Headphone explanation and guide! Mic's too!

Discussion in 'Tech Talk' started by Army126, Apr 6, 2017.

  1. There seemed to be some confusion over whether or not someone should be looking at a gaming headset or a proper set of headphones and a separate mic. I'll go through some basics and gives some explanations over the differences.

    Over the past few years, I've slowly researched and eventually made the expensive switch to have a proper audio setup. I've had a bunch of different "gaming headsets" over the years and have never had the sound that I was looking for.

    Some basic definitions when it comes to headphones.

    Drivers: This is the proper name for the speakers in your headphones.

    Ohm: This is accompanied with a number, that number shows how easy or hard its going to be to power the headphones. My cans are 23 ohms, which means it can achieve full volume on a cell phone(low impedance). Other cans like my AKG 612Pro's are 120 ohm(high impedance) and when plugged into a motherboard, only get to about 20% of max volume and require an amp to reach full potential. Some headphones are 600ohm and extremely hard to drive.

    Soundstage: The ability to visualize the placement of musical instruments and vocalists in a music recording. Same thing with games, depending on the type of headphone you are using, how big the soundstage is will determine how accurate footsteps and guns shots will be.

    Open headphone: Has an open air back to the actual headphone. Sound leaks in and out but creates the best soundstage for accurate positioning of gunshots and footsteps while gaming. The biggest trade off with open back headphones is the lack of booming bass but that is actually NOT what you should be looking for when it comes to bass reproduction. Not the best solution if you are in a loud enviroment, you will hear everything in the room on top of whatever you are listening to. My ex would watch Netflix while I was gaming, I would have to block out the show she was watching in order to hear what was going on in game.

    Closed headphone: The back of the headphone is closed or solid. The soundstage is then limited to the inside of the headphone, which limits it severely. Bass reproduction may be a bit better but usually ends up being muddied or distorted. A bit better for loud enviroments, it isolates the sound and does not leak out for the most part.

    The difference between gaming headsets and headphones:

    Here's a quick video to give a good idea of what I am talking about. Dmitri from Hardware Canucks explains this very well.

    As explained in the video above, gaming headset companies usually market 3 key things. Comfort, surround sound and design/mic. Most of the time, in that order. To offer you a "surround sound" gaming headset for lets say, $100, something has to be dropped in the quality in order to provide all of those things. Most times, its mic audio quality.

    In my experience, headphones only have to concentrate on two things, comfort and audio quality. Companies like Sennheiser have been using the same exact driver in their headphones for 20 years because there's no need to change the driver as it sounds fantastic. All of the headphones I am referencing are over ear headphones, they surround the entire ear without touching them on the inside. They also offer details like a removable cable. One of my biggest gripes with the Logitech G35 headset was that the cable would become tangled and break. My current headphones allow me to disconnect and replace if needed.

    A few examples of headphones that I recommend based on the best reviews(priced low to high, open back first):

    Philips SHP9500
    I've personally owned a set of these. Their prices varies but I picked them from Newegg for $60 last year. Best reviewed open back headphones for the price. These cans rival $400 headphones for less than $100. Again, bass isn't the greatest but it's present. You will hear bass that you never heard before. Being 32 ohm, they are relatively easy to drive and sound great right off the motherboard. They sound even better when hooked up to an external amp.

    Sennheiser HD598
    These headphones are the open back version of my current headphones, they have been around for many years and are highly rated. They present a fantastic soundstage and are super comfortable. Their price has been hovering around $100 for many years as well. Would be a great place to start if you have a bit more to spend.

    Philips Fidelio X2/27
    These headphones are considered to be some of the best sounding open back headphones on the market. I have personally listened to them and they are unbelievable. Most open back headphones make bass feel less present but these are a different story. Bass sound great and doesn't muddy the midbass or treble at any point. They are super comfortable as well. Just make sure you buy them new if you're interested, early models had issues with the ear cups being glued on when they were supposed to be removable. Antivanity switched to these after using the Astro A40's and couldn't believe the difference in sound quality between the two. Sometimes, these are featured on Massdrop for $200, keep an eye out for them.

    Sennheiser HD800
    If you're a baller, give these a look. Considered to be one of holy grails of the headphone arena. Being 300ohm, an amp is required to power these. They have the largest driver you can find in any headphone available at 56mm. I have not personally used these but from what I've read, they are the best sounding cans on the market. Again, this is a limited market because of their price.

    Closed back cans:

    Sennheiser HD598 CS
    These headphones are my daily drivers, they produce fantastic sound without distortion at all levels. They are based on the HD598's mentioned above. I've had them plugged into my laptop for some time now, they are great. When plugged into my amp, they handle everything I throw at them without distortion. They have a low 23 ohm impedance which means they sound great even when plugged into a cell phone. Bass is great, mid range bass is as well. Treble gets muddy at high volumes.

    Audio-Technica ATH-M50X
    The go to closed back headphone for many years. Most closed back headphones that have released since have been compared to these cans. They sound great and are super portable. At 38 ohms, they are still able to be powered on the mobo with ease. This is the alternative to the 598's. Perfect headphone for on the go.

    Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
    Some of the best closed back cans on the market. Super hard to power at 250 ohms but sound great once amped. I have personally owned a set of these, the sound is crazy when pushing that amount of power through a closed back headphone. These cans are able to push loud, punishing bass without distortion or muddiness to the highest levels you can take. Treble is a bit muted but still acceptable for being closed.


    Just a few suggestions. Quality is dependent on how much you spend. Zalman makes a clip on mic for $8, it works but quality is what you would expect, not very good. Antlion makes the Modmic, its a modular mic setup and has great sound quality. Some people have had issues with the cord breaking and at $50 a pop, that is something to be aware of.

    The best mic solution in my opinion is a desk mounted setup from companies like Blue and Audio Technica. I've personally owned the Blue Yeti and its fantastic. For $120, you get a studio quality mic. It's super sensitive, it'll pick up a fart in the kitchen, 30 feet away. It has 4 different modes that allow different types of setups.

    Amps and DACs:


    Some headphones with a higher Ohm impedance require amplification. There are many different amps out on the market. Anything from digital based amps and even some old school tube amps. I personally use an amp from a company called Shiit(literally pronounced "shit"). Their amps are affordable and well built. They are also built in the USA. I have the Magni 2, it has powered everything I own with ease and can even be used to power external speakers if you want.

    Everything has some sort of DAC on board for sound and music. It converts the digital representation of a sound or song into an analog signal so we can hear it. Your PC, cell phone and even your car stereo has one. The problem with internal DAC's that PC's have, is electrical interference. When using a headphone plugged into the motherboard, this usually translates to a hiss in our ears. The solution to having a clean listening experience is by using an external DAC. Again, Shiit makes one of these and is highly rated.

    Expect to spend $200 minimum on a an amp and DAC combo. It's a steep price for someone just getting into it but is the ultimate listening experience when paired with a good set of headphones. The picture above is what the Shiit Magni 2 and Modi 2 AMP/DAC combo look like when in the Shiit Stack.


    With so many options for a proper set of headphones and mics for gaming, there really is no excuse for stooping down and buying a gaming headset. If these prices are out of reach, there are even cheaper headphone options available that will still put any gaming headset to shame. I have a set of $10 Panasonic earbuds that I use for the gym and they sound better than any gaming headset I've owned. If you need more help in the future with putting together a quality setup, provide a budget and ask away. I will help in any way I can. Hope this helped explain some things!
    #1 Army126, Apr 6, 2017
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
    holtmanium and Antivanity like this.
  2. The M50's have totally gone down in quality. I bought a pair in 2012 and again last yr and the difference was huge. Don't know what changed, but something has. I Personally think the Audio Technica Pro700mk2's are the best headphones sub $1000 you can buy. PCMag voted them best headphones for 2015 and 2016. The fact they can drive 3,500 mW is obscene. And they have a frequency range of 5 - 35,000 Hz. If you could actually push these to full, I honestly think you could blow your eardrums out. Your AKG 612Pro have a mW of 200. The big downside with the ATpro700 is if you have a big head it feels like MR T is trying to crush your skull.
  3. I've never heard of those but after reading into them, they are mediocre in comparison the the M50's. You can't say they are the best for sub-$1,000 if you've never heard anything else outside of M50's. After reading the reviews, I wouldn't recommend those to anyone.
  4. And the 3500mw has to be a typo, they are only 38 ohm and you can't even listen to something that high.
  5. I went through and tested about 20 different headphones a few years ago, the M50's are just studio neutral headphones.
  6. Why argue. Everyone knows Beats are the best.
    SmokerT69 likes this.
  7. no argueing at all, but you basically ended that discourse... fucking beats.
  8. nice write-up! how do you guys think Audio Technica ATH-AD700X's compare? my GF got me a set a few years ago & to me the clarity, sound-stage, & directional accuracy are amazing. listening to 4200kb/s Bjork FLAC was like hearing 80% of a song for the 1st time, tho i'd listened to it hundreds of times in 20yrs...unreal.
  9. I think we are going to need to have a sit down Nulli...lol

    700X's are great as well! I almost bought them a few years ago but their headband is a little weird so I went a different route. Massdrop has sold 10's of thousands of them. Probably their best selling product. I don't know if I could listen to Bjork but that quality is how music should be listened too.

    No arguing at all. Headphones are hard because everyone has their own experience. I can say that making the statement that was posted above is blasphemy though. You have to try a proper set of open back headphones before you even try to say that some closed backs are top notch. The bass won't be boomy and make your head shake but you will hear things in songs that you never heard before. Snatch up a pair of those Philips, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
  10. I will buy those philips and listen and test if you buy a pair of the ATH700pro's lol. My actual gaming headset is an open backed audio technica headset. I guess I got to the point of testing so many different headsets (actually did not test philips at all for some reason) that AT's always just came out on top for me, be it open backed or closed. I mostly prefer closed, so i dont have to hear my bloody officemate talk all day about stocks and bonds. lol