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2013 Head-Fi Summer Buying Guide (Gaming Headphones)

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Gaming Headsets


While my avid gaming days have long since passed, I still enjoy giving my laptop's video card something to overheat about from time to time. Favoring first-person shooters, imaging is important; but as rusty as I am with games nowadays, it's mostly so that I know precisely from which direction death is raining down on me. (I also use the headsets for telephony and software speech recognition dictation.)

A few gaming headsets I've used that I feel comfortable recommending include:

Skullcandy SLYR


TYPE: Closed, on-the-ear headset

PRICE: Around $80

URL: www.skullcandy.com

I almost considered putting the Skullcandy SLYR in the over-ear headphones section. For 80 bucks, it's a good closed headphone, period, and with the added functionality of a built-in stow-away microphone.

As has been covered before on Head-Fi, Skullcandy is getting very serious about sound. They've hired a lot of talent, and built their own labs, and have moved away from OEM to designing and engineering their own stuff. The SLYR is a product of those efforts, and a very good result.

The SLYR comes with a USB gaming sound mixer. To put it in non-gamer speak, this mixer is like a USB DAC (plus USB mic in) that also allows you to adjust audio settings, especially for mixing game audio and voice. It also comes with three different EQ settings. Because the mixer's cables are so long--and because I think the SLYR sounds better with music without the mixer (though the EQ is fun to experiment with while gaming)--I just plug the SLYR directly into my computer, or into one of my good USB DAC/amps, most of the time.

With or without the included mixer, the SLYR is very good for gaming. Its sound signature favors clarity over boom, though it still does a fine job of conveying sounds, impact, and effects of the death and destruction I usually find myself suffering from when I enter the gaming fray.

The thing is, when I'm done gaming--when I've plugged it directly into my computer or one of my good DAC/amps--I regularly forget to change the SLYR out for another headphone when I return to music. I'll say it again: this is actually a good $80 closed headphone. The SLYR's overall clarity is good. Its bass is well balanced, mids could use a bit more refinement and richness, and there's occasionally some mid-treble glare. Still, though, it's musical enough that I'll use it for an all-'round headphone on days I know I'll be Skyping a lot (its built-in stow-away boom microphone comes in handy). 80 bucks--a very good deal.

"These are great for music, pretty good for fun gaming, and good enough for competitive use... If their $80 headset is this good, I have high hopes for their higher end models."

-Christian Rivera (Mad Lust Envy)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

beyerdynamic MMX 300


TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headset

PRICE: Around $400

URL: www.beyerdynamic.com

This imposing headset from beyerdynamic has earned many accolades with gamers everywhere, for combining the sound quality and durability of beyerdynamic's famed "DT" family of audiophile and pro audio headphones, along with the expertise in headset communications from beyerdynamic's aviation headset products.

The MMX 300 is among the most serious looking of all the gaming headsets I've seen. It may be built for something fun (gaming), but its styling seems to suggest very clearly that the MMX 300 is stony-faced serious about doing its job very well.

Like the Skullcandy SLYR, the MMX 300 is a closed headphone, but offers more isolation than the SLYR (and, given its around-the-ear design, substantially more comfort, too). It's important to keep in mind that it's also a very large headset that doesn't fold flat, and, even though its case is nice, the MMX 300 is still going to take up a lot of space in your bag (assuming it fits in there at all).

The MMX 300 comes with a nice, small detachable in-line USB DAC with volume control and mute button. I like these USB converters (my Sennheiser PC 166 USB came with one), and wish all wired gaming headsets had them included.

My experience with the MMX 300 is quite limited so far, but first impressions included just what I'd have expected from beyerdynamic, which is excellent clarity, good bass, and brighter-than-neutral (but not edgy) top end. Also, the microphone on the MMX 300 has a wider frequency response than the SLYR's, so the sound from it is more broadband, more full, making the MMX 300 a candidate for podcasting duties.

I may have to add the MMX 300 to my arsenal as my primary closed headset of choice.

Skullcandy PLYR 1




TYPE: Wireless, closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone

PRICE: $179.95

URL: www.skullcandy.com

It's designed primarily as a wireless gaming headset. It's by Skullcandy. Get over both of those things, cue up your music, flip up the PLYR 1's built-in boom microphone to get it out of the way, and enjoy the music, as the Skullcandy PLYR 1 is one of the best sounding and most versatile wireless headphones I've yet used. Okay, I admit I was also skeptical when Skullcandy's Gernard Feril and James Lang told me they had a wireless headphone even a Head-Fi'er could love. Turns out they were right.

The PLYR 1 has three equalizer settings: Bass Mode, for emphasized impact for explosions and special effects; Precision Mode, for emphasized mids and highs to highlight footsteps and reloads in gaming; and Supreme Mode, which is the most balanced of the three settings. For music, I use Supreme Mode the most, occasionally opting for Precision Mode. 

With switchable Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Headphone encoding--and a boom microphone with very nice outgoing voice clarity--the PLYR 1 makes for an immersive gaming experience. The PLYR 1's surround prowess also makes it an outstanding movie and TV headphone. Of course, the surround experience isn't totally out-of-head, but the PLYR 1 conveys enough out-of-head cues to make you check that your speakers aren't on from time to time.

For me, the PLYR 1's wireless performance has shown itself to be long-range--easily covering the entirety of my modestly sized home--and rock solid. The headphone's lithium-ion battery charges quickly (around two to three hours), and provides long battery life, with up to 14-15 hours for listening only, around nine hours with a lot of chatting, and a multi-purpose average per-charge use time of around 12-13 hours.

In terms of inputs, the PLYR 1 supports Toslink optical input and analog input via a 3.5mm mini plug, which brings me to my only real complaint about the PLYR 1: Its USB functionality is limited to the boom mic. Given its headset functionality, full USB input and output support would have made for easier one-cable hookup to computers for music listening, Skype calls, text-to-speech dictation, and gaming--especially for media-I/O-limited laptops like the Apple MacBook Air.

If price is no object, the $600 Sennheiser RS 220 is still the best sounding wireless headphone you're going to find for music listening. But for all it offers at only $180, the Skullcandy PLYR 1 is one of the strongest values in this entire guide, and the best wireless headphones for home/office use that I've used for under $600.

"Paired with the fact that the PLYR 1 is wireless (and a very good wireless signal at that) makes it a must have for those looking for simple all in one solutions."

-Christian Rivera (Mad Lust Envy)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sennheiser PC 360 G4ME


TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headset

PRICE: Around $250

URL: www.sennheiser.com

What a lot of Head-Fi'ers don't know is just how much experience Sennheiser has with communications products. They make countless products at the center of which is voice clarity. And, like beyerdynamic, Sennheiser also makes well-regarded aviation headsets. Now take all of their experience with the aforementioned, and couple it to Sennheiser HD55X family sound. What do you have? A killer headset.

If you've heard the Sennheiser HD 55X headphones, you have some idea of what to expect from the PC 360 in terms of its sound signature with music. That kind of clarity and fidelity translates well to gaming, and it's no surprise to see some of the most serious gamers choosing audiophile-quality pieces by Sennheiser as their headsets of choice.

Unfortunately, the PC 360 G4ME does not come with a USB adapter, which, again, I wish all premium wired headsets included. Though I could live without it, I'll poach the one from my PC 166 USB to use with the PC 360 when I desire USB connectivity.

I expect the Sennheiser PC 360 G4ME may be my primary open headset of choice.


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