Headphones/Sound Cards: The do...

Headphones/Sound Cards: The dos and do nots.

Headphones/Sound Cards: The dos and do nots.

Thread started by l_w_88 on Wednesday, 10:09pm April 21st with 645 replies. Views: 67,151


6,678 posts

10:09pm Apr 21st 10 and edited 10:20am Oct 17th 13

Realised I had a spare minute and thought I might take a second to make up a bit of a guide to help people buying their audio merch y0.

Initially let me say this: it will be a bit of a read from here on in, but I try and cover everything I can. That is to say this guide is worth reading through in its entirety if you're new to buying headphones/sound cards.
The whole idea here is to address each issue or problem that I've come across as simplistically and succinctly as possible, within the space provided by these forums.
The long and the short = Big read, but Covers most everything.

Some quick pointers:
Avoid 5.1/7.1 headsets.
Avoid gaming headsets.
Avoid generic headsets.
If you have bad headphones, you don't need a sound card.

Skip to the bottom of each section if you just want the list of recommendations. hurdur

Sound quality is almost uniform throughout headsets costing less than a hundred dollars - i.e. not very good at all, really for that price point it doesn't matter bit for bob what you buy. So to risk blaspheming here it is: If you're spending less than fifty bucks, it doesn't matter for a pair of goat's nuts what you buy; be it usb, gaming or whatever; just stick to logitech/plantronics/microsoft and you'll be fine for longevity. After around the 50 dollar mark though, start to be a bit wiser with your dollar.

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So firstly: I've noticed a lot of people recommending surround headsets. STOP IT. They are a bad idea no matter the price range; I'll explain the how and why.

Why you should NOT buy surround sound headsets:

Basically means the speakers inside the case.
6 drivers in a pair of $120 headphones = 6*$10 drivers and a pricetag for gaming headphones.
2 drivers in a pair of $100 headphones = 2*more expensive drivers and markup. (for simplicity sake, take it as expensive = better)

Basically this means you're paying money for a collection of bad speakers inside a headset, which will interfere with each other creating an overall muddled and confusing sound especially in games where all the speakers are going at once. Meaning that what you get isn't necessarily surround at all. In fact the speakers are so close to your head the only benefit from having 6 of them is.... well... I'll get back to you on that one.

Build Quality:
I have used the following surround headsets, among others:
Zalman 5.1
Medusa 5.1
Razer Barracuda 5.1
Tritton 5.1
All exhibited extremely low quality casing, cords, connectors and very low comfort. Zalmans broke within the month. Medusa's last a bit longer, but fall apart around the half a year mark. Razers fall apart upon unboxing, if they make it that far it takes them a week or two to basically shit themselves (friend's replaced a pair twice in as many months). Tritton take about 2 months to become totally unusable.
Guess they aren't even sturdy for the whopping price tag are they?

Sound Quality:
Sound problems change from headphone to headphone, but here's a few that are common with surround sets:
Massive treble.
Muddy/flat bass.
Tinny sound due to having several speakers in an enclosed space.
The cheaper drivers also means less detail. Universally true. Combining a bundle of cheap speakers in a closed space really was a good idea now, wasn't it?

So what's the point in spending your hard earned dollars for lifeless sound, fake surround, poor build quality, uncomfortable headphones; when you can buy a cheap pair of stereophones that will last longer, sound better, give better directional and are mostly more comfortable aswell? There's no reason to buy a surround headset. Believe me I've owned them, and used other people's; from a price range of 60 bucks to 250. None warrant a purchase.

Side Note: USB headsets are just as bad, yes they are! Combine them with surround and you're burning money.

[Final Note]
LOL: G35's/Gamecom 777's only warrant immediate offload into the nearest trash recepticle.

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Headphones: What's best for me?

So what DO I buy then?

Depends on your price range and your listening preferences. But the best option anybody can go for is a pair of balanced, detailed headphones, that don't rely too heavy on one end of the scale (not too much treble like steelseries 5h, not too much bass like so called "DJ" or "Vibration" models). The reason for this is that with a good equalizer any sound preferences can be catered for (any recent on board sound, not just pci/pcie cards, come equipped with a software equalizer by default). If you have on board sound (for the uninitiated/un-tech savvy: if you plug your headphones into your motherboard/front panel, not a separate card) you're better off sticking with anything under the one hundred and fifty range. The better headsets just aren't utilized by your onboard sound.

Circumaurul v Supraaurul:

Circumaurul = surrounds the ear.
Supraaurul = sits on the ear.
Mainly a comfort thing: Big ears = Circumaurul. Small ears = Supraaurul.
Personally, as I have big ears; I prefer circumaurul. You should make sure your purchase has soft ear pads anyway.

Open v Closed:

Open air basically means that air can pass through the headset into the part where the speaker is. Closed obviously being the opposite.
Where open headphones offer greater soundstage (distancing and directional), closed offer some noise isolation. I recommend Open headsets (purely subjective on basis of sound quality).


In pretty basic terms this is the resistance of the headphone unit against the signal from a source (amplifier/sound) card. The higher the number (ohms) the greater the sound reduction from the source. Anything under around 100ohms (most pc headsets are 32/64 ohms anyway) will not require extra amplification; e.g. a headphone amplifier. Anything higher and you should look into something like that, or really just pick another headset, as buying audiophile level gear right off the bat isn't a good idea for most. Stick to 32/64 ohm sets for pc use.


Basically a measurement of headphone volume. The higher the number in decibels (db) the louder the headphones will be. Bear in mind that loud isn't necessarily a good thing, nor needed (loud headphones can cause hearing damage and I would never use them at maximum volume anyway). Most good headsets are around 96db+.

Frequency Response:

This number (usually around 20-20000) is the range of sound that the headphones can accurately reproduce, to within a margin of a fraction of a percent (in most cases). The first number being low frequency noise (20hz = Low bass), and the high number being the highest treble that the headphones can produce (20000hz = high pitched noises). Some people will say the greater the range (i.e. 5hz-45khz as specified on some audio technica models) the better, however human ears (after teenage years) can mostly only hear frequencies between 20hz and 18khz anyhow. My rule of thumb is this: If bass response is higher than 20hz, generally avoid the set, as this generally indicates poor quality, whereas high end production is usually above human hearing limits (18-22khz) anyway.

Why not get a gaming headset?

Okay this one's a bit trickier: I notice a lot of people like the steelseries headsets and such.
Thing is though they have specialised sound; meaning they have increased treble, or increased bass, or extra isolation. All of those lead to a particular sound which as I said earlier can be acheived by using an EQ instead. Just get a pair of plantronics... I mean sure they're dreaded "Gaming headphones" but they sound the same, they're cheaper, and pretty comfortable.
(Although note: I've noticed much faster degredation when it comes to sets with in line volume control.)

By the way:

If you have a big head - get a pair with one of those suspension bridge things - otherwise the force of the plastic clamping down will give you a headache after an hour or two.

Plantronics Gamecom 367/377 (Open/Closed w/mic)
(Let me be clear: Only get these if you can't afford anything better. Better not meaning the steelseries/razer/logitech equivalent. The difference between those is only the price. If you have more, get something listed below.)

AKG 512 (Closed)
AudioTechnica ATH-AD300 (Open)

Beyerdynamic DT231 pro (Closed)
Beyerdynamic DTX700 (Open)
AudioTechnica ATH-AD400 (Open)

AudioTechnica ATH-AD700 (Open)
AudioTechnica ATH-A700 (Closed)
Beyerdynamic DTX900 (Open)
Sennheiser HD555 (Open)

Source from:
www.staticice.com.au (locate a shop local to you)

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Sound Card: Is it really worth it?

Do I need one?
Unless you already have a pair of good headphones, no; your thirty dollar logitechs won't cut the mustard. If you have a set of good phones - then yes, by all means you will notice a definite increase in sound quality over your on board/cheap sound card. (note: "good" excludes gaming models, razer, surround, usb, or anything under a hundred bucks really)

(I'm only covering the big 3 here (asus, auzentech, creative. chances are if you're looking for something else you know enough)

Don't bother. Your on board is just as good. If it isn't - upgrade your gpu or something instead, chances are you have a shitty computer.

Just avoid anything with Fatal1ty's name on it - it's over priced for no reason. Or anything that comes with a drive bay - most of you won't use it EVER.
The Xtreme Audio = TOTAL CRAPSHIT CARD. It's a rebadged audigy - forget it.

Xonar DX/D1 are the cheapies - great sound, 5 3.5mm connectors = enough for 5.1 and headphones/mic.
The essence ST/STX range of cards is by far the best recommendation I can make for headphone users.

X-raider is their bang for buck card. 85-100 bucks depending on the store and it'll do just fine. It doesn't have x-fi but who cares that stuff is shit anyway.

People say that the sound from one brand is better, but you know what? The big 3 have excellent audio products and you can really only tell the difference if you squint your ears and really want it to sound different.

Auzentech X-raider
Asus Xonar D1
Asus Xonar DX (Pci Express)

Asus Xonar Essence STX
Auzentech X-fi Bravura
Creative x-fi titanium (Pci Express)
Creative x-fi xtreme gamer

Auzentech X-fi Prelude
Auzentech X-fi Forte (Pci Express)
Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3

Basically it comes down to this:

If you're spending 100 to 150, get a xonar, or an x-raider, I don't really consider EAX to be worth anything.
If you're spending 200 or more - pick one that has features you like, and avoid ones with drive bays. People can debate the drivers/aesthetics all they like, but if it has the connectors you want, then the sound quality is basically the same to within some ridiculously miniscule margin. If you want to record then you probably don't even need this guide.

Source from:
www.staticice.com.au (locate a shop local to you)

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Some quick tips and that's all really.

Cheap speakers are the same as cheap headphones - doesn't matter what you buy. But personally - stick to creative/logitech.

If you want something more expensive - look into some Logitech Z5500's.

Any changes that need to be made/areas need expanding on - let me know.

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Been a while since I was here. Got bored of trolling.
I know I'm replying to old posts, but here we go, this is a sticky after all, does need maintaining:

I have been looking at the Tritton AX Pro and the Sharkoon X-Tactic D., as both of these models have optical giving a true 5.1 sound.

Quote from Wolfspyda on the 28th of July 2010
I already mentioned a tritton set, and no I would not recommend any 5.1 sets. Echo, bad sound, uncomfortable etc. Especially on a console. Avoid 5.1 headsets like rape.

in my opinion, ppl may see that surround sound is just a gimmick but im sure if one was to give it a good go they would see that it does create a slight advantage and that maybe and understatement.

Quote from Archa on the 20th of August 2010
As explained - I gave 5.1 a good go, using friends', siblings' and my own pairs of 5.1 headphones. None of them give any advantage at all, and sound terrible in comparison to even the most elementary stereo headsets.

I am aware that they are Stereo Headphones, so is it best to use Stereo in Cod, or would imposing 5.1 yield better positional audio?

Quote from Pumpk1n on the 7th of September 2010
I don't play COD, but in any game that I've used 5.1 settings for stereo headphones, accidental or otherwise the result has been... poor and annoying to say the least.

Oh and nice to see people still blatantly ignoring the recommendation against G35s - stay classy.

looking to buy a soundcard, primarily for gaming but music/movies need to be taken into account. Ive been looking to get the ASUS Xonar Essence STX but reading some review they arent the "best" for gaming, but have exceptional movie/music sound quality.

What do you guys suggest?

$200 budget btw.

Quote from cellardoor. on the 18th of January 2011

"If you're spending 200 - pick one that has features you like." - Me, in the sticky, which is this thread, the point is to read it.
If you like the fact that the STX concentrates on providing superior headphone sound, and that is what you are after, why would you need our permission to buy it? Good sound = good music, good gaming and good movies.

Do you think a Plantronics 777 is any good, 69$?


Need to hear footsteps on black ops :O

Quote from Tucky on the 17th of January 2011

Can you stop shitting the place up?
"[Final Note]
LOL: G35's/Gamecom 777's only warrant immediate offload into the nearest trash recepticle."
Seriously read the fucking post.


1,776 posts

10:47pm Apr 21st 10

what about the Xonar essence STX? would be a better option for decent cans.


387 posts

10:58pm Apr 21st 10

good guide. i still prefer logitech g35s over the sennheiser gear. havent tryed otehrs.. the plantroics are okay.


8,720 posts

11:01pm Apr 21st 10

Really great read.


PS: ATH-AD700's FTW!!!


2,600 posts

11:05pm Apr 21st 10

Good read... i agree with Julzey i prefer logitech G35's over the sennheiser gear...
the G35's i find have nice crisp sound, and are very noise canceling... (a little too good if you ask me :D)

Mr. Tim

134 posts

11:32pm Apr 21st 10

Great read, +1 for /sticky.

I'm a Sennheiser HD555 user myself.


63 posts

12:17am Apr 22nd 10

useful info, thanks.
i spoke to headphones.com.au today, told them my price range and other stuff and a guy there recommended that i get:
i'm using onboard


3,523 posts

12:30am Apr 22nd 10

Really great read.


PS: ATH-AD700's FTW!!!

Quote from hektik on the 21st of April 2010
Sticky this.


165 posts

1:20am Apr 22nd 10

Definitely sticky, then hopefully there won't be so many headphone threads.


410 posts

2:20pm Apr 23rd 10

Very helpful post! I'm currently in the process of thinking about getting a decent sound card and this has really helped me.


2,845 posts

5:15pm Apr 23rd 10

useful info, thanks.
i spoke to headphones.com.au today, told them my price range and other stuff and a guy there recommended that i get:
i'm using onboard

Quote from bennaus on the 22nd of April 2010

The Guys know what there talking about, and they really only sell decent stuff, if you click on some models it says "This Headset is not recommended" or something to the like.

Asus Xonar STX shits all over every card on the market for headphone SQ, but it is $200.


2,845 posts

5:28pm Apr 23rd 10

Also Add a little more Tech info into this.

Impedance: Anything under 100ohms is considered suitable for non amplified headphones. Some but very few headphones require dedicated headphone amplifiers allthough all can aid and will sound significantly better with it.

Sensitivity: example, 105dB/mW, so the headset produces a SPL (Sound Pressure level) of 105dB with 1 mW (mili watt, no idea how to spell that) of amplification. Note 105db 2cm away from your ears is fucking loud.

Generally Higher the sensitivity the louder the headphones will go. Every 6dB is a doubling of SPL so going from 99dB to 105dB is double the loudness in essence.


6,678 posts

6:41pm Apr 23rd 10

Ahh all you jokers still flogging the wobbly pile of giblets that was a dead horse previously known as the g35's.... <3


6,408 posts

11:01pm Apr 23rd 10

Not to discredit the OP but


Enough said really, LOL


1,983 posts

12:11pm Apr 24th 10

/Agreed with surround sound headsets. Owned a Pair of both the Barracudas and the Medusas. Without being able to go into the technical reasoning as 88's already covered, my 3 main basic warnings would be:

1. Rubbish Bass: (Totally useless for music)

2. Too Heavy: (Because of the size required to fit in the extra drivers these headsets tend to be very heavy and painful on the neck after long play sessions. I using my Barracuda's back when I played WoW and I honestly couldn't even keep them on for the length of a 5 man run they were that heavy and cumbersome. I'd wager this is also potentially the reason they break so easily, the headband structure just cannot support the extra weight)

3. Inferior Positional Sound: (In theory they should excel in this area but they honestly don't)

I will stick up a bit for the Steel Series 5H though. Out of all the headsets I've tried, it has held up the best and is quite comfortable. The Mic is quite handy as well and while I'm sure the sound quality isn't the best, I've never had any complaints. If nothing else, much much better then anything Razer has put out.

Oh and as for speakers, for anyone that wants to get a good solid set of 5.1 speakers without spending too much, the Logitech X-530 and X-540 models are nice value for money. Can get them pretty cheap now days in like the $60-$85 mark.

Good Guide /F1 to sticky.