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SteelSeries Arctis 7 - one of many high quality headsets on the market

SteelSeries Arctis 7 – one of many high quality headsets on the market

A reader offers a comprehensive guide to buying gaming-specific headphones, from the best value to the state-of-the-art.

My search for the ideal gaming headset is ongoing, though the promise of perfection is tantalisingly close. For this feature I will share my experience and hopefully provide some valuable insight. Thanks to Amazons generous returns policy I have tested my fair share of headsets over the years, though it has to be noted not every headset is available – so dont be offended if I omit your personal favourite. Which leads me onto an important point to consider, despite my best efforts to remain objective, there are aspects of gaming headsets which are completely subjective. Those of you who possess a good set of gaming headphones will attest to the difference in immersion.

This list will only consist of wireless gaming headsets, which some audiophiles will baulk at, but the first thing to consider before you purchase any headset is your gaming setup. After all, creating a trip hazard or a temptation for the family dog can prove a major inconvenience. The following headsets will be considered for each category, so in no particular order: Razer Thresher Essential/7.1/Ultimate, Astro A50 Gen 3, LucidSound LS40, SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless, Turtle Beach Stealth 600/700, New Sony Gold Wireless, SteelSeries Arctis 7, and Turtle Beach Elite 800. I currently only own one of these headsets, it should become apparent which one by the conclusion.

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Comfort:

There is no overstating how important an aspect comfort is, which is why its first on my list. You will be hard pressed to discover a modern gaming headset which is downright uncomfortable, but your mileage will vary greatly.

The introduction of the suspension headband has alleviated some of the issues, accommodating a broader range of head shapes. Nullifying the pressure from the top of the head has a major influence on your play time. SteelSeries paved the way with their innovative ski-goggle headband design, which has seen other manufacturers such as Razer and Turtle Beach incorporate similar suspension methods. The upshot is it works extremely well.

This category is a shootout between three headsets, which are all supremely comfortable, but because the SteelSeries Arctis headsets are a slightly snug fit, there is one headset which you literally forget youre wearing. Plush, pillow-like ear cups and no added pressure, this headset can accommodate the longest of gaming sessions without any sign of fatigue.

Winner: Razer Thresher
Runner-up: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless

Build quality:

How much emphasis you place upon the construction and materials of a headset will vary greatly. Some will be content with it being sufficiently robust and dont care how it looks, others will demand a sleek look and high-grade materials. The most expensive headset on the list comes in at a whopping £299.99, which is the Arctis Pro Wireless. The OLED screen wireless transmitter no doubt adds to the cost, but even with its premium quality flourishes it doesnt quite take this category. The Astro A50 is another strong contender with its convenient recharging base station, and a headband design synonymous with pro gamers. A distinctive look, which wont ever be mistaken for a non-gaming headset, it nonetheless has its appeal.

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The weakest on my list is the Stealth 700, which is predominantly plastic and rattles in the hand – which is never a good sign. At the other end of the scale is a headset which defies convention and raises the bar for gaming headsets. Expertly engineered, intuitive controls and robust materials, this headset sets itself apart with a sleek look which you wouldnt be embarrassed to wear out in public (the mic is removable!).

Winner: LucidSound LS40
Runner-up: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless

Audio performance:

Arguably the most important category for consideration, each headsets signature sound can vary greatly. The crisp highs and mids of the Arctis Pro, for instance, are countered by a warmer sound, with more impactful lows of the Astro A50s. Volume can be another factor which is highly variable, such as the Turtle Beach Stealth 600 which never gets loud enough. It is how the headset maintains clarity without distortion at those extremes which can split the competition.

Bass

The Astro A50 has an abundance of bass and doesnt break under stress, whereas the Pro Wireless has far more detail, it can wilt a tad at maximum volume. The Razer Thresher meanwhile is solid throughout, and the LucidSound has a similar punch, with added clarity. Aside from the winner, its closely fought, with the Stealth 700 also a good performer.

Winner: Astro A50 Gen 3
Runner-up: Razer Thresher

Clarity

This comes down to a three-way shootout, involving the Arctis Pro Wireless, LucidSound LS40 and Arctis 7. One of these headsets genuinely is crystal clear in most situations, although its notable how close its much less expensive competitor is.

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Winner: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless
Runner-up: Steelseries Arctis 7

Surround Sound

If you own a stereo headset on Xbox One you have the added options of Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic – I prefer the latter as it seems to offer a wider soundstage. Other competing technologies include Dolby 7.1 and DTS Headphone X. The bottom line is theyre all virtual surround sound, with headsets differing in how they create the illusion of directional sound. The Turtle Beach headsets can be a tad over processed for some tastes, but competitively they can benefit, with features such as Super Human Hearing headlining its capabilities. But you wouldnt want to play single-player using that mode. The Arctis Pros meanwhile provides a more subtle sense of direction, whilst the Astros are more roomy with a greater sense of precision. The winner in this category simply provides extra clarity, with almost pinpoint accuracy at times.

Winner: Turtle Beach Elite 800
Runner-up: Astro A50 Gen 3

Microphone quality

This category is largely dependant upon the feedback of others. In terms of design Im a big fan of the retractable mic, which is employed by SteelSeries and Razer in their range. The flip-up mute functionality of the Astro A50 will delight some, whilst the hidden mic of the Sony Golds is non-intrusive, practically its performance leaves a lot to be desired. The lack of mic monitoring (cant hear your own voice) holds back the Razer Thresher unfortunately, leaving it a contest between the two.

Winner: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless
Runner-up: LucidSound LS40

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Features:

Prioritising which features are most important is no easy task when there are so many options available. I would argue Bluetooth is a must on a modern gaming headset, which greatly adds to its versatility. Sync to your mobile phone or even a TV, it opens up an array of options. Whilst some manufacturers such as Turtle Beach concentrate on a competitive angle, others will focus open the core principles of audio: comfort and battery life.

The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless attempts to please all with a good selection of features, Bluetooth connectivity and customisable EQ settings. Turtle Beachs Stealth 700 and Elite 800 offer similar functionality at a lower price but are less refined in their delivery. Ultimately being able to configure settings on the base station, instead of relying upon additional software is the deciding factor.

Winner: Arctis Pro Wireless
Runner-up: Turtle Beach Stealth 700

Compatibility:

This category can be a minefield, so I will concentrate on the basics. The main differentiation between headsets designed for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is how chat is delivered. It is important to note both can use optical inputs for game audio (PS4 Slim excluded), whereas PlayStation 4 utilises USB for chat. Microsoft have their own proprietary tech which produces wireless transmissions, allowing seamless connectivity.

A range of headsets, such as the Stealth 600/700 and Razer Thresher, essentially employ this technology, which results in headsets which connects just like a wireless controller. Outside of these officially licensed products, game and chat audio is achievable via a 3.5mm jack (original Xbox One controller excluded – chat adapter required) or wirelessly delivered via a base station/USB dongle on either platform. On PlayStation 4 the method for chat audio is more standardised alongside PC.

A prime example of compatibility not being advertised is the SteelSeries Arctis Pro wireless, which is marketed as PlayStation 4/PC only. It actually works perfectly on Xbox One also, with a relatively easy solution to achieve chat functionality. With the PlayStation 4 input selected in the menu on the wireless transmitter, either use the 3.5mm jack (wired) or download the Xbox One beta app to your phone. Sync the headset via Bluetooth and you can chat with friends whilst being provided in-game audio via optical, resulting in a completely wireless solution.

Unfortunately, I have no experience with Nintendos Switch but I am aware the console has a 3.5mm jack, which ensures the majority on my list are compatible – in portable mode at least. To my knowledge the Switch doesnt possess an optical input for docked mode, which could prove problematic, though Im sure there are workarounds for headsets which deliver game and chat audio via USB. Anyone with this knowledge please enlighten readers in the comments section.

Best for Xbox One
For this category only a completely wireless solution for game and chat audio will do, which reduces the choices significantly. The winner delivers great audio, decent comfort and outstanding surround sound. A close contest, because what the runner-up lacks in overall features, it compensates with solid audio and convenience. But I have to give the nod to the headset which just has the edge in the audio department and customisation.

Winner: Astro A50 Gen 3
Runner-up: Razer Thresher Essential

Best for PlayStation 4
This one is highly contested between the impressive but expensive Arctis Pro Wireless, its older sibling Arctis 7, Astro A50, and the new PlayStation Gold Wireless. The latter utilises a USB stick for wireless connectivity, which is not just a clutter free option but an excellent all-round performer – especially for the lower price. But ultimately I have to give the award to the headset which is the best overall.

Winner: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless
Runner-up: SteelSeries Arctis 7

Best multiformat headset
As I mentioned previously, the main issue concerns chat audio. Astro offer a solution, albeit a very expensive one, which allows the same headset to work on both consoles if you purchase an additional base station. I feel a better option is to select a headset which has Bluetooth or opt for the PlayStation 4 specific version and utilise the 3.5mm jack for chat on Xbox – which is the more straightforward alternative. With that in mind, both these headsets will require a compromise of wired chat on Xbox One.

Winner: Razer Thresher Ultimate (PS4 version)
Runner-up: LucidSound LS40

Best value for money
As good as the Arctis Pro Wireless is, at £300 that is an obscene amount of money to invest in a gaming headset. The Astro A50, which ranges from £250 to £300, also narrows down the field. Therefore, that leaves contenders which fall into the sub-£200 bracket, which is a more reasonable expectation. Cheapest on the list is the New Sony Gold Wireless, which is an excellent all-round performer, though its hindered by a weak bass and relatively short battery life. If Im honest, this category was the easiest to decide, as the winner exceeds expectations in almost every facet.

Winner: SteelSeries Arctis 7
Runner-up: Razer Thresher Essential/7.1

Future considerations:

SteelSeries have recently revamped the Arctis 7 (2019 edition) to introduce a number of improvements, which includes improved bass, a more rounded headband design, and thicker ear cushions. Turtle Beach are about to the release the Elite Pro 2, which is a revision on their highly acclaimed wired headset. LucidSound are also due to release a number of additions to their range, improving upon the LS30/40 headsets with the LS31 and LS41, along with the Xbox One specific LS35X – which utilises Microsofts wireless technology.

There are a host of alternative manufacturers who offer great alternatives, including HyperX, Sennheiser, and Logitech. The best approach would always be to seek a demonstration before committing, especially if the retailer doesnt have a good returns policy. I hope some of my recommendations provide a useful starting point for anyone who is new to gaming headsets, but as you can see, there is no perfect choice – it comes down to prioritising whats best for you.

By reader Up4Banter

The readers feature does not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email [email protected] and follow us on Twitter.

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