We frequently think of a good gaming experience in terms of resolution, frame rates, and the amount of control we have over our visual settings. While the pictures on your gaming monitors are crucial, we also need to pay attention to what we hear through our headphones. Bad audio is one of the few things that can completely spoil an experience.
If the audio is clear, a severely compressed video may still be tolerable, but watching a clear video with cutting or out of sync audio is significantly worse. It’s even worse in games, where a poor audio experience may harm your hearing with sounds that suddenly turn explosive or adversaries that you don’t hear until it’s too late.
1. HyperX Cloud Orbit S
The $399 Audeze Mobius was a standout gaming headset last year, with to its outstanding planar driver range and head tracking technologies. Now, HyperX has teamed up with Audeze to create the $329 Cloud Orbit S, which brings audiophile-quality sound to a far wider audience.
A boom mic, on-board volume and EQ controls, a computer app, and Waves NX head-tracking technology provide the same high-end sound as premium headphones without the gaming features. The shape, button placement, headband and ear cup padding, and even the L and R marks within the ear cups are identical on both gaming headsets.
The color scheme is sleek black with dark silver highlights, and the headband is branded with the HyperX name rather than the Audeze name (however the Audeze label is on the inside of the headband). The parallels don’t end there.
Except for a HyperX logo next to the Audeze name, the software is identical. If you put in last year’s Audeze Mobius, the software will detect it and allow you to make modifications using the HyperX-branded software. The Cloud Orbit S differs from the Audeze Mobius in a few ways, so keep reading for more information.
It’s a very comfortable headset to wear, even for long periods of time. The headband and ear pads each have a nice amount of squish. The headset is held in place by a good amount of clamping force. I’m prone to headaches when I use tight headsets for extended amounts of time, however the clamping force here never gave me one.
The pressure from the weight resting on the top of my head became painful from time to time, and altering the location of the headband occasionally relieved the pressure. I’ve never worn a headset that didn’t need me to move around at some point while playing, and the Cloud Orbit S performed admirably in this regard.
The left ear cup has all of the controls. The power button and a toggle switch to mute and unmute the microphone are located on the outside. Two scroll wheels (one for headset volume and the other for microphone mix volume) are located around the edge, along with a 3.5mm analog input, a USB-C input (for audio and charging), a connection for attaching the supplied boom mic, and a button to select between 3D settings.
The 3D button also centers the 3D audio based on your head position with a single press (if 3D audio is enabled). Switch between the 3.5mm analog and USB inputs with a double push of the button. By pressing and scrolling the microphone scroll wheel, you can change the EQ preset or the audio mode between 7.1, 2-channel, or Hi-Res. When you select Hi-Res, 3D listening is disabled.
That’s a lot of features packed into a short space. It was difficult for me to keep everything straight in my head. I still need to glance at the instructions or remove them to see what I’m pressing, occasionally which scroll wheel press does what. The controls’ build quality is excellent, though, and each button has a nice, high-quality feel to it.
3D Off, 3D On, 3D Manual, and 3D Automatic are the four options for 3D mode. Head tracking is available in 3D Manual and 3D Automatic. The default selected option is 3D Off, which differs from Audeze’s original design. Because you’ll want it off for most traditional gaming, this eliminates the slightly unpleasant need to cycle through to the Off option constantly.
The Center button in Manual sets your head position, whereas the Automatic button determines head position as you move your head about (although you can still use the center button to set your center point). Once the center point is set, the sound’s orientation in space remains constant as you move your head.
If you turn your head left while listening to sound from your computer, the sound will move to your right ear, which is the one closest to the fixed-point sound source. Because you never turn your head away from the visual action while playing a game on your computer or console, it’s not a very helpful mode. However, it is incredible in VR, and its full capability is fulfilled.
Finally, 3D On allows for 3D audio but does not use head tracking technology, so the sound grows wider and more immersive as the depth increases. Both 2-channel and 7.1-channel 3D are supported. With 7.1, the effect is more prominent. Apart from switching between audio modes, the HyperX software can alter almost every feature on the headset.
This can still be done by pressing the microphone scroll wheel, but it will temporarily disconnect your headset from your computer while the change is made. The software also allows you to make other modifications. HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function), which determines how each person’s ears hear sound based on their head size and shape, can be fine-tuned by altering head circumference, inter-aural arc (the distance between your ear canals around the back of your head), and desired ambient ambience.
A section for adding head gesture controls can be found on the HRTF Personalization menu. It’s an intriguing alternative that takes a little getting accustomed to, but it worked out better than I expected in practice. Head movements, like as tilting your head left or right to glance around a corner, can be mapped to in-game controls.
My body does this naturally whether or not it is controlling something in game, so the fact that it can now be used for something useful is wonderful. Personally, I only find comfortable using the choice for anything that would naturally occur with your head, such as controlling a camera. Nodding my head to reload my firearm, for example, was unnatural.
There’s also a Sound Profiles page with eight different sound profiles pre-installed. Throughout my gaming, I found myself using either the Default or Flat settings. The lack of a custom multi-band EQ is disappointing, but I was comfortable enough with the Default setting that I wouldn’t have bothered with it anyway.
The first thing I did was form a crew with few of my pals and jump sail on the waves of Sea of Thieves. The sound of the waves crashing, the wind blowing, and my hurdy gurdy playing were all amazing. The position of rock flying past the boat from a nearby erupting volcano was terrifyingly straightforward to place within the sound field, demonstrating excellent situational awareness.
The HyperX Cloud Orbit S is a fantastically immersive experience. When I first started playing Destiny 2, I was struck by how large the sound field was. There was a lot of depth, with distant weapon fire still having presence, and it was easy to figure out where the sound was coming from.
On the Orbit S, music sounds fantastic. The high-end frequencies have some nice glitter without sounding too piercing in the Default sound profile setting, midrange vocals are there, and lower-mid and low frequencies have some nice warmth. If you have high-resolution audio files to listen to, the HyperX is capable of doing so.
The microphone is the only minor flaw. My voice over chat was a little compressed, and the noise-cancelling occasionally struggled with somewhat louder background noise, resulting in some minor digital distortion. When it happened, my fellow pirates heard it, but it didn’t hear them. The Orbit S does contain a pop filter, which helps to keep plosives to a minimum.
If you have a VR system, you must include the Cloud Orbit S in your configuration. The Waves NX head tracking system performs admirably. The action completely engulfs you, and the movement of sounds as you turn elevates VR to new heights.
2. Razer Barracuda X (Razer Barracuda X)
The Razer Barracuda X isn’t really innovative. It’s a straightforward wireless headset with plug-and-play functionality. It has a nice appearance, but it isn’t flashy. It produces clear audio, but its sound isn’t likely to turn heads.
Its main feature is a wireless USB-C dongle that lets it connect to a PS5, Switch, PC, Android phone, or any other device that supports USB-C audio: it’s unusual but not unheard of. Nonetheless, the Barracuda X manages to wow. Every aspect of the headset works well, and any defects that surface are readily overlooked. The Barracuda hits a sweet spot as a low-cost multi-platform headset that’s worth checking out.
The Barracuda X is surprisingly subtle for Razer, a firm known for RGB lighting and a dramatic black-on-neon-green hue. The plastic frame and cups are entirely black in color, with no trace of green.
The cups are almost identical in shape to those found on the Razer Opus, the company’s most current ANC headphones. The Razer name and emblem are carved lightly onto the top band and cups, respectively, but from afar, it appears to be an unremarkable headset.
The Barracuda X’s basics are excellent, despite its simplicity. The top band is easily adjustable and provides a comfortable, albeit slightly loose, fit. It is made of plastic with a steel core and leatherette cushioning.
To be fair, it’s by design. The “pressure-free fit” promised by Razer is delivered. I prefer a little clamping sensation from a headset, both because it’s more comfortable and because it’s more likely to stay on your head, but that’s not the vibe it’s trying for.
The Barracuda X is relatively light on the head, weighing only 268 grams. When you combine that with the cavernous earcups, you have a headset that can be used for long periods of time without tiring you out. The memory foam earcups are covered in a rare mesh material that is light and smooth but does not chaff or scratch.
The Barracuda X has a number of onboard controls on the rim of the left earcup. A mute button, volume roller, power button, a 3.5mm headphone connector for wired connection, a USB-C charging port, and, finally, the detachable wire boom mic can be found from the back of the cup to the bottom.
The power button also functions as a single-button media controller: press it to play/pause, double-tap to skip a track, and triple-tap to return. The controls are well-made, although your mileage may vary, as with most headsets. I’ve found that the extra second or two it takes me to figure out how to use a headset’s controls causes me to gravitate toward other audio controls.
The trademark feature of the Barracuda X isn’t even on the headset: It features with a USB-C dongle that connects PS5, PC, Switch, and Android devices to a low-latency 2.4GHz wireless network. There’s nothing exciting or miraculous going on here: Switching the Barracuda’s wireless dongle to USB-C allows the Barracuda to support a larger range of devices with plug-and-play wireless.
Because there is no pairing process, it is quite convenient if you regularly switch between devices. This device of 2.4 GHz connection, as expected, provides a consistently steady connection across all of the devices I tried. The only drawback I found is that the physical dongle is a little on the large side – 1.47 x.88 x.25 inches (WDH) – so I couldn’t insert it into my PC’s USB-C port on the back.
In cases like this – or if your USB-C ports are full – the headset comes with a USB-A-to-C adapter cable, allowing you to connect via a standard USB port. While the audio quality of the Barracuda X isn’t likely to impress audiophiles, it’s really good for a mid-tier wireless gaming headset.
The headset produces a rich, but balanced sound in competitive and atmospheric games like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Dead by Daylight, Returnal, and Super Mario Odyssey, allowing you to find subtle hints and appreciate the intricacies of surround sound in games.
It isn’t flawless. When a character tries to converse over a fight sequence in games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Destiny 2, elements of the track can sound slightly confused.
Despite the Triforce drivers, it lacks the audio isolation found on high-end headphones and headsets such as the Asus ROG Delta S and the VZR Model One. That’s to be expected for a $100 headset, but it confirms that there are subtle quality distinctions across the various gaming headset categories.
3. SteelSeries Arctis 7X
SteelSeries’ award-winning Arctis 7 wireless gaming headset is available in two flavors for the next generation of consoles: Arctis 7X and Arctis 7P. (for Xbox and PlayStation, respectively). This is an all-around amazing headset with enhanced battery life, USB-C connectivity, and a fresh coat of paint to match your new Xbox Series X or PS5.
This is the definitive version of the Arctis 7 headset, just as many games get a “definitive edition” upgrade for next-gen consoles. The SteelSeries Arctis 7X and Arctis 7P have the same S1 40mm audio drivers as the original Arctis 7 headset, as well as DTS Headphone:X v2.0 for spatial surround sound audio (although surround sound is not supported on PlayStation consoles because Sony’s first-party USB headsets are still the only ones with this feature).
The battery life has been enhanced over the original Arctis 7 headset, now giving up to 24 hours of wireless gaming (up from 20 hours previously), allowing you to play for longer periods of bit.
Of course, for audio listening, you may plug either headset into a suitable device with a 3.5mm auxiliary output. So, amongst the two headsets, the Arctis 7X covers all of your bases, whilst the Arctis 7P’s compatibility is a little more limited.
The Arctis 7X’s dongle is slightly larger to enable for Xbox wireless audio compatibility and includes a toggle for “Xbox” or “USB,” but the Arctis 7P’s adapter does not. A USB-C to USB-A adaptor cable is included with both headsets, allowing you to plug the dongle into almost any USB device.
With the exception of a few small alterations, the Arctis 7X and Arctis 7P are nearly identical to the original Arctis 7. Both headsets feature with the distinctive Ski Goggle Headband, which provides great comfort without putting too much pressure on your head’s top.
With its suspended design, the headset almost floats above your head. The headband may be adjusted to match different head sizes and, when properly adjusted, provides a very snug fit without being uncomfortable.
The headband’s frame is comprised of a durable, lightweight metal, giving it a luxury feel without the risk of snapping if stretched too far. The remainder of the headset is made of a matte plastic that complements the overall design while still not feeling cheap.
SteelSeries calls the ear cups Airweave ear cushions and they have an around-the-ear design. A soft, airy mesh design covers the foam inserts, allowing for improved airflow to and from your ears. The controls and inputs are located on the outside of the headset’s ear cups.
The normal volume dial is big and has a textured grip, making it easy to find. When the microphone is open, a mute button is located above the volume dial and flush with the headset. The button really pops out if the microphone is muted, making it easy to discern which state it’s in.
The mic boom also has a small LED strip light on it that flashes red when the microphone is muted, making it easy to detect if the microphone is muted without having to find for the button.
There’s a micro-USB connector for charging the headset, as well as a proprietary input for connecting to iOS and Android phones with the provided 3.5mm auxiliary cable. Just below this port is a 3.5mm auxiliary output that allows audio sharing directly from the headset, allowing you and a friend to listen to music or watch a movie with two independent headsets.
The boom mic is located on the headset’s left side and is retractable. The ClearCast microphone is the same as the one that came with the Arctis 7 headset, and it has bidirectional audio to assist block out unwanted noise. The power button is on the opposite ear cup, and it also serves as a battery indicator, flashing green, yellow, or red to indicate how much battery life is left.
Each headset has a different dial above the power button. There is a ChatMix dial on the Arctis 7X that allows you to modify the game audio and voice chat audio mix in real-time without having to go into any menus. This dial on the Arctis 7P is a sidetone adjustment that allows you to fine-tune the microphone monitoring of your own voice as it is played back in the headset.
Another difference between the two headsets is the color. The Arctis 7X has an all-black design with green lines embroidered into the Ski Goggle Headband, which features the Xbox Series X design nicely. To match the PS5’s new design, the Arctis 7P is mostly white with black and blue accents.
If you prefer a more uniform color scheme, the Arctis 7P is also available in black. Both headsets come pre-paired with the USB-C dongle, allowing you a true plug-and-play experience with no additional setup.
If you’re playing on a PC, you may download the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, which includes EQ controls, dynamic range compression changes, microphone sidetone levels (for the Arctis 7X only), and the option to upgrade the device’s firmware. You may also personalize and save preset configurations for gaming, movies, and music.
4. Asus ROG Delta S
The Asus ROG Delta S comes with everything. It produces a clean, nuanced sound. Its triangular, RGB-filled cans have a distinct appearance that leaves a lasting impact. It’s comfortable to wear because it’s light on your head.
Asus’ new premium headset also comes with a few extra features, such as rendering support for MQA specialized music files. The Delta S nails all of the essential aspects of the PC-forward gaming headset, despite a few minor kinks.
Although the Asus ROG Delta S has some significant technical improvements, the headset’s design is mostly unchanged from the original ROG Delta headset, which was released in 2019.
Its flamboyant, eye-catching design comes on strong with roughly triangular “D-shaped” earcups laced with RGB light bars and branding. The Delta S design seems like a statement piece that’s supposed to stand out even when the lights are turned off.
With a plastic and steel frame, the Delta S is predominantly outfitted with black plastic hardware. The top band is padded with memory foam and coated in black leatherette with the complete “Republic of Gamers” name printed on top. The forks attach to rotating bases on the top band, allowing the cans to rest flat against your chest (or a table).
It is light on your head, weighing only 294 grams, and the padding prevents you from feeling any weight on the top of your head. Similarly, the top band is softly clamped, so you don’t feel the padding of the cups rubbing against your skin. Despite this, the earcups form an excellent seal, providing solid passive noise protection that reduces but does not completely block out ambient sounds.
The Delta S keeps onboard controls to a bare minimum on the cans. On the left can, you’ll find a switch to toggle RGB lighting on or off, as well as a switch to “soundwave” lighting mode, which should make your microphone flash brighter when you talk into it. There’s also a volume control switch, as well as a button to mute your mic. There’s an audio connection at the bottom of the triangle for plugging in the detachable boom mic.
The Delta S features with 50mm Neodymium drivers in the cans, as well as an improved quad-DAC from the Delta. Four separate chips in the ESS 9281 converter process four different ranges of tones – low, mid, high, and “ultra-high.” The Hi-Res certified headset should be able to create better, more distinct sound over its whole spectrum as a result of this.
The Delta S is also the first gaming headset to support MQA-encoded high-fidelity audio files, as part of a modest set of audio hardware. MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) files are an audio file format that allows you to listen to “studio quality” music.
When you pair the headset with MQA files, such as Tidal’s “Master”-grade streaming tracks, which are available with the service’s $19.99 HiFi-tier subscription, you get a whole new level of sound. The MQA-enabled versions of songs sound notably different than their streaming-standard equivalents, being softer, cleaner, and more balanced.
The question is, how eager are you to change your listening habits in order to get better music? If you typically listen to music through streaming services, you’ll need to pair the Delta S with a PC or Android phone and possibly switch to Tidal and/or a few other niche music streaming services to access MQA tracks.
Given the lengths to which audiophiles would go to obtain the greatest possible audio — spending thousands of dollars on speciality gear, downloading lossless files, and so on – this is a rather simple method to sample the difference between decent and hobby-grade audio equipment. However, for many users, it’s still a large ask, making it a relatively specialized upgrade for PC gamers.
The detachable unidirectional boom mic may appear and feel ordinary, but don’t be fooled. It boasts a bigger driver (6mm vs. 4mm in the Delta) and active noise-cancelling to keep ambient noise out of chat.
The mic’s physical design, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. It has a short, flexible stem that is coated in a strong plastic that is simple to bend but difficult to bend exactly to the ideal pickup place. After I adjusted it, the microphone popped out of the audio jack just enough to stop working, causing unnecessary hassles.
The base for the Delta S’s built-in USB-C cable is located next to the boom. The cable’s default length is 58 inches (4’10”), which is fine for connecting a laptop or a handheld Nintendo Switch Lite, but not long enough to connect a console to a properly spaced couch.
It comes with a USB-C-to-A converter cable that extends the cable by 38 inches, bringing the total length to a much more manageable 8 feet. It appears to be more of a bother than it really is. Owners of the PS5 should expect to plug the headset to the console’s front USB-A port rather than USB-C, but that’s the only difference.
Though the Delta S shines brightest on PC, it’s an exceptionally capable headset that produces excellent, detailed sound in a variety of games. The Delta S, which was largely tested on PC and PS5, captures all of the finer details in sound effects, such as the variances in rifle firing sounds in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War or the crackling of a campfire in Dead by Daylight.
One of the most obvious differences between a good headset and a great one is the ability to reproduce the full texture of sound effects, and the Delta S definitely asserts itself as the latter.
It also ensures that sounds are clearly separated. The voices of Zeus and Prometheus are clear in Immortals: Fenyx Rising, a game where gaming narration interjects regularly throughout gameplay, but so are the sounds of your adventure. Whereas a less powerful sound system might confuse the mix, the Delta S lets you to focus on one or the other, or listen to both simultaneously.
The Delta S has 7.1 virtual surround sound, which features excellent positional audio. I was able to pinpoint the direction and, in many cases, the distance of gameplay-relevant noises in both Dead by Daylight and Call of Duty, which both enhances your immersion and serves as a helpful tool.
It’s considerably easier to dodge a killer when you don’t need a visual alert to disclose their whereabouts when playing as a survivor in Dead by Daylight.