Headphones for gaming and listening to music

I am looking to get an upgrade from a cheapish headset and want to get a pair of headphones around $250-$300 that are good for both listening to music and playing games. I don’t care if they are open or closed back as long as they are comfortable and can be worn for hours at a time. I don’t own a dac or amp but am looking to get a pair if needed.

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There is a lot to be had in that price range. It will come down to if you want to get an amp or not. Some things can be powered with anything but then open up a bit sound quality wise when you toss in a decent enough amp.

If I would end up needing to get an amp I wouldn’t really be bothered by it.

If you end up needing an amp will that reduce the amount you’re looking to spend on the headphones or are you looking to spend $200-$300 on the headphones regardless and the amp/DAC budget is separate? I think that’s the question many are going to want to know.

I’m looking for the $200-$300 towards the headphones with a possible amp/DAC being a separate cost.

Okay, that’s definitely a good way to go and you have plenty of great options. Thankfully for you, the sub-$300 headphone market has really matured in the last five years or so such that you can get performance that would have cost you multiples of that amount just 10 or 15 years ago if you choose judiciously. Before I break down recommendations for you, can you tell me what kinds of music you listen to the most? Do you know if you prefer lots of bass or a more balanced sound from your headphones? If you don’t know the answer to the second question that’s fine because the answer to the first ought to point me/us in the right direction. I probably should have remembered to ask you this before so I’m sorry about that.

Also, I must confess that I’m not a gamer so when it comes to recommending headphones to you I’m just going to assume that pairs that have decent soundstages and imaging should perform pretty well in detecting footsteps and directional cues. If that’s wrong or too broad of an assumption, someone who is a gamer will have to tell you which, if any, of my recs would be suitable.

Anyways, answer the music question and we’ll go from there.

The music I listen to tends to be soundtracks of games or anime since I enjoy them and haven’t ever looked for songs to make a personalized playlist.

Okay, so let’s talk options. You’ve got the Hifiman Sundaras which seem to be one of the sub $300 favorites. To be completely honest, I prefer the sound sig of the HE400i to them because I find the Sundaras to be a bit bright and metallic sounding, but I am in the minority there. The Sundaras are certainly more detailed and I think finding a planar magnetic headphone you enjoy in your price range could be the way to go since you’re willing to buy an amp/dac setup. They offer exceptional performance for the price. Hifiman also has the HE5XX, the HE400se and HE560 in your price range, but I personally think the HE400i and Sundaras are the two standouts.

That said, if you tend to like a warmer balanced sound signature that’s great for long listening sessions because it’s very non-fatiguing something like the Sennheiser HD-6XX is a great option as well. Not to be overlooked is the HD-58X which is cheaper, but I actually prefer it. It’s a bit less warm and more lively than the 6XX, IMO. Both are very good headphones for the money.

Another headphone that I personally love is the AKG K702. It’s a very neutral headphone with the widest soundstage for anything near your price range with great detail retrieval and separation, but for folks coming from more commercial friendly tunings with more bass the K702s can be a bit of a culture shock, so to speak. If you click with them, they’re hard to beat for the money. I don’t know how they perform for gaming, but I would think a wide soundstage and good imaging would make them more than usable as a gaming headphone.

There’s also the options from Beyerdynamic like the DT990, DT880, and DT770. These are the go to recommendations for headphones with emphasized bass and treble and I know the DT990s in particular are considered great for gaming. The thing is, the treble can be too much for some people including me, though I have owned the DT770s and DT990s in the past. If you go this direction the 250ohm versions are generally considered to be better than the lower impedance versions as they’re thought to have a smoother treble and tighter bass. Depending on how treble sensitive you are, they might be worth looking into.

Then there are the Meze 99 classics, Noires, and Neos which are all the same basic headphones with different cups. They are a fun bass heavy tuning that also tends to be a bit polarizing because some people think the bass is too heavy and bloated and that there isn’t enough detail while others find them to be a great fun, non-fatiguing listen. The build quality on the Classics and Noires in particular is fantastic.
The Hifiman and Sennheiser recommendations I included first are definitely the safer ways to go and are probably what I would focus on if I were you. That said, if you’re willing to look at the used market then we have a lot more to discuss lol! All of these headphones, except the Meze 99s, basically need an amp to drive them properly.

Edit: I only have my phone with me to type on so excuse any typos. I have big thumbs and phones have small keyboards. I’m sure you can imagine the conflict. :wink:


Thank you for that long list of recommendations! I will look into the Sundaras, Hd-58X, and the HD-6xx as they all seem to be popular amongst those in the audiophile community and similar price range.

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@Confucius6038 I agree with what @JAnonymous5150 said…I will say that the 6xx with a Schiit stack (magni/modi) is a great place to start for music and or gaming on the pc…If you don’t mind buying used gear you can always find a deal on a magni/modi…


Thank you for the stack recommendation @Guarddawg30

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for gaming like big stage shooters instead of a 6xx i would recommend a hd560 for better stageing and imageing and as a bonus they wouldnt need an amp to get you started
otherwise for casual gaming all the other recommendation are good

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How good are the hd560 for music listening?

more of a neutral listening, not the warm mids of a 6xx but it has a better bass & treble extension with better soundstage and good imaging
doesnt has the treble air of a beyer but you dont have to fear the beyer bite if you have that sensitivty
so all in all i would call it a save choise that you can drive of your mobo but should hear improvement should you later invest into an dac/amp, it should be better than most gaming HP
if you are open to invest in a basic atom or schiit stack the afore mentioned he400se can give you a bit more bass punch and more horizontal staging but some people need a pad change for them to sound best

From what I gathered, I can either get hd560 for a neutral headphone that can be plugged into a mobo and is good for more competitive side of gaming due to better soundstage and imaging, or the 6xx for a more casual side of gaming and more warm mids but is almost dependent upon an amp and dac. Did I miss anything by chance in that summary?

This summary is looking primarily at the Sennheiser side of things.

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How does the Sundara compare against the 6xx?

The Sundara and 6XX are pretty bad for gaming in general. Both have pretty poor imaging accuracy so they’re bad for competitive and both lack bass so they’re no fun for casual or single player games. Of course you can EQ that but it’s not going to be substantially better like you’d think. For some reason, you can’t EQ good bass or staging into a 6XX (driver limitation?) and the Sundara falls pretty short on staging capabilities as well to a certain degree and it’s never all that convincing when you can visually see how vague it’s frontal imaging is.

Do you have any suggestions then if they both fall short for gaming?

HD560s if you don’t have an amp, maybe Harmonicdyne Zeus if you don’t mind a little warmth. If you plan on buying an amp, The HE400se with a pad swap to either AliExpress 115mm leather pads (~$15)or Brainwavz XL Micro Suede Gaming pads (~$25) and either a set of pad adapters for $10 or destroy the stock pads and steal the pad ring.

How are those with listening to soundtrack and gaming? I generally listen to soundtracks as music.