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Gaming headsets: What is the difference between a budget one and an expensive one?

Gaming headsets: What is the difference between a budget one and an expensive one?
(Image credit: Sennheiser)

Some gaming headset price tags bring water to the eyes, we know. It's also an intimidating subject. This is a big market with literally thousands upon thousands of items. And 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.

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

Let's start at the cheaper end of the scale.

The case for a budget headset

(Image credit: Turtle Beach)

Before we get started, this isn't going to be a cheap headset-bashing article by any means. They genuinely can be great, serviceable peripherals. And even though the design and build-quality may leave something to be desired, there's a case to be made for buying one that can take a battering or for use on the go where it might get bashed. For example, the Turtle Beach Recon 70 budget headset is sturdy enough for the commute, only costs about $30 / £30, and is one of the best Nintendo Switch headsets around. However, you will find it uncomfortable after a short while and the plastic build feels tacky. With the occasional exception, (like the Razer Kraken X and its X Lite sibling), comfort is an ever-present challenge for these cheaper headsets.

Still, the audio quality is often respectable in the budget range - far better than flimsy, one-ear headsets that might spring to mind. And overall, if you're not too fussed about hearing every raindrop or just want something cheap and cheerful that is still built with games in mind, then a cheap headset offering gaming-focused audio is better than none. You may get some surround sound or directional audio too, and in-line controls like a mic mute or volume dial. Although your features will end there, it's enough to get you started.

The case for a premium headset

(Image credit: Razer)

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. For instance, a budget headset on my PS4 couldn't offer the 3D audio (on some games) or genuine detail in audio that my Platinum alternative can. What's more, no headset comes near to the immersion-enhancing haptic feedback teamed with THX Spatial audio that the Razer Nari Ultimate gives on PC. 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 justifying higher price tags, too.

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

There might be some exceptions to this rule, of course: 'more expensive' does not always mean 'better'. As a case-study, the most expensive headset I've had was the Sennheiser GSP 670. It's truly excellent for PS4 and PC. All the same, the lofty $300 / £300 price tag was made a mockery of by its own sibling headset (the GSP 370) which offered comparable features. That means the more expensive 670s are 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.

As such (and with the usual caveat of ever-present trade-offs), there's a valid place for all of the headset spectrum. However, while you'll be able to find a perfectly serviceable gaming headset one cheap, it's the premium equivalents that still do it best and offer the most. Personally, having bought my primary gaming headset - the Sony Platinum - before I started reviewing them for work, I am very pleased to have gone the premium route with my own money. 

For more on headsets and what we think are the best, see our whole suite of guides:

best PS5 headset | best Xbox Series X headset | best gaming headset | best PS4 headset | best Xbox One headset | best Nintendo Switch headset | best PC headset for gaming | best wireless gaming headset | best Fortnite headset | best Logitech headset | Razer headsets | best Turtle Beach headset | best Sony headset for gaming | best Sennheiser gaming headset | HyperX headsets | Astro headsets

I'm one of the Hardware Editors for GamesRadar+, and 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 do that in my spare time, and lean on it to write about games' landscapes and environments too.