The PS4 set the new standard for headphone and headset support by including a 3.5mm jack on the bottom of every controller. Sure, the 3DO did this eons ago, and the Sega Genesis had a headphone port on the front of the first version of the machine…but Sony’s ubiquitous headphone jack truly changed the industry, and forced Microsoft to overhaul the Xbox One controller mid-generation.
Unfortunately, the DualShock 4’s headphone port has a fatal flaw: low volume. Battery life is at a premium in the slim controller frame, and in a move to reduce drain, the controller severely lacks output oomph compared to most other modern devices. I’ve reviewed over a hundred and fifty different headphones and headsets in the last five years. Only about half of them get loud enough out of the controller jack to be usable, and only a few sound great.
I’ve got a list of three of those below, right after some general tips you can follow if you want to pick your own pair instead of following my preferences.
Believe it or not, with a quick look at the back of a headset box or a trip to a manufacturer‘s’web site, you can get a good idea about whether the pair you’re looking at will have enough volume on the PS4.
The key performance stat you want to find is Sensitivity. In short, this is a measure of how loud a pair of headphones or a headset can get at a given level of output power, usually rated at around 1 milliwatt.
You’ll want a sensitivity rating of at least 98dB in order to get a good volume level out of the DualShock 4. Anything less, and you’ll probably have to crank the volume setting all the way up.
Resistance or impedance is also a factor, but as long as it’s under 70 ohms or so, you should be fine. Resistance is sometimes over-cited as the sole factor for whether a headphone is hard to drive, but sensitivity is equally important.
Here now are one headphone and two pairs of headsets that get satisfyingly loud out of a PS4 controller, without breaking the bank.
If you don’t need a microphone, and you want a pair of headphones that’ll do triple-duty for gaming, music listening, and professional audio work, I can think of no better choice than the $99 AKG K361.(See my original review here).
This pair has a low 32 ohm resistance and an astounding 114dB sensitivity rating, and I can use it with the PS4 controller comfortably at a little over half volume. It outperforms most of the gaming headsets I’ve tested in both volume output and sound quality.
You’ll get a beautifully flat, accurate tone with this AKG model, without any extra bass flab or treble sibilance. The soundstage is decent for a closed back pair, and the memory foam cushions provide long-session comfort and good isolation.
Pairing a stellar microphone with a robust build for just $59, the Astro A10 has been one of my favorite cheaper headsets since its launch a couple of years ago. It’s now available in a wider range of colors and designs, and any one of them will work great on the PS4.
That’s thanks to a 104 dB sensitivity rating and a 32ohm impedance. These will get almost as loud as the AKG model above, and they have a sound signature that will please fans of bass and big movie theater speakers.
Aggressive and fun in all the right ways, the Astro A10 is perfect for the heightened sound mixes of video games. The thick rubber-covered metal headband is one of the most sturdy I’ve ever held, and the memory foam cushions outdo most others at this low price.
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that the official product link above has “Gen 1” in the text, which makes me wonder if Astro is planning to refresh this headset soon. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see what they do.
HyperX Cloud Alpha
HyperX has long been a major player in the gaming headset space, and although they have several choices that’ll work well with a PS4, the $99 Cloud Alpha is my favorite. I recently took another look at this iconic pair, and it still holds up just as well as it did on release.
It’s the least sensitive of this group, at a rating of 98dB with a 65 ohm impedance, but it still gets loud enough that I can use it with about 4 or 5 spare notches on the PS4’s internal volume controls. It provides a sound that splits the difference between the accurate AKG’s and the fun Astro pair, with deep bass, a clean midrange, and highs that don’t stab your ears.
Interestingly, HyperX makes a PlayStation-branded version of their older Cloud II…but in spite of a lower impedance rating of 41 ohms, it doesn’t get dramatically louder than the Alphas thanks to its slightly more modest 95dB sensitivity rating. I’ve been confused for a while about why HyperX decided to update this older pair instead of building a PS4 headset on the Alpha platform.
The PS4 does support several USB Amps, and wireless headsets. As long as your amp is a driver-less model, it should show up as an audio device on the PS4.
Not all wireless headsets are created equal in terms of volume. I reviewed the Cloud Flight S and the Corsair Virtuoso recently, and while both sound great with a PS4, the Corsair model has a much beefier amp inside.
If you follow the simple guidelines above, you should be able to find a PS4 headset that’ll provide plenty of volume headroom. Hopefully, the PS5 will have a more robust volume output, and I’m also hopeful that their new teased 3D audio support will be better than the locked-down state of 3D audio on their current machines.