully developed world for you to explore and get lost in.
Good sound design in a game will keep you in the game for hours on end without getting tired and leave you wanting more. Like a good pair of headphones, listening fatigue works in much the same way. The better and more comfortable the headphones, the longer the listening sessions you'll be able to have.
Audiophilia and Gaming
We know a majority of our audience is not what society would call the "typical gamer." They're not teenagers with their playboxes and x-stations in their parents' basements. Spoiler: the "typical gamer" as we know them today have changed drastically from what they were. Those teenagers from the 80's and 90's have grown up, have jobs, bought houses and have kids of their own now.
Gamers have grown up. And so have their budgets.
They are older now and have money to invest in gaming machines, just like audiophiles invest in their music machines. The two are not that different. Both have a passion for doing what brings them joy, and we all have no problem investing in things that we enjoy. The problem is that gamers spend their money in getting the best gaming performance, whether it be console gaming or building a custom gaming PC, the majority of the money is going to a powerful graphics card or CPU; something that is going to make the game look pretty and run smoothly. What they forget is that sound equally helps to create that immersive experience, and depending on the game, makes or breaks that experience.
Why do audiophiles easily spend thousands of dollars on an amplifier or pair of speakers when other music lovers would cringe at the thought of spending over $300 USD on a pair of headphones? Audiophiles know and understand the best way to enjoy their music the way they like to listen to it: by investing in premium equipment that is going to play their music with the utmost detail and efficiency. It's not difficult for fellow audiophiles to understand the need to invest in specialized equipment that regular consumers would consider "overkill" or overpriced by their standards.
In much the same way, the gaming community has the same "problem."
Gamers understand that in order to get the best experience they need to spend thousands of dollars on top-end electronics to get the best performance and efficiency for the games they play. Top PC gaming setups can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, which can be confusing to the regular consumers who don't game or need top-end components in their systems; they can be fine with a $200 Chromebook. It depends on what you want to spend your money on.
A lot of hobbies aren't cheap, and because people have different interests, they decide what they want to spend their money on.
SPOILER: The "typical gamer" as we know them today have changed drastically from who they were. Those teenagers from the 80's and 90's have grown up, have jobs, bought houses, and have kids of their own now. Gamers have grown up. And so have their budgets.
Gaming Audiophilia? Audiophile-Gaming?
I suspect many gamers care more about sound design than they actually know, mostly due to the fact that they've never experienced a great audiophile-grade sound setup. It's like jumping off a cliff: once you jump, there's no turning back.
Do you remember the first time you drove a car? How about the first time you tried your favorite food? Can you remember a time before that moment and how it made you feel? I think the same could be said for audiophiles - the first time you heard a high-fidelity sound system and how that changed the way you wanted to listen to music. You remember how that changed your perspective on what sound can achieve and how it forever affected you; the emotions it evokes every time you sit down to listen to music.
In much the same way, gamers have a pivotal moment in their lives in which a gaming experience cemented their love of the hobby. We all want to relive that experience over and over again, and we're not that different in that respect.
So, what do you want to spend your money on?
A Marriage of Hobbies
So, can someone be both a gamer and an audiophile? I suspect that more gamers are audiophiles without even knowing it. On the other side of it, maybe there are some audiophiles out there that might be gamers; they just haven't found the right game yet. There's a way to bring the two worlds together, it's just a matter of spending a little time and effort in discovering what appeals to you.
Here we'll present some great options for gaming headphones for varying budgets. Each headphone brings something unique to the table, so between budget and ergonomics concerns, there's something for everyone.
The Audeze Mobius
My first recommendation to gamers is to invest a little more money in a good gaming headset. I can't tell you the number of times I've spent mixing my friends microphone settings or telling them to adjust their own settings because the mic is too sensitive or weak in picking up their voice. Another issue with cheaper headphones is that the plastic of the ear cups are so thin and do not create a tight enough seal that the audio can bleed back into their microphone, causing echo and feedback problems. It's a common theme with a lot of my friends that I game with, and I just wish they would invest a little more in their audio. It would go a long way. To boot, they even complain constantly that their cheap headphones aren't great. Duh. Help me...
Friends don't let friends buy cheap headphones.
By gaming standards today, most gamers consider the $100-200 price tag on Logitech and Steelseries headphones to be top of the line. Sigh... But they don't mind spending $500-800 or more on a graphics card that is just one component of their PC; or even $500 on the latest pro-version console. It just goes to show where priorities lie.
Without breaking the bank, spend a little more on an audio setup like the Audeze Mobius. It's a great entry-point audiophile-grade headphone that I absolutely love. In my review, I mention that it's my go-to gaming headphone due to its versatility and plethora of features. At $400, it might be a considered very high-budget for a lot of gamers, but you're not going to find any other gaming headphone that matches the quality and fidelity of the Mobius for cheaper.
With the ability to work wireless or cabled, the Mobius fits in almost any gaming scenario. At home, on the console, PC, handheld or even mobile gaming; it can do it all. The versatility of the headphone is certainly appealing for a lot of reasons, but I was most surprised with the overall fidelity. Certainly for the price point, you would hope the sound quality of the headphone would be superb, and Audeze doesn't disappoint. User planar magnetic drivers, it's impressive that the Mobius can get about ten hours of battery life in Bluetooth mode, and still deliver the great quality that Audeze planar magnetic drivers are known for. It's an expensive headphone for being in the "gamer" market, but the features don't stop there.
Audeze has implemented what they call "3D Audio Emulation" which uses head tracking, sound localization, and room emulation to give the gamer a perceived 360-degree plain of sound. It's pretty neat physically turning your head in the game and hearing through your headphones what surround sound emulates through speakers. It provides a real first-person feeling to the experience, making it feel very personal and intimate.
The Audeze LCD-GX
Those looking for the next step up, a serious commitment to the audiophile-gaming persona, look no further than the Audeze LCD-GX. A no-frills audiophile-grade gaming headset that doesn't pretend to do anything else but provide the highest-quality sound for your gaming sessions.
If you're familiar with Audeze's LCD lineup of headphones, then you'll recognize right away that the aesthetic and driver design is essentially the same. Open-back, planar magnetic and design elements are all consistent with the rest of the LCD headphone lineup. Using the newer and lighter magnesium for the design, the LCD-GX are similar to the LCD-24's in both design and sound.
Concerning the sound signature, the GX is going to be more along the lines of the LCD-24. The purpose of the LCD-24 was to refine and improve the LCD-4 by reducing weight and the number of magnets. This makes the LCD-24 have a larger diaphragm, thereby increasing the speed, dynamics, and minimizing distortion. The 24's have the same design and dimensions of the previous LCD series headphones, but due to engineering improvements, the comfort level is also significantly increased and lighter in weight.
The LCD-GX is also easier top drive than other planar magnetic headphones. The impedance is about a quarter to one-half of the impedance of any other top planar magnetic headphones on the market today. it has lower headamp distortion and maximizes the overall definition as a result. The planar technology utilizes the entire diaphragm to produce all frequencies of music simultaneously with powerful specialized magnets moving a space-age film only about 1.5 microns thick.
For $899, the LCD-GX isn't cheap. Yes, you can get two mid-tier graphics cards for that price. However, you'll be hard pressed to find a better deal on a solid entry-point for open-back audiophile-grade headphones. That's the nice thing about the LCD-GX, is that Audeze includes two cables with the headphone: one with a microphone and one without. It's an amazing headphone for listening to music as well as gaming; whatever you're in the mood for.
To learn more about the Audeze LCD-GX and to read our review of the headphone, click here.
The HIFIMAN Ananda-BT
I really like HIFIMAN. One of my first experiences with an audiophile-grade headphone was a HIFIMAN. Their open-back designs and planar-magnetic drivers are renowned for their wide and expressive soundstages and accurate audio recreation. The Ananda-BT is just like - you guessed it - the Ananda. The "BT" stands for Bluetooth, suggesting that this is the wireless variant of their Ananda headphones.
I'll go ahead and say it... These are the best wireless headphones I've heard.
Keep in mind that they are open-back planar magnetic headphones, so they 're not going to be great for on the metro or public listening. But, if you want an untethered gaming setup that has unmatched audio performance, then the Ananda-BT might be for you. Unlike the Mobius, the Ananda-BT headphones do not have a cabled option, as it has no input jacks on the ear cups.
The Ananda-BT uses a number of Bluetooth codecs which keeps it at the forefront of the Bluetooth battle. Lately in the codec war, LDAC is taking the lead, developed by Sony but allows the transmission of Hi-Res (or near-hi-res) Audio content over a Bluetooth connection. The Mobius also utilizes LDAC, and in my review of the headphone, I reference a very interesting study that was done by SoundGuys.com that tests the audio data that is transmitted through the LDAC codec. Long story short, they found that although 990Kbps audio reaches 48kHz, the actual resolution and noise-floor is nowhere near 24-bits, and is worse than 16bits above 15kHz.
But the kicker is whether or not you'll really be able to tell the difference. It can be argued that resolution differences at that level are indistinguishable to all but the most sensitive or trained ears. It's not going to substitute for a cabled headphone solution, but all I can say is that it's the best wireless option out there that I've tested for a headphone in regards to audio quality.
At the top of the list cost-wise, I would have no hesitation recommending the HIFIMAN Ananda-BT for those wanting the best quality sound without worrying about cables. The Bluetooth-only configuration of the Ananda-BT's is sure to polarize the audiophile community. At the end of the day, audiophiles will have to determine whether the sacrifice in audio quality is worth it to them, but for consumers and music lovers looking for the best in wireless audio, look no further.
"Once gamers understand that better sound enhances the overall gaming experience, it'll be easy to convert them to the world of audiophilia."
What is a Gaming Headphone?
That's really the crux of the "gaming headphone" philosophy, isn't it? It's first and foremost about finding a good headphone. Period. The "gaming" aspect of a headphone in marketing terms is really the added benefit of an included or attached microphone. For a lot of people, gaming is a social activity, and depending on the game, you need to have a way of communicating with others. However, a lot of gaming is not social too, so the common denominator therefore becomes the headphones themselves.
Many people on online forums have stated that rather than cashing out for subpar gaming "headsets," they prefer to use their good music listening headphones and then use a third-party microphone either mounted on the desktop or attached to the headphone. Many third-party microphone solutions exist, but usually they require running extra wires and/or taking up extra space on your desk. Microphone quality varies just as much as headphones, so finding an all-in-one unit that does it all, and does it well, can be difficult to find. Also the ease of an attached microphone can't be overstated enough.
But it's not just about the microphone. You need a good headphone first and foremost. If you're not getting quality audio through the drivers, then you're already losing the most important battle. The gamers in those forums are correct: you want to use good headphones even if they're not specifically meant for gaming. Your audiophile-grade headphones would be phenomenal headphones to use for gaming too, but most gamers don't have the budget for them.
The headphones featured on this page are, in fact, the best of both worlds.
The overall sound quality of the headphones are absolutely great and recommended. It's hard to beat planar magnetic drivers for fidelity and music listening, let alone for gaming. The versatility and features of the Mobius makes it the Swiss-army knife of headphones. The audio quality of the Audeze headphones and their microphones are hard to beat as a combination, and I could easily recommend the Audeze headphones for music listening on their own.
Audeze knew they were onto something with the LCD-GX. Designing the cable the way they did allowed them to be able to use the cable with any LCD headphone, since they all have dual 4-pin mini-XLR jacks. Don't like the sound signature of the LCD-GX, or perhaps you have more expensive taste to move up the LCD ladder? Well now you can with the GX stock cable sold separately.
The world's first audiophile gaming headphone pushes the envelope on gaming audio and advances the industry further by combining the finest in sound quality with clear voice chat for the seriously purist audiophile gamer. With the LCD-GX's boom mic cable, you can bring voice functionality to your own LCD Series headphones.
The LCD-GX includes a detachable cable with a built-in directional, noise-attenuating boom microphone. The thoughtfully designed microphone cable includes a mute button and flexible gooseneck arm, allowing customized positioning to ensure each individual can find the angle that works best for them.
The LCD-GX boom mic cable terminates with a 1/8" (3.5mm) TRRS 4 conductor plug for use with virtually all PCs, Macs, cellphones, etc. A dual 1/8" inch splitter for separate headphone and microphone inputs and a 1/8" polarity adapter is also included.
3.5mm: The included 4-pole cable will transmit audio with any 3.5mm jack. The port will have to be 4-pole compatible to transmit microphone audio as well. Most PC and MAC's with a single audio/mic jack will work. Console controllers with similar jacks (like Xbox) will also work.
USB-A: The included USB-A to USB-C cable will transmit audio and microphone when connected to PC or MAC via USB-A port. USB-A audio transmission should work with PlayStation hardware but will not work with Xbox consoles.
USB-C: The included USB-C to USB-C cable will transmit audio and voice with any PC or MAC with a USB-C port. However, this option will not work with existing gaming consoles.
Bluetooth: The Mobius can transmit audio and voice via Bluetooth connection to any PC or MAC. Bluetooth audio is not officially supported by consoles but could potentially work with some 3rd party wireless USB adapters.
3.5mm: The LCD-GX includes multiple 3.5mm configurations. There is a single 4-pole option which transmits both audio and voice and will work with PC, MAC, and console - wherever there is a compatible 3.5mm 4-pole jack. The second configuration is a splitter for separate voice and audio channels. This is ideal for PC and MAC where there are separate 3.5mm jacks for audio and microphone.
6.35mm: The other cable option that is included with the LCD-GX is a quarter-inch connection without a microphone. This would work also with a 3.5mm adapter if you do not wish to use a the microphone and would work in the same way with the above options sans the microphone functionality.
HIFIMAN Ananda BT
Bluetooth: The Ananda BT does not include any headphone jacks, so the only means of audio and voice transmission is through Bluetooth. This is compatible with most Bluetooth-enabled PCs and MACs, along with mobile gaming as well. Bluetooth audio is not officially supported by consoles, but could potentially work with some 3rd party wireless USB adapters.
If you have the ability or want to connect Bluetooth headphones for your gaming setup, then the Mobius or the Ananda-BT are a no-brainer. Obviously depending on your budget the two headphones are on different ends of the price-spectrum, but both are incomparable for their relative price point. The LCD-GX is a great gamer-focused, audiophile-grade headphone that also doubles nicely as a solid music listening option too. Detachable microphones are also a nice feature to add to the versatility of the headphones. Apart from your budget, ergonomics are going to play a major factor in helping you decide which one is right for you.
If you have any questions about gaming headphones, please feel free to Contact Us. Happy listening!