Play Tested: Four Gaming Headsets

Surround sound headsets are for gamers what soundbars are for the average consumer: no-hassle, "good enough" alternatives to a full home-theater system. The hurdle all gaming headsets have to overcome is successfully tricking your brain into thinking it's hearing five to seven discrete channels around the "room." Some do this better than others, but simulating spatial separation with a few drivers located less than an inch from your ear is a tall order - too tall, I'd thought. 

Then I took several pairs for extended test drives, and what I found surprised me.

Headsets have one big advantage over traditional surround setups: most of them included processing optimized to bring out elements of a game's audio mix that can give you the drop on adversaries. They might not present exactly the soundscape the game developers intended, but when playing competitively they can offer a major advantage. Was it worth it?

While none of the four sets I checked out - Astro's A40 MLG Edition, Turtle Beach's Earforce PX5, Sony's PlayStation Wireless, and the Creative Soundblaster Recon 3D module (which can be used with any headset) - made me want to replace my current setup, I've come around. Headsets are great if you don't live alone or have a dedicated gaming or theater room. And your neighbors will appreciate the fact that they won't have any more giant explosions rattling the pictures off their walls at two in the morning, too.