Gaming Headset Buyer's Guide & Roundup

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For PC gamers, the gear we use to play can provide a tangible edge in our games. Although much noise is made about backlit keyboards boasting gamer oriented layouts and fancy mice with odd shapes, the most important considerations for gaming are still the guts of the gaming machine, a comfortable desk layout, a good monitor and a quality sound reproduction device. While most gamers understand the need for a capable system and a quality monitor, they don't often appreciate that last bit about sound.

The engineer didn't hear the spy approaching from behind.

Any old speaker will provide the most basic audio cues, but you'll need something better if you want a real competitive edge. In the past, only the odd first-person shooter offered high quality positional audio, but now nearly every game supports high quality audio and surround sound output. As more and more games cross traditional genre boundaries and games become increasingly dominated by a first-person perspective, being able to accurately reproduce positional audio is more beneficial than ever.

From shooters and role playing games to simulation and adventure titles, nearly every modern game with a first or third person perspective now supports positional audio and you stand to benefit if you've got the gear to use it. Not only will it make the games more atmospheric, you also gain an edge from being able to hear what is around you without having to look.

There are two ways to take advantage of the positional audio capabilities of most modern games. You can either get a set of nice speakers or some nice headphones. There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to either option but for gaming we would argue that headphones, or a headset, is the way to go.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of speakers also happens to be their purpose, they tend to make quite a racket. While cranking your system up to 11 lets you hear every footfall and leaf rustle in your game, your family and neighbors might not appreciate your shiny new audio setup as much as you do, especially during your late-night gaming session.

Speakers also do nothing to keep unwanted noises from disturbing you. Not only do headphones let you keep your game to yourself, they also help block out annoying background noise. If you live alone in a detached home then that monster 1000 watt speaker setup might be exactly what you're looking for. The rest of us might consider headphones.

We're going to give you some tips on what to look for in a gaming headphone or headset, then show you several examples of what's available in a mini-review round-up. We didn't just grab the nearest gaming headsets in reach either. Our round-up includes gaming headsets using a variety of signal input and sound output methods to get you started on your headphone/headset hunt. We also threw in some standard analog headphones for comparison and contrast.

The contestants are:
  • Creative Arena Surround USB
  • Razer Carcharias
  • Razer Megalodon
  • Turtle Beach Ear Force HPA2
  • Sennheiser HD 595
  • Ultrasone HFI 780
Read on for our gaming headset buyer's guide, followed by our headphone round-up.

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