By Dennis Burger
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full PS4 headset guide here.
If you're looking for a gaming headset for PlayStation 4 that delivers the best balance of performance, comfort, and bang for your buck, we think the Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha is the one to get. It's beautifully built, based on a proven design, and features a punchy, bass-forward sound that works great with the low-powered output of the DualShock 4 controller.
Of all the wired headsets we tested, the Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha is one of the few that delivered a truly satisfying sound experience when plugged into the PS4's controller—neither too quiet nor too thin-sounding. In this respect it even outshines the original HyperX Cloud, our current top-pick headset for PC gamers, when connected to a PS4. In nearly every way, everything we love about the original Cloud holds true with the Alpha: Its construction is top-notch, its sound isolation is great, and in terms of durability it has few peers.
This is where we normally say something like, "You'd have to spend $X more to find a better-sounding headset for PS4," but the truth is that the majority of pricier headsets we tested need more power than the DualShock's headset output can provide. In this case, there's really no significant advantage to spending more.
If you absolutely hate wires, even just a short one running from your headset to the controller in your hands, or if you're looking for a tweakable, customizable personal audio experience for your PS4, there's a lot to love about Sony's updated PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset. This much-improved version of the original Gold Wireless boasts better durability, better performance, and superior styling compared with the original Gold. The truth is that you could buy a better-sounding, more comfortable wireless headset for $50 more, but you'd be giving up what we consider to be very worthwhile features—namely, Sony's own proprietary virtual surround sound processing, as well as an app that allows you to tune the headset's sound.
Why you should trust us
In addition to reviewing headphones, speakers, receivers, and home theater gear for Home Entertainment magazine, HomeTechTell, Electronic House, Big Picture Big Sound, Digital TV & Sound, Home Theater (now Sound & Vision), Home Theater Review and Residential Systems, I've spent more than 200 hours over the past two-and-a-half years stress-testing more than 70 different headsets for Wirecutter's guide to the best gaming headsets for the PC. I've been a dedicated gamer since 1980 and spend at least 15 to 18 hours per week wearing a headset.
How we picked and tested
I started work on this guide by pulling together all of the models in our guide to the best gaming headsets for the PC, as well as a handful of models that didn't quite make the cut for that guide. Why turn to runners-up in the search for our favorite PS4 headset? Simply put, it mostly boils down to the fact that headsets that sound great via a PC don't always sound great with the Sony console because the PS4 controller can't deliver the power required to drive some headphones. When testing on PS4, we focused on the following criteria:
- Is it easy to power? Most of our favorite PC gaming headsets ended up sounding pretty wimpy when plugged into the DualShock 4. Even our top-pick PC gaming headset sounded a little light on the bass and a little too quiet. A PC's sound card can deliver more power to headphones. We needed something that could deliver dynamic sound without needing a lot of juice.
- Is it easy to connect? Most wired gaming headsets for the PC terminate in two connections: one 3.5 mm jack for audio output, and another for mic input. The PS4's controller has only a single four-pole jack for audio and mic. So most wired headsets require an additional adapter to turn two cables into one. We gave preference to headsets that instead terminate in a single four-pole plug (and that require an additional Y-splitter when used with PC). For wireless headsets, we preferred those that came with a simple USB transmitter, instead of a bulky transmitter that requires an optical audio connection.
- Is it comfortable? Most respondents to our survey of gamers reported that comfort is equally as important as sound quality. But for consoles, we focused more on short-term comfort than all-day wearability. That's based on current research from Nielsen that shows most console gamers spend only an average of 6.65 hours per week gaming—somewhat less than PC gamers reported in the same survey, and way less time than we spend plugged into our PC test rig during any given week.
- Can you hear me now? We weren't looking for broadcast-quality voice delivery here. As long as our fellow players on the other end of the connection could understand us without interference from background noise, we gave a mic passing marks.
Our pick for PS4: Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha
The Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha sounds good when connected to a PS4 controller and has a conveniently short cable and a mic that carries your voice clearly to other players. When we tested the Alpha for our PC gaming headset guide, we loved it, but not quite as much as the original HyperX Cloud. We appreciated the enhanced bass of the newer model, but preferred the more neutral sound and better long-term comfort of its older sibling. Move from PC to PS4, though, and the roles are reversed.
We found the Alpha to be rich, dynamic, and appreciably weighty sounding. And unlike most of the wired headsets we tested, we found that the Cloud Alpha played loudly enough to deliver a satisfying gaming experience (though, if you're a parent buying these for your kids, you'll appreciate the fact that even at full volume it's never loud enough to damage sensitive eardrums).
We also loved its simpler connectivity and shorter cable. The Cloud Alpha terminates in a four-pole 3.5 mm jack, the same as you'd find on your favorite headphones for your phone, and the sort of jack that the DualShock 4 controller relies on. You can add an included Y-splitter for use with PCs, but without it the cable measures just over 4 feet—plenty long enough to reach from your head to the controller in your hands, but not so long that it becomes a tangle. And although its mic wasn't a deciding factor, it also sounds pretty great.
The Cloud Alpha's construction is nearly identical to the original Cloud's, except for a few styling cues. And because we've used the same Cloud headset for more than two years now—stuffing it in travel bags, dropping it on the floor, rolling over its cord with desk chairs, and even sitting on it from time to time—without the slightest hint of visible or structural damage, we think that bodes well for the long-term durability of the Cloud Alpha as well.
Our favorite wireless headset for PS4: New PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset
For most console gamers, we don't think a wireless headset is a necessity, because wired models plug right into the wireless controller. But if you're into PlayStation VR, want a solid virtual surround sound experience with your gaming headset, or just hate wires for some reason, we think you'll find a lot to love about Sony's updated PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset. It also gives you access to game audio profiles not available to any other headset.
This follow-up to one of the most popular headsets for PlayStation gamers improves on its forebear with better construction, superior styling, and a headband that isn't prone to snapping in half. Bonus points for that.
This headset isn't quite as comfortable as our current wireless pick for PC gamers, the Kingston HyperX Cloud Flight. And out of the box it doesn't sound quite as good. But the PlayStation Gold Wireless offers something that other wireless models don't—access to Sony's virtual surround sound processing, as well as compatibility with the PlayStation Headset Companion app, which allows you to load audio presets designed by PlayStation game designers or even create your own custom EQ profiles. We loaded the preset for Uncharted 4, and it transformed the sound experience from pretty solid to downright riveting, impactful, and immersive. The app also includes generic sound profiles for different game genres (such as shooters), all of which elevate the gaming experience. Simply put, the functionality of the Headset Companion app more than makes up for this model's barely acceptable mic and lackluster battery life (roughly seven hours).
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