Headsets vs Headphones. What To Choose?

Headsets and headphones look similar but are, at their core, completely different products. The first ones are made either as a convenient way to do voice or video chat via the internet or as a perfect way to enjoy games and at the same time use voice chat with teammates.

Headphones’ first and foremost function is to provide the best audio experience for the money and in most cases, headphones do not contain a microphone. But there’s much more when it comes to differences between headsets and headphones. With that in mind, let’s start with the biggest difference between the two, in most cases at least.

Headphones Vs Headset – The Mic Difference

The first and foremost thing separating the two products is the presence of a microphone. Every single headset has one since that’s one of its primary functions. On the other hand, a huge majority of headphones don’t come with a mic and even when they do, they don’t come with a boom mic protruding from an earcup. Instead, they use smaller mics installed inside one or both earcups (in the case of ANC headphones), which aren’t suited for long voice chat sessions.

sennheiser hd 599

Sennheiser HD 599 Headphones

High-end audiophile headphones don’t pack mics but if you’re planning to get a pair of wireless headphones you should expect them to have a mic even if they don’t feature ANC since they’re designed to work with smartphones, which includes the ability to make phone calls. The quality of these headphone mics is, usually, average at best.

arctis 7 gaming headset

Arctis 7 Gaming Headset

That said, most headsets also have average sounding mics. That’s especially true when it comes to regular headsets made for video calls. But even high-end gaming headsets can pack disappointing mics. That doesn’t have to be the case but if you’re in the market for one, know that getting a headset instead of a pair of headphones doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a quality microphone.

Sound Quality

Since most headphones (not accounting for ANC models) only have to pack two drivers, a headband, and a cable, they usually have better sound quality. In fact, even some really affordable headphones have sound quality compared to gaming headsets double in price.

Headsets, especially gaming headsets have additional components, like the mic, which makes them more expensive. Also, gaming headsets are tuned for video games, usually featuring deep, thumping bass and fewer details when it comes to higher frequencies.

That’s not to say all headphones are tuned for music since you definitely have cans designed to be enjoyed while watching movies or TV shows. There are also gaming headsets offering magnificent sound quality, but they cost a lot. Generally, most headphones will be more than suitable for gaming, especially those made for bass lovers. But even a pair of audiophile headphones, like the Sennheiser HD 600, can be great for games.

Lots of gaming headsets also come with virtual surround features but, in most cases, this is a gimmick. On the flipside, there are some headsets with true surround setup. If done right, virtual surround sound can positively affect your gaming experience but if you’re after surround sound you don’t have to pay lots of cash for headset support either virtual or true surround sound.

If you have Windows 10, get Dolby Access that contains Dolby Atmos surround tech, try out for a couple of days (it has a free trial) and see if that’s something you like. If you end up liking the effect, it’s better to spend a dozen of bucks for the app than hundreds of dollars on a new headset. Best of all, with the app, you’ll get more than a decent surround effect with any pair of headphones, which is a great plus.


Since they’re not targeting gamers specifically, most headphones feature regular old headphone design, with specific details or with different controls in the case of wireless models. Gaming headsets, on the other hand, can look quite gamer-y, with aggressive lines, sharp corners, lots of unnecessary details, even RGB.

That doesn’t mean every gaming headset has to look this way. Almost the entire Artis headset line from SteelSeries looks really nice. There’s also the Quiet Comfort 35 gaming headset out there that looks like a pair of QC 35 wireless headphones only with different colors and a detachable wired mic.

bose quietcomfort 35 ii gaming headset

Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset – Image Source: Bose

On the other side, we have headphones like the V-MODA Crossfade LP2 that look like a regular gaming headset. So, when it comes to design, you can find a pair of slick headphones or a nice-looking headset no matter your taste and preferences.

What you cannot find on almost any gaming headset is the open air design that’s quite popular in the audiophile headphone market. This widens the soundstage and makes the music more spacious. That also means these headphones don’t have any form of sound isolation. Not great if you game alone, but pretty handy if you live with a partner, roommates, or have kids.

Connection And Wireless Performance

Now, most headphones use a wired connection. You won’t see a pair of wireless audiophile headphones. That said, the expansion of wireless peripherals and the legendary 3.5mm jack’s slow ride to sunset have created a new line of high-end wireless headphones. The great thing about these wireless headphones is they can be used with any device that supports Bluetooth aside from most gaming consoles, which weirdly still don’t support Bluetooth headphones and headsets.

sony wh-1000xm4

Sony WH-1000XM4, One Of The Most Popular Wireless Headphones – Image Source: Sony.com

You can still use Bluetooth audio on the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, but they both require a fair bit of work before you make it work. There are lots of headsets specifically designed for PlayStation, Xbox, even Nintendo Switch consoles, that make the process of using Bluetooth audio on gaming consoles much more straightforward.

When it comes to wireless performance, all wireless gaming headsets should work great with games, without any noticeable latency. They’re built for gaming and that includes low latency performance. Some wireless headphones do not support low latency wireless audio codecs, such as the aptX Low Latency, which may ruin your gaming experience.

On the other hand, there are wireless headphones that work great with games even though they don’t support low latency codecs. You can also get a low latency Bluetooth dongle, which should reduce lag even with headphones that aren’t great for gaming.

Of course, most headphones and headsets use a cable, the regular 3.5mm audio jack in most cases. There are audiophile cans out there that use other ways of connecting to the sound source, like the 6.35mm headphone jack. Also, most headsets use two audio jacks, one for the drivers and one for the microphone.

Gaming Headset Vs Headphones And Mic

And now, let’s answer this, quite popular, question. Look, even though there are great budget gaming headsets out there, in most cases a pair of headphones will have better sound than a similarly priced gaming headset. So, if you mostly care about the sound quality, get a cheap standalone microphone and you’ll get an overall better experience than using a headset and its boom mic.

This is especially true if you already have a pair of quality headphones but want to play games and use voice chat with your teammates. There are also wireless boom mics that can be attached to a pair of headphones, a great solution if you already have a pair of quality headphones.

If you don’t already have a pair of solid-sounding headphones, the decision’s up to you. Most gaming headsets aren’t very good for playing music but if you primarily plan to play games, a quality headset may be a better choice for you.

On the other side, if you’re looking for something that can be used for playing games, but also for frequent music listening sessions or for watching movies and TV shows, a pair of nice-sounding headphones coupled with a standalone or a detachable mic sounds like a much better idea.

About The Author

Goran Damnjanovic

Goran studied psychology but video games and PC hardware were much more interesting. On top of that he likes writing so he decided to become a writer. And it was the right choice. Other than games and hardware, Goran is interested in basketball, Sci-Fi literature, and music.

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