Short Answer

Headphones provide better audio than similarly-priced headsets because the latter have to make compromises due to the inclusion of microphones and other features.

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Many people often mistakenly refer to headsets as headphones, and vice versa. This is because the two are actually fairly similar, the only obvious distinction setting the headset apart is the inclusion of a built-in microphone.

That said, making the choice between headphones and a headset might seem rather minuscule and simple, yet it is a deceivingly complicated matter.

But why is that?

That is the very question we will be answering in this article!

Types of Headphones

All in all, headphones can be divided into three distinct categories:

  1. Mainstream headphones
  2. Studio headphones
  3. Gaming headsets

These differ both when it comes to their target demographic and their intended use, along with other differences that we will discuss below.

Mainstream Headphones

headphones vs headset

These are also often referred to as “consumer headphones”, and are just what the name implies: versatile, stylish, and usually affordable.

These headphones prioritize design and portability before everything else. After all, they are made for casual users who might want to use them in a variety of situations, which is why they offer an all-around decent audio experience while coming with sleek exteriors that make them look good in public.

Unfortunately, due to the priority being placed on the aforementioned, these types of headphones can often suffer in the comfort and build quality departments. On top of that, the overall quality (including the sound) can differ greatly based on the manufacturer and the price range.

Pros

  • Minimal and stylish design
  • Easy to transport
  • Good and versatile sound

Cons

  • Can suffer from sub-par build quality
  • Variable overall quality

Studio Headphones

headset vs headphones

These headphones are made for professionals who require the very best performance and prize practicality above all else.

That said, they offer sound that is as neutral as possible i.e. sound that is reproduced as faithful to the original sound as possible. This means better-fidelity but a more “flat” listening experience as compared to the more bass-heavy headphones. Apart from that, they tend to be very well built, including many metal parts, and are also the easiest to repair.

Seeing as they are meant primarily for professionals, they are neither as popular nor very fitting for gamers and casual users, especially since there are other products that would offer a more enjoyable experience for less money.

Pros

  • Most accurate audio reproduction
  • Sturdy build
  • Easy to repair

Cons

  • On the expensive side
  • Made specifically for professionals

Gaming Headsets

headset or headphones for gaming

And finally, we have gaming headsets which are essentially headphones with built-in microphones. They strive to offer immersive sound, clear communication, and often employ colorful and potentially aggressive designs that have become a staple of all sorts of gaming products.

Now, when it comes to the sound reproduction, they are much closer to mainstream headphones than to studio headphones since they are made to provide an enjoyable gaming and multimedia experience. This means clean sound with powerful bass, as well as virtual surround capabilities or even actual surround in some cases. On top of that, they are generally made to be light and comfortable so as to be well-suited for long gaming sessions.

On the downside, gaming headsets tend to be quite bulky and unwieldy, so they are not as portable as mainstream headphones. Furthermore, the sound quality that they offer tends to lag behind similarly-priced headphones because the integrated microphone and other features can add quite a bit to the price.

Pros

  • Immersive sound quality
  • Surround capabilities
  • Integrated microphone

Cons

  • More expensive due to microphone and other features
  • Not very versatile or portable

Which Should You Choose?

When it comes to making the decision of which type of headphones to get, there are several questions you should ask yourself:

Do I need an integrated microphone?

If you play a lot of multiplayer games and like the convenience of having a built-in microphone, then a gaming headset is obviously the best choice for you. They are easy to use and much easier to carry around than separate headphones and microphone.

On the other hand, if you prefer single-player and only play multiplayer occasionally or very rarely, you could get better sound out of a set of headphones while having a dedicated microphone for multiplayer communication.

Do I need portability?

If you intend to use the headphones not only for gaming but also for listening to music on your phone or for other types of multimedia, then you are bound to appreciate the smaller frame and foldability of mainstream headphones. On top of that, they tend to have a more inconspicuous design which makes them ideal for use in public.

Will I be doing audio editing?

This is the only case where you should consider getting a pair of studio headphones. As explained above, the offer the highest fidelity and the most accurate sound reproduction, but this can actually take away from the gaming/multimedia experience.

Conclusion

And that would be all you need to know before deciding on which type of headphones to buy. To sum up:

  1. Get a gaming headset if you play a lot of multiplayer games and intend to use it solely for gaming.
  2. Get mainstream headphones if you want the best audio quality for your money and/or want to use it for things other than gaming.
  3. Get studio headphones only if you intend to do audio editing.

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