Speakers or headphones?
Gaming headphones are a must-have gadget for gamers, and not just because they allow your loved ones to sleep during your late-night frag fests. As well as keeping noise levels down, a good set of gaming headphones will deliver substantially better audio quality than a similarly priced set of speakers. Lower freight costs, smaller component prices and mass production all contribute to an audio experience that punches well above its weight class. An AU$200 set of gaming headphones can easily sound as good as an AU$1000 set of speakers, and they don't need an amplifier to power them.
Console or PC?
While PC gamers have known the joy of a good set of gaming headphones for some time now, console gamers have been a little late to the party, with all but the most dedicated multiplayers usually happy with listen via the speakers on their home entertainment centre or TV. Many headsets coming out now — especially the wireless ones — are capable of working cross-platform. If you want to be able to chat, however, make sure that your chosen product can handle either Bluetooth for the PS3, or has the correct cable to connect to your Xbox controller.
Gaming or music?
Many PC hardware manufacturers are now cashing in on the gaming headphone craze, with companies that are known for cases and keyboards now churning out flashy gaming headphones. However, making a good set of headphones is an exact science, so if you're looking for the absolute best in audio quality, then sometimes it might be wise to go with a respected headphone brand. They might not have a built-in microphone, but a clip-on lapel microphone can be purchased for just AU$10.
Wired or wireless?
This is really just down to your play style and your budget. For the most part, wireless headsets are best for console gaming, where the device might be some distance from where you're actually sitting, but PC gamers might enjoy the freedom just as much. You may get a little interference on a wireless set, but that's mostly based on environmental issues, and can usually be quite easily fixed.
What to look for?
Like most gadgets, headphone packages are covered in highly technical stats claiming to prove that each product is the best on the market. But according to Marcus Miller, owner of Australia's largest enthusiast headphone store, "they're absolutely meaningless". He suggested that users always test a set of headphones if possible; luckily, we're here to do the job for you, as we've put six of the newest gaming headsets through their paces. He also reminded us that "your audio set-up will only ever sound as good as your worst component". There's no point in plugging in an AU$200 set of headphones to a PC equipped with budget on-board audio. To deliver rich and accurate gaming sound, you're going to need a dedicated sound card, or choose a device that has an external USB sound card as part of the package.