Does wearing a headset lead to a better overall gaming experience?

What's best for gaming? A 5.1 or 7.1 speaker set up, or simple headphones? Ultimately, it's a question of preferences, but also money, particularly as Dolby Atmos ramps up its presence across Xbox One and Windows PC.

But which experience is ultimately better? Join us for a look at the pros and cons, from someone who has tested a ridiculous amount of headsets and experience true 7.1 surround with Dolby Atmos.

Headsets

The best thing about headsets over speakers is the sheer convenience. You don't have to mount speakers to the wall, deal with tons of wires and cable trunking, and a quality headset will generally be cheaper over all. Additionally, headsets are portable, making them great for gaming on different devices, in different rooms, or even on the go.

Turtle Beach Elite Pro Tournament headset.

Turtle Beach Elite Pro Tournament headset.

There are some incredible surround sound headsets out there, both with 7.1 sound and other software surround solutions. The best headsets include large 50mm drivers for multi-channel sound, including the likes of the Elite Pro Tournament from Turtle Beach and the Thresher Ultimate from Razer. Using the Elite Pro Tournament as my go-to headset, I've been able to get kills as a direct result of the accuracy from the positional feedback from its precise surround sound.

Still, wearing headphones, particularly premium ones, can be an isolating experience. You won't be able to hear the outside world very easily without removing the headset, and unless your product has decent mic monitoring voice feedback, you might end up yelling into the microphone accidentally.

Razer Thresher Ultimate headset.

Razer Thresher Ultimate headset.

And then, there's sound. Even with software solutions that attempt to add a sense of space to the headset soundscape, it never sounds as good or as immersive as a full room-sized 7.1 setup, with multiple speakers. Future headsets, like the LucidSound LS35X, will also come with head tracking to ensure that the sound effects retain positional accuracy even if you move around. Even still, for that true sense of scale, you're going to want speakers.

Speakers

As noted, 5.1 and 7.1 speaker set ups can become expensive, particularly if you're throwing in wall mounts and that sort of thing, but there are also some great budget options available, and if you're gunning for 5.1 instead of 7.1, you'll make even more savings. There are also quality soundbars that can elevate your gaming experience, without the space and wiring problems associated with multiple speaker setups.

Logitech z506 speakers.

Logitech z506 speakers.

When it comes to price and cost, the sky is well and truly the limit for speaker setups, particularly when you throw in Dolby Atmos, which delivers positional information in true 3D, across every axis. You could place speakers in the ceiling and experience the sounds of helicopters flying over head in Battlefield, or TIE fighters in Star Wars Battlefront. If you're willing to spend the cash, that is.

With speakers, you'll generally enjoy a more spacious sound experience, which, in my opinion can feel more immersive. I experienced Gears of War 4 on the Xbox One X, running in a theatre configured with 16 speakers to deliver a true 3D sound experience, and it was quite frankly incredible. This is an experience you'd sooner expect to experience in your local IMAX theatre, rather than the living room.

Best 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers for PC

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, it's down to each individual user to decide what's best for them, but I think a combination of both worlds is probably ideal. Modern soundbars can deliver a decent surround experience without speaker mounting, but for the "best" experience, you're probably going to want a proper theatre speaker set up.

Still, speakers lack the versatility of great headsets, which you can use for listening to music while travelling, gaming on the go, or gaming in situations where staying quiet is necessary. They're generally easier and more convenient to deal with, too.

What sound set up do you use with your Xbox One or gaming PC? We'd like to hear from you in the comments below!

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

20 Comments
  • For sure.  I remember playing Dead Island for the first time with the lights off and a headset on.  It was EXCELLENT!
  • Only in multiplayer for me...for better communication and focus. I prefer TV speakers in campaigns.
  • This isn't even a question! A good gaming headset provides a dramtically improved experince. I wont game without it. And for people who say no, explain why you have never seen a professional gamer play without a gaming headset.
  • Because they are paid to wear the headset or in an environment where speakers would be a horrible situation (many gamers in the same room or streaming online) I have about $1500 worth of speakers plus the reciever, and I haven't found them to be any worse than a headset (other than for communication reasons)
  • For me, yes. I can then have it as loud as I want without annoying the household and it gives support being able to hear exactly where an enemy is coming from. If I were able to have awesome surround sound speakers the. I probably wouldn't use a headset with the exception of playing multiplayer.
  • I like using speaker more when i play singleplayer or ordinary multiplayer games. But i use headset at competitive games as it gives more advantage and makes communication easier.
  • Headphones with virtual 7.1 are more accurate for positional audio, but 5.1 speakers deliver a much more immersive experience. Overall, I enjoyed 5.1 or 5.2 speakers more than headphones.
  • I just bought a Steelseries Arctis 5 headset and am pretty impressed with the quality and comfort.  However, everyone I am in a party with can hear an echo of themselves talking - this is even at volumes of which I can hardly hear anything. The official Xbox Stereo headsets are relatively decent but have absolutely unjustifiably horrid build quality.   I am leaning towards the Kraken Pro v2 as I am returning the Arctis.  I really wish I could afford these but can't spend that kind of money.
  • I have the Arctis 7s myself. I've never had a complaint about there being an echo. The only mic-related complaint I ever got was that I was once told I sounded very faint. I then realize I left the mic retracted, and that was obviously fixed straight away.
  • Yes, it does.
    Unfortunately, it can also lead to hearing loss I would imagine.
  • Single player no headsets are worse... This is more of a comfort thing than anything... Multiplayer where communication is important headsets are a must. I just got an Arctis 7 and it works well. Its important to have the headset to eliminate the background noise you get with speakers/desk mic.
  • Headsets allow for better immersion, which is good for SP games where atmosphere is a factor. They also let you better pinpoint spatial sounds which help in multiplayer games. But in the end, in my personal experience, they tire your hearing and ears in long sessions. Plus you get too isolated from your surroundings and the real world, which not everybody can afford.  
  • i use speakers because my ears hurt after few minutes of using headset
  • 1) Are you planning to communicate via voice chat? 2) Are you worried about disturbing others in your home, or neighboring apartments? Answer those questions and you can figure it out pretty easily.
  • I use a headset. I think it's better because you can hear both the game and chat sounds vs having a mic and sound system. A soundbar really wouldn't work. But I'd imagine, as stated, that a whole home theater experience would be great for single player games.
  • 5.1 will give you directional sound where headphones won't for FPS games
  • As with SO many things, it completely depends on $$ and your own personal experience preference.  I'm a PC-only gamer, and my gaming computer is also the computer I use for my home music/video production studio (it's a beast).  Since I have a Behringer mixer with an attached headphone mixer (for when I have multiple singers/musicians recording) I also have studio-quality headphones.  Obviously, they don't have built in microphones since I use actual studio mics (Heil PR-40's, mostly).  I don't play "socially", in other words, I don't talk to other people when I play since it's mostly pointless, with players usually jabbering about everything OTHER than the game.  And in a game like Elite Dangerous I hardly ever encounter an actual person and I'm not in a "wing", so, again, it would be pointless. However, the quality of sound is important, particularly if I happen to be playing Call of Duty (directional perception is important).  Headphones give you this much better than most speaker systems.  Another aspect is the fact that my wife certainly doesn't care to hear the noise of a game wafting through the house.  Headphones eliminate this problem. IF Microsoft ever gets off its butt and allows full keyboard/mouse/joystick control of games on the Xbox, I might have to rethink some of this since I'll finally consider expanding into console gaming (something I really don't expect to see, despite their lame claims).  I'll likely look to wireless headphones at that point.
  • For me headphones can't replicate a good subwoofer. I am a bigger fan of putting my audio investment into a 2.1 system. Forza is more fun when your guts shake.
  • Like I said, different games create different experience requirements.  Directional sound is less of a need in a driving game compared to a first person shooter, which hearing a twig crack behind you can be the difference between life and death.
  • The answer is all about laziness to me. There are occasions I play off the TV speakers, or even the speakers from my monitor, but that just comes down to not wanting to flip audio channels and put on the headset when I'm only playing for 10 minutes. The two things I play most are Rocket League and Forza Horizon 3. In both cases, I like having music on while I play. In both cases, that is made much better by having a headset on. To me, having the headset on for anything where you want to focus on audio (be it music or opponents' footsteps or dialogue) is a big plus. I suppose the exceptions would be if someone else is watching you play and wants to talk to you/hear the dialogue, or if you are doing local multiplayer and want to communicate.