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The best headsets in 2021: headphones with a mic for Zoom, gaming & home working

The best headsets
(Image credit: Razer)

With many of us now spending more time in front of a computer, it makes sense to invest in some quality computer kit to help the time pass more comfortably. Once you've found the best laptop or Chromebook to suit your needs and budget, it's time to turn to peripherals. A portable monitor or monitor arm can help widen your visual perspective, but what about sound? You could check out our pick of the best headphones on the market right now. However, with more and more of us now needing to communicate virtually with friends, family and colleagues, a headset could be a better bet. Essentially just a pair of conventional headphones with a boom microphone attached, a headset is ideal for providing great quality audio as well as voice recording, as the mic is always perfectly positioned just in front of your mouth.

When it comes to choosing the best headset for you, these factors are all worth considering:

Microphone quality

If you're going to choose a headset over a conventional pair of headphones, you might as well choose something with a decent mic. At its most basic, a good mic should be able to be positioned so it can sit just beside or below your lips - close enough to pick up your voice at its clearest, but not right in front where your breathing will make you sound like Darth Vader.

Then there's the issue of background noise. This can easily detract from what you're saying, but fortunately most headset manufacturers incorporate directional microphones that are tuned to only pick up the sound waves emanating from the direction of your mouth. If that's still not enough, higher-spec headsets can feature active noise cancellation, whereby the mic actively filters out background interference.

Frequency response

This conveys the breadth of tones that the headphone drivers are able to produce, from the lowest bass notes to the highest treble frequencies. The human ear can usually hear a range from 20Hz up to 20,000Hz (or 20kHz), so a pair of headphones that at least covers this range is a must. Most boast an even wider response range though, which at the low/bass end can be beneficial, as while you may not be able to hear these frequencies, it is possible to feel them.

Impedance

Measured in ohms, and symbolized as Ω, this quantifies how easily the speaker drivers are to 'drive' - vibrate - sound waves into your ear. Headphones with a low impedance (below 50 ohms) are easy to drive and don't require additional sound amplification above and beyond what your laptop can produce. High impedance headphones are designed for use with a dedicated headphone amp or pro studio equipment, otherwise they can sound too quiet. On this list we're only recommending low impedance models to ensure maximum device compatibility.

Connection

Most of the headphones on this list use a traditional corded connection to your device, usually via a good old 3.5mm headphone jack. This ensures the best possible audio fidelity with no risk of degradation or dropout due to wireless interference. More expensive headphones may have the option to unplug the headphone cord from the earcup, so you can swap it out for shorter, longer, straight or coiled cables.

Earcup design

When you're spending long periods in front of a computer, comfortable earcups are a must. For this reason studio headphones don't tend to use an in-ear, earbud design, and instead are generally classified as 'on-ear' or 'over-ear'.

On-ear headphones are less common in the studio sector. These earcups rest flat on the surface of your ear, which can be fine for shorter periods, but could cause fatigue after a while.

Over-ear cups - also called circumaural - solve this by adding a thicker perimeter ring of padding around the cup so it sits around your ear, rather than on it. It's a more comfortable solution, and also creates a seal around each ear to seal out background noise - a feature called noise isolation, or passive noise reduction.

Then there's the choice between open-back and closed-back earcups. Closed back are more common in the reference headphone market, as they help to further isolate sound. Open-back earcups will have a vented exterior casing to allow some sound to escape. This can create a wider, airier sound profile, but it also means others around you can hear the audio leakage.

The best headsets in 2021

(Image credit: Razer)

1. Razer Kraken X

A headset with great specs and a bargain price

Specifications
Microphone: unidirectional ECM boom, 100Hz-10kHz
Connection: wired, 3.5mm jack, 1.3m cable
Driver size: 40mm
Frequency response: 12Hz-28kHz
Impedance: 32 ohms
Weight: 250g
Reasons to buy
+Good headphone frequency response+Accessible price+Plenty of ear/headband padding
Reasons to avoid
-No active noise cancellation

Razer products are targeted squarely at gamers, and the Kraken X is no exception. However that's not to say gaming is its only function - the Kraken X is just as versatile as a regular headset, with the added benefit that you could use it with a games console if you wanted to. The external design is just as subtle as any non-gaming headset, and the plush memory foam earpad cushions will be equally as comfortable for a day's homeworking as they would be during an evening's gaming. Underneath the left earcup is a conveniently placed volume slider and mute button, and inside are 40mm drivers with a respectable 12Hz-28kHz frequency response, and with a low 32-ohm resistance, they can be driven by any device and still produce plenty of volume. Connectivity is via a good old wire - 1.3m long - that terminates in a regular 3.5mm audio jack. The bendable and directional mic utilizes a cardioid pic-up pattern to zone in on your voice and exclude background noise, though there's no active noise cancellation.

(Image credit: Kingston)

2. HyperX Cloud Revolver S

A superb premium headset with features galore

Specifications
Microphone: Electret condenser microphone, bi-directional, ANC, 50Hz-18kHz
Connection: Wired, 3.5mm jack, 1m cable
Driver size: 50mm
Frequency response: 12Hz-28kHz
Impedance: 30 ohms
Weight: 360g
Reasons to buy
+Large drivers with wide frequency response+Mic has active noise cancellation+7.1 virtual surround sound
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively heavy

Though it's a gaming headset compatible with consoles and computers alike, you can use the Cloud Revolver S in a variety of scenarios thanks to its strong emphasis on sound quality, mic quality and wearer comfort. Large 50mm drivers deliver a healthy 12Hz-28kHz frequency response and have a low 30-ohm impedance, so they're easy to drive by anything from your phone to a Hi-Fi amp, with wide device compatibility assured by the convenient 3.5mm connection (a USB dongle is also included, and it contains a signal processing sound card to ensure the best possible audio from any connected device). The drivers are capable of Dolby 7.1 virtual surround to enhance both gaming and movie immersion, and you don't even need to install software to enable the feature. Comfort is paramount with the Cloud Revolver S, as its large over-ear earpads are clad in soft leatherette and lined with memory foam. The focus on quality materials also extends to the solid-steel frame, however while this is great for toughness, it does contribute to the headset's relatively heavy 376g weight. We're also not that impressed by the mic's 50Hz-18kHz response, which isn't class-leading, but at least you do get noise cancellation to keep your voice sounding its clearest.

(Image credit: Audio-Technica)

3. Audio-Technica ATH-G1

The best money-no-object headset

Specifications
Microphone: condenser, hypercardioid pattern, 30Hz- 20kHz
Connection: wired, 3.5mm jack, 2m cable
Driver size: 45mm
Frequency response: 5Hz- 40kHz
Impedance: 45 ohms
Weight: 257g
Reasons to buy
+Stunning frequency response+Detachable, directional mic+Premium design
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly pricey-No virtual surround

To give it its full title, the Audio-Technica ATH-G1 Premium Gaming Headset is, you've guessed it, targeted at gamers. However these cans can be equally good - if not better - than a conventional headset for listening to music, movies, or your colleagues during a video conference. Sound quality takes center stage here, with the relatively large 45mm drivers tuned to deliver studio-quality sound; something that's backed up by the highly impressive 5Hz-40kHz frequency response. Even the mic boasts a respectable 30Hz-20kHz response. The mic boom is also flexible for optimal positioning, it features a highly directional pickup to help zone out background noise and improve your voice clarity, plus it can be removed so you can use the headphones on the go without looking like a plonker. You also get an in-line volume control and mic lock switch on the 2m cord, and the cable connects to your device with an ultra-compatible 3.5mm audio jack. The brushed aluminium headband helps keep weight down to a reasonable 257g while also helping the headset look like a quality product.

(Image credit: Jabra)

4. Jabra Evolve 75

The best wireless headset for home working

Specifications
Microphone: uni-directional ECM microphone, ANC, 150Hz-6.8kHz
Connection: wireless (USB receiver dongle, Dual Bluetooth)
Driver size: 40mm
Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
Impedance: Not stated
Weight: 177g
Reasons to buy
+Strong emphasis on microphone quality+Certified by numerous VC platforms+Wireless with up to 30m range
Reasons to avoid
-Not the ideal choice for music/movies

If you regularly work from home and want to improve your voice clarity in important VC meetings, Jabra's Evolve 75 wireless headset is well worth checking out. It's been designed for professional use is an office environment, so its mic is blessed with advanced active noise cancellation, and it boasts official certification by the likes of Microsoft and Cisco. There's even a 'busy light' on the outside of the earcups to tell passing colleagues - or family members - that you're on a call. Leatherette padded on-ear ear cushions have been sculpted to allow comfortable day-long use, and you get complete freedom to move thanks to Bluetooth wireless connectivity that enables up to 30 metres of roaming range. Two devices can be connected simultaneously and you get up to 15 hours of talk time per charge. A wired USB connection is also available should you run out of juice. 40mm drivers with a 20Hz-20kHz frequency response promise decent music quality once your VC is over.

(Image credit: Logitech)

5. Logitech H800

The best wireless headset for device compatibility

Specifications
Microphone: 100Hz-6.5kHz
Connection: wireless (USB receiver dongle, Bluetooth)
Driver size: Not stated
Frequency response: 30Hz-15kHz
Impedance: 32 ohms
Weight: 120g
Reasons to buy
+Wireless with long Bluetooth range+Works with computers and mobile devices+Very light
Reasons to avoid
-Poor headphone frequency response-On-ear earcups, not over-ear

Smart, functional and feature-packed, the H800 is a versatile option for homeworking, whether you're using a computer, tablet or your phone. This is also a wireless headset, giving you up to 12 metres of roaming range. Simply stick the tiny 'Nano' receiver into a spare USB port on your computer, or activate the built-in Bluetooth to pair with your smart device. The built-in rechargeable battery is good for up to six hours use, yet the headset is still comfortably light at 120g. Audio quality is improved by a flexible mic for more accurate positioning, and it's equipped with noise cancellation to reduce background noise. Touch buttons on the ear cup give you convenient access to volume, mute, call handling, song advance/replay and device select functions, and the Nano receiver can even be stored inside the left earcup when you're on the go. The only weak link here is the headphone drivers' frequency response, which at 30Hz-15kHz is slightly more restrictive than the 20Hz to 20KHz average.

(Image credit: Koss)

6. Koss SB45

The best budget headset

Specifications
Microphone: Noise-reduction Clear Voice Technology
Connection: wired, 3.5mm or USB (separate products), 2.44m cable
Driver size: Not stated
Frequency response: 18Hz-20kHz
Impedance: 100 ohms
Weight: Not stated
Reasons to buy
+Bargain price+Folding earcups+USB and 3.5mm versions available
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly high 100-ohm resistance-Frequency response could be better-Plasticky look

With their large closed back, over-ear earcups, plus a well-padded headband, the SB45 headset is designed with comfort very much in mind. The earcups can be folded up and into the headband for more compact storage, and inside are anisotropic ferrite magnet drivers boasting a pretty respectable 18-20,000 Hz frequency response, though at 100 ohms they're not quite as easy to drive as some headsets, meaning you may find volume levels a little low when used with some portable devices. Voice capture is taken care of by a microphone incorporating Koss's Clear Voice Technology to help minimize background noise, making for more accurate speech recognition and better video conferencing audibility. 2 versions of the SB45s are available: a USB version, and one with traditional dual 3.5mm audio jacks.

Plantronics Voyager Focus UC

(Image credit: Poly)

7. Plantronics (Poly) Voyager Focus UC

The best headset for serious home working

Specifications
Microphone: Active noise-cancelling triple mic
Connection: wireless (Bluetooth, USB)
Driver size: Not stated
Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
Impedance: Not stated
Weight: 155g
Reasons to buy
+Noise cancelling headphones and mic+Great wireless range & battery life+Charging stand included
Reasons to avoid
-On-ear ear cups wont suit everyone-Biased for work over play

If you're fed up with background noise distracting you from important conference calls, the Voyager Focus UC headset could be the answer. From the highly-respected headset brand Plantronics (recently re-branded as Poly), this headset's advanced active noise cancellation can cancel out unwanted ambient sound so you can better hear your colleagues or friends in your video conference. What's more, the mic is also blessed with noise cancellation tech, so those on the other end of your call can also hear you more clearly. There's even a Dynamic Mute Alert feature that senses if you talk when muted and alerts you, saving potential embarrassment.

The Voyager Focus UC can be used with your PC, phone, tablet or even a smartwatch, thanks to its USB and Bluetooth wireless connectivity that gives up to 30m of roaming range. Battery life is good for up to 15 hours of listening time and 12 hours of talk time, and there's an included magnetic charging stand to ensure the headset never runs out of juice.

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Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging labs manager, responsible for all of the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensor, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest smartphones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to bags, filters and all manner of accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography!