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:
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, merge that with their consumer headphone expertise, and you have the fixings for some great gaming headphone possibilities.
Sennheiser released two gaming headphone models, the G4ME ONE (open-back) and the G4ME ZERO (closed-back). If you can game with an open-back headphone, the G4ME ONE is, to my ears, the more versatile of the two, its sound signature reminding me of Sennheiser's HD 55X headphones. With music, the open-back G4ME ONE also exhibits nice body, and its level of detail retrieval and articulation also play very nicely with music.
The closed-back G4ME ZERO sounds more like a dedicated gaming headphone to me than the open G4ME ONE. The focus with the G4ME ZERO, in games, seems to be more about fine details and articulation, with a lighter low end than its open sibling. In first-person shooters, I found myself a bit more vigilant-feeling with the G4ME ZERO, like I was sensing a little more around me in the game than with the G4ME ONE. The compromise in having this extra in-game detail is a sound signature that I find a bit too light and sharp for general music listening.
With both of these headsets, the noise-canceling microphones work extremely well. In-game speech articulation with both is excellent, and those on the other end of it tell me my voice through both sounds very crisp and clear. Because of this, I've had very good luck with both of these headphones for use in Skype conversations, in addition to gaming.
Comfort with both is fantastic, with the extra-large circumaural (around-the-ear) earpads allowing either to be worn for hours without discomfort. For me, the G4ME ZERO's leather-like earpads are softer and more comfortable than the G4ME ONE's velour pads; but, again, both are extremely comfortable.
My one very big complaint about both of these Sennheiser gaming headphones is the fact that both are terminated in dual 3.5mm mini plugs (one each for headphone and mic). Since more and more computers are coming with single combo mini jacks, I wish Sennheiser included the appropriate adapters. A USB adapter would be nice, too.
Given their performance, it's not surprising to me to see more and more pro gamers wearing Sennheiser gaming headsets; and the G4ME ZERO and G4ME ONE will likely be favorites among them.
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.
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.
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.