Looking for advice!

Hi, long time lurker, first time help seeker here.

I’m looking for a headphone or possibly even iem for strictly competitive gaming, specifically, COD:Advanced Warfare (2014) on Xbox Series S/X. It, like many other COD games, has a poorly optimized sound engine, as I’ve analyzed the graphs in audacity I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d need good subbass for the most crucial sounds. The most important thing about the HP/IEM I’m looking for is that I want to drive it without a dac or amp so straight out of the controller; I know it’s heresy, but I insist on it for the sake of minimalist simplicity and power saving. My budget is up to 2000 (USD/EUR).

So the HP/IEM I’m asking you to recommend most importantly should be the best money can buy up to 2K that can be driven from a potato and it has to have immaculate 360 degree circular imaging; I’m willing to take that sacrifice if the distance/verticality aspect of the soundstage is inconsistent, and it has to have excellent subbass, so possibly a planar, but at very least a kind of even bass that is on par with a well driven HD800S. Only a HD800S driven by a Questyle CMA400i and an A90 ever made me feel like I can hear everything perfectly from the right direction, though I’ve failed to recreate that when I tried another HD800S the 2nd time I’ve bought it, and I suspect I need a tad better bass, long reaching, even, detailed.

The ones I think could be good candidates:

-Raptgo Hook X iem suggested on Reddit by Pokrog, a guy with much experience. It costs 250, please tell me if up to 1000 or 2000 there are better alternatives as it’s a pain to order it where I am.
-Ultrasone Edition 11: I highly recommend you guys check this one out, it’s a handmade German oakwood phone with an angled driver and sensitive biomembrane that’s super easy on the ears, has large stage, rumbling bass that’s up to planar standards not seen on dynamics, and is easy to drive. Reviews an be found on headfi. I’ve seen Germans calling it a mini T1.2, the one Falenkor seems to endorse. (T1.2 is the one I’ve neglected to try, but now it’s not sold new, and it’s hard to drive).
-LCD GX: I’m a little worried about how bad it would be when driven from the controller, otherwise seems to fit the bill
-The new audeze Maxwell: Probably similar to Penrose X, probably not the best alternative here, but the wireless nature is compelling, at least I know I don’t suffer from driving it badly, since the makers intended for it to be used with it’s built in dac/amp. Does penrose have outstanding 360 imaging and subbass compared to the above when driven from a potato (controller)?

I highly appreciate any experienced users input. I’ve tried many dynamics like DT1990, DT880, DT 770, TYGR, AADX5000, AD700, ADg1x, AD1000x, Ad2000x, AKG K612, K701, K702, HD660, Stax l700 and 009, KOSS 95x WITH GOOD AMPS (a90, Questyle cma400i and twelve, 353x) and also hifiman Ananda without an amp and they were all… useless, I’m sorry! Only had good experience with HD800S ONCE (had it for 2 weeks), useless on 2nd try with a different model. 2nd best was Ultrasone 11 when auditioned. 3rd is a 50 dollar logitech g335 I’m now using, it slightly seems to emphasize the subbass I need, probably due to closed back nature.

Heart Mirror (hm) all the way :wink:

One of the few iems which made me scared in gaming.

Thanks for the advice, but… scared? I’m not looking for immersion, I do not play single player, got a gamerscore of 0. I’m trying to be competitive. Scared of how good it made you do in competitive online play? Cause then I guess it could be good.

I only play COD Mobile. And what scared me is hearing the exact location of the enemies that are about to turn the corner. Or being busted by a sneaky enemy.

Might as well just tag @Falenkor. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of things that could fit the bill but I’m just getting stuck continuously coming back to the controller drivability.

There’s tons of decent options, but no insanely good options I can think of.

Yeah, I’d love for him to chime in. How about leading a RCA to double XLR cable to an amp and double amping a controller, could that work? Also, I’ve read that HD800S had a 4hz bass minimum, isn’t that a lower bass extension than most other headphones, is that common? I wonder if the low level bass extension is key to what made it so good.

I really think your best bet would be to use optical out from your monitor if possible and use an amp and if you need a mic, just get a headset splitter and run only the mic to your controller. It’s janky, but it’s an option.

Considering the game? no, this is almost actually impossible for a solution. Most cods are like this only a select couple had sound engines worth a damn… large soundstages gimp the game and it’s respective imaging capabilities… sub bass is not the answer nor is it practically ever(usually), however your welcome to test this theory be equalizing it it sometimes works… same with the virtual surround sound softwares(these help cod more often then not hence my bringing them up… this is the only fps that I bring these up for because of the piss poor sound engines). Footsteps are between 5-400 hz and 2k-4k hz ranges typically depending on the specific sound.

Best options here would be a form of IEM or try something like Meze 109 PRO over there… but I highly doubt any of these are going to work… in this regard the headphones that have been trialed cover all areas…

Likely better off getting a cheapo amp/dac that has equalization and gaming options on it like what steel series offers for that gamedac of theirs, same with astro, or like soundblasters stuff of sorts.

The reason I don’t believe a planar is going to work here is also because something such as Koss 95x is brought up which is a bit of a hidden gem within the competitive FPS area ontop of Hifiman both of which perform exceptional… unless your COD.

In most cases you need -very- specific sound traits and equalization to capitalize on all the frequencies with a COD game because it’s quite literally all over the place… Get something that isn’t over the top spacious that is friendly to EQ and has a more balanced sound(maybe preferrably neutral bright) and try tinkering with it to what you need… You mention that you don’t want an amp/dac due to minimalist but do keep in mind that amps and dacs come in all shapes and sizes… including even USB plug in varieties or built into headphones(such as the penrose which has built in amps in it’s cups). There are also some headphones that have EQ software that comes with the headphone as well that you can try out… such as the coolermasters mh series, steel series, and some others

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You are already being limited by the game’s sound engine. If you skip out on a decent DAC as well then I think throwning a lot of money on Transducer isn’t going to give you satisfactory results.

As for the Hook-X, it’s a good option for the price, maybe even slightly above it’s price range but it lacks proper depth for that 3D Imaging. It’s a fun experience though.

Like @Pokrog says, Optical Out to a DAC would be a good upgrade, I personally recommend the Mojo 2, it’s Imaging capabilities are phenomenal. Then pair with a good Headphone or IEM. I’m using Edition XS for gaming with the Mojo 2 and it works really well.

If you still want to go with simplicity then look at Sennheiser IE 900 or HiFiMan HE-R9, they both seem to have good technical capabilities and don’t require a lot of power.

P.S. I don’t have much experience with above 1000 USD gear so maybe there are better options in that price range but I’ll leave that to others who have more experience in this price range.

You have the games horrid sound engine, plus the xbox’s terrible onboard audio soundcard, plus potentially using a wireless controller which comes with it’s own limitations and potentially even lagging audio not to mention the potential of feedback of sorts/distortion and bad imaging placements from trying to run without a dac with all this in place… Theoretically, it can be done… it sounds great and all but the overall performance? Not going to happen… also need to be a bit realistic as the sound isn’t going to make you a god or anything either… the headphone and equipment will only do so much… if the game itself can’t keep up or provide results then there isn’t anything you can do to fix that outside of attempt to makes the particular sounds louder/more forward/more present hence my recommendations towards EQ.

As far as gaming -needs- go… this is complete overkill in my book. $700+ amps and dacs are not at all needed for any form of competitive FPS same with headphones over the $500+ line in most cases as the returns are very marginal based on the game in question… course you can get better sound results from those more casual games who spent time on their sound engines(kinda like cyberpunk and some others who actually invested in a good sound for the most part) but competitive fps is a bit different when it comes to their priorities… therefore bit of a moot point there as overall sound returns? If you sit and A/B test in many of the FPS you will likely be very hard pressed to see much difference between a $200 per unit setup vs a $700 per unit setup outside of maybe a bit more clarity and accuracy but marginally so(again depending heavily on the game)

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Thanks for the suggestions so far. Falenkor/everyone, please consider that HD800S did work out spectacularly at one point for my use case, what would be great if we could figure out what made it so. It was only on A90 and CMA400i as dac and my guess is it could’ve been because of ps4’s superior PCM sound, I think I might’ve switched to Xbox between my 2 HD800S attempts.

Also, I cannot emphasize enough how great it would be if you could check out Ultrasone Edition 11, seems like a real hidden gem. What would be easier to drive from a controller between that and LCD GX based on their numbers? I can’t figure it out based on ohms, as apparently that doesn’t determine driveability by itself.

Hell, do you all have any ideas what headphones are the most energy efficient overall? I’ve a real hankering for the ampless life.

Also, another unrealistic idea, but just like how hard drives can be swapped on consoles for SSD on an old xb1 through some in-depth hardware moddding, I wonder if the soundcard could be replaced, people should start pmping out these machines and sell them… I guess it’s not a thing because microsoft would sue them.

That is rather strange that at one point it was fine then another it was not though I wouldn’t say such a high end setup is really required even in the case of 800S there… Perhaps the second copy was bad?

PS4 is notably weaker and if your using cma400i as the dac your not really concerned with consoles PCM

It sounds interesting atleast and I will add it to my list for a look into later on

Especially in the case of Planars… no basic impedance doesn’t determine that gotta look at sensitivity and watts per channel/ohm too. Planars show low impedances but can be extremely thirsty headphones… for example, Argon MK3 is a bassy planar at 50 impedance however it still needs 1W @ 50 ohms or more in power… of which small cheaper units may not have enough power(such as L30 from topping which only puts out 0.7W at 50 ohms so it’s not strong enough). I can’t speak much on the GX… it is worth a try but Audeze also lean towards a darker thicker sound as does the GX as such this is highly unlikely to solve the problem. Another thing here is that not all planars have good sub bass… hifiman for example as a planar does not have great sub bass extensions, neither does that hd800s they are rather recessive and lacking

IEMS typically are the most energy efficient. I also brought up meze 109 pro as I can drive that completely ampless and it’s one of those higher end headphones as well.

How about this? How come my current 50 dollar logitech g335 manages to slightly edge out all the ones I’ve listed? Besides 800S, only Ultrasone 11 seemed potentially better on a short superficial listen from a laptop listening a downloaded youtube gameplay.

Forget imaging and stage… on g335 I could at least hear footsteps, shots, boosts and weapon switches, ads sounds. From my analysis on audacity, the most pronounced part of the spectrum was all well below 100 hz when these sounds were played, and yet, the g335 slightly enhances these sounds, even though it’s 100 to 10 000 hz only.

Also… HD800S was just as useless and bland as any other headphone from A90 and any other dac like D90 until I switched to CMA400i as dac, the stage suddenly opened up and the needed sounds became pronounced, I could pinpoint enemies directions with ease. I never even got close to this, no matter how many and how expensive phones I’ve tried. You praise DT 1990, I may have made one mistake with that, I stuck to analytical pads only.

Also, I’ve sold all my stuff, so no CMA or A90 by now. I’m very unsure of my next move. Maybe a good iem like senn ie900 or Hook X. Or just try a mass of random cheapos I can return or just try at stores. Or… just wait and hope for some magical new technology, like HRTF or an ultrasensitive membrane to emerge.

I’ve tried EQing too, to absolutely zero avail. Not even possible to highlight the footsteps, no matter which frequency I boost or reduce, from 32 to 16k. I’m not even sure how that is possible. I could understand if there are explosions or other sounds masking it, but I just simply cannot make them louder using EQ.

  • Sound is subjective, we all hear differently so results vary from person to person. Just because I have clear and concise results with my T1 doesn’t mean everybody will and some may even find it extremely uncomfortable due to it’s heavy handed treble

  • Driving a headphone from on-board vs a headset using on-board which is designed to be ampless will yield extremely different results compared to a headphone with appropriate equipment this is because of several reasonings such as distortion levels, lack of power/drive, volume, and other issues that help hold the sound signature traits together by using a respective amp/dac… a low powered headphone for example can sound like it practically has zero bass, has heavy congestion, muffled, and heavily impact it’s imaging and layering capabilities

  • going upon my comment about EQ you mention the Ultrasone 11 and why does this seem “better” well let’s look at it’s frequency real fast

Frequencies I have placed boxes around are raised clearly so, these frequencies are generally where you find footsteps so it stands to reason this headphone will perform well in this use case since this signature is more V shaped hence when we look at the mids there is the visible dip within the frequency ranging from 200-1k. Not all headphones are like this that you have tried… If bass was the problem here, to put this clearly you wouldn’t have had any issues using the DT 770, Tygr 300R, or DT 1990(if using the balanced pads) as all of these have more bass including sub bass

Let’s take a quick look at the HD800S frequency real fast

We can see from Crinacles measuring of the HD800S there that the bass(per the usual with Sennheisers) isn’t raised with lacking sub-bass and around neutral the rest of the way up to the treble. For the most part though, this is a neutral bright headphone with enormous soundstage(overly inflated stage at that) with very sharp imaging) and still maintains it’s status as one of the kings in terms of staging

Using crinacles graph again, I wanted to show the DT 770 which is why I say that the bass it absolutely not the issue here…

Very clearly you can see that the bass is heavily raised here but where the DT 770 fails gamers in fps is that 4k range right there where it dips out

Let me drive this point a bit further here with your G335s response graph


The reason you hear so well is because your upper mids are neutral and raising up going into the 2-4k range all of it is raised until 5k where it drops below neutral. In other words, the specific frequencies you -want- raised for fps are there… this added ontop of a very small soundstage(customary to any gaming headset per the norm) makes the sound appear closer, louder, and more present which in many cases(especially in cod) also helps amplify those sounds and make them easier to pin point.

If you feel that the issue is truly the bass, take the g335 place it on an equalizer with enough power to keep it all balanced out(such as peace apo or other free software) and see if that fixes your issue

A90 / D90 is incredible stale/sterile and I don’t really encourage using these… they are great units for music but you want a setup that emphasizes clarity and imaging not so much reference neutrality. Something as simplistic as like… hell I want to just say a JDS Atom or Magni with a Donald Dac which should run you around $200 would work fine in most cases less were driving the HD 800S then you wanna step up the units in price a bit to make up for that to get it to sing… Something to keep in mind is amps and dacs synergy with what your looking for counts too… Dacs may clean up the sound but not all of them perform how you want and amps can offer different sound traits. This same ‘opening up’ of the sound is the experience I have had and others have wrote about from switching equipment as well… for me when I had gone from something like a liquid spark to the liquid platinum the entire sound capabilities and stage changed

I praise it for several reasons. It’s budget friendly to the higher end of the price spectrum, it doesn’t take ridiculous equipment to get the most out of it but using sterile equipment like Topping I definitely don’t recommend, Analytical pads are more neutral so B pads may have helped you more in that regard, and it has pad swap capabilities galore that can flip it’s signature every which way while also being able to be heavily eq’d… my biggest issue with it is that it’s very aggressively analytical(hence it’s regarded highly in music industry work)

Something to keep in mind is that while EQing can help it’s not a solve all solution in that respect… it’s still going to raise all the other sounds in that frequency too… being able to feasibly pin point things also comes with the territory of experience too as much as I hate it. However, not making them louder sounds like the EQ may have been done improperly or something… Do remember you still have to add a bit more preamp to keep the signature balanced out and the like

There’s no way on earth I can stress enough that the Sennheiser IE300/600/900 are about as shit as you can get in an IEM for competitive gaming. The 900 is literally not even a hair better than the 300. They are just absolutely awful.

Take your word for that… I am not big on the whole IEM scene but I can see the appeal… especially now since we have microphone cables that fit any IEM thanks to Antlion, Kinera, and Celest Ryui

You’ll probably just have to try a bunch of phones to find your fit. For me, FiiO FD5 has been the one for a while now that I would trust my life with in an FPS/3D environment. But as of last week, I’m pretty sure I found a successor - AFUL Performer5. NEAR end-game treble, it should say on the box. Astonishingly good… You can’t go wrong with FD5, either. If you want the most solid, detailed bass, pick FD5. If you want more ‘vibrational’(more feeling, less detail/texture) bass, pick P5. Then, EQ bass levels to taste, I suppose. (I don’t EQ)

K601 has notably strong imaging, but no real depth. IEMs are still in the lead for me so far over headphones, for spatial performance. I liked how HD660 sounded in games, but again, can’t touch IEM performance.

Hook-X are a special, beautiful thing for music, but they have no depth, so I would never use them in 3D environments/games.

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Have you tried the HBB Hook-X? It has leaps more clarity and that veil the OG had I think was really obscuring the depth and separation and putting it into more of a typical IEM range of just having layering but with no space between sounds. I haven’t heard any IEM at all that has anywhere near the depth of the HBB Hook-X without being just a shitty stage trick or something that can be attributed to being out of phase or BA distortion and not to mention they actually have separation instead of just layering. Sometimes I think I just hate IEMs for gaming because they almost always fall apart at high volume, but the HBB Hook-X doesn’t really have that problem. I still haven’t found anything that tops my modded HE6se v2 on a pair of monoblocks. If I had to put them on a scale where the HE6se v2 on monoblocks was a 100, I’d still put the HBB Hook-X at like a 30 and the OG Hook-X at like a 15-20 but the HBB Hook-X scale like crazy like the OG never could solely because of the veil they had.

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I’m pretty damn skeptical that my favorite relaxing, pure music IEM would turn into a top gaming IEM, just by a tuning tweak, but hey, miracles happen. Suppose I should try them, then. However, bass reduction isn’t something I’m fond of, so I am more inclined to try Timeless AE than Hook HBB. Should try both, I suppose lol.