Skip to content

Why Serious Gamers Should Avoid Gaming Headsets (And Get Studio Headphones Instead)

Gaming headsets are extremely popular, and it‘s easy to see why. They offer an all-in-one audio solution for gamers, with a built-in microphone, flashy design, and conveniences like in-line controls and RGB lighting. Some high-end models even boast simulated surround sound for more immersive gaming. But for all their gamer-centric bells and whistles, gaming headsets often fall short in the most important category: pure audio quality.

As a digital technology expert with a passion for audio gear, I‘ve tested dozens of gaming headsets over the years. And while there are a few standouts, the vast majority fail to live up to the sound quality of comparably priced studio headphones. In fact, if your primary concern is getting the best possible audio experience, you‘re much better off buying a good pair of studio cans and a separate microphone instead of an all-in-one gaming headset. Here‘s why.

Gaming Headsets Use Smaller, Lower Quality Audio Drivers

The single most important factor in a headphone‘s sound quality is the driver – the tiny speaker inside each earcup that converts the electrical signal into audible sound waves. Larger drivers with more advanced designs and materials are able to reproduce audio with greater accuracy, detail, and range.

Most gaming headsets use 40mm drivers, with some opting for 50mm. By contrast, many studio headphones use larger drivers in the 53mm-65mm range. For example, the beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO uses 45mm drivers, while the massively popular Sony MDR-7506 packs 50mm drivers. Larger drivers allow for more impactful bass, richer mids, and more detailed highs.

It‘s not just size that matters – the material and design of the driver also play a major role. Many high-end headphones use advanced biomaterials like bio-cellulose for the diaphragm, which can offer superior rigidity and damping characteristics compared to the cheaper plastics commonly found in gaming headsets. More exotic driver designs like planar magnetic also tend to outperform typical dynamic drivers in terms of speed and distortion.

Most Gaming Headsets Use Closed-Back Designs With Poor Soundstage

Another key factor in audio quality is whether the headphones use an open-back or closed-back design. Open-back headphones have perforated earcups that allow some sound to escape and interact with the environment. This results in a more airy, natural soundstage with excellent imaging – the ability to "place" different sounds in 3D space. However, the tradeoff is that open-backs leak a lot of sound and provide little isolation from outside noise.

Closed-back designs offer much better noise isolation by completely sealing the earcups. However, this tends to result in a narrower soundstage with a less natural, more "in your head" sound profile.

The vast majority of gaming headsets opt for a closed-back design, both for maximum noise isolation and because the design allows for a built-in microphone. However, many of the best gaming headsets still have a rather cramped and unnaturally wide soundstage compared to open-back studio cans.

Here‘s a quote from an article on Reference Audio that explains the concept well:

"Soundstage and imaging are two of the most important aspects of headphone performance…Open-back headphones have a slight advantage over closed-back designs in creating a more spacious, outside-the-head presentation. The reason is that the rear of the driver is not sealed to prevent sound from escaping, which allows for a more natural representation of the recording‘s ambience."

So if you‘re after the best possible sound quality for gaming, an open-back studio headphone will almost always beat a closed-back gaming headset in terms of soundstage size and accuracy. The only exception would be if you absolutely need the noise isolation of a closed-back design.

Gaming Headsets Have Significantly Worse Frequency Response

Frequency response refers to how well a pair of headphones reproduces different frequencies of sound, from deep sub-bass to shimmery highs. A "flat" frequency response curve means the headphones are reproducing all frequencies equally, resulting in a more accurate and faithful audio reproduction.

By contrast, many gaming headsets intentionally alter the frequency response curve to emphasize certain frequencies for a more "exciting" sound. Usually this means bumping up the bass and treble while scooping out the midrange. This type of "V-shaped" sound signature can make games feel more immersive by adding a rumbling low-end and a ton of crisp high-end detail. However, it also means the audio is significantly colored and less accurate to how it was originally mixed and mastered.

Studio headphones, on the other hand, aim for the flattest frequency response possible to give audio engineers and producers an accurate representation of the sound. This is crucial for critical listening and making mixing decisions. But a flat frequency response is also ideal for gaming if you want to hear the game audio as the designers and composers intended it.

To illustrate the difference, here‘s a frequency response comparison between two popular headphones – the Razer BlackShark V2 gaming headset and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x studio headphones:

Razer BlackShark V2 vs Audio-Technica M50x frequency response graph
Graph via

As you can see, the Razer headset has a significantly more V-shaped sound signature, with boosted bass, a recessed midrange, and boosted treble. The ATH-M50x, meanwhile, has a much flatter and more balanced frequency response overall.

This is just one example, but the vast majority of gaming headsets have similarly sculpted frequency response curves compared to studio headphones. So if you want to hear game audio as it was intended, with minimal artificial colorations, studio cans are the clear winner.

Studio Headphones Have Lower Distortion and Better Technical Performance

Two other key technical specs to consider are harmonic distortion and impedance. Harmonic distortion refers to the degree to which the headphones introduce unwanted distortion into the audio signal, while impedance is a measure of electrical resistance that affects how much power is required to drive the headphones properly.

In general, gaming headsets tend to have higher levels of distortion and lower impedance than comparable studio headphones. For example, the popular HyperX Cloud II gaming headset has a total harmonic distortion of <0.5% and an impedance of 60 ohms. By contrast, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm studio headphones have a THD of <0.2% and an impedance of 80 ohms.

Lower distortion means the DT 770 Pros will reproduce audio with fewer artifacts and a cleaner overall sound. And while the higher 80 ohm impedance means they require more power to reach optimal volume, it also allows them to handle higher volumes without distorting and generally results in better damping and a "tighter" sound.

These are just a couple examples, but they illustrate the general trend of gaming headsets using lower quality components and having worse overall technical performance compared to studio headphones. Serious audiophiles will definitely notice the difference.

Gaming Headsets Have Worse Microphones Than Standalone Mics

While audio quality should be the top priority when choosing any headphones, microphone quality is still an important factor for gaming – especially if you play a lot of online multiplayer games that require voice communication. And once again, gaming headsets fall short compared to standalone mics.

The microphones built into gaming headsets are almost always tiny, cheap electret condenser capsules with uninspiring technical specs. For example, the mic in the popular Logitech G Pro X gaming headset has a frequency response of 100Hz-10KHz. That‘s a passable range for basic voice comms, but it lacks extension in the low-end and will miss some high-end detail compared to better standalone mics.

By contrast, even entry-level XLR condenser microphones like the Audio-Technica AT2020 have a 20Hz-20kHz frequency response, capturing the full audible range of human hearing. That means your voice will sound more full, natural, and detailed with none of the tinny, compressed quality common to headset mics.

Of course, the tradeoff with using a standalone mic is that it‘s an additional purchase and requires a separate XLR audio interface to use with your PC. But if you‘re serious about sounding your best for streaming, content creation, or just casual multiplayer chat, the improved audio quality is well worth the extra expense and setup.

Wired Headphones Let You Use Better Audio Sources and Amps

Finally, one of the biggest advantages studio headphones have over gaming headsets is upgradability and flexibility when it comes to audio sources. The vast majority of gaming headsets connect via a single, fixed cable with a USB or 3.5mm plug on the end. That means you‘re stuck with whatever onboard audio processing and amplification is built into the headset.

Wired studio headphones, on the other hand, can be plugged into a variety of audio sources and paired with external amplifiers and DACs (digital-to-analog converters). For example, you could run a pair of 250-ohm Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros off a Schiit Magni Heresy headphone amp and Modi 3+ DAC for a significantly more resolving and powerful listening experience compared to plugging them straight into your PC‘s onboard audio jacks.

The ability to mix and match different audio sources and amps also lets you fine-tune the sound to your preferences in a way that‘s simply not possible with gaming headsets. Don‘t like your headphones‘ default sound signature? EQ them to your heart‘s content using parametric EQ software. Want a bit more low-end punch or high-end sparkle? Swap in a new amp or DAC that‘s known for those qualities.

This kind of modularity and upgradability ensures you can always get the best sound possible from your headphones and tweak things to perfection over time. With gaming headsets, you‘re stuck with the out-of-the-box sound profile and technical capabilities, for better or worse.


At the end of the day, gaming headsets have their place. They‘re convenient, affordable, and offer an all-in-one solution for gamers who just want something that works out of the box. If you don‘t consider yourself an audiophile and just need basic headset functionality, there‘s nothing wrong with buying a gaming headset.

But if you care about getting the best possible audio quality and microphone performance for gaming, studio headphones are the clear winner. They offer better technical specs, more accurate sound signature, wider compatibility, and tangible upgrade potential that gaming headsets simply can‘t match. Paired with a decent standalone mic, there‘s really no downside to using studio headphones for gaming other than the extra cost and setup required.

So before you pull the trigger on that shiny new gaming headset, consider giving studio cans a listen first. Your ears (and your squadmates) will thank you.