The short answer is because sound design has evolved by leaps and bounds in the last decade alone. We went from only having the standard of Dolby Digital in movies to it becoming a full part of nearly every entertainment experience we consume. Say you don’t want to connect or purchase a giant audio system to play PC games or even your bedroom console but you still want to take advantage of thwips, horse trots, and explosions games are packed with; then a headset might be the answer. While few solutions will give you a full digital experience, it is possible to improve upon your enjoyment with even modest audio upgrades. So I decided to do some investigating and check out a couple of options while trying to keep this as technically lucid as possible.

VRX Gaming Headset (1 More USA)

Arguably one of the sexiest headsets around. This pair has a lot to offer visually but is visual what you really care about when shopping for an audio product? Probably not. What the VRX does well is the quality of its build. The metal headband never once caught my hair over my VR headset. Its cups are soft and feel comfortable on the ear even when the audio is pulsating at high levels in your eardrums. As someone who needs to put a pop screen on podcast microphones, the VRX built-in mic did a surprisingly solid job of making me understandable and not sound like I have a problem with “P”s. It’s also got a sleek LED lighting design you can adjust between various color combinations to choose the hue of your lightsaber so to speak. What it doesn’t have going for it is ease of use. Most of us simply want to plug in or connect our headphones and just have it work. That wasn’t my experience with the VRX. Updates and drivers are simply part of the tech world we live in, but the software you’re asked to download to manage preferences and calibrate is clunky at best. It took a reinstall to get it right and even when it was running, the user interface took some extensive navigating to get the hang of. I would not be able to quickly adjust anything and jump into any game.

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When the audio does work it’s pretty top-notch, out of all the sets I tried the VRX handled bass best. No matter how to sh** the old west was going, no explosion ever rattled in my ears like an aerosol can in a hurricane. But what disappointed me most about the VRX was not being able to get digital audio out of my PlayStation 4. According to the instructions, all one needed to do to take advantage of 7.1 audio was connect the headphones to the PS4 via USB. Both systems I tried this with wouldn’t even read the headphones, which is disappointing. The VRX is a headphone well built but suited for more advanced gamers who enjoy the intricacies of the PC.

Price Point: $99-$149

Scuderia Ferrari Edition (Thrustmaster)

Cause I’ve always wanted to look like I belonged in Sasha Baren Cohen’s pit crew from Talladega Nights. If you’re not a racing aficionado, these headphones might come off a bit over-the-top. Though they are the heaviest of the sets I tried, the isolation from the deep cups over your ears is hyperbaric levels. You couldn’t yell at me loud enough to get my attention while wearing these. Weirdly enough it’s the mid-level sound that these Thrustmasters handle better than most in its price point, meaning voice and song come through superbly more than an explosion or in this case car sounds. It’s also the most plug-and-play simplicity of all the headsets, there are no software drivers to monitor because it doesn’t handle 7.1 surrounds. The inline controller on the cable lets you do the majority of the controlling. Despite not handling digital audio, the stereo analog sound quality is deep and well-focused through the comfortable cups.

If you’re looking for the simplest audio solution with rich out of the box audio then the Thrustmaster Scuderia Ferrari Edition might be what you’re looking for. Just be ready to ignore your friends asking you to change their tires.

Price Point $99-$149

A10 Legend of Zelda Edition (Astro Gaming)

The most geek-friendly gift of all the headsets I’ve tried. While shopping, I durn near forgot I had a Nintendo Switch. With the Switch being primarily used when I travel, comfort was my biggest concern along with audio quality. The recently launched Nintendo Switch Online service has been something I haven’t fully dipped into because the voice chat seems needlessly complicated. This special A10 edition comes with an exclusive chat cable for the Switch, while it doesn’t completely fix the needless voice chat setup implemented by Nintendo it does make controlling it nearly purely reliant on the headset once you turn on the phone app and connect through the special cable. Right down to the integrating of the Astro’s flip-up mic mute feature which lets you cut your voice when you don’t want to talk, simply by turning the mic to the up position. No buttons to look for or fidget with.

These are the most lightweight of all the headphones I used and if soft is something your earholes require the A10 is like cotton candy. It’s not manufactured with the nylon most other headsets are that can get sweaty after extended use. Astro uses a fabric lined cup and keeps any muffling caused by it to the most unnoticeable of amounts. The Switch in handheld mode doesn’t do pure digital audio so you shouldn’t expect it from the A10 either. Even through stereo audio, the sound quality is leaps and bounds beyond simply using the earbuds from your phone or simple headphones from your portable device. The A10 is versatile beyond just Nintendo’s hardware, it’s even Discord certified meaning you’ll even be able to use these for that podcast you’ve wanted to launch that trashes those of us who gave Breath of the Wild a mediocre review score.

If you’ve got a Triforce tattoo or a Link sweater in your wardrobe rotation then you probably have a Nintendo Switch. The A10 Legend of Zelda Edition is then a must for you. It’s sleek, lightweight, and delivers impactful audio performance and best of all the 3.5mm connection means it’s also compatible with just about all the entertainment electronics in your home.

Price Point: $69.99

A40 TR (Astro Gaming)

The most deceptively simple of all the headphones on this list, Astro A40 TR edition doesn’t do Dolby Digital without the optional mixamp you’ll need to purchase separately but what you do get in the box is one of the best-balanced gaming devices around. As with all gaming headsets, there’s a focus on communication as well as delivering a title’s sound design through a compact sonic system. Astro’s A40 makes customizing how much of each incredibly easy whether through PC or console. Through either the 3.5mm jack or 1.5 you’ll get audio that’s as close to cutting analog noise without going fully digital. Playing through Marvel Spider-Man a third time with these at half volume gave me a distinguishably more cinematic experience than the speakers on my television at max volume. From the instant Peter scrambled out of his apartment to take down the Kingpin every splat of web fluid and wrapping takedown of henchmen was just meatier in my comparison play through.

For the PC modders out there, the A40 TR has levels of customization you can do such as changing the ear cup plates. That’s not particularly something I was interested in but those of you who want something to feel like it’s unique, you have options. The A40 TR falls in the moderate price point range for base headphones but delivers a top-shelf presentation.

Price Point: $149.99

 

After a lot of deliberation and return policy abuse, I landed on the A10 Legend of Zelda edition as my go to headset. They fit my enhance audio needs for my primary gaming devices (Switch, PS4), it may not be the best quality of sound but it’s a noticeable improvement over lesser priced headphones, even Bose music ones. The color scheme and design is subtle and thin enough that if I really wanted to, I could plug them into my phone at the gym and no one would bat an eye, yet if I’m waiting in line for something at SDCC then I could get some compliments from the one or two other true Nintendo fans on Earth.

If you’re looking to improve the audio in the video games you play, gaming headphones are a simple solution that in most cases won’t break your bank. While you may need to make an investment if you want a true theater surround in your ears, grabbing a pair of any of these cans is an easy way to up your experience. Going in there’s an incredible amount of overwhelming choices that some di**head in a blue polo shirt might try to convince you of the need to spend hundreds of dollars that could buy comics, but don’t be intimidated. If it looks cool, it probably works for you. The only two things you need to be aware of going in is what you’re connecting your headphones to (a game console or PC) most of the time as long as you have some kind of headphone jack you’ll be fine. You might even find the perfect gift for the game enthusiast in your life.

 

(Thank you to the companies that allowed me to visit and try their products so I didn’t have to make frequent trips to the store and return excuses. No paid promotion was accepted in writing this, it’s just my shopping experience for something I was always curious about.)