Sound quality is one of the most important things when it comes to any and every media medium today. In gaming, as important as frame rate and realistic graphics are to immersion in a game, the sound is just as important and works hand-in-hand with graphics. Bad sound can take you out of a game fast as bad graphics can have you turn off or delete a game fast.
We’ve seen an uptick in various levels of high-end headphones and gaming headsets come out into the market from various brands, however, most standard gaming headsets don’t truly bring out the rich sound quality and depth of sound that is extremely high-end audiophile headphones provide.
So what actually is the difference between the two types of headsets? Is it just the significantly higher cost? Normal headphones provide the standard user with a pleasurable listening experience, sometimes with slightly clearer sound, maybe with added bass to immerse the listener into the music as best as possible. On the other hand, audiophile or studio headphones are designed to provide a much more detailed and accurate representation of audio, the same extremely high and raw audio quality that you would find in a music or sound studio so producers can mix and edit sound as needed.
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The Sennheiser HD800 S is probably one of the best audiophile-level headphones, if not the best, and its price tag matches it. Regardless, you are getting the quality you are paying for.
Despite thinner than usual ear cups and the lack of an included standard 3.5mm stereo jack, which may be deal-breakers for some users, the HD800s simply sound incredible which is unsurprising considering these are extremely high-quality headphones, even for studio headphones. The HD800 S is an open-back style headset that features a frequency range from 9-41,500 Hz with 56mm drivers. While an amplifier will definitely increase the sound quality of the headset, these sound amazing out of the box with one of the best soundstages out there.
The elephant in the room when it comes to the HD800 S is the price. This headset isn’t for your average gamer, coming in at nearly $1,700, or the price of your PC. This is clearly a headset where, if you can afford it, you are getting one of the best sounding headphones in the world, but you are also investing in and prioritizing your sound quality.
A pair of audiophile-quality headphones at a much more approachable price compared to the Sennheiser's mentioned above, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is one of the best closed-back audiophile headphones available.
The closed-back design of the ATH-M50x does a solid job of containing your sound and preventing outside noise from seeping in, keeping you immersed in your gaming, or even your music session. It features large 45mm drivers with neodymium magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils for high-quality sound that really emphasize the mids and bass. Unfortunately, these don’t come with any kind of mic input like your standard gaming headset, so you will need a separate mic for streaming or voice chat purposes for some games. There are also no playback or volume controls on the headset, limiting its versatility.
However, when it comes to just pure audiophile sound quality, the ATH-M50x is one of the best sounding and approachable headsets available.
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For those on a budget, the Philips SHP9500 is one of the best sounding audiophile quality headphones that come in at less than $100, and the only budget-friendly audiophile headset on this list.
The price point of the SHP9500 is the biggest theme of this headset. Considering the fact that solid, audiophile-quality headphones come in at well over $100 (and some even over $1,000), the SHP9500’s $80 retail price tag feels like a steal with what it features. The SHP9500’s features 50mm drivers with an incredibly impressive sound range of 12-35,000Hz that balances strong bass with solid highs and mids without feeling too overbearing or muddy. The headset itself is lightweight, but feels a bit cheap considering its plastic build and semi low-quality mesh ear cups that could be a bit better considering its $80 price tag. But it's good for long game sessions and the beyond stellar sound quality makes up for the lack of physical quality. As always, if you take care of your things, they will take care of you.
The SHP9500 is the base entry of Philip’s SHP line, with the 9600 and 9600MB coming in at just $20 more and the MB version coming with a mic. But for just $80, the SHP9500’s are an absolute steal for audiophile quality headphones.
There’s no way an Audio-Technica headset can come in at under $100 and bring the same quality that we would expect from an Audio-Technica headset. Right? Well, that’s exactly what the ATH-AD500X’s bring to the table, combining Audio-Technica’s audiophile quality with a budget-friendly, approachable price.
The ATH-AD500X features 53mm drivers that create a massive soundstage and great sound imaging all within a smooth sound that you may not expect from an audiophile headset coming in at under $100. The bass on these headphones is well balanced so that it does not overpower the sound at all nor take over its neutral-sounding mids and highs. It features a bit of a weird, wired-wing type frame that makes it lightweight and perfect for long gaming sessions, especially with its thick mesh ear cushions. But the lack of a true fit makes the headset slide down your head if you move around a bit too much.
At just under $90, the ATH-AD500X’s are definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a high-quality pair of audiophile headphones at under $100. Its well-balanced sound makes it perfect for any genre and its price is perfect for most gamers, let alone the budget-minded gamers out there.
The Sennheiser GSP 500’s might just be the most gamer-designed headset on the list, showcasing Sennheiser’s big over-ear design with a flip-mic for comms.
It is an open-back headset, meaning sound can leak in and out, which is the biggest potential flaw of this headset, but the sound quality is to Sennheiser’s high standard that you may just forget that part. (If the open-back design is an issue, there is a closed-back version, the GSP 600 that’s literally the same headset but closed-back.) It features a frequency range of 10-30,000 Hz that captures just about everything near-perfectly from highs to lows. The bass doesn’t overpower the mids and highs, and provides near-perfect spatial positioning that is perfect for competitive gamers and aspiring esports pros alike. The GSP 500 also features a surprisingly high-quality microphone that sounds very clear and adds some volume to your voice. Of the headsets on this list, this is the lone headset that comes with a dedicated, attached microphone.
The GSP 500 is the audiophile’s gaming headset. It provides Sennheiser’s traditional high-sound quality with a gamer’s design that’s unapologetically directed to gamers. Although it is a bit pricier than the last two headsets mentioned above, at just $150 it is still approachable when compared to other, more standard gaming headsets in the market.
For more Hardware Guides, check out 2021’s Best Gaming Headsets Under $60| Best Budget Gaming Headphones on Pro Game Guides!