Hello! I’m going to use your question as a personal platform to vent some frustrations about the current state of 3D audio virtualization, and then actually try and answer it down below. I’ve marked that spot with a bold heading if you want to skip there!
3D audio positioning is a tough thing to chase after, because it’s going to be a different experience for every user due to differences in ear shape, head shape, perception, etc.
I’m actually a big personal fan of virtual surround systems, because they allow me to access the 7.1 data inside games without having a huge speaker setup. But I totally understand that they don’t work for everyone, and many of them add unwanted reverb/other artifacts. And that sort of interference isn’t always ideal in a competitive game. I mostly only use them for single player stuff.
Further, because they rely on translating game sound into fake binaural sound, they have to guess at what size/shape your head and ears are, and they try to create an HRTF algorithm that will work right for most people, but they can’t possibly work for everyone. Razer surround allows you to adjust the algorithm, and Microsoft is working on adding this function to Windows Sonic/Dolby Atmos, but with literally everyone else you’re just stuck with what they give you.
ACTUAL ANSWER HERE
With all of that crap out of the way, I totally respect the decision to with straight high quality stereo, and pair a good DAC/amp with a good pair of headphones. I have a Soundblaster X G5 for those purposes, and my favorite standard headphones to pair it with are the Beyerdynamic DT770, when I want a closed-back, and a DT990 when I want open-backed.
The DT770/990 have plenty of energy in the upper mids and treble, which makes them great for picking out the little sound cues like footsteps that help you locate opponents.
If the Beyerdynamic line doesn’t appeal to you, anything with a crisp upper midrange/treble region will do. Most Audio Technica headphones have this. The Sony 7506/V6 is a good cheaper option. Sennheiser’s headphones tend to have a more relaxed treble so I’d avoid those.
If you’re gaming in a louder environment, I’d consider sticking to closed-backs. Open-backs tend to have a wider soundstage, but you’ll need a dead-silent room to get the full effect and really appreciate their details, since the tiniest bit of outside noise getting in can ruin it.
Some of this is also down to adjustment/practice, which is why you see such a wide variety of preferred headphones/headsets across different gamers.
I know it’s super frustrating to try and find what works for you, and hopefully you find something you love soon! Thanks again for reading!