The headset vs. headphones debate is all about subjectivity. Objectively, however, you can always follow the “best practice” and see what’s going on in the market right now.
There’s also the issue of headsets versus headphones and microphone, which offers more freedom in your choice, but can increase your budget by quite a bit.
In this article we will look at headsets and headphones for working and gaming, but also from a general point of view, taking into account budget, ease of use, quality, options, compatibility, sound balance, usability and design.
Headset vs. headphones: the basics
A headset is a complete “set” of everything you need for an interactive audio-video experience. That’s where their popularity in gaming comes from, as headsets are designed to allow the user to work hands-free. However, imagine someone manning the phones in a call center, and you can imagine them wearing a headset, perhaps even with a single earpiece (check out my review of the call center headsets).
Headphones, on the other hand, are only meant to be what they are meant to be, rather than including a microphone and other features (like volume controls and ear cups for long-term use). This is not meant to sound biased: Some of the best gaming headsets give high-end studio headphones a run for their money.
Headset vs. headphones: what’s better for work
Let’s be honest, the answer is on the surface: if your work requires you to communicate with colleagues, bosses or clients, then the choice is obvious – a headset that allows you to make calls and participate in online work rallies with maximum convenience (Please check out my review of the best headsets for working from home).
However, if you only work “to get information”, i.e. do not need a microphone, there is no better option than headphones. In addition, it is possible that your work involves a professional audio track for video dubbing. In this case, too, many people opt for headphones, and buy a separate, more advanced microphone (expensive, but what can you do).
Gaming headset vs. headphones: who’s winning the race?
Gaming headsets (as opposed to generic headsets) focus on ensuring that the player is immersed in the gaming world.
This means making sure the user is as comfortable as possible, setup is quick and easy (think plug-and-play), the microphone component is suitable for any face cut, and the ear cushions are optimized for maximum usability.
Some of the best gaming headsets can quickly put an end to headphone vs. headset comparisons. Models like the ATH-AD700X or some Sennheiser headsets are considered in both the best open-back headphones and the best gaming headsets.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for external microphones for gaming, the best of which have features like noise cancellation, making you less annoying to someone who otherwise has to hear every detail from your room (from your breath to your keyboard) on a non-standard “built-in” headset mic. And if you’re live streaming, there are no questions here.
An important factor to consider is how sensitive you are to what makes a headset unique. Think about it: Every company sells their product with some common tactics like surround sound or “enhanced bass.”
However, some experienced or competitive gamers (even in their early amateur days) may find that they need less bass and a wider soundstage to better hear approaching footsteps, for example. Similarly, there may be two types of surround sound: real and virtual. The tradeoff is between a wider span of control and more time and know-how to tweak the setting and EQ (equalizer).
For gaming headsets, the priority order can go in a certain direction: Comfort, Sound Quality, Design, Platform Compatibility, and Microphone Clarity.
As a gamer, you’ll definitely be interested in the gaming headsets in review for all platforms.
Headsets vs. headphones – For everything other than gaming
Simply put, if your needs aren’t specialized, you don’t need specialized technology – namely headsets.
Having a headset without having to use your microphone all the time is not only annoying, but it’s also not easy on your budget, as headsets are either more expensive or of worse quality than headphones of the same price.
Those of us who need microphones for very specific reasons should probably invest in a separate microphone, especially one that can be managed, maintained, repaired, and upgraded at our own discretion and time.
There’s also the slight problem that gaming headsets, no matter how good they are, look like stereotypical “gaming headsets.” Even if they offer good quality, this seems like overkill of a purchase for someone who is, say, a business student who only needs a headset to listen lectures and making Skype calls.
As with most things, their mileage may vary.
However, let’s look at high-end devices like Sony’s WH-1000XM3 wireless noise-canceling over-ear headphones, which are nearly three times the price of the best gaming headsets on the market.
The question then boils down to something more specific than a general “headphones vs. headsets” debate, but rather a comparison of specific models. For this purpose, we recommend doing some research.
On the go, in-ear headphones with noise-canceling are recommended, for example, when jogging, on the train or on the plane.
To summarize what we have discussed, let’s look at the main advantages and disadvantages of headphones and headsets, so to speak, so that each user can compare what needs are met.
- More expensive or of lower quality compared to similar headsets
- Built-in integrated microphone
- Limited portability
- More options with competing brands
- Simple and user-friendly setup
- Mark-up based on gamer branding
- Better surround sound features
- Variable build quality, but with higher options for a better product.
- The one-time payment may be higher
- Easier to transport
- Easier to combine
- More time-consuming to research
- Less practical than a “one-size-fits-all”‘ gaming headset