Gamers often focus so much on the graphics and visual aspect of gaming, that they tend to neglect one of the most crucial components required to obtain a truly satisfying and immersive experience- gaming audio. Yes, you might own the latest high refresh rate monitor and your graphics card might be pumping out 150+ frames per second, but there is nothing more shameful than getting pawned by someone in an online match just because you couldn’t hear the guy approaching. This is especially true in the case of competitive online first person shooters such as Battlefield or Counter Strike, where split second reactions and precise audio really makes a huge difference. Hearing that extra couple footsteps will allow you to get an idea of where your enemies are approaching from, and will even allow you to guess the position of hidden foes.
If you think about it, a game is just like a movie- except you are living the movie in real time. And movies are comprised of both video as well as audio- one is incomplete without the other. Imagine how it would feel if you bought a ticket for a new action movie in some expensive multiplex that has the latest in 3D technology and high definition visuals, only to find out that they have sub-par audio which completely ruins the overall experience. So, if you don’t own a set of gaming headphones yet, it is about time you purchased one for yourself. But before you rush out and buy the first model that the salesman shoves at your face, it is important that you know how to make the proper decision when it comes to gaming audio.
You see, there is a bit of difference between a gaming headphone and a regular headphone that you would use for everyday work such as movies or music. A gaming headphone is optimized to deliver the best directional audio, and usually features slightly more bass than a studio monitor headphone or any average music optimized headphone. Some of the best gaming headphone manufacturers are- Razer, SteelSeries, Logitech, HyperX, and Sennheiser (yes, Sennheiser also makes gaming audio). When you buy a gaming headphone, the first thing you want to check is the microphone- audio quality should be about the same for two or more gaming headphones placed within similar budget range.
Then, you should check the overall build quality and comfort factor, since you will be wearing these for several hours at a time during your all-night gaming marathons. Headphones that are too heavy or built from sub-standard material will cause your ears to pain or sweat within an hour of use, so look for ear cups made from some type of breathable memory foam like material that adapts to the shape of your ears. SteelSeries headsets are renowned to be extremely comfortable, especially the Siberia V2 line, thanks to the unique suspended headband design. Enough talking about gaming headphones in general though, it is about time we listed six of the most popular and impressive gaming headphones in the sub 100-dollar range. This is about as much as anyone would like to spend on gaming audio if he or she is not a serious gamer, or hardcore professional player who plays a lot of competitive online games.
Six of the Best Gaming Headphones Costing Under $100:
Below, we have listed six of the most popular gaming headsets currently available on the market for less than 100 dollars. We did the research so you don’t have to, and all these selections were made based on technical specifications, build quality, customer reviews, price to performance, popularity, and compatibility. Go through the list, and select the one that suits your budget as well as needs.
When HyperX first released their Cloud series of headphones for gamers, both gamers as well as PC hardware reviewers across the world couldn’t stop praising the headphones enough, for their awesome sound quality as well as solid design. HyperX looked at all the flaws present in existing gaming headphones, and made sure that none of those flaws exist in the Cloud Stinger- poorly built plastic bodies, uncomfortable synthetic leather earcups, overpowering bass that drowns out the dialogue and other subtle sounds, and the microphone. Seriously, most “gaming headphones” are equipped with a sub-par mic thanks to which your friends will never recognize that it is you on the other side, and will keep complaining about how you sound like you’re speaking from your nose, with your head inside a fishbowl. Thankfully, the Cloud lineup features some of the best microphones we have ever seen on a gaming headset. The noise cancelling microphone on the stinger is mounted on a special swivel-to-mute boom arm that you can simply move out of the way when you don’t need it, and that will also automatically mute the mic.
The volume control has been placed on the right earcup, a place where you can conveniently access it without ever having to move your hands too far away from the keyboard and mouse. The powerful 50mm drivers are the same as the ones on the original Cloud, and the quality of the directional audio that they produce is truly amazing. You can literally hear the pin from a grenade fall on the ground after you pull it out, and you will even be able to tell where the empty shells from your gun fell after you fired the shots. Footsteps and gunshots are crystal clear, and the soundstage is actually pretty wide for a closed back gaming headphone in this price range. Build quality is top notch- simple design, but very effective and highly reliable. The ear cups can rotate 90 degrees and are fitted with memory foam ear cushions that feel incredibly comfortable to wear. The ear cups are attached to the padded headband with steel sliders for extra durability.
This is the lightest gaming headset on the list, so if you’re a fan of light headgear then this might appeal to your needs. The sound quality is good, but not excellent when compared to the likes of the SteelSeries Siberia V2 or Siberia V3/200. However, it is still better than the sound that you’ll find on cheap Chinese gaming headsets that have LED’s plastered all over them like they are some kind of ear-mounted Christmas trees. The microphone is surprisingly good for the price, and we dare say it rivals the mic on the Cloud Stinger. The only reason we rank it below the Stinger is because of the fact the build quality feels a little flimsy in comparison, but as long as you don’t throw your Logitech G230 around the room it should be fine. The ear cushions are made from a velvety fabric that is breathable and rather soft, but beware that wearing this headset for more than a couple of hours could cause pain around your ears- it is just the nature of the foam from which the ear cushions are made. The body is plastic, but is still tougher than most plastic headsets on the market in this price range, and the foldable noise-cancelling boom mic makes this gaming headset a great deal for the price. Sound controls are located on-cable, and the earcups can swivel 90 degrees for easy storage during travel. The audio is provided by 40mm neodymium drivers that have a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 KHz. Impedance is a solid 32 ohms, and sensitivity is 90dB SPL/Mw.
This is what we would call the ultimate pair of gaming headphones that currently exist on planet Earth. No, they are not the “absolute” best in terms of sound quality. There are a couple of options out there which will provide slightly better game audio, but keep in mind the fact that those models cost twice as much, or even thrice as much as the Cloud II, for only a marginal increase in sound quality. You are also getting the best microphone we have ever used on a gaming headset- the recorded voice is pretty warm, consistent, and noise-free in comparison to some of the absolutely horrible mics that are equipped on 90% of gaming headsets on the market. Come to think of it- a microphone is 50% of a gaming headset- you absolutely need one to communicate with your allies while playing a team game online, and you can also use the one on the Cloud II for Skype and Facebook video calls because it is almost as good as a standalone desk mic in the sub 50-dollar range.
Moving on to build quality, the Cloud II impressed us yet again. The body is made from steel, yet feels light enough to wear on the head comfortably for several hours without feeling any fatigue. There is an inline audio control and USB 7.1 compatibility. Echo cancellation is done via the inline sound card, and the drivers are boosted to 53mm, and equipped with neodymium magnets for the best aural experience with plenty of bass boost, ample amounts of treble, and picture perfect audio response that is actually pretty good for stuff other than gaming- such as movies, songs, etc. It does fall on the extreme last edge of that 100-dollar budget, but if you can get it then we absolutely recommend this pair of headphones, since it is the best product that money can buy for less than 100 bucks.
The HyperX Cloud is the original model launched way back in 2013, and is still running strong to this day. It became so popular, that HyperX decided to release an updated version, the Cloud II which we discussed above. Believe it or not, the Cloud uses the exact same drivers as the Cloud II, all that HyperX did was tweak the software and add in a USB soundcard to give a virtual 7.1 experience with the Cloud II. If you don’t want virtual surround or if you have your own external USB soundcard already, then we suggest saving the extra money and buying a Cloud instead of a Cloud II. Both look exactly the same, except for a little touch of accent color on the earcup and around the headband of the Cloud II. The original Cloud features the exact same memory foam ear cushion that the Cloud II has, the exact same detachable noise cancelling boom mic, and the exact same steel sliding band and leather earcups. If you manage to see a Cloud on discount somewhere on Amazon or eBay, we say you snag that deal as fast as you can. They are a little old in terms of release date, but trust us when we say that very little has changed between these and their successor, the Cloud II. If you get one of these for discount, grab one as quickly as possible- both the audio as well as microphone are phenomenal.
The Razer Kraken lineup of headphones is quite possibly one of the most famous and highly advertised models of gaming headphones in the history of PC gaming. However, they have also received a ton of flak from people complaining about the poor sound quality and horrible microphones. We have tested these first hand, and can confirm that the complaints regarding the terrible mic quality are mostly true- you should not expect to do Skype calls of video chat on Facebook/Google Hangout when you get a pair of these Razer headphones. However, if you only care about sound and looks then this might be a pretty good choice for the price. If you cannot afford a SteelSeries Prism or Cloud II, then this is probably your next best bet.
In terms of build-quality they are nothing special, even though the construction feels tougher than what we saw with the 2014 edition of the Razer Kraken Pro. With some adjustments in the Razer Software Suite, you can get really good surround audio out of the Kraken Pros, and they are available in a near unlimited number of color options so that you can get the perfect one to compliment the rest of your gaming setup. These are semi-open back headphones so they can also be used for listening to music, and the bass output is surprisingly well balanced for a gaming headphone. The microphone may be horrible, but at least it is full retractable into the earcup so you can simply push it inside whenever you don’t need it. Audio is delivered by 40mm neodymium magnet drivers, that have been fine-tuned for clear high and mid-ranges, and can also deliver deep bass for those well-defined lows.
Have you ever watched professional gamers play on the stage? Or have you at least seen videos of gaming enthusiasts and hardcore competitive players battling it out in online matches and tournaments? Well, you must have seen the SteelSeries Siberia 200 as well. It is probably the most popular headphone among professional Counter Strike players who absolutely love it for the sound clarity that it provides. We dare say that these headsets have the best directional sound of any headphone on this list, meaning that you can hear your enemy approach before you even see them. You don’t just hear the footsteps, you hear exactly where those steps are coming from. When you try these once, you will never want to go back to those cheap earbuds that you got for free with your smartphone. Trust us, sound will make a difference in your final score while playing multiplayer FPS games, and the Siberia 200 is the king of them all in terms of gaming audio quality.
The body is another aspect of this microphone for which it is so popular- the unique suspension headband design redirects the weight of the microphone around your skull so you never even feel that it is there. The writer is wearing one of these while working on this article, and he has been gaming on it since several months- no signs of fatigue even after you wear it for 4 or 5 hours straight and the superb headband design means that it will fit virtually any head. Just pull the band over your head and set the headphone down- no need to mess with sliders. The microphone is only reason we did not award the Siberia 200 our top choice award, otherwise it would definitely be a better choice than the Cloud if all you care about is comfort and sound. The microphone is unfortunately not as good as the rest of the headset, but it is still better than the one on the Razer Kraken. Just like the Kraken Pro, the mic on the 200 is retractable for added convenience.