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How we test gaming headsets on GamesRadar

Steelseries Arctis 7P
(Image credit: Future)

When we recommend a gaming headset on GamesRadar, we want that to actually mean something. That’s why we test headsets and use them thoroughly, so you know exactly what to expect when you buy one. As we explain in our Hardware Policy, the GamesRadar hardware team knows what it takes for any to be considered one of the best in their field and to earn our recommendation to you - the lucky few making each list and guide that we write. The gaming headset field is an especially strong one nowadays so sometimes our guides are bursting at the seams, and sometimes we have to be ruthless in making our decisions. We know that good audio can make or break a game, on or offline, so having a great headset is vital to the experience and only these models make it onto our best lists.

In brief, to be in contention for a spot on our guides each headset gets tested rigorously. No matter what the platform the headset is pitched for, we test across a range of genres and activities to ensure a comprehensive study. Online shooters, for example, are used to test surround sound, mic quality, and accuracy, while epic single-player games are used to see how music and dialogue is treated, alongside open-world detailing. Importantly, and this relates to the games we test them with, we live with the headset for a short while, using it as our own main bit of kit, just as you, the reader, would do so. So, while you'll get insight into how the headset sounds with games, you'll also get insight into what it's like to live with; its connectivity, its integration into a setup, its design and build, and its comfort. As we wrap so many of the best gaming headsets around our noggins here, we'll also benchmark it from us against other products to make sure the value on offer and price point is worthy of your hard-earned cash. 

That's a quick whistle-stop tour of how we test headsets, but here’s some more info on how we separate the best from the rest.

We use them… a lot

Ok, this seems obvious. But we actually use the headsets for gaming. Where possible we test them with PS5, Xbox Series X (or S), PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch (although some aren’t compatible with all these consoles), and we try out a range of games. Many gaming headsets are designed to enhance louder noises and surround sound, so playing an action game is a must. Open world games like Assassin's Creed, Spider-Man, and Elden Ring prove to be a good test of surround sound, and the Call of Duty games or Battlefield games are excellent for spacial sound - like when you try to pinpoint gunfire, the type of weapon being used, and where that sound is in relation to you. We usually try out 3-4 different games (minimum), to test the different ranges of each headset. Some games are heavier on the base, some on treble. Some games are very noisy, some filled with music, whereas others thrive on minimal sound. Headsets need to cater to all kinds of games. When considering the richness of the sound, we look at the headset’s frequency response range, which determines the range of sounds it can output. While some just look at the size of the drivers in the earphones (bigger drivers mean louder sounds), we consider not just how loud they get but what range of sounds they can produce.

We use them for non-gaming things

If you’re spending big bucks on a headset, you’d like to be able to use it for more than just gaming. Unless you’re Scrooge McDuck, swimming in your money pool. So, we always watch a movie and TV show or two too, so see how the headset performs here. It’s amazing how many gaming headsets sound weird or even hollow when faced with an episode of Game of Thrones or a good Star Wars movie, or just a general binge on Netflix. After that, we listen to music too, usually via a mobile phone, and we try to test out a range of songs. For what it’s worth, we even try to make sure the headset has been tested on an Apple and an Android device.

We shout into the mic

Well, not super loud, but we test out the microphone by playing online and making sure people understand what we’re saying. If there are on-headset options for it, we mute the mic, and we unmute it to see how easy it is to do that kind of thing. If the mic is good at canceling out background noise, we tell you about it. And if the headset doesn’t actually have a mic, we let you know about that too.

We take our time

There’s a huge difference between wearing a headset for ten minutes, and spending three hours wandering around Red Dead Redemption 2 while wearing them. We try and keep headsets on for a few hours, to see how comfy they really are, and whether they make your ears toasty. And yes, we test them while wearing glasses too, because we know loads of you have to wear them, even if some of us are lucky enough not to need them. Do your ears get hot over time? Does the headband start to hurt? Are there any problems from prolonged use? This is the stuff we’re looking for when we test the headsets for a lengthy period of time.

We don’t break them, but…

...we do mess with them quite a bit to test how well they’re built. If there’s a problem with any of the components or the parts, we tell you about it. If it feels like the ear cushions are about to fall off, we check for that. And if there are waaaaaaay too many wires, we pick up on that too, because we know how important a tidy gaming set-up can be.

We always judge them on performance *and* value

When we create our lists of gaming headsets, we don’t just put the most expensive ones at the top. Sure, they might have the best sound quality, but do they represent the best value for money for what you actually get? Just because something costs $300, does that make it $200 better than a headset that only costs $100? That’s the trade-off. We know how expensive headsets can be, and we know it’s a big investment for you, so we want to make sure you’re getting value rather than just spending money.

Rob Dwiar
Rob Dwiar

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!