The best audiophile headphones for gaming
Using the best audiophile headphones for gaming alone might seem like overkill, but if you want to hear things the way it was meant to be heard, these headphones are it. Someone might ask, “Why would you waste those perfectly tuned drivers on video games?” To this stick in the mud, I’d say, “Why not?”
Great audio is a staple of PC gaming, and your PC is likely set up pretty well to deliver everything that excellent audio has to offer. You might want to look into picking up a sound card or a DAC/Amp down the line, but they’re not requirements for improving your audio setup today. These audiophile headphones are the sort that offers impeccable sound quality out of the box without fancy greebles like RGB lighting. The headphones we’ve had cradling our ears will produce stellar sound and stand out from the best gaming headsets in our testing.
Few audiophile headphones have microphones, but that’s less of an issue than it has been in the past. Not because we believe in solo gaming as the only way to play, but because cheap gaming microphones are fantastic these days. Headsets like the Nuraphone have microphone attachments you can order to convert your set of cans into a gaming headset.
Don’t expect to see that many gaming-related features like 7.1 surround or fancy RGB illumination aren’t common here because they’re built for the purest aural experience. Which also means they tend to be a lot more expensive, too. Especially when the focus is comfort and sound.
The audiophile rabbit hole is something it’s all too easy to fall down when you start chasing a sound that can’t be caught, but can you really put a price on total audio immersion? No. And yet, we’ve tested and ranked the headsets below with pricing in mind, so you can better understand which will suit your audiophilic needs.
Best audiophile headphones for gaming
I will make no apologies about the fact that I love planar magnetic drivers. My first taste of them came with my beloved Oppo PM-3 headphones, which are sadly no longer available. But they were closed back cans, while the Audeze LCD-1 headphones use an open back design, which perfectly complements the ultra-detailed audio of a planar magnetic driver.
But they can be almost painfully detailed out of the box. That’s because planar magnetic drivers take a while to warm up—in general I’ve found that to take maybe 16-20 hours of use—and until then the sound can be a little… pointy. But they age like a fine wine, and once you’ve bedded in the LCD-1 cans the audio becomes beautifully warm and rich, though still just as detailed and accurate.
And if you want to experience genuine aural immersion in your favorite game worlds the combination of an expansive open back design and such great-sounding drivers becomes unbeatable. I switch between the wireless Razer BlackShark V2 Pro and these wired beauties during my gaming time, and though I think Razer’s latest drivers are excellent, they cannot compare with the audio fidelity the LCD-1 drivers are able to produce.
They’re simply stunning when it comes to kicking back and listening to some high-res audio, but equally when you’re seeking total immersion in your chosen game. Sometimes the broad soundscape can be too good, however. I’ve had instances where it’s all but impossible to tell whether that faint noise at the edge of my hearing has actually come from the game or someone creeping around my house late at night.
The only downside is that because of the open back principle it means your game audio can be heard by anyone sitting near you, and they don’t have any form of passive noise cancelling. These are headphones to be used on your own, in perfect gaming isolation. And they’re utter audio bliss.
Sennheiser has made a mighty name for itself in the audio equipment game. That’s primarily built on headphones like these: the Sennheiser HD 650. This quality pair of cans sets the standard for high-end home audio thanks to highly detailed drivers and a gorgeous open sound.
The HD 650 is a prime advocate of the so-called “Sennheiser sound”. That means it excels at the high-end and delivers superb clarity and definition right the way through the frequency range. I’ve found it is definitely lighter on the bass response compared to most gaming headsets and planar magnetics, though, and whether that flatter sound works will have to be up to you .
But you could say that lighter bass is because this pair of headphones isn’t trying to augment your audio—only delivering something close to the real digital deal. For that reason, I think this is a great headset if you want to chase spotless audio delivered impeccably through a wide soundstage. That’s also why it’s a shoo-in for every aural experience, be that gaming or listening to music. For me, its a great fit for pretty much everything.
And if you balk at the price, the Sennheiser HD 650 are very well built and the second-hand market is a great place to find a slightly cheaper pair. Just don’t expect any massive discounts (unless you’re lucky); these headphones really hold their value.
One thing to note: Sennheiser recently sold off its audiophile headphone business to hearing aid company, Sonova. We don’t suspect much to change in the short-term as a result of the acquisition, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see prices spike for second-hand Sennheiser pairs once the deal is signed off, which is meant to happen before the year’s up.
I’ve heard about the Nuraphone from folks who’ve backed it on Kickstarter for years now. As it turns out, people who like Nuraphone headphones really like Nuraphone headphones.
The Nuraphones have already gone through a handful of significant updates since their successful Kickstarter launch three years ago. Most notably, the introduction of active noise cancellation (ANC) software update and a gaming microphone attachment ($50) attempt to rival even the most premium gaming headsets.
You’ll notice something slightly different about the Nuraphones from the images below, and I’m sure you’re already asking, ‘what’s the point of those things on the inside?’
Aside from giving you two layers to block outside noise, the twinned design also offers parallel drivers on each ear. The uvula-like in-ears offer the upper-frequency goods and leave the low-tones and deep bass to the better-suited over-the-ear portion. It’s like having a pair of speakers for both left and right channels.
The Nuraphones have already gone through a handful of significant updates since their successful Kickstarter launch three years ago. Most notably, the introduction of active noise cancellation (ANC) and a gaming microphone attachment ($50) attempt to rival even the most premium gaming headsets.
The Nuraphone is, simply put, a beautifully designed headset with a lovely compromise of silicone and stainless steel. It’s simple, modern, and isn’t embarrassing to wear in public. The minimalist design gives me plenty of Bose NC Headphones 700 vibes with its slim headband and roomy ear cups.
As much as I dig the look of Nuraphones, there are limitations in the design that affect day-to-day use. The lack of controls or knobs puts you in this weird position of choosing what sort of headset controls matter to you the most. Each side of the headphones has one touch-sensitive button that relegates things to single and double-tap controls. I wear glasses, so whenever I fiddle around with the headphones to get the right fit, I accidentally tap the capacitive buttons. I find myself skipping tracks or suddenly playing music in the middle of a work call more often than I appreciate.
Despite these issues, the Nuraphone offers incredible sound. The personalized audio tuning feels like the headphones provide the ‘right sound’ for my ears. The Nuraphone is an excellent set of wireless headphones, and the gaming microphone attachment makes it a decent gaming headset.
It’s one of the best-looking pairs of cans you find right now, and custom sound profiles offer rich and detailed soundscapes like no other thing out there. If you’re looking for a headset for just gaming, the Nuraphones aren’t it, though—$450 (adding in the microphone, which is a must for gaming) is simply too huge an ask if you are mostly looking for gaming-centric features.
Read our full Nuraphone headset review.
These pro-grade cans feature large 50mm drivers and have a wide frequency response of 5Hz to 40kHz. They are excellent for music and, more importantly, gaming. My favorite thing about the M-200 is the light, compact design. At only 290 grams, it’s a great candidate for commute, work, and play.
But these are absolutely reference headphones, and that means you are getting a flatter EQ than a standard gaming headset. That’s exactly what you want when you’re trying to master a music track or edit the audio on your latest video, but such a neutral aural experience find can sometimes feel lackluster when it comes to a gaming experience.
If you’re after purity of sound, however, the V-Moda M-200 headphones really do deliver, and their closed-back design means you get good audio and decent noise canceling too. The aim is to get you “closer to perfection,” and they certainly do get mighty close.
My only gripes are that the headset can be a tight fit for those with big noggings (like myself) and the surprising lack of a Lightning/USB Type-C adaptor. V-Moda sells a Lightning cable for $100, which is pricey considering the headset already costs $350.
Are audiophile headphones good for gaming?
If you want the best sound in your games, then picking a pair of headphones designed to deliver perfect aural clarity and defined, accurate audio is going to deliver a great gaming experience. Throw in an open back pair design, and you’ll hear the most natural reproduction of your chosen gameworld that you can possibly achieve.
The downside is that audiophile headphones are expensive, benefit from good sound hardware inside your PC—yes, there are still soundcards out there, people—and the open operating principle means there can be a fair bit of sound leakage and no passive noise cancelling.
You also don’t get a microphone on most audiophile headphones, but such is the wealth of great budget gaming mics, that’s not an issue.
Are open back headphones good for gaming?
An open back headphone design will give you the most natural soundscape for your games, which is especially immersive in large, open world games. It’s also less fatiguing on the ears for a long gaming session, too, because the sound waves don’t just bounce around your lugholes.
Closed back headphones, however, are good for noise cancelling and if you game in a room where other people might be affected by the sounds leaking from your cans. But the closed design can affect the sound itself, as it interacts with the ear cups.
The best in-ear headphones for gaming in 2022
Chances are, you’re not always playing games. For most of us, gaming is a hobby rather than a lifestyle. The rest of our time is devoted to commuting, working, going to the gym, cooking, cleaning—activities that are undeniably enhanced while wearing the best in-ear headphones for gaming, the Jabra Elite Active 75t. Instead of doubling down on audio engineering and extraneous features, the Jabra Elite Active 75t prioritizes two things: longevity and comfort.
The sound quality is fine too—these buds brandish a frequency response range of 20–20kHz, rivaling the best wireless gaming headsets. Exclusive Bluetooth connectivity makes them a tough sell for gaming, although, with proper adapters in tow, you won’t have a problem setting them up. Everything about the Jabra Elite Active 75t screams ease of use, including the customizable EQ found in the optional Jabra Sound+ app.
The main reason we fell in love with the Powerbeats Pro is that they easily pair with just about anything. These fitness earbuds work well with a gaming laptop, cell phone, tablet, basically anything. The transition from commute or workout to gameplay is nearly seamless, which isn’t always the case when setting up Bluetooth headphones.
The audio is well-balanced and not as bass-heavy as other Beats headphones. Though they lack the oomph in the explosions department in games like Call of Duty: Warzone, it helps make out little things like character dialogue without messing with any EQ settings.
The only downside is the charging case is bulky and doesn’t fit comfortably in any pocket, so it ends up living in a bag or as a permanent fixture on your desk.
Most people’s experience with in-ear headphones is frantically looking for the pair that came with your smartphone inside some junk drawer in an awful tangled mess when the battery on your wireless headset dies. We’ve all been there.
The Astro A03 is a stylish pair of in-ear monitors that sound good and cost only $50. A great alternative for folks who find the typical gaming headset too heavy and uncomfortable for long stretches of time. We also dig the lay flat tangle-resistant cabling because in-ear headphones are notorious for tying themselves into inexplicable knots in your pockets. The only real downside is that the mic doesn’t work on PC.