As a gamer, audio has never been so important. Having the best audio quality your budget allows is one of the most important upgrades you can make to your setup. Better audio also doesn’t just benefit your gaming but also movies and music. Investing in a top end pair of audiophile headphones was and still is the best upgrade I made to my setup. To help you in picking your first pair of audiophile headphones or possibly uprade your existing ones I have curated this list of the best audiophile headphone for gaming.
There is a pair of headphones here for every budget so please read on to see which will suit you best.
If you have an insanely high budget then you should consider the HD800 S but these are likely outside of most peoples budget particularly if this is your first pair of audiophile headphones. For this reason we have settled on recommending the Audio Technica ATH M50x as our budget pick and the Sennheiser HD600s as our best overall pick. After testing headphones the Sennheiser HD600’s have become my daily driver. The M50’s however, will provide a solid introduction to audiophile headphones and may wet your appetite towards spending more on the likes of the HD600.
How To Choose The Best Audiophile Headphones For You
Ask yourself what you want to get out of your headphones. Given your sophisticated auditory palette, you’ll naturally prioritise the quality of sound above all else. That’s great; we have you covered. You also have a certain budget you want to stick with: merely mentioning ‘better quality’ usually implies ‘higher price’, so we’ve dug up and reviewed a range of quality headphones to suit any budget. We’ve also thrown in some other factors to think about, like comfort considerations for long-stint gaming sessions, whether it’s worth opting for out-of-the-box gaming headsets, types of headphone, and whether impedance is worth considering.
Gaming Headsets vs Gaming Headphones - Whats The Difference?
The most obvious question that springs to mind: if you’re a gamer, why not just go with a gaming headset? These are all-in-one combinations of headphones, mic, and wireless connectivity, with plug-and-play convenience that’s geared specifically for use on PC, PS4, or Xbox. They also usually have surround sound.
This is very useful for games where precise 360° locational audio cues can help you detect and track enemies, like nearby footsteps, or sniper fire from a distant window. Some gaming headsets ramp up these pinpointed sounds to give esports and competitive gamers an edge. You can even get gaming headsets that rumble, which treads a fine line between gimmicky and genius, depending on how you feel about having your ears vibrate.
So, why not just opt for a gaming headset? Most reputable gaming headsets might have decent quality sound, solid immersive 3D spatial audio, and a clear, crisp microphone. However, their sound quality and equalisation are generally preconfigured for standard gaming use.
This puts an emphasis on the bass end of the spectrum, at the expense of trebles and middles. Voiceover and sound effects might seem impressively beefy and audibly authoritative, but the full range of sound is limited as a result. For an audiophile, this can be jarring: lush soundscapes can come across muffled and indistinguishable, detracting from what should be a multi-layered sonic experience.
There’s also the lack of customisation to think of: for anybody who’s spent many an hour tweaking their EQ settings to achieve total auditory perfection, gaming headsets rarely offer such personalisation.
Ultimately, gaming headsets are geared towards voice communication, solid performance, and convenience. Achieving the highest quality full dynamic sound range from a gaming headset comes with a higher price tag, when a set of consumer headphones could offer the same richness of quality at a lower cost.
As you dive deep into your gaming universe of choice, there’s a good chance you’ll spend many an hour whiling away in there. We’ve all owned headphones that give you earache after an hour or two, so for long sessions, you’ll definitely seek out the kind of headphones that are kind to your ears.
Look for lightweight headphones: 100 grams lighter can make all the difference for those partaking in multi-hour gaming sessions. Cushioning, too, helps reduce ear fatigue. Don’t opt for the best ‘studio-quality’ cans if their ergonomic design is akin to a crushing G-clamp on your skull. Ask yourself: how long are my average gaming sessions? If the answer is longer than a few hours, then you’ll need to bump comfort up higher on your list of priorities.
Open-Back Headphones vs Closed-Back Headphones
The best gaming headphones for audiophiles—including the ones we’ve tried and tested, below—enclose the entire ear (‘circumaural’). ‘Closed-backed’ cups cancel out the outside world, to various degrees: something that ‘open-backed’ cans don’t do. Having a closed back forms a sound-insulation barrier, which can build up pressure in the microclimate created by the seal of each earphone, and cause potential echoing if the headphone set doesn’t have sufficient audio dampening.
Open-backed headphones allow air to pass through the speaker, generally giving the sound a more spacious, atmospheric quality; closer to ‘realism’. However, having the speakers exposed creates a lot of sound leakage; anyone else around you will be able to hear a tinnier version of what you can, which can grate on a lot of folk.
Whether opting for closed or open-backed, they are almost universally superior to earbuds and headphones that only rest on the ears (‘supra-aural’). If you’re looking for total, idyllic immersion as you game, choose circumaural every time.
What Is Headphone Impedence And Does It Matter?
When checking out headphone specs, you’ll often see an ‘impedance’ rating. This is measured in Ohms (Ω); the level of electrical resistance most of us had to get our heads around in secondary school physics lessons. Impedance measures the amount of resistance headphones encounter when they convert one form of energy (electrical) into another (soundwaves). The higher the resistance, the more power is needed to overcome that resistance, and drive great sound into your ears.
Personal headsets usually hang around the low end of the spectrum (4-40Ω), but studio monitor headphones can reach beyond 600Ω. These need a lot of juice to get them to work, and as such might require an amplifier to get them to operate optimally.
There’s plenty of material out there that explains the technical elements of impedance, and you don’t need to be a master of electrical engineering to understand it all, though it might help. However, one aspect that is important is to make sure that the impedance of the headphones pairs up nicely with the impedance of the source itself (in this case: your PC, PlayStation, or Xbox). They don’t have to match exactly, not by a long shot, but they shouldn’t be vastly disparate, either.
For example: although the impedance on, say, a Sony DualShock 4 controller’s 3.5mm audio jack isn’t known, it’s assumed to be fairly miniscule. Plugging in a pair of powerhouse studio-quality headphones with the resistance up in the 500Ωs or so will undoubtedly bring you issues. The controller doesn’t have enough power output to overcome the resistance required by the headphones, lowering the sound quality, reducing volume range (higher volume = more power = more resistance), or perhaps even not working at all.
It’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering investing in a pair of high-end, state-of-the-art headphones: scope out amplifiers to pair with them, to ensure they give their maximum performance.
Best Premium: Sennheiser HD 800 S Review
For those with cash to splash—a cool £1,200, that is—on the finest pair of headphones for the gaming audiophile, the Sennheiser HD 800 S is the ultimate choice. Weighing in at 330 grams, and with 300Ω impedance, these over-ear, open-backed headphones certainly have a unique look, which might not be to all tastes. But the sound is perfection: these are studio-quality cans that project sublime audio through into your ears at a fine angle, increasing stereo realism.
Best Alternative To The Sennheiser HD 800 S
If you want quality comparable to the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but you don’t have well over a grand to spare, HiFiMan’s mid-range offering—at a much more wallet-friendly £300(ish)—will definitely be more your cup of tea. The SUNDARA weighs in at 372 grams, so slightly more than the Sennheiser, and has 37Ω impedance. Also, it’s open-backed, allowing for air to move freely. The effect results in a more realistic sonic landscape, as no sound-affecting pressure can build up, and the noticeable echoing that can be heard through closed-back headphones is eradicated, allowing them to sound natural and clear.
Best Mid-Range & Value : Sennheiser HD 600 / S
As we’ve established, Sennheiser is famous for purely dedicating their resources to replicating the Perfect Sound (capitalisation intended). The Sennheiser HD 600 is one of the most notable entries in the headphone hall of fame: it’s the best pair of open-backed cans you can get for under £300. The sound is detailed, attentive; allowing for complex, interweaving timbres to not become mushy or indistinct. It’s rather basically built, so doesn’t look as impressive as it sounds, has 300Ω impedance, and weighs in at 250 grams: much lower than the high-end headphones.
Best Budget: Audio Technica ATH-M50X
We’re hitting a broader budget market with the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X. These have been out a while, so you can pick up a pair at and affordable price and they are regularly on offer. Either way, with the ATH-M50X, you’re getting high-quality sound at a very reasonable price. This model is the first we’ve reviewed that is closed-back, which means that it’s great for those worried about audio leakage. But like all closed-back headphones, it’s prone to the ‘echo chamber effect’ – a hollow, cave-like environment with unwanted echo and reverb that sound-dampening reduces, but doesn’t quite eliminate. At 285 grams, these feel very sturdy and hard-wearing: great for those looking for a robust pair of headphones. Their impedance sits at a respectable 38Ω so they are plug and play there is no need for a DAC/AMP.
Alternative Budget Pick: Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
A rival to the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X, this is a brilliant alternative for the audiophile-on-a-budget. Affordable and high-performance, this set has a well-earned place at the table amongst the big hitters. With an impedance of 250Ω and weighing in at a fairly lightweight 250 grams, with plump cushioned padding around the over-ear cups, this set of cans offers a markedly different sound than the others, which may be to your taste. Like the premium models, the open-backed design allows for richer, ambient sound
Any of our reviewed headphones can give you a sensory experience unlike any other. For gaming enthusiasts and audiophiles, your decision might boil down to purely budgetary reasons. For the weightier cans (the ones with higher audio impedance), you might want to consider investing in an amplifier to give these headphones the justice they deserve, but any of them will give you a sonic experience unlike any you’ve experienced before. Remember: consumer headphones are designed for pure aural experience; gaming headsets are less likely to come close to these dedicated audio-enhancers.
It all comes down to personal taste. If you have money to burn, then by all means go for the top-of-the-line Sennheisers. For those on a modest budget, it’s definitely worth investing in the Sennheiser HD600’s which are my current headphones I use day to day. If you are on a tighter budget then you can’t go wrong with the Audio Technics M50x.
Any option you choose will result in a remarkably improved music and gaming experience.
Last Price Update on 2020-06-25 / Data taken from the Amazon Product API