Many gamers and audiophiles today find themselves in a tricky spot where they have to decide between purchasing a headset that is good for gaming or one that is good for music.
Why does this problem exist, though? Aren’t all headsets designed to do the same thing–playback audio files–or is there something else?
The truth is, there is a huge difference between headphones that are created solely for the purpose of listening to music, such as studio headphones, and the common gaming headphones that you might find at your local best buy.
So, are gaming headsets good for listening to music? The short answer is no. The reason for this is that gaming headsets have different audio profiles and are tuned differently during pre-production to boost certain sounds–such as explosions and gunfire from video games–to achieve a colorful and vivid sound profile by boosting the highs and the lows.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into what constitutes a pair of gaming headphones and why they might be, for the most part, unsuitable for listening to music in any setting that is not simply casual.
What Are The Differences Between Gaming Headphones And Regular Headphones?
Gaming headphones usually come with a lot of features that music enthusiasts, or even commonplace consumers, aren’t really looking for. Some of these features are aesthetic only, while others provide more ergonomics.
For instance, the Razer Kraken headphones have extremely large over-ear cushions that lend to a bulky and heavy design. However, this isn’t a problem because Razer specifically designed the Kraken series to be worn for extended periods of time.
You wouldn’t want to take it to your local coffee shop, with its 12-foot long braided chord, customizable RGB side-lights, and its chunky frame–but you wouldn’t mind those features if you had a headphone stand on your six-foot-long oak desk.
On the other hand, regular headphones don’t offer a lot of features that gaming headphones do–such as the previously mentioned long connection cables, lights, general design aesthetic, and even the premium price tag associated with top-tier brands such as Razer or Turtle Beach.
The overwhelming majority of gaming headsets that you can find on the market today also come with retractable microphone chords or arms attached to the right or left outermost edge of the earcup, which is a borderline necessary feature nowadays to get the utmost experience during multiplayer sessions.
At the end of the day, the differences between the two ‘styles’ of headphones come down to the fact that engineers know their consumers and are aware of what their consumers need. This is why so many features that are prevalent amongst even the cheapest gaming headsets are hard to come by on some of the more expensive studio headphones.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Best Audiophile Headphones for Gaming
What About Appearances?
Gaming headphones also look very different from standard headphones. While many users of studio-quality headphones are used to a sleek, monotone look with minimal frills and buttons, gaming headsets tend to have bright, flashy colors, lower quality drivers, microphone arms, or retractable microphone lines (such as are found on many Razer headsets) and more gaming-oriented features.
There are plenty of people who would be more than happy to trade these superficial additions and features for sleek and minimalistic design. Fortunately, the market for gaming accessories as a whole seems to be getting the hint from its consumers, and there are far more options to pick from nowadays than there were even two years ago.
What Other Features Differentiate Gaming Headsets From Standard Headphones?
There is also a difference in the selection of connectivity ports. While many gaming headphones use Micro-USB, standard USB, or 3.5mm headphone jacks to connect to systems, you may find that many music-oriented headphones come with larger and smaller jacks that might need specific adaptors to be compatible with certain electronic devices.
As we mentioned earlier, many gaming headsets also come with retractable or movable microphone arms. This is an important feature that is almost always omitted on most regular headsets, and it can be a deal-breaker for some people because having the ability to connect to zoom calls or communicate with their friends while they play video games is crucial to a fun gaming experience.
It also saves a lot of hassle for many users, as simply moving an arm on your headset is a lot easier than having a separate audio DAC, two extra power cables, and other gadgets that require setup before use.
RELATED ARTICLE: Top Gaming Headsets With Good Bass
What About Surround Sound?
Another essential feature that is anything but commonplace on music-oriented headphones or standard headsets is the inclusion of surround sound. For gaming headsets, this is a feature that is prioritized by manufacturers when their blueprints hit the mark-up board for the first time.
Although the quality of the implemented surround sound system varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, most gaming headsets that offer this feature can immerse the user in the game’s rhythm far better than headphones that come without it.
Apart from simply being a nice-to-have feature, the surround sound setup also helps you competitively play video games. For instance, if you are in a competitive multiplayer lobby and hear a noise coming from your left, a surround sound setup can give you a clue as to who might be hiding around the next corner.
Thus, you can sense danger and prepare to retaliate against enemies, or just avoid them altogether.
Surround sound is not a feature seen in studio-grade headsets since they are simply not necessary for those who need a well-rounded and balanced audio spread for their work. Because .mp3 and .mp4 files are static, surround sound contributes nothing whatsoever to the overall sound quality and listening experience of the user.
This is in direct contrast to video games, where an enemy could move behind you from your left side to your right. The game engine then sends this information to be processed and layered onto the existing audio stream, which is then output by your surround sound drivers–creating the illusion of movement behind you by isolating where the sound is played, at what frequency, and upon what driver.
Surround sound as a whole has improved drastically in the past few years and is becoming more common on low-end headsets due to its popularity in the gaming ecosphere, especially with tournament players or extremely competitive multiplayer games with dynamic environments.
READ ALSO: Best Gaming Headsets for FPS Games
A Brief Size Comparison
Gaming headsets, for the most part, are usually bulky. Part of this bulkiness is essentially due to their mean design philosophy.
For instance, many gaming headsets have over-ear designs, which makes them look and feel bigger than most headphones. Plus, having a retractable microphone or a movable microphone arm on the headset will also contribute to the overall bulky feeling of the headset.
This is not usually a problem for gamers because gaming headsets are rarely used on the road or at the gym, so it never ends up being an issue.
Because many standard headphones don’t have these size-adding features, you might automatically assume that they would be the more portable alternative.
There isn’t a definitive answer that we can give you on which kind of headset is more suitable to travel, though, since there are both bulky studio headphones and slim gaming headsets–it all comes down to which particular headset you choose to buy.
What can be said, though, is that non-gaming headphones are usually more lightweight due to lacking many of the features that are common on gaming headsets. Some manufacturers also create headphones that are specifically created to fold and stow away easily, allowing for those who do need to travel for work (or those who prefer to work outside of the house) flexibility in that area.
RELATED READING: Lightest Gaming Headsets
Differences in Audio Profiles
Gaming headphones are engineered differently from most other headphones, allowing them to portray sound effects such as those you would encounter in video games in a more realistic and ‘explosive’ way by having specifically tuned drivers that boost lows and highs.
This allows for low to mid-range noises such as gunfire, crashes, explosions, and minor sounds that add to realism to have a far more significant impact than an untuned and flat-sounding pair of headphones.
The audio profile resembles a flat line for a standard pair of headphones, unlike the gaming headphone profile, which resembles a “V.” This flat tuning for standard headphones allows for a more diverse and balanced listening experience for the user when playing music.
If you gave a studio producer a pair of gaming headphones disguised as regular ones, a lot of the music that they would push out as finished products would have very muddied high-end frequencies, which can cause certain musical elements, vocals, or other instruments to be drowned out by the more noticeable low-end and ‘bassy’ sounds, resulting in an unbalanced sound.
Gaming headsets are generally designed to give you the best gaming experience possible. This includes boosting certain sounds to create a more immersive setting for the gamer. This would explain why it is entirely normal to notice that your gaming headphones seem to have a more bass-heavy audio profile when you compare them to your standard headphones.
You may also note that listening to music on a pair of gaming headphones lends a more bass-heavy and muddied sound to the music–again, this is because a lot of manufacturers create audio profiles for their gaming headsets that sacrifice more balanced profiles and mid-ranges in favor of a higher decibel count and a more ‘thumpy’ bass.
The story completely turns on its head when it comes to headsets designed for normal use or music production, though. They usually have far more advanced high-quality drivers that allow them to produce a better frequency range.
Many of them also come with real sound reproduction and wide sound profiles, which lends to the more balanced sound that you would expect from a pair of music-listening headphones.
This balanced profile can be extremely pleasing to the ear since it can hit all of the lows, mids, highs, and bass required to give a well-rounded listening experience.
As far as we are concerned, we uphold the general consensus that standard headphones and studio-quality headphones are better for listening to music than gaming headphones.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Best Gaming Headsets for Glasses Wearers
How Important Is A Balanced Audio Profile?
To put it one way, the difference between a positive and a negative listening experience with the same pair of headphones lies entirely in the audio profile.
It’s extremely difficult to enjoy listening to electronic music, or any kind of music that is built or written around a consistent drum-based rhythm if you have your lower frequencies clocked to be at the same output level as your midrange.
This would entirely remove the impact of the bass and leave simply the top layer of the sound itself, which defeats the purpose. In the same way, bass-boosting classical music too much would drown out some of the higher qualities and harmonics of the string instruments–and having no discernable midrange for acapella music would bleed all of the voices together.
Having an audio profile that is suited to individual tasks is crucial to getting the most out of your headphones. Some top-tier headphones, suited for gaming and studio production alike, have extremely wide sound ranges that allow you to customize hot-swappable audio profiles on the fly if you want to switch from music to gaming, or vice versa.
Are Gaming Headphones More Expensive Than Regular Headphones?
Considering that standard headphones and music listening headphones generally have higher audio quality levels than gaming headphones, it is fair to expect that music headsets will more often than not cost more than gaming headsets.
This is not entirely cut and dry, though, because it is just as easy to find premium and expensive gaming headphones as it is to find low-end music listening headphones, both of which will give you a wildly different experience.
You can also find super high-end, high-quality, and expensive music headphones and dirt-cheap pairs of gaming headphones, too. Each pair is made differently, with engineering preference usually given to specific features that the designers would like to include–some of which are exclusive to that one pair–which explains the variety of price points that you can explore.
In our experience, it is fair to say that the price comes down to whatever you are willing to pay, because you can find high-quality devices in either category for any price range.
RELATED ARTICLE: Best Gaming Headsets Under $50
Can You Use Regular Headphones For Gaming?
Absolutely. You can also use gaming headphones for listening to music! However, suppose you do use one of the two branches of headphones for a job that would be better suited to the other.
In that case, you should know that you will not experience the full extent of the immersion into either the music or the gaming as you would with a device that is engineered and produced specifically for that purpose.
Yes, it’s possible, and sometimes it can even be enjoyable–that is, of course, if you don’t mind having the bass-booster permanently turned up when you want to listen to Mozart.
Serious music producers won’t want to spend their money on a gaming headset, or even use them in the first place–it’s similar to a professional video producer color grading on a cheap monitor. You need that extra-wide range of color, and in this case, that wide range of sound, to get the best results.
READ ALSO: What to Look for in a Gaming Headset
So, are gaming headsets good for listening to music? We don’t think so. Yes, they won’t have any trouble playing back music files, and some of the more expensive gaming headphones might even have wide audio profiles specifically for that purpose, but as a whole, the answer remains the same.