Black Friday 2016 headphone deals that don't suck

You have a lot of great headphone options.

That's how I started 2015's guide to headphones right for you, and it's even more true this year. Hardware makers continue to step things up in often surprising ways, and even old-school players have started to make changes to long-standing hardware lines. There's a lot of good stuff out there, and some of it is coming from surprising places. This is a blessing and a curse, because finding stuff with so many options is hard, and possibly expensive.

This is where I come in. I've spent the last year trying a variety of headphones from various manufacturers at a lot of price points, in addition to the sets I wrote about in last year's guide. Unlike last year, I'll get to the point right now, and you can scroll down to read about why I'm making the suggestions I'm making.

If you're looking for the best wireless headset for the PC (only) at $99.99

The Corsair Void Wireless sounds good, is the most comfortable headset I've ever worn, even when used all day, has great wireless range, and the battery life is 15-20 hours.

If you're looking for the best wired stereo headset for PC or consoles at $69.99

I recommend the Corsaid Void Stereo (carbon) Headset, which is identical to the Corsair Void Wireless RGB in construction, save the cable.

If you're looking for the best wired stereo headset for PC or consoles at $49.99

I recommend the HyperX Cloud Stinger. It's a surprisingly good sounding headset with good low end, mids and highs, has a decent mic, and should be comfortable for almost anyone to wear for hours without discomfort.

If you're looking for the best PS4 or Xbox One wireless headset at $99.99

PDP's AG9+ headsets offer fully wireless audio and voice chat on PS4/Xbox One with pretty good audio quality and decent comfort. For the price, you won't find much in the way of meaningful competition.

If you're looking for the best PS4/PC or Xbox One/PC wireless headset at $299.99

Astro's 2016 revamp of the well-regarded A50s offers good sound quality, truly wireless support on both consoles, and smart quality of life improvements to justify the $299.99 price tag.

Of course, there are other needs, other price points. Below, I explain why these headsets, and what other sets might fit your budget and your needs. If your favorite headset didn't make the list, that doesn't mean it's bad — it means that compared to everything else, it's just not as competitive.


corsair void wireless Corsair Void Wireless RGB Gaming Headset
Price $99.99
Platform PC (Windows/OSX)
Connection Type Wireless (USB Dongle)
Pros Comfort, sound quality, battery life, wireless performance, build quality
Cons So-so mic, PC only, CUE software
Quirks Programmable LED lighting

This is sample of the Corsair Void Wireless RGB's mic audio.

After more than a year of constant use, the Corsair Void Wireless RGB gaming headset, available for $99.99 as of this writing on Amazon, remains my go-to headset in an apartment with almost 40 pairs of gaming-ready headphones.

The Voids feature deep, cloth mesh pads over 50mm headphone drivers with excellent sound that can be slightly bass-heavy — much as Astro's headsets are — but feature very clear mids and clean highs that aren't abrasively bright. The best way to put it may be that the Voids, like Astro's A40s and A50s, sound warm, but not at the expense of detail.

Sound quality is wasted on headphones that aren't comfortable to wear, and in that respect, the Voids also shine. In addition to a wonderful full cushion running along the top of the headband made of the same material as the earpads, the Voids feel sturdy with a reassuring but not too heavy sense of heft. They were comfortable enough for me to leave them on when I left my desk and wandered around my apartment, which speaks to the Voids' range. I could reach the front door about 30 feet away from my computer before I experienced any signal problems, which puts them a good 10 feet or so farther than the Astro A50s.

I've now spent thousands of hours with the Voids, and my initial affection for them hasn't waned. The batteries last around 18-20 hours, more than Corsair officially states in its materials, and they charge quickly.

The Voids are a PC exclusive wireless headset, and I like them enough to wish they worked for both the Xbox One and PS4

The Void RGB has other bells and whistles, which mean less to me. It features a Dolby listening mode that offers virtual surround support, though I tend to find this ruins sound quality on every headset that uses it. The wireless, RGB model also allows you to tailor its colored lighting to an astounding degree, though I ignored this feature — I didn't feel the need to trick out the lighting I would never see, though it could be a neat gimmick for livestreaming. I did appreciate the volume controls, which are both easy to access with a rocker on the back corner of the left earphone and directly controls Windows' volume, a surprisingly uncommon feature.

Caveat: Some people have had major problems with Corsair's Void RGB configuration tool, the Corsair Utility Engine, which is required to tweak the colored LEDs that give the Voids their name. A subset of Voids owners reported CPU spikes in windows 8 and 10 while running CUE, which seems to have been resolved after a few firmware updates. It's worth noting that at least in Windows 10 (and OSX), the CUE software isn't required to use the Voids. The OS detected the USB dongle and installed the necessary drivers automatically.

While I didn't experience problems with CUE, I did have the headset desync from its wireless USB receiver once, which required a paperclip and multiple attempts to resolve. This happened after an update the headset firmware. The Voids' headset mic is also just "OK," about on par with other wireless headset mics.

The only other complaint I have about the Voids is one of platforms — it's a PC exclusive wireless headset, and I like it enough to wish it worked for both the Xbox One and PS4. For now, the Astro A50s are a more full featured option for multi-platform buyers. The A50s are triple the price of the Voids, though Astro has finally made some major quality-of-life improvements to their flagship wireless headphones that set them apart and less in the way of caveats. But for PC only users, the Voids are an easy recommendation over any other wired or wireless set I've used.


Corsair Void Stereo Gaming Headset
Price $69.99/99.99
Platform PC (Windows/OSX), PS4, Xbox One
Connection Type Stereo 1/8th" "four post" headphone
Pros Comfort, sound quality, build quality
Cons So-so mic
Quirks USB model is PC only

If you're willing to sacrifice some microphone quality and save some money, the Void Wireless headset has a pair of wired cousins. The Corsair Void Stereo Gaming Headset retails for 70 bucks and is, in my opinion, even more comfortable than the Striker Pros. The Void line of headsets feature the same construction and headphone drivers (the speakers inside the parts that fit on your ears) across the line, so everything nice I have to say about the Void Wireless headset — sans its excellent wireless performance, obviously — applies to both its USB version at 99.99 and its more barebones — and cheaper — analog version.

The USB version of the Corsair Voids is, once again, a PC only product, despite the PS4's support of USB headsets. Meanwhile, the Corsair Void Stereo Headset includes a splitter to connect to the analog outputs on your PC, and will work on any device that supports the four-post mobile audio standard for 1/8th inch connectors. This means it will work natively with your PS4 or more recent Xbox One controllers, and will require a headset adapter on older Xbox One controllers sold separately.


The HyperX Cloud 2 gaming headset

Kingston's HyperX Cloud 2 headsets retail for $99.99 and are a favorite of eSports competitions in part because of their strong noise isolation and good sound. I don't think they sound as good as the Polk Striker Pros or Corsair Void wired options, but the mic audio on the Cloud 2s is clearer than Corsair's offering, if a little oversharp and somewhat abrasive. Still, I actually prefer the Stinger to the Cloud 2 from a fit and sound quality perspective.

cloud 2 headset

The Steelseries Arctis 5 gaming headset

Steelseries is working on revamping its product line for the first time in years, and the new Arctis line is the first wave of that. It comes in wired stereo, USB/stereo, and wireless flavors. The Arctis 5 supports both a standard stereo audio connection and a USB mini-hub that has a chat/game mixer knob. The Arctis 5 features a more conventional headband design than Steelseries previous sets at this price level, but it still has some interesting, out of the ordinary choices, including a stretchy fabric band below the main support structure for the earcups. The result is surprisingly comfortable, pair of headphones, even for me and my big ears. The construction feels sturdy, and not cheap. The Arctis 5's mic is also remarkably clear, and retracts, rather than detaching.

Unfortunately, the Arctis series uses the same drivers as the Siberia 800 headphone line. While these are Steelseries' premium wireless sets, retailing for hundreds of dollars, the sound quality isn't great, with muted highs and slightly muddy mids that are fine for games but not great for anything else. Also, the Arctis 5 uses breakaway modular cables with proprietary connections, and I could easily see myself losing with day to day use.

Still, the Arctis 5 has one fairly unique feature: an 1/8th inch headphone output on the set itself, which allows users to plug a second set of headphones in to share audio with another person.  And their style and look is something you could wear in public without being embarrassed.


hyperx cloud stinger front Kingston HyperX Cloud Stinger Gaming Headset
Price $49.99
Platform PC, Xbox One, PS4
Connection Type Wired, stereo
Pros Comfort, sound quality
Cons So-so mic, zero frills
Quirks none

This is sample of the HyperX Cloud Stinger's mic audio.

The $50 price point for headsets is a no-man's land of, pardon the expression, garbage. Last year I recommended Polk's Striker line, which were something of a miracle offering reference quality and a truly amazing mic in a plain, underwhelming-looking package. Those headsets sold out and quickly jumped in price, and have since seemingly been discontinued. However, when all hope appeared to be lost, PC gaming favorites Kingston saw an opening with their HyperX branded Cloud line. The result is the HyperX Cloud Stinger, and easy choice for users looking for a gaming headset at $50.

I've never been a huge fan of the Cloud line. Their headphones have been well made, but the sound quality has over-emphasized low frequencies and muffled higher tones, which is fine for games but poor for movies or music. The Cloud Stinger uses a different set of 50mm drivers in its earpieces, which leads to a much different, and in my opinion, better sounding pair of headphones. Bass is a smidge heavy, but not overwhelming and highs sound great. Midtones are pretty good, but can get a tiny bit lost every now and again. The overall result is a fun pair of headphones to listen to, with a an appreciable snap to kick drums and the like.

AVOID: The $39.99 price point is a minefield, and it's easy to throw bad money at feature sets that sound too good to be true. It's a difficult, low margin area for manufacturers to try to compete in, so I don't want to pick on anyone in particular. But aside from the Cloud Stinger, you might be better served getting a decent pair of mobile headphones or earbuds with an inline mic.

Surprisingly, the Stinger's low cost has not resulted in a headset that feels cheap.

The Stinger's construction differs from the Cloud and Cloud 2, with a more conventional, sturdy band and wider cups across the horizontal axis. The padding on the cups is quite deep and very soft, and the band has a good amount of padding. The result is a headset that's sturdy and comfortable to wear for hours at a time, beating out many much, much more expensive sets.

There are only really two caveats with the Stinger. First, the mic is clear, but the sound quality isn't great (though this isn't a problem limited to the Stinger or even cheap headsets in general). Second, the Stinger is extremely no frills. The microphone arm rotates, but it isn't removable. There are no in-line controls for headset volume, chat audio, or microphone muting. Some manufacturers sell headsets at this pricepoint with more bells and whistles, but where it counts, I have yet to find a currently available option that can beat what the Stinger offers.

It's worth noting that the Cloud Stinger has an advantage over last year's budget pick, the Polk Striker gaming headset, despite having a worse mic and sound quality that isn't as strong. Polk appears to have discontinued its Striker line, and even last year, prices quickly jumped on the sets in December. However, Kingston is unlikely to cease supporting their HyperX headsets, and seems set on participating in the space for the foreseeable future.


a50s 2016
Astro Gaming A50 (2016)
Price $299.99
Platform PC (Windows/OSX), PS4, Xbox One
Connection Type Wireless (powered and/or USB base station)
Pros Comfort, sound quality, versatility, smart extras
Cons So-so mic, battery life, price
Quirks wireless chat is platform specific

This is a sample of the Astro A50's mic audio.

If want wireless and you're willing to spend for quality, the Astro A50s remain your best option.

While the number of quality headphones aimed at the gaming space has exploded in the last few years, there are some segments that remain pretty uncompetitive, in part because Astro Gaming makes premium products that generally make a good case for their prices. As Astro's high end product, the A50 doesn't disappoint, and more importantly, this year's model has seen some major quality-of-life enhancements and slight but appreciated performance improvements.


Astro has apparently taken some of the increased competition in quality headphone options to heart in the last 18 months.

The clearest evidence of this is obviously the big improvements to their wireless flagship, the A50, but their wired staple, the A40, has seen its own refinements with the TR sub-branding. The build quality here seems somewhat improved from previous years, with the same excellent sound quality.

Other companies are starting to advance on Astro's LAN-centric offerings, however, with Turtle Beach signing eSports agreements for the Elite Pro line of headsets, which come with similar mix-amps that support daisy-chained audio and closed-circuit voice chat. Luckily for Astro, the sound quality on the Elite Pro sets remain underwhelming, with muddy mids and muffled highs.

That said, obviously, Astro's position isn't safe, and their pricing remains very high. If you can spend the money and need their features, the A40 TR line is great, but it's a hard sell against other products from Corsair and Kingston's HyperX brand. If Astro is smart, they'll remain proactive.

The A50s sound quality is on par with most of the best gaming headsets around, neck and neck with Corsair's Void and with better highs and smoother bass. Like the Voids, Astro seems to use the same drivers for its A40s and the A50s. The A50s feel just slightly more comfortable than the A40s, and feel a bit sturdier, and the headset's controls are smartly integrated — you can adjust the game/voice balance by clicking the panel over the right ear up or down.

Previously, the A50 line had one particular sound issue: a small bit of white noise, or hiss, audible during moments of silence in audio. This is almost completely absent in this year's revamp, which puts them ahead of virtually every other non-bluetooth wireless headset I've tried.

Construction of the set hasn't changed especially, but the 2016 model feels a bit sturdier, and also features the same detachable earcups as Astro's premium TR line of wired A40 headsets, and also allow for the same sort of "mods," which include the ability to replace the set's headband padding.

The biggest improvement may in fact be the most innocuous, however. The 2016 A50s have a sensor built into them that places the headphones on standby when the headphones are set down for more than a minute or two. This may be some kind of infrared sensor, as they don't seem to enter this standby on, say, a glass coffee table.

This feature is incredibly useful. It increases practical battery life quite a bit, and the 2016 A50s have a very long standby shelf life as well. Also, there's no more annoying audio coming from the set when you set them down.

Last year I complained that the power button was a pain to activate. Now, that isn't an issue (even if it's still a pain to activate). In addition to the "soft-standby" feature, the 2016 A50s also have a new base station that serves as a charging dock, and, when the A50s are sitting in that doc, sound playback is disabled.

This new base station doesn't seem to offer any increase in practical range for the headset, a minor annoyance compared to Corsair's Voids. But it does show the A50's remaining battery life on an (easy-to-read from across the room) indicator. The Xbox One version of the base station also finally supports truly wireless chat this year.

This brings me to one of the only problems of the 2016 version of the A50s. It's an officially licensed product for the Xbox One and the PS4, but for ... reasons, it isn't sold in versions licensed for both at the same time. If you want wireless chat (or any chat at all) on PS4, you have to buy that version, and vice versa. Both SKUs support Windows 10, however.

Finally, the sound quality for the A50's headset mic still isn't great, and some well-meaning but very aggressive noise cancellation tech can cause your voice to cut out. Most of the wireless sets I tested actually suffer from so-so microphone audio, to be fair, but few of them cost as much as the A50s.

The A50s offer an excellent listening experience, as they should, given the steep price tag. While I didn't fully test several manufacturers for this feature, I've used almost everything at various events, and Astro handily beats the likes of Turtle Beach.

Last year, this recommendation was measured. I wrote that it feels like we're waiting for a serious challenge to Astro with premium wireless gear. We're still waiting for that, but for the first time in years, Astro is getting proactive about making their best products better.


pdp ag 9
PDP Afterglow AG 9+ Wireless Headset
Price $99.99
Platform PC (Windows/OSX) and PS4 OR PC (Windows/OSX) and Xbox One
Connection Type Wireless (USB Dongle)
Pros Sound quality, battery life, wireless performance
Cons So-so mic, headband is slightly tight, aesthetics seem dated

This is a sample of the Afterglow AG 9's mic audio..

They're not the best at any one thing, but for $100, PDP's Afterglow AG 9+ headsets are a pretty good value. This 2016 release is an update of last year's already quite good AG 9s.

The AG 9+ sets are fairly comfortable even for larger eared folk, they offer good dynamic range, and they offer good wireless performance. They also offer completely wireless chat on PS4 and Xbox One, depending on which version you buy. However, unlike last year's AG 9s, I was unable to get either the PS4 or Xbox One version to work on my Windows 10 PC wirelessly.

The AG 9+ isn't perfect. There can be some soft wireless "buzz" at high volumes, though it I didn't find it especially distracting. They're not as comfortable as Astro's A50s or Corsair's Voids, and were a bit tight on my (admittedly large) head. The mic quality isn't great, and the industrial design leaves something to be desired, feeling very rooted in mid-00s "transparent plastic and LEDs" aesthetics.

But at this price point, on consoles, there's not a lot of great competition. Sony's line of PS4 headsets is decent, but the build quality can feel flimsy and I think the AG 9s sound better, with a less bass-dominated sound field. And despite a somewhat dated aesthetic, the build quality also outdoes just about any Turtle Beach set I've used, regardless of price point. The battery life seems good and I didn't have any problems exceeding the 16 hours listed by PDP in the AG 9's marketing. And the sound quality is very listenable. Bass is a little overdriven and highs are a bit brighter than "accurate," but they're a fun set to listen to.

The rest of the bunch: prices and impressions

Turtle Beach Recon 50x

Price $39.95
Platform PC (Windows/OSX) and PS4 and Xbox One
Connection Type Stereo 1/8th" "four post" headphone
Pros Inline-muting and an excellent mic
Cons The Recon 50X has some of the worst sound of any headset I used over the course of researching this feature. Not only was its dynamic range poor, I suffered severe ear-fatigue quickly at medium volumes.
turtle beach earforce recon 50x

Turtle Beach PX24

Price $79.99
Platform PC (Windows/OSX) and PS4 and Xbox One
Connection Type Stereo 1/8th" "four post" headphone w/optional battery powered USB amplifier
Pros It's a surprisingly listenable pair of headphones, and the breakout box gives a slightly warmer sound as well, though it kills some of the detail the headphones otherwise seem capable of. Their dynamics aren't amazing, but I didn't feel any ear fatigue to speak of. One of the only sets to feature mic-monitoring.
Cons There's a "superhuman hearing" mode that makes for a poor listening experience, however.
turtle beach px24

Razer Kraken Pro

Price $80.00 (approx)
Platform PC (Windows/OSX) and PS4 and Xbox One
Connection Type Stereo 1/8th" "four post" headphone
Pros Better sound in practice than it's more expensive big brother, the Chroma. Not comfortable to wear over long periods of time. Sound is never amazing, but a decent bit of range can be managed through your sound card's controls.
Cons Razer's Synapse software is a pain, with poor sound management. The headband is too tight, creating a weird vacuum effect on the cups that make so-so sound quality worse. Also they're bright green.
razer kraken pro

Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma

Price $99.99
Platform PC (Windows/OSX)
Connection Type USB
Pros The Kraken Chroma 7.1 has the most painless, easy to manage packaging of any headset i've ever seen. Yes, this is a positive.
Cons The Chromas' sound is extremely bass heavy, and I couldn't easily find a way to disable its surround effect. The cans are tight but didn't hurt, exactly, but the headband fit was also very tight. The tightness of the headphones means the sound quality is worse for people with large ears.
razer chroma

Steelseries Siberia X100

Price $80.00 (approximate)
Platform PC (Windows/OSX), PS4, Xbox One
Connection Type Stereo 1/8th" "four post" headphone
Pros Comfortable fit and soft padding
Cons The X100's sound quality isn't terrible, but it's outclassed by comparably priced and cheaper headsets. And there's no onboard microphone included.
Siberia X100

Steelseries Siberia X300

Price $149.99
Platform PC (Windows/OSX), PS4, Xbox One
Connection Type Stereo 1/8th" "four post" headphone
Pros The Siberia X300s have the most unorthodox headband design I've ever seen, but they are quite comfortable. Their noise isolation is pretty good, and they include a breakout splitter cable for PC use.
Cons The X300's sound quality is only ok, with excessive bass that became tiring and fuzzy high frequencies. For what you're getting, the X300s are very, very expensive.
siberia x300

Steelseries Siberia X800 and P800

Price $349.99 (approximate)
Platform PC (Windows/OSX), PS4, Xbox One
Connection Type USB/optical input
Pros The Siberia P800 and X800 are the same headset, save for the X800's included Xbox One chat adapter. They both offer the same relatively comfortable fit, excellent battery life, and a novel swappable battery system that includes a second battery that charges in the breakout box while not in use. Sound is mostly good, though not without its problems.
Cons First, the Siberia 800 line is very expensive, even more expensive than the better sounding, more comfortable Astro A50s (which are already on the outside limits of their recommendability based on price). Second, there's a fair amount of wireless noise in the headset at high volume, and at this price point, that seems especially intolerable. The mic is slightly worse than the competition as well.
steelseries siberia x800