Whether you're gaming, taking video calls, listening to music or doing all three, a good headset makes a huge difference. There are lots of choices on the market, and this week we're looking at five of the best, based on reader nominations.
Title photo by >jayakrishnan
Sennheiser's PC line of headsets has always been popular, largely because Sennheiser goes to great lengths to not compromise sound quality with the addition of a microphone. Technically the PC 350 SE has been discontinued, but it's still easily available. The PC 350 represents a great compromise between high-end headsets and comfort. The closed-back circumaural design rests comfortably on your head without compressing your ears, while minimising audio leakage. and the drivers are designed to be more like headphones and optimise the listening experience over anything else, without anyone around you having to hear what you're listening to.
The microphone uses Sennheiser's patented noise cancellation technology, and can be muted simply by flipping the boom mic up and out of the way. The headphones are wired (analogue via two 3.5mm audio output and input jacks), but the cord is long enough to connect and use without it getting in your way. Finally, the collapsible design means the headphones are portable enough to take with you, but they don't look like huge, bulky, garish gaming cans during video chats with colleagues.
The Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma headset will set you back around $120. For your money you get a closed-back circumaural design with virtual 7.1 surround sound and a digital microphone. You can customise and calibrate your own personal audio profile using the included software, to specifically accentuate highs, boost bass, or if you do a lot of video chatting or Skype calling, to bump up the mid-range so voices sound clearer.
As with any Chroma device from Razer, the lighting on the earcups is customisable (not that you'll see it while you're wearing them, but it's a nice perk.) The headphones connect via a braided USB cable to avoid kinks and tangles, and the microphone is retractable, so you can pull it out from the left earcup when you need to speak and push it back when you don't need it.
Logitech's leading headset is, like many others in the roundup, designed for gaming. It's a 7.1 channel, Dolby surround sound wireless model that connects to a small, USB-powered 2.4Ghz receiver you can rest on your desk. The fold-up, noise-cancelling microphone blocks background noise, the closed-back circumaural headphones offer good sound quality.
Logitech has three programmable buttons on the headset in addition to the volume wheel and mute button. If you have Logitech's configuration software installed, you can program those buttons for specific commands in your favourite apps and games. Since they're wireless, you'll need to keep them charged -- Logitech boasts 10 hours of use per charge , and if you run low on juice mid-use, you can plug in the included USB cable to charge and use at the same time.
Steelseries' Siberia V2 made this roundup the last time we looked at the best headsets, so it's no surprise to see them return. The Siberia V2 are open-back circumaural headphones, large enough to rest comfortably around your ears, and sport a retractable microphone in the left earcup. They're lightweight and comfortable to wear for long periods.
The flexible "suspension system" headbands stretch and move so you can wear them comfortably, and the individual earcups are adjustable inside their housing. The microphone can be adjusted to any position as well, instead of just "out" or "in", and the in-line volume control and mute button is easy to reach even when you're wearing them. The Siberia connects to your computer via 3.5mm analogue audio input and output cables, and is available in several colours.
ASTRO's A50 wireless headphones are generally regarded as some of the best when it comes to both audio quality and voice quality, but you'll pay a premium price for that quality. They're over-ear, circumaural headphones with a closed back design that's comfortable to wear. Build quality is amazingly solid (and appropriate for the price), and the flip-up boom noise-cancelling microphone mutes when it's up and offers great voice isolation when it's down and in front of your mouth. The built-in battery should give you around 10 hours of use before you have to recharge it, and it can either charge while it's in use or attached via microUSB on its display stand. You also have the option to customise the audio profile (there are three EQs to choose from) to match the type of music you listen to or games you play.
We have a couple of honourable mentions this week. The first one goes to the Logitech Wireless Headset H800, a particularly solid choice if your main need is voice and video calls rather than gaming. Also noteworthy is the V-Moda BoomPro and the Antlion Modmic, both of which allow you to take any pair of headphones and attach a microphone to them when you need to be heard. We discuss them -- and some more options -- in our guide to turning your favourite headphones into a headset.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite headset, even if it wasn't included in the list? Tell us about it, and why it's so great, in the comments.