Finding a gaming headset is easy if you want one that sounds good. Want one that looks good too? You’ve got your work cut out for you.
If you play video games, you probably need a gaming headset. There are plenty of reasons to get one: Maybe you’ve been bullied into buying one by your buds, who insist that you absolutely have to hunt monsters with them. Or maybe you just want high-quality sound while you play games and don’t want to shell out for an expensive speaker setup. Or maybe you, like myself, have a partner who would rather you didn’t distract them with the sound of ceaseless explosions when they’re trying to sleep. (Her name is Kristin. She’ll be important later on in this story.)
The problem is that most gaming headsets look like butt. Chrome and molded plastic butt. Michael Bay Transformer butt. I don’t know how we got here, but sweep any listing of top gaming headsets and it seems like the vast majority of the gaming public wants to play games with Megatron’s dentures strapped to their dome.
If you were to think about it for a bit, there should be no reason why a gaming headset couldn’t also serve as a pair of general-use premium headphones. They’re supposed to be comfortable, have killer sound, and many have a mic built right in. But even in a post-Beats world, gaming headsets are unilaterally something you want to leave in the house. They’re an aesthetic nightmare, designed by people who seem to believe that style and performance are parallel tracks that ought never to meet, like Republicans and their consciences.
This is because, as a rule, the only thing gaming products want to visually signal is how powerful they are. How efficient and serious their performance will be. Even at their sleekest, a gaming headset will always favor Ferrari over Yeezy, because gamers supposedly want their gear to deliver, not match their sneakers. Which is very silly, because 1) You’re playing video games and that should be fun, and 2) I would kill for a headset that matched my sneakers. Anyway, there’s a reason why so little marketing for these headsets shows anyone actually wearing them.
To that end, I tried out five gaming headsets from leading brands, in an effort to find a pair that both sounded good and did not fill me with any more self-loathing than I normally have for myself. Kristin, the very nice woman you might remember from a few paragraphs back, would help me on this journey, mostly by trying hard not to laugh at me but also by giving style notes. That is, unfortunately, me in all the photos, so you can see what she’s talking about.
Note that I am not a professional headphones reviewer. I do not have any equipment to scientifically measure performance, or tell you anything about decibels and whatnot. I am just, like you, a guy who needs a gaming headset. Who also happens to have a girlfriend with a lot of opinions about them.
Astro Gaming A50 ($299)
“Wait. Those aren’t light-up, right? That’s just the way they are?” Kristin asks, noting the bright metallic blue piping along the side of the Astro A50s I’m wearing. “Wow it’s really that neon?”
She’s very skeptical, and I mean, I get it. Look at what I’m wearing. My ears feel quite comfortable, but they know compromises have been made—which is an odd thing to say about a pair of premium $300 headphones, I know.
“I’m gonna come down pretty hard on these,” Kristin says. “I do not like them. I think they are intentionally designed to make you look ridiculous. I feel like they’re trying to make you look like a video game character, and I do not appreciate that. These are my least favorite.”
Which is unfortunate, because the A50s are, all things considered, pretty damn great. Their blocky, rectangular cans can cozily accommodate ears as large as mine (I’ve got pretty big ears), the sound quality is very good, and after a bit of time adjusting to the fabric covering the earpads—they’re a bit warmer than the leathery materials on most headsets—I can wear them for a long time and not feel all that miserable. Kristin, however, would not.
“No. I would not wear them outside,” she says, “but I would not wear them inside either.”
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