Gaming Earbuds: Buying Guide

When you're going to buy gaming earbuds, you may end up with a few questions. What price ranges are we talking? Is noise-cancelling something you'll have to look at? And what about mic'ing yourself up? These and a whole bunch more questions will be answered in this Gaming Earbuds Buying Guide.

Why Earbuds Instead of Headphones?

There are many reasons why gamers might choose earbuds over traditional headphones:

like the fact that earbuds won’t mess up a cool hairstyle, or that earbuds allow you the portability to hear every nuance of your FUS ROH DAH on your Switch at the airport.

There are a few other reasons too. Let’s dig into “Why earbuds?” now.

Portability

Earbuds primary function for years, and the catalyst for their increase in popularity, is their portability. That's why earbuds come shipped with our now ubiquitous smartphones, or why they give earbuds out for free on airplanes. They’re smaller, they’re less obtrusive to those around you, and their weight is particularly suited for many on-the-go activities.

Comfort

Gone are the days when earbuds were the more painful option when it came to audio headgear.

Eartips, the soft thingies on the end of in-ear style earbuds, are engineered to be more comfortable than their headset counterparts, especially when it comes to long sweaty gaming session. Additionally, when using earbuds, those eartips are basically the only thing touching your head. Earbuds are free of heavy, bulky headbands and earcups.

Total immersion

When you’re trying to focus on making a big play in an FPS, or trying to avoid the sound of crunching cereal in the next room while questing, anything that helps immersion is incredibly valuable for gaming. And in-ear style earbuds can help with that.

Immersion allows for a deeper connection to the gaming world (no matter what type of game your playing), and achieving that when your on the go riding a train to work, waiting for the bus, or sitting in the back row during a boring lecture is a really nice.

All of the earbuds are on this list are designed to fit snugly in your ear canal. This factor alone allows for earbuds to naturally isolate their user from outside noise and distraction. Combined with the added feature of noise “cancelling” which we’ll get to later, earbuds provide a unique level of isolating immersion that is also extremely comfortable and unobtrusive.

Balancing Features with Price

Let’s not kid ourselves, price matters; that’s probably why you found your way to this list in the first place! No matter what your budget is, you want to make sure that for the quality and features you’re getting, the price is fairly matched. That’s exactly what we hope to do with the products and the information we’re providing here-- you’ve come to the right place! Let’s discuss the features you want to look for when choosing earbuds to better help you decide what you need, what to get, and what you should pay.

What Features to Look for When Choosing Gaming Earbuds

Noise Isolating vs Noise Cancelling

We touched on this in the “immersion” section above, but basically there are two ways that earbuds can separate you from the sound of the world around you to allow you to better focus on lining up headshots. Noise cancellation was originally developed to be used in headphones, but the same principle applies to earbuds. If you’d like to learn more about the history of noise cancelling technology follow the link here; and read on to find out how earbuds are uniquely geared for noise isolation.

Noise Isolating

As the name implies, this type of earbud will isolate you and the audio you’re listening to from the world around you by physically blocking external sounds from entering your ear. Just by being fitted properly in your ear, in-ear style earbuds will automatically offer some noise isolation. Some products will “isolate” better than other, as you can see in the product details above, but the shape and purpose of earbuds to be held snugly in your ear canal lends itself to noise isolation!

Some earbuds, depending on their design, quality, and the material used in those squishy tips, do a better job than others at blocking out external noise. If you think of the the white ipod/iphone earbuds that we’re all familiar with, those aren’t designed to fit in the ear canal-- they’re too large, and the material they’re made of is too hard. Both of which are things you want to look out for when choosing the right earbuds for you. A good noise isolating earbud is like an earplug with a tiny speaker in it.

Noise Cancelling

Earbuds with this feature can cancel out certain sound around you by listening to the “bad” noise and then creating “good” sound waves of their own to counteract it-- thus cancelling the bad noise. Because of the design/purpose of them to fit directly in your ear canal, many earbuds are BOTH noise isolating and noise cancelling.

Earbuds equipped with noise cancelling technology actually have an additional microphone behind the speaker in the ear piece. This microphone detects the wavelength of incoming ambient noise, inverts that wave length, and then adds it to the sound being pumped into your ears. The result is a simulation of being in a much quieter place.

This noise cancelling feature works better on some ambient sounds than others. Things like occasional voices, the dog barking, or your wife yelling at you from the other room are all example of “noise” that isn’t easily counteracted by this technology. The feature works best on loud, consistent noise like the sound of a plane or subway. Another thing to note is that you’ll be paying extra for this tech, and an Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) unit will need to be attached to the earbud cable and charged periodically-- so keep that in mind!

Sound Quality

This is one of, if not the most important feature when buying earbuds, and it’s also the most difficult to offer advice on via writing. Ideally you would be able to try out each of these products for yourself before you bought them to determine if there was enough bass, mids, or treble for your liking; but that’s not really possible-- and if you’re looking to spend less than $15, maybe it’s not really worth it either.

So, I’ll do my best to describe the details of the sound quality for you. What you should look out for are these keywords:

Drivers

This is simply the more technical word for “speaker”. Drivers “drive” sound into your ear! It is commonly (and logically) assumed that the larger the driver the “better” the sound; but in reality, there’s a lot more to it. Technically, the size of the driver is just the diameter of the speaker diaphragm, and while a larger diaphragm will move more air with every blast of sound, this size is only one of many variables that go into determining the quality of the sound.

Driver size is not available for higher end products on this list because those earbuds feature other details that are much more meaningful to sound quality-- especially since a driver doesn’t need to be very big when it’s 1 inch from your eardrum! For the lower end products the size of the driver could matter more since it’s somewhat of an indicator of quality, but don’t let that number be the only thing you look at!

Frequency Response (or Range)

The frequency range (measured in Hz) basically tells you how low and how high of a sound a speaker can reproduce. The frequency range is the measure of how much bass, mids, or treble the drivers can pump out.

20 to 20,000 Hz is the average range the human ear can hear, although bassy sounds below 20 can be felt as well. The low end is something you want to keep an eye on when choosing the right earbuds for you, as better quality speakers can often produce lower frequencies than their competitors.

Other features That Impact Sound Quality

Despite what some might say, size isn’t everything-- especially when it comes to driver size. The materials used in the housing of the earbuds can affect their sound quality, as does the enclosure of the actual driver itself within this housing, and finally the “tuning” of the driver. That last feature is pretty nebulous, and is hard to discern without trying the earbuds out for yourself. Which is why when your purchasing medium/high-end audio products online, buying from reputable brands can go a long way.

Adapter

An adapter might not sound like an important feature to look out for, but what this basically means is: will these earbuds fully function on my PC, console controllers, and mobile device? The headphone/mic input that is on PS4 and Xbox One controllers is just that, a single input, whereas on most PCs the headphone and the microphone jacks are separate-- meaning that you need an adapter that splits that one output from your earbuds into two.

Microphone

While you may not need a mic for all of your gaming needs, we wanted all of our “gaming” earbuds on this list to have one. It’ll be up to you to decide how much of a priority a microphone is for you, and then to decide how clear, loud, and reliable you need the quality of this mic to be. The quality of the mics included with the earbuds on this list will vary.

Comfort

This is another criteria that’s difficult to make a decision on over the internet. Earbuds have the potential to be much more comfortable than traditional headset, especially for long gaming sessions, because they are lighter, smaller and softer. Look out for things like the material of the eartips, how big they are, and if your able to replace them with new/larger/smaller ones.

Extras

Believe it or not, you may want to use the earbuds you purchase for something other than gaming! Earbuds lend themselves to many other activities where audio isolation is important, so keep that in mind. Other extras to note might be the cable length, the durability, warranty, color options, or other small “creature comforts” that can sometimes make a big difference if they’re enjoyed every day.

Ready to buy? Here's our favorite gaming earbuds of today

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