There are hundreds of different gaming headsets available on the market, and companies spend so much money and time marketing their products and trying to make them stand out from the crowd that it can be difficult for consumers to know which headsets are actually good and which ones are just driven by hype. Headset reviews are helpful of course, and should definitely be part of the research process before making a purchase, but reviews aren’t without their own issues. Individual reviewers all posses their own unique preferences and biases, and may have particular brands or styles that they enjoy that can influence their overall impression of a headset, no matter how much they try to be impartial.
We came up with The Blind Gaming Headset Showdown as an attempt to address these very problems.
We recruited six judges with varying levels of familiarity with gaming headsets and varying preferences when it comes to headset features and designs. We then placed different headsets on their heads without the judges being able to look at the headsets. They didn’t know what brand they were wearing, how much the headsets cost, or what they looked like. We kept the headsets in paper bags from Trader Joe’s when they weren’t being judged and only took them out to put onto the judges’ ears from behind.
While wearing each of the six different headsets, the judges listened to the same three clips: THX’s “Amazing Life,” THX’s “Cavalcade,” and last year’s inFamous Second Son E3 trailer. These three short videos cover a wide range of different tones and sound types and show off the surround sound capabilities of the headsets. The inFamous trailer in particular is useful because it includes explosions, dialogue, and music, and we found it to be a useful tool for judging how well headsets presented different sounds.
Judges made notes about the comfort and sound quality of each headset, doing their best to keep the two aspects independent of one another — in other words, their favorite headset in terms of sound didn’t have to be one of their favorites in terms of comfort. After trying all six headsets (and trying some of them again to review and compare) they were then presented with all of the headsets on a table and asked to judge them purely on their visual appearance, without knowing which one had sounded or felt the best.
Once all this was done, we had the six judges pick their Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal-winning headsets in the categories of Sound, Comfort, and Looks. By combining all their choices, we’re able to present the overall winners in these three categories, as well as one Grand Champion. Which headset has the best sound and which had the best comfort when we strip away the branding and appearance factors? And which looks the best when you aren’t sure how it sounds or what it feels like?
Read on to find out what our judges thought!
Obviously, since the judges didn’t wear each headset for hours to experience the long-term comfort and didn’t judge microphone quality, these ratings won’t tell the complete story of the individual headsets — for that, a detailed headset review would really be necessary. This challenge was intended to provide a different perspective on headsets and to offer some useful information about some of the popular headsets on the market, some newly released models, and some other options you might never have heard of before.
Now let’s take a look at the headsets that our judges got to try.
Headset A: Logitech G930. This is one of the most popular gaming headsets available, and has over 1,300 customer reviews on Newegg. It offers “7.1 Dolby surround sound,” works wirelessly through a USB adapter, and costs $104.99.
Headset B: Sennheiser G4Me Zero. This is a very high-end option for gaming headsets, and is the most expensive of the six our judges tried. It features a “professional soundscape – specific sound trim for optimized positioning,” noise-cancelling design, and costs $279.99.
Headset C: Razer Kraken Pro. As you might expect from a Razer product, this is one of the most visually-distinct headsets in our challenge. It has 40 mm drivers and “Neodymium Magnets.” At $70, they’re also the lowest-priced headset of the six contenders.
Headset D: SteelSeries 5Hv3. This headset sports “a custom-engineered soundscape” and “features a wide dynamic range.” It can also be easily taken apart into three pieces for transport. They cost $85.99.
Headset E: Astro Gaming A40. Astro Gaming is a huge name in the gaming headset world, and the A40 is a popular choice that features “Dolby Digital 7.1” and is compatible with multiple systems. The version we used features a white frame and costs $249.99.
Headset F: Func HS-260. This headset features changable cushions in either leather or velour (we used the velour ones) and “a well-balanced sound image.” They are available for $79.99.
After all the judging was done, we set about determining the overall champions for the areas of Sound, Comfort, and Appearance. To rank the headsets, each first-place vote a headset received from a judge was worth ten points, second place scored five points, and third place was two points.
The gold medal for sound goes to…
Razer Kraken Pro!
The voting for the Kraken Pro headset was very interesting, as three judges ranked it as clearly the best, while the three other judges didn’t even put it in their top three! The reason for this highly-polarized voting most likely has to do with the powerful bass on the Kraken. It had more bass than any of the other headsets in our challenge, and for those judges who really like bass, it was an obvious champ. On the other hand, other judges complained that they found the bass to be overpowering, and that the mid and high tones were completely lost.
The silver medal for sound goes to…
In contrast to the polarizing sound of the Kraken Pro, the 5Hv3 appealed to just about everyone. Five out of six judges picked it for their top three, though only one picked it as their first-place winner. Judges praised it as having “even” and “wide” sound with quality virtual surround sound capabilities. Most found the mid and high ranges to be well-balanced.
The bronze medal for sound goes to…
The G930 had an impressive showing for sound, considering it was the only wireless headset of the bunch. Four out of six judges picked it for their top three. A couple of the judges pointed out a lack of noise cancellation with this headset, but those that liked it praised its balanced sound and found it to have decent, but not overpowering, bass.
The gold medal for comfort goes to…
Sennheiser G4me Zero!
The G4me Zero headset ran away with this category, and scored the biggest margin of victory of the entire contest. Four out of five judges awarded it first place, while a fifth put it third. The most expensive headset in our challenge also seems to be made of the highest-quality materials, with large ear cups and a well-padded band. The one judge that didn’t rank this headset in the top three for comfort mentioned a concern that it wouldn’t “breathe” with long-term use, but for the other five judges it was a clear winner.
The silver medal for comfort goes to…
Five out of six judges liked the 5Hv3 for comfort, though once again it only scored a single first-place vote. This headset is notably lighter and less bulky than the others in our challenge, and that’s something that the judges enjoyed. The cups are smaller in diameter than on the other headsets, and the judges in general found that to be a positive thing, as the headset avoided smothering the sides of their heads or pressing too firmly on their ears or temples.
The bronze medal for comfort goes to…
The judges were widely split on the area of comfort, so one first-place and two second-place votes was enough to give the Logitech the bronze medal in this category. It has sizable leather cushions that a few judges liked, though others found them to be too large. Judges were also split on the headband, with some liking it and others complaining that it wouldn’t sit in a comfortable place.
The gold medal for best looks goes to…
With two first-place votes, two second-place votes, and a third-place vote the SteelSeries 5Hv3 was the overall favorites for appearance. The judges liked its simplicity, its smaller ear-cups, and the use of orange inside the ear cups and on the braided cord. The 5Hv3 also features a retractable mic, which was an appealing touch for people who like headsets they can use as regular headphones without a microphone getting in the way.
The silver medals for best looks go to…
Razer Kraken Pro and AstroGaming A40!
We have a tie! The Kraken Pro was just as polarizing in looks as it was in sound, as two judges placed it first and none of the others ranked it in the top three. The same was true for the A40, as the white frame appealed to two of the judges but none of the others. In addition, the Func HS-260 missed making this a three-way tie by a single point, as five out of six judges placed it second or third for appearance.
The Grand Champion
Winning Looks and placing second in Sound and Comfort, the 5Hv3 was the overall favorite of the judges in our contest. With its balanced sound and light construction it performed well and was comfortable to wear, and its simplicity won the day for appearance against headsets that were bulkier and flashier. At $85.99 they’re also the third-cheapest headset in our challenge, making their overall quality even more impressive.
Congratulations, SteelSeries 5Hv3!
What We Learned
Branding and expectation have a big impact on how people judge a product like a gaming headset, and taking that away can lead to some surprising results. Several judges expressed surprise when they found out which headsets they had ranked as their favorites for sound and comfort, since they had pre-conceived notions about which would be best and worst based on brand reputation. Additionally, when judging purely on short-term comfort, sound, and appearance, there was very little connection between the price of a headset and how much our judges liked it.
Stay tuned over the coming weeks as we dive into in-depth reviews of all of these headsets, and let us know about your personal favorite headset in the comments!