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We tested 23 mainstream gaming headsets to find the best

Roccat Kave XTD Stereo

Roccat Kave XTD Stereo

Sattelite of love.

- Design: closed-back
- Interface: analog
- Audio: 5/10
- Microphone clarity: 5/10
- Comfort: 7/10
- Detachable cable: no
- Extras: in-line volume control and mic mute, detachable mic
- Price: $60

The Kave XTD from Roccat is an odd mixed bag. The headset possesses good resolution and detail, but the overall audio sounds hollow. There’s a decent amount of bass, but the XTD lacks low-end extension. Mid-range frequencies see a weird notch in the response, which ends up slightly muting vocal ranges.

Frequency response

Frequency response

Distortion

Distortion

Left/right driver balance

Left/right driver balance

Latest prices on Roccat Kave XTD Stereo

The XTD then spikes again at 600Hz and falls sharply again after about 1.5kHz. These frequencies are the most sensitive for humans, and the XT doesn’t do well here. It also doesn’t do well in its transient performance, where frequencies can sound piercing and uncomfortable. Yes, XTD sounds clear, but painfully so.In terms of comfort, the XTD headband is difficult to adjust—each adjustment notch is too stiff and difficult to pull on. However, headclamp force is comfortable once settled, and the ear pads themselves are also comfortable and offer a good seal.

The Kave XTD brings along in-line volume and mic control, and the cable is extra long and excellent in quality. The mic is removable but for some reason Roccat decided to use a single RCA connector instead of the usual 3.5mm jack.

Roccat Kave XTD 5.1 Analog

Roccat Kave XTD 5.1 Analog

Who says digital is better?

- Design: closed-back
- Interface: analog
- Audio: 2/10
- Microphone clarity: 5/10
- Comfort: 7/10
- Detachable cable: no
- Extras: in-line volume control and mic mute, detachable mic
- Price: $120

Roccat’s upgrade to the Kave XTD, the XTD 5.1, unfortunately doesn’t fare any better. In fact, it performs worse than the XTD. There are three discrete drivers in the XTD 5.1. For starters, this is a bad idea, and headphones with multiple drivers have never, ever, sounded good.

Frequency response: mains

Frequency response: mains

Frequency response: rears

Frequency response: rears

Frequency response: center and sub

Frequency response: center and sub

Distortion: mains

Distortion: mains

Distortion: rears

Distortion: rears

Distortion: center and sub

Distortion: center and sub

Left/right tracking: mains

Left/right tracking: mains

Left/right tracking: rears

Left/right tracking: rears

Left/right tracking: center and sub

Left/right tracking: center and sub

Latest prices on Roccat Kave XTD 5.1 Analog

All three drivers have a huge dip in the bass frequencies with extreme notches and spikes throughout the frequency range. The driver responsible for the subwoofer channel shouldn’t be labeled that at all. A quick glance at its frequency response chart is all the explanation that’s required.

The same characteristics apply to the other two drivers, responsible for rear, and fronts. Response is never flat, and there’s a just a lot of messy behavior. Consequently, the sound is yet again, hollow in the mid range, lacks dynamic range, and surprisingly, bass is just missing. Why?

Not a real dynamic driver

Not a real dynamic driver

The subwoofer driver isn’t actually a dynamic speaker driver at all. It relies on vibrations to provide bass. Consequently, our HATS can’t seem to pick up any bass frequencies at all because there essentially is none.

The control module that comes with the Kave XTD

The control module that comes with the Kave XTD

The Kave XTD 5.1 is a comfortable headset. Unfortunately, it’s just not suitable for gaming audio or music at all, despite what Roccat’s website claims. Skip.

Astro A40

Astro A40

Going to the moon!

- Design: open or semi open-back
- Interface: analog
- Audio: 7/10
- Microphone clarity: 7.5/10
- Comfort: 8/10
- Detachable cable: yes
- Extras: magnetically attached ear pads, removable covers, in-line mic mute, detachable mic
- Price: $150

Astro’s headsets have been a favorite with gamers. I personally like Astro’s designs a lot but some may disagree. However, Astro proves it knows a thing or two about headphone audio, as the A40 performs admirably.

Frequency response

Frequency response

Distortion

Distortion

Left/right driver balance

Left/right driver balance

Latest prices on Astro A40

The sound of the A40 is mostly balanced. There isn’t any particular emphasis in any part of the frequency spectrum,except for one huge dip. The highs sound a little congested and instrument separation feels like they’re all too close together. The highs basically don’t separate well, and can be attributed to a huge notch in the frequency response between 3kHz and 5kHz. In terms of resolution and detail, the A40 could use a bit more work.

Bass is controlled and doesn’t drown out other frequency and is fast and tight. I feel like the A40 would do well in the bass spectrum if Astro could get the bass extension to have a little more slam. Mids good, and vocal heavy tracks play back well on the A40. 

The Astro A40 can be purchased with a MixAMP pro desktop module that allows you to more finely tune the balance between audio and mic.

Mionix Nash 20

Mionix Nash 20

A good performer.

- Design: closed-back
- Interface: analog
- Audio: 8/10
- Microphone clarity: 7/10
- Comfort: 7/10
- Detachable cable: no
- Extras: none
- Price: $100

Mionix was a surprise performer in this group. The company is not as well known as some of the others here, but its Nash 20 headset definitely performed well, both in measurements and in listening. In fact, it's one of the best headsets in this roundup when it comes to audio performance.

Frequency response

Frequency response

Distortion

Distortion

Left/right driver balance

Left/right driver balance

Latest prices on Mionix Nash 20

The Nash 20 performs well as both a gaming headset and as a general listening headphone. In fact, it's one of the few in this roundup that I wouldn't mind using as a general purpose unit. The Nash 20 has a response curve comparable to hi-fi headphones and sound the part as well. There's a good balance between highs, mids, and lows and bass response is tight and musical. There's a decent amount of impact here. Dare I say there's even a good amount of low-end extension.

The overall tone of the Nash 20 is on the warm side, with good resolution when used as a headphone for music. Resolution can be great considering its class and price point. There is a slight strain on very fine details, but for the most part most people may not notice.

In terms of overall clarity, the vocals are slightly subdued compared to lows and upper highs, but not fair down enough where you're losing tangible performance.

The Nash 20 is comfortable and stays comfortable for long durations. Ear pads are soft and covers even larger ears well with a good amount of seal. There's no detchable cable or mic, and it isn't the lighest headset around, but It's also not the heaviest.

Mionix did a fine job at putting together a gaming headset that doubles well as a general purpose headphone. The Nash 20 is definitely worth considering.

Tuan Nguyen
Tuan is the Editor-in-Chief of Maximum PC, and loves all things tech. He's been building PCs and ruffling feathers in the industry for 20 years, and isn't afraid to call out bad products and services. In fact, it's very common to hear the words "this is shit" escape his lips. If you want to know if something is "Kick-Ass" or not, email or tweet him.