I find myself constantly recommending the same headphones so saw it fit to write this up. Any higher on these price tags I feel is completely unnecessary for competitive gaming. If you feel a headphone needs added to this or perhaps I missed one by all means let me know and I will add it otherwise I feel this should be plenty for those looking for some of the best bangs for the buck… This isn’t supposed to be a write up to mention every single headphone but rather what would be generally considered the “best” for competitive gaming at certain pricepoints. Please keep in mind that just because something is more expensive doesn’t particularly mean it’s better either.
Heres some guides to start you out.
Alright so, let me start by explaining the ideology of the competitive gamer and what to look for in the most ideal sense to get the most in your FPS games. So ideally, you want either a neutral or recessed bass with little to no rumble, mids to be present raised or not too recessed, treble raised, imaging to be as accurate as possible for sound placement, proper sound seperation so things don’t sound jumbled together for accurate placement while playing, and a particular soundstage depending on which type of FPS you are playing more linear games can make do just fine with smaller soundstages these are games like COD, CSGO, Valorant, Halo but the larger FPS games such as Battlefield, Arma, Planetside, etc will required a much larger soundstage to really have a lot of benefits ideally a large soundstage will take care of both linear and larger fps. The reason we recess the bass or just want no rumble in general as too much bass will get in the way of fps cue cards that are particularly very quiet and subtle in the sound such as footsteps, breathing, and other movements and the reason we want more treble is it brings out those subtle sounds as well as gunfire more in the sound allowing you to better place them and their locations. Keep in mind I am not going to bother mentioning the most extreme “tournament level” setups with IEMS and the like as I find this very unnecessary considering most aren’t going to be in the tourneys and you are generally given the required equipment anyway.
So, let me get started here with competitive gamer headphone recommendations I will also toss in a headset or two. Budgeting from least to most expensive.
Something to note however, before continuing. For those who want a more wireless setup with your headphone you can actually purchase a Bluetooth dongle for the headphones that have a 2.5mm or 3.5mm detachable capble and turn that headphone into wireless. Yes this does work for headphones like the shp9500 among others making them good for those who hate wires.
Koss KSC75: super budget friendly, easily replaced, portable, not too much bass with raised highs and good mids. The massdrop variation has a microphone on it’s cable. Not to bad but definitely not the greatest. Alternative here would be the Porta PRO though these have quite a treble dip the Massdrop version also has a mic. Both do well with yaxi pad replacements and dont need amps. These headphones are priced right around $15 up to around $40.
Philips SHP9500: This headphone is more bass neutral and doesn’t have a lot of rumble. The mids aren’t recessed and present and highs are raised quite a bit with a wide soundstage and good imaging. Very budget friendly and tends to go around $70-$90 this headphone is pretty comfortable as well as somewhat even moddable as you can change it into a closed back fairly easily and people sell the parts to do such a mod. What makes this even better as a budget option is the capability of using the microphone V-Moda Boom Pro. This microphone has some of the cleanest sound out of any attachable boom mic even amongst the Modmics which are much more expensive as this boom mic is generally $30. Amps will help but not mandatory can make use of cheap like $20 sound cards to pull the sound out of this.
Audio Technica: AD700x and it’s more expensive counterparts: AD700x is rated as one of the best budget kings in the competitive gamer world and for good reason… Very cheap between $80-$100 this headphone has recessed bass with mids and highs being forward and highs being slightly raised alongside a large soundstage that is plenty accurate for competitive gaming. The drawback? The build quality suffers and may be uncomfortable for some as the headphone itself is fairly cheap plastic and the headband leaves much to be desired. Alongside that ad700x has very poor seperation of sound. It wasn’t until the AD1000x that this headphones sound issues were really addressed and fixed yet the build quality is still rather poor imo. The issue here was that the ad1000x over there is $300-$400 and not particularly recommended despite being better less you have a larger budget and even then there is better alternatives here. Despite the lack of seperation and build quality for a budget friendly headphone the ad700x is still nothing short of fantastic in sound for competitive gaming. Doesn’t generally require an amp from my experience but will help in some cases .
Cooler Master MH751: Gaming headset and based off the Takstar Pro 82. This headset is around $75-$90 and features a bass that is more towards neutral with a very slight bump into being a little more bassy but still works fine with more neutral mids and highs being raised. Microphone leaves some small bit to the desire but works fine in just regular gaming environments. This is essentially one of the best budget gaming headsets for straight competitive gaming due to it’s sound signature and price tag. You won’t find much better amongst gamers headsets until you get much higher price tagging. Doesn’t need an amp.
Beyerdynamic DT 880: this is probably one of the best competitive gamer headphones in this price margin. Coming in at a price of $150-$200 this headphone is bass lite mids being more neutral and highs being raised with almost laser accurate imaging and a large soundstage. I used to label this as a more all rounder but due to just how light the bass is on this I really don’t consider that as much anymore. Comfort is superb as is the build quality. The biggest issue here is that it’s pretty bright and those with a treble sensitivity may have some issues with it that alongside the fact you want an Amp to go with this headphone will cause the price to get driven up, though some computers can drive the 250 ohm no problem the 600 ohm variation sounds the best on this headphone and demands an amp. Can be modded to have a 3.5mm jack to make use of V-moda boom pro or even modded balanced to make it sound even better. Definitely demands an amplifier around the $100 region. Recommended purchase of the 600 ohm version due to better sound quality but definitely requires a strong amp due to this.
AKG K612 and K702. These are analytical with bass being pushed back and mids and highs pushed forward. Extremely large soundstage, somewhat lacking imaging and suffers from some minor innaccurate sound placements. K612 is virtually identical to the k702 but the k702 is more refined, has a detachable cable, and has deeper pads K612 will run you between $170 - $200 and k702 will run between $250 - $300. The issue here is the absolutely stupid price for these and if you are looking into buying these buy them used or in mint condition. Used k702 in great condition can be seen around $130-$150 and K612 around $80. Will require a modmic to make use of these and most likely an amp. Has a very nice Yaxi pad replacement that is very comfortable
Sennheiser PC37x Gaming Headset and HD 599: PC37x is a massdrop item and a better variation to the popular gaming headset Sennheiser Game One. Dialed back bass neutral mids and slightly peaked highs make this a strong gaming headset at $120 with a very good sounding microphone. Pads are relatively shallow which is common on Sennheisers. HD 599 this is probably the only Sennheiser I would recommend for generally straight Competitive gaming and not the all rounders list. HD 599 has less bass neutral mids and raised highs with a rather medium sized sound stage and is compatible with a 2.5mm boom microphone seperate purchase making this a very nice purchase especially for someone who likes the Sennheisers lineup. Won’t require an amp for these but can help in the case of HD 599 though you can buy like a $20 soundcard for the HD599 and it should get plenty loud. HD599 can be found around $100-$200. The other alternatives here would be either the 58x Jubilee or HD 598 which are very neutral sounding with the 58x jubilee having a fairly moderate soundstage and the 598 having still that large soundstage but less treble. 58x jubilee however, can be balanced though cannot make use of a 2.5mm boom mic attachment. This is priced in the same general range and also doesn’t require and amp. After the 58x jubilee models of sennheiser lose their respectably larger soundstage and become very linear so they are no longer very viable in competitives of a larger scale. However, you can still make use of the HD 600/650/660/660S/6xx if you so wished and be able to do fine in a more linear fps scenario and these do indeed sound better with more detail however, they are more demanding of an amp, sound better on balanced or tube amps, lose access to the 2.5mm detachable boom mic as they become duel sided cables, and of course they are more expensive ranging up to $500 maximum
Hifiman 400i 2020 edition: the new version now sports more comfort and is pretty much the only change here other than it’s just cheaper at around $142 this headphone is fairly aggressive very open with less bass and raised highs alongside a good medium sized soundstage making it a very nice budget planar for competitive gaming. It may be a bit too open for modmics though and may need some tinkering in your sound sensitivity settings or you can just use an external boom mic setup on a boom arm and this works just fine. Just be wary that hifiman has a notorious reputation for bad quality control and their headphones tend to break or just arrive faulty out of the box. Recommended use with an amp as planars tend to be pretty picky in power.
HarmonicDyne Helios: This is a headphone you will see recommended or spoken about by a certain “Ant”. Bass is relatively neutral and changes depending on the pads very natural sounding not a lot of rumble with the suedes that come with the pads, velour gets rid of all rumble, and sheepskin really brings out that low end which sounds beautiful with this headphone, mids sound a bit off here not going to lie I can’t quite place my finger on it here but it’s just not completely right and not very natural though still clean with warm tones and some nice clarity, highs are definitely elevated with sparkle and smoothness to them and quite a lot of detail and due to the amount of overall sparkle really makes this headphone sound very detailed overall. Presentation here is big with a soundstage that is relatively moderate like the Sennheiser HD 598/599 fairly accurate imaging and good seperation. No pickyness with amps here though the pads definitely play an important part with this headphone. Very pretty looking though my first copy here I must warn I had a very bad first impression of this one and had an awful quality control problem with this headphone. Fairly relaxed sounding and not aggressive like something like a beyerdynamic its a good headphone for laying back and relaxing while listening due to how natural the tones are other than it’s mids and it is quite comfortable as well. It does also have swivel on its cups for portable use though its an open back. Would recommend trying to develop a mod to take off the steel grills to turn this into a closed back for a better closed back portable headphone if you want to take it out. Warning though is that I would highly encourage a seperate padding attachment for the top headband as its rather shallow and weight distribution may be found a little off here the other thing I would highly encourage is some form of cleaning cloth as the steel grills gather alot of finger prints and grime along the top of the headband
Steel Series Arctis Pro + Gamedac / Wireless: A gaming headset with software equalization or it’s own dac depending on which of these two you go with. The game Dac has it’s own presets to allow focus on more fps type of sounds and it works well at doing so meanwhile the wireless variation has downloadable software allowing manual equalization. Comfortable with a good mic that doesn’t seem to pick up background noise the arctis pro + Gamedac is around $250 meanwhile the pro wireless comes in at around $330 with the pro + gamedac sounding far better. Doesn’t need an amp and this is one of the best of the best for gaming headsets in the competitive market. Soundstage may appear relatively lacking in larger games and this of course doesn’t sound as good as generally most headphones. Price Point here can be seen at $120 - $200 though may be increased due to pad costs and other accessory costs
HyperX Orbit/Audeze Mobius: Generally the same gamers headset these two are only on this list because not only are they a gaming planar but they are very adaptable with actual built in settings such as one named Footsteps in their preset equalizers. Orbit coming in at $249 - $300 meanwhile Mobius is generally $400 or less these headphones have built in amplifiers inside the headphone to save you the trouble of having to buy an amp and the only difference between these two is that the mobius is WIreless and orbit is wired with orbit being the cheaper model. You can order the Cryo Pads from audeze to make this headphone much more comfortable and due to the versatility this puts this particular gaming headset as one of the best of the best of the genre of gaming headsets. Soundstage is decent enough but generally speaking the sound isn’t as great as most headphones
Hifiman Sundara: Coming in at the bare minimum price tag of $250, found on Headphones.com open box pricing. 365 day returns on items that are not open box, you have probably one of the best planars on this competitive list you can get your hands on outside of paying a hell of a lot more than just $250 and the full price for this headphone normally is around $350 though it hits above this in my opinion for how good this headphone sounds. This headphone sounds amazing with it being bass lite good vocals and a beautifully detailed sparkly treble alongside a nice wide soundstage with quite a bit of depth. The biggest drawback is just how much sound this headphone leaks out making it a hard recommendation for modmics without a lot of tinkering. Definite recommended use with an amp as this headphone is fairly power demanding. Be wary of the issues with quality control with this company however, if you are looking for probably the best planar you can get your hands on for competitive gaming at a great price tag this is the one to pick up all the way. HarmonicDyne Helios listed above here can be seen as a fantastic alternative to this headphone
(added upon request) Fostex T50RP Modded: Okay so by some requests I was asked to add this as well and upon looking more into it I will agree on this one being on this list but of a more certain modded nature. This headphone is extremely interchangeable though upon studying into the different pads that will alter the sound you can use something like HM5 Velour or Shure1840 pads in order to dial the bass back enough while keeping a brighter treble and widened soundstage. There are a very large amount of modifications to this headphone making it the most versatile and everchanging headphone on this list. This is also the base form of the ever popular Modhouse Argons as well as the Dekoni Blues. Price tag is normally at around $150 but multiple mods will drastically bring the price of this headphone up. Argons are in the $300+ range which is where I will place this one in budget as a bunch of mods on this one will bring it into this range. Alternatives to the T50RP are the the T60rp which has wooden cups, a better cable, and a smoother tuning but is much more expensive and can also be a different version of the argons.
Focal Elegia: coming in here at around $450 seen on adorama this headphone has a more neutral bass wonderfully more toward neutral mids and a brighter treble presence with a more linear soundstage. Extremely detailed and for a more vocal music lover this headphone may be right up your alley. requires an amp
Hifiman Ananda: I see this as a good upgrade to the sundaras at $549 open box on headphones.com normally in the $700 range. This has very good balanced sound overall with plenty of air to it. Large open soundstage with quite some depth to it good imaging and good seperations. Not very bassy as the bass just falls slightly below neutral and has more emphasis on the mids and highs. Not as bright as the sundara but much more refined in my opinion and has quite a wonderful sound to it. Plenty of detail.
DT 1990: So many people seem to underestimate this headphone in competitive gaming and yet this headphone in competitive gaming is practically unbeatable. The pads it comes with are known as the A pads or Analytical. Less bass fairly neutral mids and raised highs with a lot of detail and sparkle alongside an extremely soft comfort a very large soundstage and absolute laser like imaging allow you to place sounds in large battlefields like you wouldn’t believe. The Sound of this headphone is a dream headphone for competitive gaming. Adding onto just how good that is for the person who wants more versatility it comes with a second set of pads called the B pads or balanced. This makes them very bassy while keeping the rest of the frequency allowing them to also be using in a more casual sense if you so wished. Adding ontop of that you also have the Dekoni Elite Velour, Seperate purchase, which balances out the frequency while keeping the bass and treble slightly raised giving the sound even more versatility. This is a wonderful headphone for any Gamer who wants one of the best of the best in their collection for competitives. You may wonder why I say this more in competitive and not all rounder or casual. This is because the ever present brightness may appear very fatiguing and I don’t find it the best for things such as relaxed music listening, movies, podcasts, etc. Definitely pair this with an amp and modmics work well here. Pricetag found around $300 minimum up to $650
Focal Elex: Coming in at around the $600-$700 margin you have the elex. Bass and mids are relatively balanced or neutral with a lot of detail alongside a very detailed and sparkly treble. Soundstage is large and rather adaptive very bubble shaped making this headphone fairly unique with very great imaging to go alongside it. In some cases rated “better” than the 1990s. Needs an amp.
Honorable Mention: Aeons. While typically a V signature the tuning pads allow you to adjust it accordingly to a respectable sound great for both casual and competitive gaming. This headphone sounds amazing and does extremely well when paired with a balanced amp and sounds even better imo connected to a balanced tube hybrid. Priced at $500 for both retuned and Open X alongside a wide soundstage with quite a bit of depth and rolled off treble makes this headphone actually really nice for just regular use.
Tygr 300R: one of the others I found to be surprisingly fairly good. Not the worst rumble but still great for general purpose use. You can find my review on this one over here 🔶 Beyerdynamic TYGR 300 R
Some start amp recommendations from me would be IFI ZEN Dac combo unit for a balanced port, Soundblaster x3 or g6 for those who want chat mix and more gaming esque, Schit Fulla combo unit for low power requirements, Schiit Hel combo unit for more demanding… for seperate amp and dac Magni 3+ / Heresy, JDS Atom, Topping A30, and Liquid Spark paired with a Topping D10 or E30 Dac works fine… a step up from here and probably one of the better all round setups is the Asgard 3 + E30 or Schiit Modius among a few other recommendations but I find the asgard 3 to be extremely good for an amp.
For those gamers who still want that 7.1 virtual surround sound. Please don’t fall into this incredibly stupid niche that these companies use just to drive up the price… you can use programs like Hesuvi or Dolby Atmos which do the same thing for a whole lot cheaper and never have to worry about that type of software again
For equalizers you can use the free software called PEACE APO I use this program myself downloads are here https://sourceforge.net/projects/peace-equalizer-apo-extension/ and the second download https://sourceforge.net/projects/equalizerapo/ you need both downloaded to run the software. You need to click the configure the equalizer in order for it to install its software onto whatever audio your wanting to equalize this will require a restart to the pc and you can also use this for microphones as well. This also has a preamp so if you want to boost your onboard audio just a bit more and make it louder you can do that as well
Section Below Added after receiving some questions about hardware involving Gaming.
So, one of the things I wanted to add is to please make sure you have a configurable mouse that also is accustomed to the way you use a mouse as some mice are just bad for certain grip types or just bad for gaming.
You will also have different mouse sizes. If you want the most ideal experience I do recommend taking some measurements and digging around for a more ideal mouse that not only fits your grip style but also your hand size. Keeping in mind that smaller mice are lighter weight and will be able to move faster and tend to have slip resistant qualities on them as well. A good example of an improper mouse choice was when I picked up a Glorious model O minus which I didn’t know much on this at the time when I purchased mice a long time ago I just wanted a gamer mouse. Sure enough the mouse was far to small for my hand as I have larger hands and it was completely unusable for me personally. Switched out for the regular model D and suddenly I have a very comfortable mouse that is incredibly lightweight and I can game at a greater pace. Some models will have these sorts of designs or just be designed lightweight specifically so you have fast movements with the mouse making it great for reaction times. The other thing to note is back on the grip type is back to the glorious series, note I am just using this series as an example there is a large variety of other mice, is that if you compare the model O to model D is while they are designed for the same size of hand, they are a different mouse in design and this has to do with your grip. I highly recommend looking more into this for a more ideal gaming session and to really play at your most comfortable and competitive level
The other thing I will mention is that yes, your gaming mouse pad does indeed matter and will play a fairly important factor. You could have a super lightweight mouse but what if that pads too thick and slows your mice’s movement travel time down significantly? There are a large plethora of pads and a good selection of them for gamers and there is a different between something that is a control pad or just your regular gaming mouse pad. I personally use a control pad seen here https://shop.x-raypad.com/shop/strata-rob-control-plus-gaming-mouse-pads/ you can ask this company to ship you a custom pad to if you desire a different design though I opted for the grey pad there in the xxl. X axis movement is slow and controlled while the Y axis movement is fast and speedy. Alot of people confuse control with “slow moving pad” or something which isn’t the case. You of course have your speed pads like a hybrid, hard pad, or polished surface which just allows very fast pace movement of the mouse. The control means just that… it can still be fast it just helps with control of your aim and betters tracking and precision…
Let’s also remention keyboards here. Yes, your mechanic switches inside the keyboard will most definitely govern a lot of factors. You want to play that mmo where speed means everything or your controlling your guns actions through keyboard… certain switches are going to be slower… this is why steel series over there designed the omni point switch as it practically completely eliminates this as an issue. While not completely necessary, as your counting literal miliseconds of time, in games such as shooters or even games like For Honor where every fraction of a second can count this plays more into that gameplay than you would expect. Cherry MX Speed and Omni Point Switches are recommended for those competitive gamers who want the most responsive speed in their switches and while you can opt for a quieter keyboard this isn’t particularly necessary as you can buy Sorobothane and install it throughout your keyboard in its guts and under the keys and it will quite drastically reduce the sound but you can also add lubricant to the keyboard as well to reduce it further. To help as well with the keycaps yes… the double shot PBT caps will last you the longest these are the strongest, probably most expensive caps you can get your hands on and yes, of course they make them for rgb keyboards as well if your that gamer who swears by pretty colors. I also very highly recommend a wrist rest as well for the gamer who tends to play a lot of hours at a time… as Typing without some kind of support will position your hands and wrists to wander around, and ultimately lead to bent wrists . Typing with bent wrists will create tension which can lead to cramps, arthritis, among other problems and with a proper rest you surely will notice you are more comfortable anyway.
The next thing I want to cover is controllers as I have had a couple oddball questions like this now. The real answer to “what about controllers” is that it really doesn’t particularly matter here use what you feel most comfortable. No I am not kidding most controllers that are of the “norm” these days are plenty useable. Okay okay, so if your really wanting to take it a step up there are options granted they are expensive. For xbox, I would immediately point someone towards the Xbox Elite Controller this has better buttons, more control, and more buttons in the back of the controller allowing more input control and hotkeys(so ya know if your like in a fighter game or something and you want a little ease of mind you can of course put these buttons to use) for playstation though I like their regular controllers but if you want to escalate it beyond necessary look into Scuf Controllers which you can opt for special color schemes and special extra buttons like paddles in the back.
Lastly, lets cover tvs and monitors. I will sum this up fast. No, never buy a screen with less than 60 frames refresh rate and yes 120 frames per second, while not usable at this moment on consoles, can help you in games and has been proven to do so based on eye tracking and mentality. Any more than 120 frames a second though and its relatively debatable though does make the game incredibly smooth and fast. If you try to push a screen beyond its frames you will get screen tearing so be wary of that. Yes, you can use tv’s for gaming they aren’t a deal breaker but you will get better refresh rates and response times on monitors. Yes, there is screen response times. If you have a larger screen response time the game will show whats actually going on at a more delayed rate than what someone else may see and this could be a huge deal breaker for the gamer. One of my older tvs I had back when I had first started playing things like for honor and cod had a 14 millisecond response time and it definitely was noticeable after I switched to a 4 ms response time my game stepped up quite a bit. Another thing to keep in mind is that the larger the screen and its resolution the more demanding it will be for the game as well as your graphics card. Your not going to run on 4k or even 8k on a weak unit it’s just not happening and will dramatically hurt your frames per second. So keep that in mind if you plan to upgrade your screen
So, are all these changes necessary? Definitely not, but do they help? Of course they do just as much as your headphone can help you as well. Will it make you that amazing Elite Gamer going to pro circuits lol definitely not but it will make games more enjoyable, more comfortable, and you a better competitor who may find more enjoyment in the game instead of raging about how the hell that guy killed you
If you wondering what my setup currently is here:
Keyboard Ducky Shine 6 flagship. Not the fastest switch, cherry mx blue, but This comes already with Double Shot PBT keycaps and rgb lighting that isn’t too overboard. You can change them out for the pudding caps for more colors if you wish. Going to try the Steel series board though at some point as I like the looks of it a bit more and those omni point switches sound nice.
Wrist rest: so I personally just use the glorious rest right now… though I really want one of the ones seen here https://auramech.com/collections/wrist-rest
Mouse Glorious Model D. I use this mouse due to it being so incredibly light weight and with a more design emphasized for not only the perfect hand size for me but for the person who uses the Claw grip making this absolutely ideal for me. No the holes don’t really cause issues it’s fairly nice just takes a tiny bit getting used to and yes it glides fairly easily alongside a 12,000 dpi adjustable switch and fast response times.
Controller: Like mentioned above I do actually have both the Xbox Elite as well as my old Scuf Vantage 2 in blue dragon color scheme
Mouse pad: mentioned earlier I use the x-ray pad in the link in the grey variant XXL cause I like a large pad surface though not necessary in that size just helps give more grip to my keyboard as well.
Headphones: For competitive? Straight up Beyerdynamic DT 1990 with Analytical Pads if I am playing at a, “Try-Hard” level otherwise Dekoni Elite velour or balanced pads are fine. Balanced pads though If I am just playing casually competitives. Cause nothing like pin pointing that sniper who stupidly isn’t silencing his rifle and taking him down several kilometres out. For Casual? Tygr 300r or Aeon open X
Monitor: I make use of the Samsung CRG9 you can find here https://www.samsung.com/us/computing/monitors/gaming/49-crg9-dual-qhd-curved-qled-gaming-monitor-lc49rg90ssnxza/ which is an amazing gamers monitor just expensive as hell. The curve is practically perfectly in line with the curve of your eye and adds to quite a bit on the immersion side. I do plan to upgrade to the newest galaxy coming out which has a 1 ms response time and better resolution. Though this screen is 120Hz Refresh, Ultrawide Screen QLED Computer Monitor, 5120 x 1440p Resolution, 4ms Response, FreeSync 2 with HDR, HDMI and yes it pairs with G-sync as well.