2020’s Best New Gaming Headsets Under $100
With today’s focus on work-from-home strategies to mitigate COVID-19 transmission, the humble gaming headset is no longer a device that’s just for fun. Instead, it can pull double duty as a vital professional meeting tool during the day, and an essential component of safe home entertainment during off hours.
Here are the four best models I’ve tested that released this year, with official web site links for each. No affiliate links here, as I don’t believe in the practice.
UPDATE/EDIT: If I had reviewed the Roccat 7.1 Elo Air late last year, it also would have made this list. It’s excellent.
Razer BlackShark V2 X (MSRP $59, Official Page Here)
This $59 modern update of an ancient gaming headset is easily the best budget audio offering ever produced by Razer, and it represents a brilliant path forward for their sound gear. It features their new “TriForce” drivers, highly tunable diaphragms that have been tweaked to offer Razer’s best sound-to-dollar ratio, and one of the more enjoyable gaming headset sounds on the market today.
The rich bass response is their most prominent feature, but it’s backed up with enough detail in the mids and highs that these are a delight for just about any audio task. The ear pads feature real memory foam, a rarity at this low price point, and the cloth covering on the front side helps prevent sweat build-up.
Mic performance is also exemplary, with a natural resonant pickup and plenty of background noise cancelation. The aviation-inspired industrial design might not be to everyone’s taste, but the lightweight frame is highly adjustable and easily fits on my big head. The mic isn’t removable on this basic model, so it’ll take up a little more room to store in its felt bag, but that’s the only real drawback here.
I’ve had the privilege of trying most of Razer’s audio products over the last five years, and unless you specifically need one of the features their other headsets are offering, the BlackShark family is the best place to start in their lineup.
HyperX Cloud Core + 7.1 (MSRP $69, Official Page Here)
At first glance, the new $69 2020 edition of the HyperX Cloud Core looks an awful lot like an updated version of the company’s iconic Cloud II at a lower price…and that’s exactly what it is.
The Cloud Core + 7.1 packs in most of the functionality and performance of the older and legendary Cloud II model alongside some smart build revisions. The headband has a sleeker profile that’s just as comfortable on the head. The memory foam padding has a new textured leatherette covering that should help with heat buildup. And the new matte finish on the ear cups is less likely to pick up dust and fingerprints.
Otherwise, the audio package here contains the same high performance drivers and microphone as the Cloud II. You also get the same simulated surround dongle, which has a dramatic level of volume output and a decently clean mic input channel.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one sound card and headset package that’s not too expensive, this is my favorite pick. This design is a little bit smaller than the others featured in this roundup, so be aware of that if you have a larger head. I have to wear the headset nearly fully extended, but it’s still plenty comfortable for all-day use.
JBL Quantum 300 (MSRP $79, Official Page Here)
This one was a big surprise. JBL had never made a dedicated gaming headset before, and earlier this year they launched a whole massive range of different models.
Like the HyperX model above, the Quantum 300 is a complete package with a headset and a USB sound card dongle. The headset features a powerful and exciting sound based on years of acoustic research by Sean Olive, one of the creators of the Harman Response Target. This target was designed to achieve better headphone performance, and while the Quantum range is a little more bass-heavy than the target’s ideal values, it still sounds wonderful.
Comfort is also a standout feature here, with some of the largest memory foam pads I’ve ever seen on a gaming headset at any price. You’ll be sacrificing a little bit in the build department, as the frame here is mostly plastic…but if large padding is a priority, that sacrifice is acceptable.
The microphone has a clean response and a decent amount of background noise rejection, though I vastly preferred the way it sounded when not plugged into the dongle, which adds a layer of digital processing. UPDATE: The dongle’s mic input has been improved! That dongle also enables JBL’s new QuantumSURROUND, and it’s one of the better virtual surround systems I’ve ever heard on a PC.
First-attempt headsets don’t usually nail comfort and sound as well as this JBL model. I can’t wait to see where they take the brand in the future.
SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless Xbox (MSRP $99, Official Page Here)
The Arctis 1 Wireless technically launched at the end of last year, but the Xbox version I’ve linked above came out a few months ago. I’ve chosen that specific version because it also has full compatibility with non-Xbox platforms, thanks to a handy toggle switch on the bottom of its USB-C dongle. If you’re looking to buy an Arctis 1 Wireless, the Xbox version is the one to go for.
This is an all-in-one wired and wireless headset, featuring SteelSeries’ venerable S1 speaker drivers and ClearCast microphone. It offers powerful audio reproduction whether you use it wired or wireless, and the mic offers some of the best background noise cancelation on the market.
Its small USB-C dongle will work with Xbox, PS4, Switch, PC, and Android mobile phones. This makes it one of the most versatile wireless headsets you can buy. And I love that it has a wired backup connection for those times when you run out of juice.
Comfort is excellent, though the cloth ear pads don’t isolate quite as well as the leatherette pads on the above models. The industrial design here is also the most basic-looking out of the pairs in this roundup, but SteelSeries would probably argue that it’s the price you pay for all these features.
This is the only wireless headset in this price range to offer so many connection options, and it’s built on a platform with a lot of legacy behind it. I can’t wait to see how other companies respond to it in the future.