What’s the difference between headsets and headphones? Does one sound better than the other? Can you tell which is which just by looking at them? (It might be more obvious than you think.)

There are a few pretty obvious differences, as well as one or two that don’t exactly jump out at first glance. We’ll give you a brief rundown of how to tell them apart, where each one outperforms the other, and why you might prefer one over the other. 

It’s important to know how to tell them apart, whether you’re a gamer or just enjoy listening to music. Once you know the answer – it’ll be that much easier to make your decision when you’re ready to shop for a new pair!

Difference Between Headsets And Headphones

If you play Xbox, Playstation, or prefer to game on your PC, you probably have a slight edge over someone who doesn’t (when it comes to knowing which is which). There’s such a wide variety of both to choose from that it can seem a bit overwhelming. 

Here are the Top 4 reasons you might prefer one over the other:

  1. Reasons You Need A Built-in/Boom Mic
  2. Sonic Performance – Which One Sounds Better?
  3. Build Design & Outward Appearance
  4. For Gaming, Listening To Music, and Watching Movies

Once you understand the difference, we’ll also give you a few brand recommendations for both. First, let’s take a look at which one usually has a built-in microphone – and why you may or may not actually need one!

Reasons You Need A Built-In/Boom Mic

While most headphones nowadays usually have some sort of microphone, it’s usually built into the cable. Nine times out of ten, the call clarity of an in-line mic isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘crystal clear’. 

Usually, the person on the other end will hear some background noise, static, or grain mixed in with your voice. Although that’s true in many cases, there are always a few exceptions. Then again, pristine call clarity is mainly important if you plan on using them for anything other than listening to music.

Call/Chat Clarity – Boom Mic vs. In-Line Microphone

This is where having a boom mic comes in handy. If you’re not familiar, a boom mic is a built-in microphone that’s often attached to one of the ear cups. Sometimes, they retract or fold-out so they’re not in the way when you don’t need a mic.

Other times, they’re completely non-removable and don’t fold or retract at all. Headsets like that were specifically designed for hardcore (or casual) gamers that play live or stream on a social media channel. 

Razer Headset - Difference Between Headsets And Headphones

Some people even use them for recording podcasts, although using a separate microphone produces much better results. That said, most boom mics have better call/chat clarity than in-line microphones. 

Before we start rambling too much – headsets have boom mics and most headphones don’t. You know which one has better call clarity, but which one sounds better when you’re gaming or listening to your favorite playlist? 

Sonic Performance – Which One Sounds Better? 

It’s almost impossible to argue that you’ll hear a pretty obvious difference between the two. This is especially true if you’ve ever used any decent pair of over/on-ear headphones. If you asked an audiophile which one they prefer, the answer would be completely unanimous.

Semi-Open vs Fully Open

Many audiophiles prefer the sound of an open back ‘phone. One of the main reasons being that they create a wider and more spacious soundstage (also referred to as soundscape in the gaming community). If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means that open back cans reproduce sound that’s closer to the live experience.

They’re able to more accurately simulate what it’s like to be in the same room as the band or artist you’re listening to. The same feeling applies to gaming. Gaming with open back cans makes you feel more fully immersed in the action and gameplay

Wider Soundstage (AKA Soundscape)

A wider soundstage for listening to music exclusively will always be a top priority for hardcore music fans. (If you’ve never tried them for gaming, you’ll be surprised at how obvious the difference is.) 

While there are a few semi-open back gaming headsets, they’re pretty few and far between. It’d be even more difficult to find one that’s fully-open. Some semi-open backs come pretty close to achieving similar results, but they’ll never be able to stand neck and neck with cans like the Sennheiser HD600

Since the HD600 wasn’t necessarily designed for gamers, they don’t have an in-line or boom mic. Gamers who want to experience (not just play) COD or Fortnite still find a way to work around it. The V-Moda BoomPro microphone attachment (pictured below) is one of the most popular ways to convert normal ‘phones into a certified gaming can. You can attach it to any ‘phone that has the standard 3.5 mm connector, instead of sacrificing a stellar sonic performance in return for a built-in boom mic.¬†Some headsets cost as much (if not more) than headphones that sound 10x better (even with the boom mic add-on).

Build Design & Outward Appearance

Their respective build designs and outward appearance are two more easy ways to tell them apart. Dedicated gaming cans with a boom mic usually have what some might call a ‘futuristic’ or ‘military-esque’ design

Regular headphones usually lean towards a pretty minimalistic design and don’t have a ton of extra frills or equipment hanging off the ear cup. Of course, designs do vary by brand and model. That’s one of the most obvious distinctions you can point out just by looking at them side-by-side.

Another feature that’s mostly exclusive to headsets are their light-up RGB (red, green, and blue) ear cups. Some people prefer the flashy color scheme illumination, but it literally has zero effect on overall performance. It’s a purely aesthetic choice that some are willing to pay extra for, while others can easily live without. 

Quality, Durability, and Comfort

They vary not only by outward appearance but also in terms of build quality. When you spend a few extra dollars on higher-end headphones, you’re usually paying for things like extra durability, a quality headband, plush ear pads, and a sturdy cable.¬†

Of course, that isn’t to say that well-built and comfortable gaming headsets don’t exist. On average, it’s much easier to find a pair of regular ‘phones that check off every single box. Now that you know most of the basics, take a look at which one’s more practical for gaming, music, and watching movies! 

For Gaming, Listening To Music, and Watching Movies

People will always be debate this subject, but for listening to music, it’s hard to argue against regular ‘phones. Headsets are usually more popular for gaming or live streaming on Twitch and YouTube.

PS4 Controller - Difference Between Headsets And Headphones

Some people even use them for podcasting, although recording with a dedicated microphone will produce much better results (for minimizing background noise and getting the best vocal clarity). You can, without a doubt, use either one for gaming, music, and movies, although it really depends on what you value the most.

If your main priority is to hear the best sound quality possible – use ‘phones. If you mainly care about how you look when you’re wearing them – you might prefer a gaming headset. (Who are we kidding, the RGB ear cups can look pretty cool in a dark room.)

On top of that, a microphone is completely unnecessary when you’re watching a movie. That’s why we recommend regular cans as the best all-around and most practical choiceTake a look at the final section below to see a few brand recommendations for both! 

Brand Recommendations For Both

Some brands are able to specialize in both styles while others only make gaming equipment. Razer, Astro, and HyperX are a few of the most popular companies for gaming audio. Other companies like Sennheiser, mainly manufacture headphones, but also offer a few gaming options. 

When it comes to listening to music, watching movies, and even gaming – the Top 10 headphone brands listed here specialize in creating the best listening experience possible. Each brand offers a pretty wide range of options from fairly inexpensive to extremely high-end models.

Once again, if you’re someone who doesn’t like to play on Live and don’t stream or record yourself, there’s almost no reason for a boom mic. Becoming completely immersed in your audio on the other hand, is absolutely essential. 

If you prefer a futuristic aesthetic and image over performance, many of the best Xbox One headsets do a pretty good job at executing a solid mix of both worlds. For this style, we recommend Razer, HyperX, or Astro

What Do You Think? Is One Better Than The Other?

Now that you know how to tell the difference between headsets and headphones, what do you think? Is one really better than the other, or is it a matter of weighing their strengths and weaknesses against your specific needs?

Ultimately, it really boils down to how and where you plan on using them. Since personal taste and preference plays such a big role in any discussion about audio gear, it’s usually a safe bet to go with your gut. 

If possible, you could always try both and see which one you prefer! (Nothing beats personal experience.) If you have any questions or want to chime in and let us know what you think, leave a comment below! 

Thanks for stopping by, we hope you enjoyed and look forward to hearing from you! 

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