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Gaming headsets: should you go for a cheap one or a premium one?

Astro A50
(Image credit: Astro)

Some gaming headset price tags bring water to the eyes, we know. It's also an intimidating decision as the best gaming headset market is one of the biggest in gaming accessories featuring hundreds and hundreds of sets vying for your attention; and cash. As one of the most saturated fields in gaming tech, people have understandable doubts about whether they should buy a cheap or expensive pair of headphones, particularly right now.

With so many available, and more appearing each week, a question we often get asked is: "What's the difference between cheap gaming headsets and expensive headsets?". Rather predictably, it's not a totally clear-cut answer and I would never lambast someone for buying one or the other. Broadly, there's a place for both. 

The case for a budget headset

Razer headsets: Razer Kraken V3 X

(Image credit: Razer)

Now more than ever, cheap options for tech, gaming gear, and anything hobby-related are getting some more attention due to some rubbish circumstances for people all over the world. While it might always be the case that striving for a premium headset is paramount as that is what'll give you a better gaming experience, the budget end of the market is actually better than ever. 

And even though there are still compromises in things like design and build quality, or feature sets in cheap headsets, there's a very strong case that can be made for going with a cheaper set, but there are always a couple of things to be aware of just so you know what to expect.

First, the great news. And that is that audio quality in budget headsets is still very, very good. These are, after all, still sets that are built for gaming audio. You might not be able to hear every breath of wind or tiny raindrop, and perhaps some gun noises won't be as crisp, but you're unlikely to always be using a cheaper headset right 'next to' a premium one to hear what you're missing out on. Plus, as with all things tech, you'll find that the sound quality of mid-range headsets of a few years ago, has now found its way into the cheap gaming headsets of today. This in turn means the headset will be relevant and reliable for longer too. You should still get some sort of surround or directional audio too and some controls/buttons, and the mic should be pretty good too - your features may well end there but this is plenty for most games. The built quality has also come on leaps and bounds, and though some cheaper sets will still feel plasticky or, well, cheap, they are sturdier than they've ever been and can certainly handle a knock or two, while offering decent levels of comfort for gaming sessions.

The likes of Razer, Corsair, and SteelSeries are particularly good at offering excellent cheap gaming headsets, and we've picked out a few below to show how cheap you can get them, no matter where you are in the world.

The case for a premium headset

Audeze Penrose PS5

(Image credit: Future)

By contrast, premium headsets do offer a massive advantage when it comes to build quality, design, and comfort. You definitely get what you pay for here. 

To begin with, more expensive headsets will have superior ear cup design, stronger headbands, and way more cushioning in general. This equates to being able to play for longer and more comfortably without ending up with aching ears or scalp. The materials are often superior, too. Many are robust, metal-based sets that can take a knock or two.

I also feel comfortable saying that with audio - the most important factor - you will get more for your money with a premium headset. It might seem like one of those scenarios where you'll never hear the true difference unless you use two headsets side by side, but it's actually quite acute. For example, the difference between knowing the direction that an enemy is coming as opposed to hearing exactly where their footsteps are (and how near they happen to be) is a tangible, high-quality advantage. That's why high-quality headsets will immerse you in games far more, accentuating your experience in playing them. 

Even if the audio quality or further enhancements like directional/surround sound become harder to discern between headsets, the inclusion of certain features will put premium headsets in the lead again. What's more, no headset comes near to the immersion-enhancing haptic feedback teamed with THX Spatial audio that the Razer Nari Ultimate or Razer Kraken V3 Pro give on PC, or the exceptional audio that the Astro A50 can provide. It's this sort of thing that sets premium headsets apart even when the 'audio-quality' gaps are close. It goes a long way to justify higher price tags, too, particularly if you're invested in a platform and are eyeing up the top PC headset for gaming, or one of the best PS5 headsets or best Xbox Series X headsets.

Sony Pulse 3D headset

(Image credit: Future)

However, there might be some exceptions to this rule, of course: 'more expensive' does not always mean 'better'. As a case study, one of the most expensive headsets I've tested was the Sennheiser GSP 670 (opens in new tab). It's truly one of the best PS4 headsets, but its 300 / £300 price tag was made a mockery of by its own sibling headset (the Sennheiser GSP 370 (opens in new tab)) which offered comparable features for a lower price. That means the more expensive 670s are a little null and void. 

What's more, you have to be careful with some premium headsets that claim to offer certain features... but in reality, they might only be for one platform.

However, and as we like to say here, 'all things considered', you will get more and a better gaming experience with a premium set. However, as described above, if the budget is limited those at the top of this article will still hold their own in a matchup.

If you're somewhere in the middle

And, of course, you may well find yourself somewhere in between, either as someone who can stretch the cheap budget a little bit or as someone who wants good quality but doesn't want to go too ridiculous. As a result, there's a whole host o sets for you too!

Here, you can usually find a happy medium of features, audio quality, build, and even see some of the best wireless gaming headsets too. We've seen a great rise in the mid-range (above $50/£50; below $150/£150 kind of range) headset lineup across all platforms, and there are some that will top any 'best' list. It's also been embraced by Sony and Microsoft with their Pulse 3D headset and Xbox Wireless Headset respectively managing to cram a whole heap of audio excellence and features into wireless headsets that sit beneath the three-figure mark. This range of headsets is well worth a look if you can go any further up the price spectrum, or just don't want to spend hundreds on a set of cups.

For more on headsets and what we think are the best, check out our other guides to the best Xbox One headset, and best Nintendo Switch headset.

I'm the Commissioning Editor for Hardware at GamesRadar+ and have been here since late 2018. I'm also a writer on games and have had work published over the last five years or so at the likes of Eurogamer, RPS, PCGN, and more. Day to day, I take care of a whole host of gaming tech reviews, buying guides, and news and deals content that pops up across GamesRadar+. I'm also a qualified landscape and garden designer, so I do that in my spare time. I'm also an expert on the virtual landscapes and environments of games and love to write about them too, including in an upcoming book on the topic!