What makes for the best gaming headset in 2018? Well, we tested a whole bunch to find out, but the most obvious answer is: sound quality. Sure, you can make a pair of cans as comfy and feature-packed as possible, but if you don't have rumbling base, pinpoint surround-sound, and decent noise-cancelling then you're never going to be the best. The whole idea of picking up the best gaming headset you can afford is getting that superior audio.
We put all the following gaming headsets through their paces, with a wide variety of games, but also with music, videos, and movies. If you're spending decent money on the best cans you can, you want to know they'll be good for more than just gaming (even if that's their primary role). We also did some shouting down their mics, keeping the language clean obviously, and wore these headsets for hours to test just how comfy they really are.
For us, the Steelseries Arctis Pro is still the best gaming headset of 2018, but there are some brilliant rivals from Kingston, Logitech and more that deliver brilliant gaming audio for reasonable prices. Here are our favorites. And if you'd rather keep your ears free, check out the best computer speakers of 2018.
1. Razer Nari Ultimate
The best gaming headset on the market
Wireless: Yes | Drivers: 50mm neodymium | Connectivity: USB wireless, 3.5mm analog | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz | Features: Retractable unidirectional mic, Lofelt L5 haptic drivers, THX Spatial Audio, cooling gel-infused cushions, RGB
No matter where you stand on the polarizing debate of haptic feedback in games, we have to applaud its first proper execution in a gaming headset with the Razer Nari Ultimate. Showcasing the company's new HyperSense technology, this headset—which feels like you're wearing a pair of subwoofers on your head—is best experienced for yourself.
Since it features a wide gamut of haptic frequencies rather than just one static mode of vibration, the Nari Ultimate exhibits one of the most true-to-life rumble sensations we've ever experienced. And because support for it isn't programmed at the software level, every game is compatible. But it's more than just haptics. In fact, the sound quality on the Nari Ultimate is a considerable improvement from Razer's phonic endeavors of the past. Unlike the bass-heavy Kraken series cans, this one adds a healthy balance of highs and mids to the mix as well.
2. Steelseries Arctis Pro + GameDAC
The high-end gaming headset that does it all
Wireless: No | Drivers: 40mm neodymium | Connectivity: USB, optical, 3.5mm analog | Frequency response: 10Hz-40,000Hz | Features: Retractable noise-cancelling mic, DTS Headphone:X 2.0, RGB
High-res audio is on the up thanks to lossless streaming from Tidal et al, and games such as Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus offering full support. The Arctis Pro GameDAC makes full use of that crystalline high-res sound with a 5Hz-40KHz frequency response range—a spec that also makes the drivers sound great for everyday compressed audio usage.
The GameDAC itself is a combination of a digital-to-analog converter that takes the strain away from your CPU, a preamp, and a control center. With a press of its button and a roll of the dial, DTS Headphone-X surround can be enabled or disabled, chat/game mix tweaked, and EQ settings perfected. The subtle ring around each earcup on these cans ticks the RGB box without ruining the overall aesthetic. Our only reservations with the GameDAC model are that it requires an adapter for smartphone usage, and that its cables feel cheaper than a $250 headset should.
3. Steelseries Arctis Pro Wireless
A high-end wireless headset for PC, PS4, and smartphone
Wireless: Yes | Drivers: 40mm neodymium | Connectivity: USB wireless, optical, 3.5mm analog, Bluetooth | Frequency response: 10Hz-40,000Hz | Features: Retractable noise-cancelling mic, interchangeable rechargeable batteries w/ base station, DTS Headphone:X 2.0
Essentially this is a fusion of two great Steelseries models, old and new: the wireless capability and digital control box of the old 800 model, combined with the comfort and sound performance of the Arctis range. Positioned right at the top end of the roster, this Arctis Pro is all about luxury.
As with the 800, we love the ability to change batteries quickly, plugging the depleted one into the base station to charge, and popping the charged one out so that you never need to stop gaming or plug the headset in. We love the controls housed in that base station’s digital display too: chat mix, virtual surround, EQ presets and more can all be adjusted with a few taps. The icing on the cake is Bluetooth functionality: it teams up with the 2.4G wireless connectivity for lossless sound, and means you can use it with mobile devices in addition to your PC.
4. Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha
A well rounded, well-balanced vessel for game audio
Wireless: No | Drivers: 50mm dual chamber neodymium | Connectivity: 3.5mm analog | Frequency response: 13Hz-27,000Hz | Features: Detachable noise-cancelling mic, in-line cable controls
Bearing the fruits of HyperX Cloud’s long legacy of excellence, the newest Cloud Alpha presents excellent sound and build quality with the essential features done well, and no feature-flab inflating the price. The stereo soundscape in this closed-back design is punchier in the low end than we'd usually go for, but the extra bass doesn't interfere with overall clarity—and frankly, in games and music environments, it sounds great. Each 50mm driver's dual chamber design is intended to give low, medium and high frequencies space to resonate without interfering with each other, and you do get a sense of that while listening to them.
Elsewhere it's the usual impressive build quality, generous padding, clear mic and high comfort levels over longer play sessions that the Cloud design has always offered. The inline controls are the only exception to that rule—they feel flimsy by comparison to the rest of the package.
5. Steelseries Arctis 7
The best wireless gaming headset for most users
Wireless: Yes | Drivers: 40mm neodymium drivers | Connectivity: Wireless via USB, 3.5mm wired | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz | Features: Retractable noise cancelling mic, DTS Headphone:X, 7.1 surround
What we like best about the Arctis 7 is that you can easily forget it’s a wireless model while you’re using it. There’s none of the muddiness or audio artifacts that have historically ruined the party for wireless headsets—it sounds just as good as the best wired models we’ve tested at this same $150 price range. The extraordinary battery life clocks in at over 20 hours out of the box, and after almost a year of heavy use that figure’s hardly dropped off. You can keep playing while you charge, too, simply by connecting the headset to your PC with a USB cable.
The Arctis range’s distinctive ski goggle headband is really effective at keeping the weight of the headset away from your head, and even after playing for hours we’ve never felt it digging in. After a year of daily usage, the headband does slacken which makes for a looser and slightly less comfortable fit, but the bands themselves are replaceable and sold for under $15 on the Steelseries online store. A functional but slightly quiet and muffled mic is the only chink in its otherwise formidable armor.
6. Logitech G Pro
A great budget gaming headset for esports
Wireless: No | Drivers: "Hybrid mesh Pro-G" neodymium | Connectivity: 3.5mm analog | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz | Features: Detachable mic
Logitech designed these cans with the help of esports athletes with a view to stripping away all the fat that’s usually found in gaming headsets, leaving a lean package of high-performance essentials. Generally the G Pro achieves that: there’s not a flame decal or RBG lighting strip in sight, and that functional aesthetic is matched by a barebones feature set.
So barebones, in fact, that it might take some by surprise: there’s no virtual surround, and only a mic mute and volume scroll wheel by way of controls. We like the overall sound produced by the drivers, even if it’s a bit more pronounced towards the low end than we’d normally choose. If you can live with that, though, you get an otherwise attractive package with no unnecessary flab for under $100.
How we test headsets
We recently put more than 60 different headset units through a $50,000 testing setup to produce empirical data we could use to quantify our picks. We'll endeavor to make use of that HATS setup again in future, but we haven't given up on good old-fashioned testing by ear.
Each headset that we test we use daily for at least a week. We record a sample of our voice in Audacity and compare it to previous recordings from other models, then head to Discord to get some feedback from our friends on how we're sounding.
During that week, we aim to test each headset in a number of different game genres—shooters, battle royales, and racing games make for particularly good testing scenarios, since the former tends to test the low-end and reveal muddiness and distortion, while PUBG et al are great for positional audio tracking. Finally, good racing sims feature a very particular mix designed to help you hear brake lock-up and tyres losing traction. It's often in Project CARS 2 where great headsets are separated from merely good.
It's not just about gaming, though: we wear the headsets while we work, listen to music, watch distracting YouTube videos people send us, and everything else that crops up while we're at our desk. Finally, we compare a few lossless music tracks by listening through our BeyerDynamic DT770s and then the test sample. The 770s have a really flat EQ that makes them great for music production and critical listening applications—hearing another headset immediately after them really brings EQ peaks and dips into focus.