The best audiophile headphones for gaming

Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic headpones on a green two-tone background
(Image credit: Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic)

The best audiophile headphones for gaming make your games pop. You might think it's overkill to use high-end headphones for gaming, but they can transform your experience. They can simply make your games sound so much better than a cheap headset ever can. 

Great audio is a staple of PC gaming, and your PC is very likely set up to deliver everything that excellent audio has to offer. You might want to look into picking up a sound card or a DAC/Amp down the line, but they're not essential, at least not straight away. These audiophile headphones are the sort that offer impeccable sound quality out of the box without fancy greebles like RGB lighting. The headphones we've had cradling our ears will produce stellar sound and stand out from the best gaming headsets (opens in new tab) in our testing.

Few audiophile headphones have microphones, but that's less of an issue than it has been in the past. Not because we believe in solo gaming as the only way to play, but because cheap gaming microphones (opens in new tab) are fantastic these days. Headsets like the Nuraphone have microphone attachments you can order to convert your set of cans into a gaming headset. 

Don't expect to see that many gaming-related features mind, such as 7.1 surround or fancy RGB illumination, as these are built for the purest aural experience. Which also means they tend to be a lot more expensive, too. Especially when the focus is comfort and sound. 

The audiophile rabbit hole is something it's all too easy to fall down when you start chasing a sound that can't be caught, but can you really put a price on total audio immersion? No. And yet, we've tested and ranked the headsets below with pricing in mind, so you can better understand which will suit your audiophilic needs.

Best audiophile headphones for gaming

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The best audiophile headphones for gaming

Specifications

Wireless: No
Driver-type: STELLAR.45
Connectivity: 3.5mm & 6.35mm adapter for mini-XLR
Frequency response: 5–40,000Hz
Operating principle: Open back
Features: Velour earpads
Weight: 345g

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible audio performance
+
Supremely comfortable
+
Handsome and solid construction
+
Works with just about anything

Reasons to avoid

-
No detachable or in-line mic
-
Initial clamping is too tight

The very same qualities that make the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X perfect for long hours of critical listening, mixing, and mastering of audio are perfect when gaming. And you get everything needed in a set of headphones for gaming. Let’s start with the build and comfort. These are extremely well-built headphones with a level of comfort that is hard to beat.

Forget even lambskin leather, these pads wrap your ears with heavenly comfort. The huge circular velour pads completely cover the ears and fellow bespectacled gamers won't face any discomfort either. I don't know how long they'll last but thankfully, they are replaceable.

The spring steel headband has memory foam padding and keeps those muffs well clamped to your head which gives the excellent sound seal despite the open back nature. While you can hear your environment, it's not as transparent as something like my Drop PC38X. Initially, the clamping force was way too strong that I couldn’t comfortably wear them for longer than an hour. I had to manually stretch them out over a few days and now they're perfect for me.

Beyerdynamic includes two different cable lengths cables; 3m and a shorter 1.8m for console gamepads, Nintendo Switch. or smart devices. These cables didn't make any noise, which was something that was present on the MMX 100. The low power requirement of 48 ohms allows you to use the DT 900 Pro X on almost anything without needing an amplifier too.

The DT 900 Pro X is almost surgical in precision, allowing me to hear layers of bass that hits just right.

As an open-back style headset, the DT 900 Pro X surprised me with how punchy the audio is unlike the somewhat anaemic, airy audio I've experienced in other open backs. The STELLAR.45 driver employed here is perfectly tuned for a flat profile that slaps whatever you're listening to. From classical sonnets to Snoop Dogg bass hits, nothing sounded bad.

Forget your typical bloated gamer bass. The DT 900 Pro X is almost surgical in precision, allowing me to hear layers of bass that hits just right without ever dominating and muddying the equally sharp highs. Beyer really wasn’t kidding when they said these cans are for critical listening. You hear everything.

I've only recently started playing the exceptional Ghost of Tsushima and these headphones bring the game world to life in a way that's just hard to describe. From the Samurai inspired soundtrack to the guttural sounds of a dying Mongol to the gentle sounds of wind chimes moving in the wind. You hear everything with a level of clarity and liveliness better than any set of headphones I’ve ever used.

Being open-back, the audio has room to breathe giving it a more natural sound that has you stopping to check if what you're hearing is in the game or the real world. Listening to the sounds of rushing streams, birds chirping, and oh boy, the guiding winds blowing through the gorgeous forests and fields truly made me feel like I was in the world.

Turning to competitive shooters like CoD Warzone and Apex Legends, the impressive clarity and fantastic audio positioning make it easy to identify the location and relative distance of opponents. Every bullet sings and whines, explosions boom and shake and environments come to life.

With all the qualities mentioned above, it goes without saying that if you are into content creation, the DT 900 Pro X will help you create the most accurate audio for your audience. Since a lot of us are now dabbling in some form of creation be it streaming, podcasting or YouTube, these are a no brainer. 

Read our full Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X review (opens in new tab).

2. Audeze LCD-1

The best planar magnetic headphones for gaming

Specifications

Wireless: No
Driver-type: 90mm Planar Magnetic
Connectivity: 3.5mm wired
Frequency response: 10–50,000Hz
Operating principle: Open back
Features: Detachable cables
Weight: 250g

Reasons to buy

+
Stunning audio
+
Open back design is less tiring over long sessions

Reasons to avoid

-
Takes a while to warm up
-
Open back sound leakage

I will make no apologies about the fact that I love planar magnetic drivers. My first taste of them came with my beloved Oppo PM-3 headphones, which are sadly no longer available. But they were closed back cans, while the Audeze LCD-1 headphones use an open back design, which perfectly complements the ultra-detailed audio of a planar magnetic driver.

Sadly it's looking like the LCD-1s are close to end of life now, too. They are still available from a few dedicated outlets, and so still have my recommendation if you can find them. But availability is tight, and with that you have to watch out for inflated pricing.

But they are outstanding headphones, though they can be almost painfully detailed out of the box. That's because planar magnetic drivers take a while to warm up—in general I've found that to take maybe 16-20 hours of use—and until then the sound can be a little... pointy. But they age like a fine wine, and once you've bedded in the LCD-1 cans the audio becomes beautifully warm and rich, though still just as detailed and accurate.

And if you want to experience genuine aural immersion in your favorite game worlds the combination of an expansive open back design and such great-sounding drivers becomes unbeatable. I switch between the wireless Razer BlackShark V2 Pro and these wired beauties during my gaming time, and though I think Razer's latest drivers are excellent, they cannot compare with the audio fidelity the LCD-1 drivers are able to produce. 

They're simply stunning when it comes to kicking back and listening to some high-res audio, but equally when you're seeking total immersion in your chosen game. Sometimes the broad soundscape can be too good, however. I've had instances where it's all but impossible to tell whether that faint noise at the edge of my hearing has actually come from the game or someone creeping around my house late at night. 

The only downside is that because of the open back principle it means your game audio can be heard by anyone sitting near you, and they don't have any form of passive noise cancelling. These are headphones to be used on your own, in perfect gaming isolation. And they're utter audio bliss.

3. Sennheiser HD 650

The classic audiophile 'phones from Sennheiser are still great

Specifications

Wireless: No
Driver-type: 42mm Dynamic
Connectivity: 6.3mm wired
Frequency response: 10–41,000Hz
Operating principle: Open back
Features: 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter
Weight: 260g

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent high-end response
+
Clearly defined audio
+
Open soundstage

Reasons to avoid

-
Maybe a little light on the bass tones

Sennheiser has made a mighty name for itself in the audio equipment game. That's primarily built on headphones like these: the Sennheiser HD 650. This quality pair of cans sets the standard for high-end home audio thanks to highly detailed drivers and a gorgeous open sound.

The HD 650 is a prime advocate of the so-called "Sennheiser sound". That means it excels at the high-end and delivers superb clarity and definition right the way through the frequency range. I've found it is definitely lighter on the bass response compared to most gaming headsets and planar magnetics, though, and whether that flatter sound works will have to be up to you .

But you could say that lighter bass is because this pair of headphones isn't trying to augment your audio—only delivering something close to the real digital deal. For that reason, I think this is a great headset if you want to chase spotless audio delivered impeccably through a wide soundstage. That's also why it's a shoo-in for every aural experience, be that gaming or listening to music. For me, its a great fit for pretty much everything.

And if you balk at the price, the Sennheiser HD 650 are very well built and the second-hand market is a great place to find a slightly cheaper pair. Just don't expect any massive discounts (unless you're lucky); these headphones really hold their value.

One thing to note: Sennheiser recently sold off its audiophile headphone business to hearing aid company, Sonova. We don't suspect much to change in the short-term as a result of the acquisition, but it wouldn't be surprising to see prices spike for second-hand Sennheiser pairs once the deal is signed off, which is meant to happen before the year's up.

The best noise cancelling headphones

Specifications

Wireless: Yes
Driver-type: Dynamic inner ear: 15mm, outer ear: 40mm
Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm wired
Frequency response: 10–40,000Hz
Operating principle: Closed back
Features: Digital noise cancelling, Alexa compatibility, built-on touch controls, ambient sound function, USB-C fast charging, 30-hour battery life
Weight: 300g

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful design
+
Excellent personalized sound
+
Top-notch active noise control

Reasons to avoid

-
Gaming mic is $50 extra
-
Aurally invasive

I've heard about the Nuraphone from folks who've backed it on Kickstarter for years now. As it turns out, people who like Nuraphone headphones really like Nuraphone headphones. 

The Nuraphones have already gone through a handful of significant updates since their successful Kickstarter launch three years ago. Most notably, the introduction of active noise cancellation (ANC) software update and a gaming microphone attachment ($50) attempt to rival even the most premium gaming headsets. 

You'll notice something slightly different about the Nuraphones from the images below, and I'm sure you're already asking, 'what's the point of those things on the inside?'

Aside from giving you two layers to block outside noise, the twinned design also offers parallel drivers on each ear. The uvula-like in-ears offer the upper-frequency goods and leave the low-tones and deep bass to the better-suited over-the-ear portion. It's like having a pair of speakers for both left and right channels.

The Nuraphones have already gone through a handful of significant updates since their successful Kickstarter launch three years ago. Most notably, the introduction of active noise cancellation (ANC) and a gaming microphone attachment ($50) attempt to rival even the most premium gaming headsets.

The Nuraphone is, simply put, a beautifully designed headset with a lovely compromise of silicone and stainless steel. It's simple, modern, and isn't embarrassing to wear in public. The minimalist design gives me plenty of Bose NC Headphones 700 vibes with its slim headband and roomy ear cups.

As much as I dig the look of Nuraphones, there are limitations in the design that affect day-to-day use. The lack of controls or knobs puts you in this weird position of choosing what sort of headset controls matter to you the most. Each side of the headphones has one touch-sensitive button that relegates things to single and double-tap controls. I wear glasses, so whenever I fiddle around with the headphones to get the right fit, I accidentally tap the capacitive buttons. I find myself skipping tracks or suddenly playing music in the middle of a work call more often than I appreciate.

Despite these issues, the Nuraphone offers incredible sound. The personalized audio tuning feels like the headphones provide the 'right sound' for my ears. The Nuraphone is an excellent set of wireless headphones, and the gaming microphone attachment makes it a decent gaming headset. 

It's one of the best-looking pairs of cans you find right now, and custom sound profiles offer rich and detailed soundscapes like no other thing out there. If you're looking for a headset for just gaming, the Nuraphones aren't it, though—$450 (adding in the microphone, which is a must for gaming) is simply too huge an ask if you are mostly looking for gaming-centric features.

Read our full Nuraphone headset review (opens in new tab).

5. V-Moda M-200

The best headphones for music and gaming

Specifications

Wireless: No
Driver-type: 50mm
Connectivity: 3.5mm wired
Frequency response: 5–40,000Hz
Features: Foldable stainless steel headband, noise isolating earpads
Operating principle: Closed back
Weight: 290g

Reasons to buy

+
Great Compact Design
+
Lightweight
+
Clean, accurate sound
+
Custom plates

Reasons to avoid

-
Not so great mic
-
Fit a little too tight
-
No lightning or USB Type-C adapter 

These pro-grade cans feature large 50mm drivers and have a wide frequency response of 5Hz to 40kHz. They are excellent for music and, more importantly, gaming. My favorite thing about the M-200 is the light, compact design. At only 290 grams, it’s a great candidate for commute, work, and play.

But these are absolutely reference headphones, and that means you are getting a flatter EQ than a standard gaming headset. That's exactly what you want when you're trying to master a music track or edit the audio on your latest video, but such a neutral aural experience find can sometimes feel lackluster when it comes to a gaming experience.

If you're after purity of sound, however, the V-Moda M-200 headphones really do deliver, and their closed-back design means you get good audio and decent noise canceling too. The aim is to get you "closer to perfection," and they certainly do get mighty close.

My only gripes are that the headset can be a tight fit for those with big noggings (like myself) and the surprising lack of a Lightning/USB Type-C adaptor. V-Moda sells a Lightning cable for $100, which is pricey considering the headset already costs $350.

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Are audiophile headphones good for gaming?

If you want the best sound in your games, then picking a pair of headphones designed to deliver perfect aural clarity and defined, accurate audio is going to deliver a great gaming experience. Throw in an open back pair design, and you'll hear the most natural reproduction of your chosen gameworld that you can possibly achieve.

The downside is that audiophile headphones are expensive, benefit from good sound hardware inside your PC—yes, there are still soundcards out there, people—and the open operating principle means there can be a fair bit of sound leakage and no passive noise cancelling.

You also don't get a microphone on most audiophile headphones, but such is the wealth of great budget gaming mics, that's not an issue.

Are open back headphones good for gaming?

An open back headphone design will give you the most natural soundscape for your games, which is especially immersive in large, open-world games. It's also less fatiguing on the ears for a long gaming session, too, because the sound waves don't just bounce around your lugholes.

Closed back headphones, however, are good for noise canceling and if you game in a room where other people might be affected by the sounds leaking from your cans. But the closed design can affect the sound itself, as it interacts with the ear cups.

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.

With contributions from