Should I buy a gaming headset or headphones for PC gaming?

Whether you're seeking a more immersive gaming experience or you just want to be courteous to others, you may soon find yourself in the market for a good headset. Audio gear can get pricey, especially if you're not quite sure what you're looking for. 

Should you purchase one of the explicitly labeled best gaming headsets for late night rounds of Fortnite, or will a regular pair of headphones and a mic do the job just fine? It all depends on a few factors: desired quality, price range, and the convenience factor. With so many options out there, it can be intimidating to shop around. Here's a quick start guide that can get you started. 

Gaming headsets: Lower quality all-in-one solutions 

Traditional gaming headsets can be defined as headphones with a built-in microphone. They're meant as singular solutions for folks looking to jump into their game as quickly as possible without getting too bogged down by the technical details. They've got padded ear cups, niceties like retractable mics, and, all too often, "gamer" designs that have proven popular sellers. Sometimes this means a lot of pretty garish plastic, though some recent headsets like Steelseries' look much classier.

Typically, you'll deal with an avalanche of marketing terms and promises meant to distract you from the basics of any good headset: quality sound. While popular gaming brands can and do offer sturdy, dependable headsets with premium options to boot, the fact of the matter is most gaming headset lines aren't the highest possible caliber you can hope to purchase.  

More often than not, you'll instead be skimping on some of the higher-end features or quality you'd find in a regular audio headset and microphone combo. With cheap headsets, you could end up with low-quality cables, plastics, hinges, and other components that could simply end up meaning you have to purchase a new headset in a few months anyway. If you buy a good gaming headset, that reliability won't be a problem—the main drawback will be sound balance that's inferior to a nicer pair of headphones. And the mic likely won't be as good—but it'll be good enough for voice chat while gaming, and you can't beat the convenience.


  • Affordable options from a variety of brands. 
  • "One-stop shop" mindset makes buying simple. 
  • Painless setup that's adaptable for just about everything. 


  • Often lower overall build quality. 
  • Higher markup based on the brand name. 
  • Often too bass-heavy sound balance.

Headphones: Customizable, high-quality options with separate microphones

Even without getting into expensive "audiophile" territory, choosing headphones instead of a gaming headset offers a wide world of customization. You can mix and match the quality of headphones and a standalone mic your budget can handle, and headphones cover a massive breadth of prices and aesthetics.

Most headphone manufacturers are worried first and foremost about how their headphones sound, and they don't have to worry about a built-in microphone and the other features of gaming headsets. In particular, quality headphones aim for flat (accurate) sound reproduction, with balance between highs, mids, and lows. If you've ever heard that Beats by Dre headphones have a reputation for being incredibly bassy, there's a reason that stands out: great headphones pride themselves on balanced sound.

So for a lower price you'll likely be getting better sound and potentially a higher quality product overall. You may end up paying a bit more for the separate headset and microphone duo, but you'll be paying for long-lasting products that deliver without gimmickry. You may also note that audio headsets feature more comfortable, plush ear cups and headbands in contrast to cheaper alternatives. 

As an added bonus, you won't have to be as concerned about mic placement, as you can simply adjust a separate mic however you'd like. It isn't plastered to the side of your headset at awkward angles, and you won't have to play the "find an angle where everyone can hear me" game. 

If you have the time, funds, and interest to shop around for two products that can act as a viable alternative to a standard mass-produced headset, opting for a quality pair of headphones is by far the better option for anyone looking to get the best they can get. 


  • Freedom of choice allows you to build the best possible combination of products. 
  • Better overall quality. 
  • A striking improvement in audio and microphone fidelity. 


  • More expensive initial investment. 
  • Requires more time and experience to establish a viable combination. 
  • Less convenient that going to the store and picking up a gaming headset. 

The verdict

So which setup should you go with? It all depends on how much money you're willing to invest. If gaming is only a passing interest for you that you spend only a few minutes a day with, then it makes sense to pick up a cheaper gaming headset and go from there. Thankfully, the best gaming headset today avoids most of these issues, offering great sound quality and a design that won't make you ashamed to wear them out of the house.