Gaming headset review roundup: Five options, one favorite

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As much as we’d all love surround sound in every room where we have a TV, it isn’t always feasible. Be it budgetary reasons or living in an apartment with roommates who don’t share your enthusiasm for late-night explosions, sometimes 5.1- or 7.1-channel audio is out of reach. Luckily, there are plenty of headphones to pick from. But that too comes with its own set of conundrums: Where does one even begin in that sea of choices?

We’ve rounded up five options at a variety of price points to help make your decision a little clearer. With this edition, we’re looking at thePlayStation Gold wireless headset, the Xbox Wireless Stereo Headset, theAstro A30 and A40 and, finally, the Blue Lola as a wildcard.

Gallery: Gaming headset roundup 2016 | 30 Photos

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PlayStation Gold ($100)

The PlayStation Gold is extremely simple to set up: Plug the included USB receiver into an open spot on your PlayStation 4, power the headphones on and that’s it. Overall, the build quality is a little flimsy (one of the trim pieces on the headband fell off when I was unboxing the unit), and the hinges on the foldable portion of the band aren’t very firm. Add in the stiffness of the volume rocker and chat/audio rocker — not to mention the garish blue accents on the band — and it’s clear that the Gold won’t be winning any design awards.

Downloading the companion app from the PlayStation Store gives you access to custom presets for a smattering of games including Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Destiny, Batman: Arkham Knight and Ratchet and Clank. There are also some generic presets for shooters and fighting games, along with options for custom equalizer settings, movies and music.The headset itself only has room for the built-in preset and one custom setting. That makes it cumbersome to swap from one game-specific setting to another. First you need to quit your current game, open the app, then wire the headset to the PlayStation 4 to transfer the new preset. It’s clunky, and honestly, the presets feel a little gimmicky anyway. Sure, some have more bass than others, or gunfire sounds a little different, but for me it wasn’t worth going back and forth. If there were room for more than one user-chosen EQ curve, it’d be a different story, but as it stands, I used the “Custom 3” setting for the majority of my testing.

How does the Gold actually sound? Pretty good. The virtual surround was plenty convincing, but at the highest volume, the ear cups were rattling on my skull. It was uncomfortably loud, even to my concert-deafened ears. The good news is that the sound field was detailed and there wasn’t any white noise at high volumes — an issue with other, more expensive headsets. As far as voice chat quality goes, my friends said I sounded distant, even though the built-in mic was only a few inches from my mouth.

My favorite feature is that the headset automatically turns off with the PS4 itself as a battery-saving measure, which is perfect for late-night gaming sessions when I fall asleep with the controller in my hands. The headset basically requires this: After two four-hour sessions I had to recharge it. It’s very much like the DualShock 4 controller in that respect.

Xbox One Stereo ($60)

Of all the headphones I tested, the Xbox One Stereo Headset surprised me the most. They’re the cheapest of the bunch, at $60, but for the money they offer well-balanced sound and solid build quality. Sure, they’re only two-channel, but a vast majority of (if not all) headsets boasting “surround sound” use software to simulate a 5.1- or 7.1-channel sound field from a few drivers. That’s because it’s tricky to cram multiple drivers into each ear cup while keeping the size, price and weight down.

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