The headset vs. headphones debate is one of subjectivity, but objectively speaking, you can always follow “best practices” and know what’s going around. There’s also the question of headset vs. headphones and mic, which might add for more freedom in your choices, but can increase your budget by a fair bit.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at headset vs. headphones for gaming, but also from a general point of view, factoring in budget, usability, quality, options, compatibility, sound balance, user-friendliness, and design.
Headset VS Headphones: The Basics
A headset is a complete “set” of everything you’d need during an audio-video experience of an interactive nature; hence their popularity in gaming, as headsets are designed to allow the user to go hands-free. Picture someone manning the phones at a call center, and chances are you pictured them wearing a headset, maybe even with a single earpiece.
Headphones, on the other hand, are “dedicated” to being only what they’re supposed to be, instead of having to factor in a microphone and other capabilities (such as volume control and earcups designed for long-term usage). This isn’t meant to sound biased: some of the best gaming headsets can give high-end studio headphones a run for their money.
Gaming headsets (as opposed to generic headsets) focus on making sure that the gamer is immersed in the experience.
This translates to making sure the user is as comfortable as possible, the setup is easy and quick (think plug and play), the microphone component is utilized to be convenient for any face cut, and the earpads are optimized for maximum ease of use.
Gaming Headset VS Headphones: Who’s On Top?
Some of the best gaming headsets can effortlessly put an end to the headphones vs. headset for gaming confusion. Models such as the ATH-AD700X or quite a few Sennheiser headsets (Game ONE or GSP 500) would be considered in both the best open-back headphones out there as well as the best gaming headsets.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for external microphones for gaming, the best of which will boast features such as noise dampening, making you way less annoying for those who would’ve otherwise have to listen to every little detail from your room (from your breath to your keyboard) on a sub-standard “built-in” headset mic. And if you’re live streaming, there’s no question about it.
An important factor to be considered is how sensitive you are to what makes a headset unique. Think about it: every company sells its product with some common tactics such as surround sound or “improved bass”.
Some experienced or competitive players (even in their early, amateur days), however, might realize that they need less bass and a wider soundstage so as to, say, hear approaching footsteps better. Similarly, surround sound can be of two types, real and virtual, and the trade-off ends up being between a wider span of control and more time and know-how spent tweaking the settings and EQ.
For gaming headsets, the order of priority can go in a certain direction: comfort, quality sound, design, platform compatibility, and microphone clarity.
Headset VS Headphones For Everything Else But Gaming
Simply put, if your needs aren’t specialized, then you don’t need a specialized technology – namely, headsets. Having a headset without the need to be using your mic all the time will not only be annoying, but it’ll be cutting into your budget as headsets are either more expensive (counting in the mic) or of worse quality as compared to headphones of the same price (counting in the mic once again).
Arguably, those of us who do need microphones for very specific reasons, should be investing in a separate microphone, particularly one that can be managed, taken care of, and repaired and upgraded on its own merits and on its own time.
There’s also the slight problem of gaming headsets, no matter how good, looking like stereotypical “gaming headsets”. Going for those, even if they offer good quality, might seem like an overkill of a purchase for someone who’s, say, a finance student who just needs a headset to listen to music and lectures and Skype back home.
As with most things, your mileage may vary. However, consider something high-end such as Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling Over-Ear Headphones, which is nearly three times the price of the best gaming headsets out there.
The question then boils down to something more specific than a generic ‘headphones vs. headset’ debate, but one of comparing specific models. For this, we recommend doing your research.
To sum up what we’ve discussed, let’s look at the salient pros and cons of headphones and headsets, so to speak, from which each user can compare where their needs stand.
- Variable built quality, but with higher possibilities of a better product
- One-time payment might be higher
- Easier to transport
- Easier to have better combinations
- More time-intensive to research and “build”
- Less convenient than a “one-size-fits-all” gaming headset
- More expensive or lesser quality when compared to similar headphones
- Built-in integrated microphone
- Limited portability
- More options with competing brands
- Easy and user-friendly setup
- Mark-up based on “gamer” branding
- Better adept at surround sound capabilities
Of course, you could always go for AirPods for gaming, a fresh and bold choice that- sorry, even as a joke, we can’t complete that sentence in good faith.