Whether you're playing late at night or don't have a decent surround sound system to immerse you in the action, quality gaming headphones can make the difference between a mundane and exciting gaming session. Although consoles come with headsets that are monophonic and allow voice chat, they do nothing for environmental surround effects and locating your opponents. Gaming-centric headphones allow chat while getting lost in the multiplayer firefight or racing duel through superior sound quality.
Infrared is a proven communications format for a variety of applications, although line-of-sight limitations hamper the technology. Cabinet doors and placing the system in another room prevent IR signals from the headphones to the console or PC. Use of wireless radio signals, typically in the 2.4- or 5-GHz range, solves this issue. However, microwaves, baby monitors and even wireless game controllers may provide some level of interference with these devices, so evaluate what bands in the wireless range are used by what devices. Unless you sit within 6 to 9 feet from the gaming console or computer, you need to evaluate your environment to determine which technology works best for you.
Any headphone you buy will probably be used for more than gaming. High-fidelity accurate sound is good sound for any source, whether music, movies or gaming. It may be wise to audition prospective headphones in person with musical material you're familiar with, or order from a website that has a liberal return policy or local stores for a quick upgrade or exchange. Things to look for include dialogue and vocal intelligibility, solid but not overpowering bass and clear but not harsh-sounding midrange.
Weight and Fit
You'll notice that gaming headphones come in a few different varieties. Circumaural headphones are those that fit around your ear, sealing the real world out and the virtual one in. Remember that these are "normal" size headphones, meaning their weight is a little greater than most other types. This may be detrimental over a longer gaming session. Supra-aural designs also use a larger cup but are small enough to sit atop your ears rather than around them. Depending on the shape of the cup and your ears, different models will offer different levels of comfort. Additionally, their smaller size sometimes means reduced bass and less noise isolation. Open-back designs offer a greater sense of space around objects but do less for noise isolation. Closed-back designs are better at this but present a soundfield that seems to emanate in the center of your skull. Preference is key here, since all types offer accuracy and fidelity in varying degrees.
PC and Console Headphones
Headphones designed for computers often require USB ports and drivers installed either from a setup disc or Internet database. Very often, headphones that work with PCs do not work with consoles and vise versa. For example, if your chosen headphones require a 5.1 sound card for even stereo playback, they will work fine with both formats but only if you have the right card installed in your PC. Check the headphones for device compatibility as well as jacks and ports that fit into your game controller or tower before making your final determination.
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