The best audiophile headphones for gaming is all about sound quality. Nothing else. No fancy features, no RGB bling, just honest-to-goodness great audio. And, compared with the best gaming headsets, that's where all the cans we've tested in this feature with our very own ears stand out from their generally more game-focused compatriots.
Some audiophile headphones even have microphones, or optional attachments at least, but that's even less of an issue than it has been in the past. Not because we believe in solo gaming as the only way to play, but because cheap gaming microphones are simply fantastic these days. And often far better than anything strapped to a gaming headset.
Premium headphones tend to be comfier than your typical gaming headset, but they can lack features you'd find on a headset specifically designed for gaming. So you'll likely not find 7.1 surround or fancy RGB illumination, and that's because they're built for the purest aural experience. Which also means they tend to be a lot more expensive, too. The audiophile rabbit hole is something it's all too easy to fall down when you start chasing superior sound, but can you really put a price on total audio immersion?
Well, yes. Looks like you can.
Best headphones for gaming
I will make no apologies about the fact that I love planar magnetic drivers. My first taste of them came with my beloved Oppo PM-3 headphones, which are sadly no longer available. But they were closed back cans, while the Audeze LCD-1 headphones use an open back design, which perfectly complements the ultra-detailed audio of a planar magnetic driver.
But they can be almost painfully detailed out of the box. That's because planar magnetic drivers take a while to warm up—maybe 16-20 hours of use—and until then the sound can be a little... 'pointy'. But they age like a fine wine, and once you've bedded in the LCD-1 cans the audio becomes beautifully warm and rich, though still just as detailed and accurate.
And if you want to experience genuine aural immersion in your favourite game worlds the combination of an expansive open back design and such great-sounding drivers becomes unbeatable.
The only downside is the open back principle means your game sound can be heard by anyone sitting near you, and they don't have any form of passive noise cancelling. These are headphones to be used on your own, in perfect gaming isolation. Bliss.
Sennheiser has made a mighty name for itself in the audio equipment game. That's primarily built on headphones like these: the Sennheiser HD 650. This quality pair of cans sets the standard for high-end home audio thanks to highly detailed drivers and a gorgeous open sound.
The HD 650 is a prime advocate of the so-called 'Sennheiser sound'. That means it excels at the high-end and delivers superb clarity and definition right the way through the frequency range. It's definitely lighter on the bass response compared to most gaming headsets and planar magnetics, though.
But you could say that's because this pair of headphones isn't augmenting your audio—only delivering to you something close to the real digital deal. For that reason, this is a great headset if you want to chase spotless audio delivered impeccably through a wide soundstage. That's also why it's a shoo-in for every aural experience, be that gaming or listening to music. Its a great fit for pretty much everything.
And if you balk at the price, the Sennheiser HD 650 are very well built and the second-hand market is a great place to find a slightly cheaper pair. Just don't expect any massive discounts (unless you're lucky); these headphones really hold their value.
One thing to note: Sennheiser recently sold off its audiophile headphone business to hearing aid company, Sonova. We don't suspect much to change in the short-term as a result of the acquisition, but it wouldn't be surprising to see prices spike for second-hand Sennheiser pairs once the deal is signed off, which is meant to happen before the year's up.
The Nuraphone is a one-of-a-kind pair of headphones that offers parallel drivers for each ear. The in-ear drivers handle the upper-frequency, and the over-ear drivers handle the low-tones and bass. In essence, it's like having a pair of speakers for each ear.
The Nuraphones have already gone through a handful of significant updates since their successful Kickstarter launch three years ago. Most notably, the introduction of active noise cancellation (ANC) and a gaming microphone attachment ($50), in an attempt to rival even the most premium gaming headsets.
The Nuraphone is an excellent set of wireless headphones, and the gaming microphone attachment makes it a decent gaming headset. It's one of the best looking pair of cans you find right now, and custom sound profiles offer rich and detailed soundscape like no other thing out there. If you're looking for a headset for just gaming, the Nuraphones aren't it, though—$450 (adding in the microphone, which is a must for gaming) is simply too huge an ask if you are mostly looking for gaming-centric features.
These pro-grade cans feature large 50mm drivers and have a wide frequency response of 5Hz to 40kHz. They are excellent for music and, more importantly, gaming. Our favorite thing about the M-200 is the light, compact design. At only 290 grams, it’s a great candidate for commute, work, and play.
My only gripes are that the headset can be a tight fit for those with big noggings (like myself) and the surprising lack of a Lightning/USB Type-C adaptor. V-Moda sells a Lightning cable for $100, which is pricey considering the headset costs $350.
Are audiophile headphones good for gaming?
If you want the best sound in your games, then picking a pair of headphones designed to deliver perfect aural clarity and defined, accurate audio is going to deliver a great gaming experience. Throw in an open back pair design, and you'll hear the most natural reproduction of your chosen gameworld that you can possibly achieve.
The downside is that audiophile headphones are expensive, benefit from good sound hardware inside your PC—yes, there are still soundcards out there, people—and the open operating principle means there can be a fair bit of sound leakage and no passive noise cancelling.
You also don't get a microphone on most audiophile headphones, but such is the wealth of great budget gaming mics, that's not an issue.
Are open back headphones good for gaming?
An open back headphone design will give you the most natural soundscape for your games, which is especially immersive in large, open world games. It's also less fatiguing on the ears for a long gaming session, too, because the sound waves don't just bounce around your lugholes.
Closed back headphones, however, are good for noise cancelling and if you game in a room where other people might be affected by the sounds leaking from your cans. But the closed design can affect the sound itself, as it interacts with the ear cups.
The best in-ear headphones for gaming in 2021
Chances are, you're not always playing games. For most of us, gaming is a hobby rather than a lifestyle. The rest of our time is devoted to commuting, working, going to the gym, cooking, cleaning—activities that are undeniably enhanced while wearing the best in-ear headphones for gaming, the Jabra Elite Active 75t. Instead of doubling down on audio engineering and extraneous features, the Jabra Elite Active 75t prioritizes two things: longevity and comfort.
The sound quality is fine too—these buds brandish a frequency response range of 20–20kHz, rivaling the best wireless gaming headsets. Exclusive Bluetooth connectivity makes them a tough sell for gaming, although, with proper adapters in tow, you won't have a problem setting them up. Everything about the Jabra Elite Active 75t screams ease of use, including the customizable EQ found in the optional Jabra Sound+ app.
The main reason we fell in love with the Powerbeats Pro is that they easily pair with just about anything. These fitness earbuds work well with a gaming laptop, cell phone, tablet, basically anything. The transition from commute or workout to gameplay is nearly seamless, which isn't always the case when setting up Bluetooth headphones.
The audio is well-balanced and not as bass-heavy as other Beats headphones. Though they lack the oomph in the explosions department in games like Call of Duty: Warzone, it helps make out little things like character dialogue without messing with any EQ settings.
The only downside is the charging case is bulky and doesn't fit comfortably in any pocket, so it ends up living in a bag or as a permanent fixture on your desk.
Most people's experience with in-ear headphones is frantically looking for the pair that came with your smartphone inside some junk drawer in an awful tangled mess when the battery on your wireless headset dies. We've all been there.
The Astro A03 is a stylish pair of in-ear monitors that sound good and cost only $50. A great alternative for folks who find the typical gaming headset too heavy and uncomfortable for long stretches of time. We also dig the lay flat tangle-resistant cabling because in-ear headphones are notorious for tying themselves into inexplicable knots in your pockets. The only real downside is that the mic doesn't work on PC.