I’ve been sinking a little too much time into Elden Ring recently – the first PS4 game I’ve really found myself getting stuck into since I built my first PC last year. But this renewed interest in my aging console has given me a habit that fans of gaming headsets might hate.
You see, I don’t have a TV or even a projector – I connect my PS4 to my PC monitor (which only has one HDMI slot, so I have to do a lot of unplugging when switching between the computer and console).
It doesn’t have a built-in speaker and I live with people so I’m not going to use a soundbar or external speakers – no, I’m a headset man for now.
And despite having a nice fancy gaming headset with chunky cans, bright LEDs and easy volume toggles – basically, all the bells and whistles – I’ve found myself preferring to use my rather old Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones instead.
Yep, instead of using the fancy Logitech headset that is literally designed for gaming, I’ve been doing my Elden Ring stints in my older wireless headphones that have been through the wars so much, that I literally have to use sticky tape to hold them together.
I’m not even using them wirelessly. I’m hearing the sounds of all those dragons and spells and weird shiny beetles by plugging the headphones into my controller via 3.5mm jacks. But I think I’ve got some good reasons.
Are gaming headsets designed for comfort? No.
There’s no question that my gaming headset has some good gaming features, but that comes at a price – or, more accurately, a weight.
The headset is a chunky thing. It’s heavy and the pads are huge, which makes me feel like my face has two giant suction cups on it. One of the novelty helmets in Elden Ring is called the Pumpkin Helm, and it’s a huge metal sphere basically. Well, when wearing my headset, I feel like I’m wearing that.
When I’m chilling and exploring The Lands Between (and by that I mean, running around on my horse in areas that are way above my level, smacking enemies with my sword, doing no damage and running away, like a mischievous child) I want to feel relaxed. If I’ve got a giant headset on, weighing me down and squeezing my head, I’m always conscious of this accessory.
That’s not the case with the Sony WH-1000XM3 though. It’s soft and light, and feels as much like a comfy beanie as a pair of headphones. I can relax a lot more when I’m wearing these airy cans.
After using a few gaming headsets in my time, I get the distinct impression that they’re not built for comfort – or beauty contests for that matter, though I’m alone in my room, not on a catwalk, so that’s excusable.
Pairing is annoying
One big factor with my headset situation is that my gaming headset is paired with my computer – and by ‘paired’ I don’t mean ‘plugged into’, but connected with an unbreakable bond.
That bond isn’t unbreakable in that ‘it can’t be broken’ but rather ‘I absolutely refuse to break it’. That’s because I’ve found the headset quite a nightmare to pair with my computer. If I disconnect the thing, I’m scared that I’ll never get it working again.
And that’s because of all the extra features that come with the headset – I had to install extra software that lets the thing work on my computer and change my computer settings to get the optimal performance from it. I also have a program that lets me change the color of the cans. I don’t even understand why, I can’t see the thing when it’s on my head!
That’s the cost of loads of fancy extras and add-ons, I suppose.
I once made the mistake of disconnecting the headphones and the computer almost had a meltdown. It wanted to go through the entire installation process again, seemingly not recognizing that I did it all already.
That’s not an issue with my Sony WH-1000XM3. Because I’m using it alongside an audio cable, I can just jam the end of the wire in any 3.5mm-sized hole and instantly get audio.
That means I can also use the Sony cans as my normal headphones, or for other devices, and jump straight from these gadgets to my PS4 in an instant.
The audio difference is minimal
Despite the aesthetic discrepancy, I’d be willing to use the gaming headset if I thought it brought much extra. But I don’t feel it does.
I should clarify that I’m not the biggest audiophile in the world. When I’m listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game, I can easily ignore the audio quality from my headphones to focus on the artistic, tonal, or atmospheric quality instead. In other words, if I listen to an absolutely banging tune on rubbish headphones, I won’t care.
Because of this, the Sony headphones and the gaming headset feel basically the same to me. They both play the music, the sounds, the dialog, and all that, and I just can’t tell the difference between them.
Their similarities are exacerbated by a gaming experience I had when I was younger. When GTA V first came out, and I was a teenager living at home, I used to play it on the tiny, cheap 24-inch TV in my bedroom with rubbish wired headphones.
Then one day when the house was empty, I took my PS3 downstairs and plugged it into the living room TV. I was struck by one huge audio difference – on this larger TV, I could hear a sound I couldn’t before.
This sound was all the background audio – distant chatter, the honking of horns a few streets over, the tired growl of busy roads. In short, the kind of sounds a normal city makes when you stop to listen (but whoever really does).
I’d never heard this kind of audio mix before in a video game, and it created a more engrossing atmosphere than possibly any other part of the game, or most other games I’d tried. It was this audio extra that really transported me from leafy suburban Bristol to bricky suburban Los Santos.
To bring this rambling tale home, that jump from my trashy audio setup to an incredible one really improved my experience with the game and I’m glad I made it (well, until I got kicked off the big TV and was relegated back to my background-sound-less one).
However, the switch between my roughly equal Sony cans and gaming headset brought no such leaps in true tangible immersion, so I don’t feel that audio quality is an important metric in my decision.
TechRadar’s audio experts could sit down with the WH-1000XM3 and my Logitech headset, and definitively tell me which had better bass, treble, mid, and other features. But as the difference won’t bring me any actual immersion benefits, I’ll stick with the ones that are comfortable and easy to pair.
I know some people put huge stock in their gaming hardware, and my confession here may draw some eye-rolls. But for the gamers who don’t have cutting-edge this and that, I’d recommend just using your normal headphones for games instead of buying fancy ones.