You don’t need to be a seasoned gamer to know that good audio is one of the most important aspects of the experience, especially if you’re playing games online. When you take into account the impressive feats the upcoming PS5 and the Xbox Series X / Xbox Series S will be capable of, you’re going to want to grab yourself a high-resolution gaming headset to hear the audio as the game designers intended.
It certainly helps for immersion in single-player games, but if you’ve played Rainbow Six: Siege, Apex Legends, or any competitive shooter, you know that perfect audio is the difference between hearing an enemy creeping up on you and being taken by surprise. On the other side of the coin, decent audio can enhance your single-player games immeasurably, allowing you to get fully immersed in whatever you might be tackling.
And then, what about when you put your controller down, push your mouse to one side and fire up your favorite tunes? With hi-res audio and services like Tidal and Qobuz, a hi-res headset will let you hear music the way an artist intended, with no compression and all the detail straight from the studio mixes.
Whether it’s the sounds of zombies echoing through the halls of Raccoon City PD in Resident Evil 2 Remake, trying to coordinate with your friends on how to take another team out, or you’re listing to the beautifully-crafted soundtrack of the latest indie game, wearing a great headset while you play is a necessity for any serious gamer – not to mention the discerning music fan.
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What to look for in a hi-res gaming headset
Trying to pick out the best hi-resolution gaming headset for you, however, can be a long and arduous process. One huge problem with gaming headsets, especially models on the cheaper side, is that while they may offer solid aural fidelity, the microphones that come with them rarely meet the same standard.
This again comes down to your personal preference – if you aren’t using it for online play, then all you need to focus on is the overall comfort, the quality of the build, and, of course, the audio performance.
High-resolution audio headsets will easily deliver on the quality, but far too many of them, frankly, either look like a bad light show or are so obnoxiously designed that you’ll never want to wear them (at least, not in public). Sometimes the ear cup size is too small for your head, or the headband makes your glasses dig into your skull (a big problem) – and you need to aim for a headset which is going to be comfortable for extended periods of time.
Consider also if you're going to need a separate amp to drive all that detail – though some options do ship with their own DAC, too.
What is Hi-Res Audio?
There’s no single universal standard for Hi-Res Audio. It has been formally defined by the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) as: “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.” As you might expect, it delivers outstanding sound quality.
When talking about audio, you’ll hear a lot of talk about sampling frequency and bit depth. To explain this in its basic form, Hi-Res Audio refers to music files which are specified greater than 16-bit/44.1kHz quality. And that can scale up massively.
Generally, the more bits there are, the more accurately the signal can be measured in the first instance – directly dictating how clearly you will hear the details in your music or gaming soundtrack. If, for example, you go from listening to 16bit to 24bit, you will immediately notice a sizable leap in the overall quality of the audio you’re hearing. Generally, Hi-Res Audio files use a sampling frequency of 96kHz or 192kHz at 24bit.
Put simply, Hi-Res Audio lets you hear every single detail in a game’s music track and sound effects in their best form, and similarly loads more detail in music recordings generally. A lot of games these days also allow for 3D spatial audio, which lets you hear exactly where something is coming from – left, right, behind, above or below – relative to your character’s position in the game. Hearing this in Hi-Res will allow even more details to unfold, greatly enhancing your gaming experience.
Hi-Res Audio headsets are one of the best investments any gamer can make, but how do you pick one out? Check out our ranking below to help you decide on the one for you.
Nearly all gaming headsets come with some form of a drawback. The microphone is bad, the inbuilt lights look tacky, or the audio isn’t up to snuff… which is what makes the SteelSeries Arctis Pro something of an anomaly.
It sports an understated design, boasts exceptional sound quality, and the earpads will cradle your precious head in a comfortable embrace. Truly, we’re dealing with a product of aural legend.
Not only is the headset good to go by itself, but there are also plenty of input options, great virtual surround sound, and accessibility. Its sound performance is of audiophile quality when paired with its DAC, pulling together exceptional detail in games and classic albums. Whether you're sitting down with an audiophile-tempting album like Bitches Brew or What's Going On?, or rushing through a bustling Egyptian market in Assassin's Creed Origins, you'll hear more with these cans than with any competition.
If we had to pick out a flaw, it would be that the surround sound functions could be better and the soundstage doesn’t have the widest field. However, at this price point, you won’t notice the difference.
The headset is a gamer’s dream come true. Throw in the addition of a great microphone (which is hard to come by on a decent gaming headset) and you’ll be more than satisfied with what you’re getting for your money.
Read more: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Headset review
The ROG Strix Go is easily one of the most attractive and convenient headsets out there. It’s extremely comfortable to wear (even for us bespectacled lot) and it could easily double up as a headset you’d wear outside the house due to its lightweight and generous leather padding. Throw in the headset's excellent, crystal-clear microphone, and you’ve got a strong contender for your next purchase.
With all this comfort in mind, we come to the biggest problem with the Strix Go: it suffers from lacklustre audio quality, notably sibilant hissing. You’ll find headsets with better audio and while the Strix Go does offer a full sound, your experience will be notably sullied by hissing and interference when using them wirelessly.
Read more: Asus ROG Strix Go 2.4 review
Gaming headsets sometimes sacrifice style for functionality, so it’s always good to see something a bit different or, at least, the appearance of trying to look a bit more inconspicuous. We’re happy to report that the Asus ROG Theta does just that, while also being comfortable to boot.
It has a high price to match it, however, and this is because of the incredibly impressive audio quality it delivers. Making use of rarely-seen electret drivers alongside discrete neodymium bass drivers, it’s making good on its audio-centric design, pushing clarity over the frills of other high-end gaming headsets.
In the end, though, you don’t get the best audio experience out of the box due to some extra bells and whistles it requires to enhance the overall product – an additional amp is a must to make these cans sing. This, alongside its small feature set, makes it a bit more of a niche purchase for more discerning PC audiophiles.
Read more: Asus ROG Theta Electret review
If you can get past a less-than-attractive design, complete with obnoxious logos, then you’ll probably enjoy your time with the JBL Quantum One headset.
Not only is it compatible with all consoles, but it can also deliver clear, clean sound on all of them. To top it all off, it has a handy USB audio mixer which is, thankfully, easy to use for those who want to mess around with the sound settings.
In terms of performance, the JBL Quantum One gives a perfect fit around the ears and does a great job at sealing off most outside audio. Moreover, the sound is close to the best we’ve ever heard in a gaming headset, with every minute detail coming through crisp and clear thanks to the amazing customizable surround sound.
As something of a jack-of-all-trades, the Quantum One is tragically a master of none. If you play games on every available format then this is a solid investment, though it does fare slightly better on PC. The console experience is slightly rockier, but the headset still performs well.
Read more: JBL Quantum One Gaming Headset review
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