Starving Dragon The ravings of a caffeine-depraved programmer & gamer

Audiophile Gaming, Is It Possible? (Part 3)

So in the last post I went through the different types of headphones and headsets available on the market and came to the conclusion that for a audiophile gaming rig, I needed some audiophile-quality stereo headphones to go along with it.

Before I get too carried away with pretty shiny headphones, I think it’s best to go over some pretty important tech-jargon first; impedance. Impedance in it’s most simple form is the electrical resistance of the headphones. It is measured in ohms with low-impedance headphones generally falling in the range of 32ohms -> 80ohms and high-impedance headphones 80ohms upwards (600ohms is not uncommon). “But what does this mean?” I hear you ask… In short, the higher the level of impedance the more power the headphones need to be driven properly, so the more likely they are to require a headphone amplifier to get enough volume and/or to allow the true quality of the headphones to shine through. This is because most sound cards only offer a line-level output, which isn’t powerful enough to drive high-impedance headphones.

If you are interested in learning more about impedance and it’s effects, I’d recommend taking a look here.

Right, back to headphones… I’ve searched high and low for what users are recommending and that knowledge along with my own experiences so far, have allowed me to compile a list of recommended choices (I’ll add to this list over time). I’m going to separate out headphones that I have personal experience with, from the ones that I have investigated / researched as to meeting my own criteria for my gaming rig. First up are the one’s I have used myself:


Goldring NS1000

Goldring NS1000

Price £55~60 (although some places seem to think that they can get away with £150+)
Impedance 100ohms when in “passive” mode, 300ohms in “active” mode.
Open/Closed Closed

At the £55 mark, these are an absolute steal. Compared to my Razer Carcharias gaming headset (which cost 1.5x this), the Goldring NS1000 simply blows it out of the water (pun intended, for those that know what a Carcharias actually is). Not to mention that they are amazingly comfortable; the ear pads are made of something that feels simply sublime, they are reasonably light and the headband doesn’t dig in at all. I personally don’t use the Active Noise Reduction (ANR) feature, but if you’re in a noisy environment then it could be an added bonus. Given a 5-Star rating by What Hi-Fi? in 2007, these really are a brilliant set of cans for someone making their first steps into audiophile-grade hardware. One thing to note is that they have a relatively high impedance level (as will most audiophile headphones), 100ohms in “passive” mode is still more than most un-amped sources can manage to drive properly. As such it’s worth getting a headphone amplifier to get the best out of these; whether that be a sound card with an amp built-in, an external headphone amp or a DAC/Amp combo.

The last thing is more of a warning: There have been some build-quality issues with what seems to be a previous “bad batch”, although recent purchases seem to be ok so far, when you get them make sure you give them a proper going-over before you bin the packaging!


Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO

DT770 Pro

Price £120~
Impedance 80ohms or 250ohms (2 separate versions available)
Open/Closed Closed

If there’s one word that can describe these it’s this: BASS. Yup, these are bass demons. Having a closed-back design helps with bass reproduction and while the mid and treble isn’t as good at the AD900’s, it’s not awful by any means. Designed and built in Germany these are a set of headphones you can rely on, they are built to last, even if you decide to be reckless with them they sell separate spares for them so you’ll never need to bin them! Comfort-wise they are hold up very well; the earpieces are very soft and don’t squeeze your head above what’s necessary to keep them on, the headband is well padded too and the only complaint really is that you might end up with “hot-ear syndrome” as they are closed back they have a tendency to get quite warm! Brilliant for the type of gamer that want’s to “feel” every explosion, gunshot or photon torpedo, however the bass makes it harder to consistently determine directionality. Availability in two different impedance levels (80/250) allows users to choose a set that will be driven best by their set-up.


Now for the one’s that I’ve heard are good (from multiple generally reliable sources), or used lightly, but not to the extent that I’m happy to put my own personal stamp of approval on.


Audio-Technica ATH-AD900

ATH-AD900

Price £220~
Impedance 35ohms
Open/Closed Open

Obviously these are at quite a different price-point to the Goldring NS1000’s and as such they need to deliver a lot more. Most people seem to be in agreement that the mids and treble on this set of cans is hard to beat (without spending silly amounts), however the bass is a little on the weak side (most “open back” cans have a harder time to get punchy bass notes). As such it’s a good choice for a competitive gamer that wants to hear where everything is around them, without getting too distracted by overpowering explosions and gunfire sounds. Comfort-wise they fair very well; the headband adjusts when tension is applied so that there is never any pressure on the top of your head and the earpieces have only enough force applied to keep them on your head (rather than like a vice!). Also worth a mention is the fact that they are very low impedance, meaning that you should be able to drive them reasonably well with a standard headphone output (although I’d always recommend an amp!).


Denon D2000

D2000

Price £220~
Impedance 25ohms
Open/Closed Closed

Another stunningly well made bit of kit here, this time from Denon. Having a closed back design these feel less “airy” than the AD900’s, however they do have a bit more bass impact; notice that I say a “bit” because generally speaking these are very well balanced between bass, mid and treble. They produce a sound that I think most people would describe as “refined”, not overly bass-heavy, but it’s there when you need it. Build quality might be a bit lacking however; they are made in China and have been known to suffer from the odd manufacturing defect (loose screws, etc). Comfort wise they are good, if a little “slippy”. Perhaps a good choice for a gamer that want’s to do a mix of bass-heavy gaming and music listening.