Top Pick: Razer Hammerhead Pro | $200 | Amazon
This might seem like a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation, but 2021 could be the year that cloud gaming really takes off. While Google’s recent move to close its internal studios isn’t a great sign, Stadia is still kicking and now available on iOS, Microsoft’s cloud service is also coming to iOS this year, and even Amazon is getting into the game with Luna.
In any case, it all got me thinking: Am I really ready for a mobile gaming revolution? Sure, I’ve played loads of games on my phone, but I’ve never tried streaming a proper console game on my iPhone. After considering what gamepads and controller clips to use with my phone, I realized that what I’m really missing is a good audio solution. Quality gaming earbuds are a must if you’re planning to get serious about gaming on the go.
Luckily, many top tech companies have rolled out specially-engineered “gaming earbuds” for such a purpose, but what’s the difference between those and standard earbuds? Is it just a marketing ruse or is there a real advantage? To find out, I tested five different brands of gaming earbuds across various platforms, from iPhone to Xbox. Here’s what you need to know.
Best Gaming Earbuds Overall: Razer Hammerhead Pro
As you might expect, the most expensive option on the list ended up being the best. Razer’s Hammerhead Pro wireless buds deliver stellar sound that flatters any game you choose. Games like Destiny 2 sounded crystal clear on iOS with Google Stadia. Even more impressively, the Hammerhead Pros deliver true active noise canceling. It’s shocking how well they eliminate outside sound so I can focus my attention on the game audio. Between those two features, these are the perfect gaming earbuds for just about any Bluetooth-compatible platform.
They also pack remappable touch controls, have a 60-millisecond low-latency gaming mode, and the charging case adds an extra 16 hours of battery life. Of course, the $200 price tag is the big catch here. That’s a whole lot to spend if you’re a casual mobile gamer. Do you see yourself using services like Stadia and Apple Arcade on a very regular basis? These might be out of your budget if you just want something for a quick commute. But if you’re out for the best of the best, the overall quality and rich features make the Razer Hammerhead Pro earbuds a top 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.
This article was originally published by Giovanni Colantonio on 01/13/2021 and updated with new information by Andrew Hayward on 02/11/2021.