Headphone Buyer’s Guide - Sweet Cans

9/5/2013 9:24:25 AM

“Quality levels amongst gaming headsets vary massively”

You wouldn’t play ARMA III on the integrated GPU inside Intel’s processors, so why is it that so many PC gamers use crappy headphones while gaming? Today’s titles include soundscapes that could have been ripped from the latest Hollywood blockbusters, with award-winning composers penning unique scores while audio engineers deliver perfect sound effects. Listening to these works of art through substandard headphones is a huge disservice to the thousands of hours of work poured into making our games sound so great.

Headphones aren’t just convenient, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in a roaring battlefield without waking your roommates; they’re also a very cost-efficient way of obtaining high quality audio. Unfortunately quality levels amongst gaming headsets vary massively, so we’ve tested five of the newest headsets for you. Read on to see which one deserves to tickle your ear drums.

Audio Technica ATH-A500X

Price: $149

Audio Technica ATH-A500X

Unlike the other headsets in the roundup, the ATH-A500X isn’t brand new. It’s been around for a couple of years now, but we simply had to include them. These are the reference headphones that PCPP uses to test all other headsets against, and time and time again they continually prove themselves to be the ones to beat.

Note that they’re not designed for gaming, so there’s no microphone. Instead they’re aimed at music, movie and game lovers, but what they lack in features they make up for with audio quality. Put simply these are the best sounding gaming headphones at this price point. Their strength is in the detail; every single sound effect can be heard, no matter how busy the soundscape. They tend towards the high end, with a slightly crisp tone, but if you want to hear every footstep or reload cycle, nothing comes close.

Audio Technical ATH-A500X specs

·         Incredible sound quality

·         Excellent value

·         Very comfortable

·         No microphone

·         No digital processor

Verdict: 10/10

If you don’t mind a bright, crisp soundstage, these are the best gaming headphones we’ve tested.

AZIO Levetron GH808

Not too cheap, but oh so nasty

Price: $80

AZIO Levetron GH808

AZIO Levetron GH808

At just $80, these headphones seem like rather good value. The USB connection used to pair them to your PC indicates that they include a Digital Sound Processor (DSP); this is basically an external sound card, built into the headphone. The software for this DSP allows you to set them to stereo mode, as well as virtual 5.1 or 7.1. A built in mic on a bending boom sits alongside a volume knob on one ear cup, both handy features for PC gamers.

Unfortunately, the audio quality is pretty dismal. Where better headphones clearly separate each sound effect, the GH808’s smooth everything together into one messy roar of noise. Not only does it sound horrid, it also makes it hard to determine which direction a certain sound effect is coming from. Adding insult to injury are the vibrating ear cups, which pulse wildly along to bass effects, which ends up tickling your inner ear during particularly wild scenes. Avoid at all costs.

AZIO Levetron GH808 specs

·         Includes DSP

·         Good fit

·         Microphone boom

·         Terribad audio quality

·         Horrible software

·         Lacks positional audio

Verdict: 5/10

We didn’t expect top quality at this price, but we also didn’t expect them to sound quite so bad.

Corsair Vengeance 2000

Insane value for money

Price: $139

Corsair Vengeance 2000

Corsair Vengeance 2000

Corsair is a very R&D driven company, and the benefit of this approach is obvious when testing the Vengeance 2000s. They might not have quite as much detail as our favorite, the ATH-A500X, but they’re not far off. A much warmer, more natural tone is delivered, which arguably sounds more lifelike than the Audio Technica. They don’t get overwhelmed when your game is imploding under the weight of a thousand nukes going off, and their virtual 7.1 surround is nigh on perfect. Considering they’re also wireless, with a built-in rechargeable battery as well as a digital sound processor (they plug in via USB), and these headphones represent astonishing value. Heck, there’s even a quality microphone on a folding boom. In all, there’s simply no better way to blow $140 on game audio. Highly recommended.

Corsair Vengeance 2000 specs

·         Excellent sound quality

·         Great surround effect

·         Outstanding value

·         Lacks a little bit of the high end detail of other headsets

Verdict: 9/10

If you’ve got $140 to blow and don’t already have a sound card, the Vengeance 2000 is the headset to buy.

Thermaltake DRACCO Captain

Not the noise you’re looking for

Price: $100

Thermaltake DRACCO Captain

Thermaltake DRACCO Captain

The quality of a headset is usually determined by the driver, which is the small speaker in each ear cup. The bigger the driver, the better the sound quality, and 50mm drivers are not created equal, as the DRACCO Captains use 50mm drivers yet still sound pretty damn average.

Swapping from the ATH-A500X directly to these headphones, we immediately noticed that the high end of the soundstage disappeared. It was as if the top 30% of tones were simply removed. This is not a good thing, as it means you won’t hear some of the subtle cues used to help your situational awareness. They also failed to hold up under the weight of sustained aural bombardment, with multiple sound effects blurring into one. At this price we really expected much better performance.

Thermaltake DRACCO Captain specs

·         Comfortable design

·         Looks slick

·         Included microphone

·         Lackluster high end performance

·         Distorts under load

Verdict: 6/10

Considering the Vengeance 2000 is just $40 more, the DRACCO Captain in a poor purchase.

Turtle Beach Ear Force Z Seven

Great quality at an outrageous price

Price: $348

Turtle Beach Ear Force Z Seven

Turtle Beach Ear Force Z Seven

Turtle Beach has no qualms in charging insane prices for its headphones, and the new Z Seven PC cans take the cake for wallet-shock. Costing more than a PlayStation 3, these headphones include a huge external audio control unit, which is basically an external sound card. It’s loaded with features, including Dolby Headphone virtual surround, different profiles for various game types, and detailed chat volume controls. The headphones are beautifully constructed, with nigh on perfect comfort levels, even after hours of wearing them. However, in the crucial audio tests we found these $350 headphones weren’t quite up to the same standards as the much more affordable ATH-A500X, which you could buy along with a new SoundBlaster Z-series for a cheaper price. However, if you need an external sound solution due to a cramped case, this is probably the best option available, provided you’ve got more dollars than sense.

Turtle Beach Ear Force Z Seven specs

·         Excellent sound quality

·         Powerful digital sound processor

·         Very comfortable

·         Check out that price

·         Lacks a little high end detail

Verdict: 8/10

If money is no object, these are worth considering if you can’t fit a sound card inside your case.


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