Top Pick: Razer Hammerhead Pro | $200 | Amazon
This is going to sound like a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation, but 2021 might just be the year cloud gaming takes off. The early signs are popping up everywhere. Google Stadia just released on iOS and Microsoft’s own cloud service will do the same in the spring. LG announced that both Stadia and GeForce Now will be available as streaming apps on its future TVs. OtterBox decided to crack into the gaming industry with a suite of mobile gear built with Xbox’s cloud service in mind. Even Amazon is getting in the game with Luna.
All of that got me thinking: Was I really prepared for a mobile gaming revolution? I’ve played plenty of games on my phone, but I’ve never really tried to stream a full console game to my iPhone. As I was considering what controllers and game clips to pair with my phone, I realized something I was missing: a good audio solution. If you’re going to get serious about gaming on-the-go, good earbuds are a must. Fortunately, plenty of tech companies have specifically branded “gaming earbuds” meant for this purpose.
What’s the difference between a gaming earbud and a standard earbud though? Is it just some clever marketing, or is there an actual advantage to grabbing a pair aimed at gamers over your regular, old Apple EarPods? To put that question to the test, I tried out five different sets of gaming earbuds across a variety of devices, from iPhone to Xbox. Here’s the resulting deep dive into the ever-fascinating world of gamer products.
Best Gaming Earbuds Overall: Razer Hammerhead Pro
The most expensive option on this list is, as expected, the best. Razer’s Hammerhead Pro wireless buds offer top-notch sound that will flatter any game it comes across. Titles like Destiny 2 came through crystal clear as I played via iOS on Google Stadia. More importantly (to me, at least), the Hammerhead Pros offer true active noise-canceling. When I put them in, I’m consistently shocked by how well they eliminate outside sound, allowing me to focus my attention purely on game audio. Those two factors alone make these the perfect earbuds for just about any gaming platform that supports Bluetooth.
In addition, you’ve got extensive touch controls that can be remapped, a 60-millisecond low latency gaming mode, and a charging case that adds another 16 hours of battery life. The catch, naturally, is the price. $200 is a lot to spend on earbuds if you’re a casual mobile gamer. Whether or not you want to splurge depends on how much you see yourself using services like Stadia or Apple Arcade. If you’re looking for something to get you through quick commutes, these might be out of your budget. But the quality and feature set elevate the Razer Hammerhead Pros and make them a standout option.
Best Gaming Earbuds With Mic: Turtle Beach Battle Buds
Turtle Beach’s Battle Buds originally stood out to me for one reason: they come with an attachable microphone that turns them into a mini headset. Most earbuds come with some sort of mic built-in, so it was a funny sight at first glance. Surprisingly, the microphone adds virtually no weight to the buds and is incredibly flexible, making it a convenient audio solution for gamers who are used to having a proper mic in front of them. The mic quality is perfectly normal considering how small it looks.
The Battle Buds are a solid budget choice if you’re just looking for a cheap solution, though you can certainly hear the difference between them and pricier options on the list. I went back and forth on sound quality when switching between a few buds. The mix felt perfectly fine in Apple Arcade games like Grindstone, but it started to sound a little harsher when playing Switch games with louder and more continuous sound. The buds themselves are also a bit unwieldy, causing me to fiddle with them more often they should. While they might be better suited for less audio-intensive games, the Battle Buds are a perfectly good option for more casual mobile gaming and feature a creative microphone solution to boot.
Best Budget Gaming Earbuds: HyperX Cloud Earbuds
HyperX’s Cloud Earbuds were the next step up in price and I could feel the difference in quality. Designed with the Switch in mind, I took these for a spin in some rounds of Tetris 99 with its blaring beats and sharp sound effects. The difference was subtle, but noticeable when switching between my Battle Buds, my outdated Apple EarPods, and these. Everything felt a little easier on the ear with a smoother mix that felt balanced between bass and treble. High-action games like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity fared well, though I could certainly hear that the limits weren’t too far off.
Out of any buds on this list, the Clouds lead the pack in terms of comfort. Stuffing a piece of plastic deep into my ears is always a little weird, but HyperX’s design is surprisingly non-invasive. The only real downside is a lack of volume control, which left me having to adjust it on my Switch or phone instead. Still, comfort and audio clarity go a long way here, making these a solid Switch accessory if you’re down to spend $40 on wired earbuds.
Best Wireless Budget Gaming Earbuds: HyperX Cloud Buds
Here’s a quick interlude between the wired and wireless options. HyperX also has a Bluetooth version of its Cloud Earbuds, complete with some hits and some misses. Despite being wireless, a rubber wire runs between both headsets to keep volume control and an on/off toggle as dedicated buttons. That makes for a slightly off-kilter design that’s caught between worlds. It also means the buds are charged via a USB cable that plugs in next to the power switch, rather than using a convenient charging case. It also comes with a mesh bag that feels a little too small.
But I don’t mean to scare you off: the wireless HyperX Cloud Buds still deliver when it comes to the important stuff. I took these for a spin through some Apple Arcade titles and was very impressed with the audio quality. In Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, one of my favorite hidden gems from last year, I could hear every little nature sound with crisp detail. Plus, it still features the same comfortable bud design as its wired counterpart, which is the key selling point for HyperX. If you want something that doesn’t feel uncomfortable you can keep in your ears for hours while gaming, either HyperX Cloud earbud iteration is the way to go.
Best Gaming Earbuds for Music: RedMagic Cyberpods
Right off the bat, RedMagic’s Cyberpods certainly look the part. The red and black design feels the most at home with gaming-branded accessories with their glowing lights and sharp angles. I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical at first, expecting all style and little substance. Surprisingly, I ended up using these more than anything during my tests for some key reasons. For one, they strike a great balance between comfort and security in-ear. I never had to touch them once they were in. On the gaming side of things, the Cyberpods offer strong sound quality for the price. They were my go-to option for music-heavy games like Fuser or Dicey Dungeons that begged for a little bass. They have 20 hours of battery life as well, and I’m confident I’ll never play a game for that long in one sitting.
There’s one real caveat to these, however. The buds feature a 39-millisecond low latency game mode meant to cut down significantly on delay. The only catch is that it only works with RedMagic phones. Without that, I still found the delay to be minimal, though I began to notice it more when trying to do anything on a hard beat in Fuser. If you have a RedMagic phone, these seem like a no-brainer, but otherwise you’re not going to take full advantage of them. That said, I still ended up using them quite a bit between my phone and even PC gaming.