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The Best Headphone Amps & Soundcards for Gaming

by Stuart Charles Black
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Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into The Best Headphone Amps & Soundcards for Gaming, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..

I’m Here to Help!!

In this article, we’ll keep it simple and go over some of the best Amp/DAC combos available for gaming.

Towards the end, I’ll relay some of my own personal experiences and take a trip down memory lane.

With that, let’s dive in!

Criteria

Convenience

This is the #1 priority.

There’s a reason I generally don’t use or recommend Soundcards a lot – it’s because they are oftentimes more of a pain to install than simply buying an external one (Headphone Amp) and calling it a day.

If you’re building your own PC, a Soundcard is probably the better option, and definitely convenient.

You’ll basically just slide it into the PCI slot and have yourself an afternoon delight.

If you’re like me and have a laptop, not only is the process more arduous, but in some cases, it’s not even possible.

My Lenovo X1 Extreme doesn’t even have the option to install a separate card, but I don’t really care because I prefer a separate Amp/DAC.

It just makes more sense for me as I like being able to mess with volume knobs, gain switches, etc.

Who doesn’t like a volume knob?

It’s an overlooked feature that should be taken seriously when considering any Headphone Gaming Amp.

Battery Life

If you’re Gaming on your PC, you’re not going to want to have to recharge an internal battery.

So all Amps & DACs with batteries I have omitted (The Mojo can be charged at the same time you’re listening).

Some of you nerds tend to play for days on end without sleeping, eating, or even taking regular dumps.

For that I applaud you, but let’s not turn into Cartman playing World of Warcraft, okay? XD

Power

A Gaming Amp DAC should have enough power for the headphone in question.

This list will take a look at a wide variety of power outputs.

Generally, you should have enough juice from all of these for most headphones.

The only real exception is the K3: it’s a bit underpowered, but still does work with an HD600.

Anything more demanding than that and I wouldn’t bother.

Sennheiser HD600

A Studio Classic.

Portability

The fact that I can use my K5 Pro with a console or on my desktop makes it extremely valuable to me.

Some of the other options we’ll go over can also easily be transported in a laptop bag or even your pocket!

Surely a Soundcard is portable since it will be installed into the PC or laptop, but outside of that, you can’t really do much else with it.

Most of the Amps & DACs I’m about to discuss can be used in many different ways.

Things to Consider

Before you purchase an internal Soundcard, make sure the:

  • PC/Laptop has enough room for it to fit inside.
  • PC can support it.
  • Speakers/headphones can handle it.

Gaming Scan did a nice write-up on the matter:

We are talking both software and hardware here. As you have seen in this article, driver issues occur very commonly with sound cards. So, before buying one, make sure that your system can run it – especially if you’re using a less popular one such as Linux.
As for the hardware, you should make sure that your motherboard has the required PCIe slots (for internal cards) or the required USB ports (for external cards). While a regular ATX motherboard might have all the PCIe slots you could ever need, the same could not be said for microATX and miniATX ones. Furthermore, be sure to check if your graphics card is blocking the PCIe slot and/or if there is sufficient space to fit the sound card comfortably next to it.
As for the USB ports, that should not be a problem. Every modern motherboard has enough USB 2.0 ports to go around, and USB 3.0+ is backwards compatible. Unless you’re still using dated hardware, a lack of USB ports shouldn’t be a problem. Moreover, keep in mind that plugging your external sound card into the back panel is preferable, since a front-panel connection could lead to lower quality audio.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://www.gamingscan.com/best-sound-card/" target="_blank">Gaming Scan</a></span>

Now let’s get to the good stuff!

PC Gaming

Amp/DAC Combos


FiiO K3

Price: Check on Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

FiiO K3 vs. E10K

Two peas in a pod.

First up on the docket is the fantastic FiiO K3, an upgrade in most regards over the original E10K.

The K3 is built well and would make a perfect desktop PC gaming choice.

You’ve got a bass boost and gain switch on the front in case you’re feeling frisky, and its ADC volume pot ensures there are no channel imbalance issues.

Like the E10K, it has line out, but this time FiiO added a 2.5mm balanced jack and an optical out on the back if you wanted to output the sound to something else (anything you may have that has optical input).

Add to that its Type-C jack and cable are more rugged this time around than the original E10K’s micro USB cable.

It does great for music when you’re NOT gaming, supporting PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz as well as DSD.

Put simply, any music in the game is going to sound nice and crisp, giving off a sense of phenomenal clarity and detail retrieval.

 

Console Gaming

Amp/DAC Combos


iFi Zen Amp/DAC V2

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | V1 Official Review: Here! | V2 Review: Here!

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review

MQA supported.

When the iFi Zen first came out, I saw it as a new benchmark standard for what an Amp/DAC combo could achieve for the price.

Since then,

the price has jumped from around $130 to roughly $200, and in the interest of full transparency, I don’t recommend it anymore in most other instances.

That said, within the scope of this article – i.e. for gaming, it’s still a good option because iFi came out with a V2 which you can plug right into your console via USB.

So, with that said, consider it but perhaps consider it last.

Features

You can hook it up to separate speakers via its RCA outputs or balanced 4.4mm jack, it has a power match (gain) button and iFi’s own TrueBass, and you can run balanced 4.4mm cables with your headphones.

It’s also got a standard 1/4″ jack for use with a single-ended (unbalanced) connection.

It’s also Tidal MQA compatible and can play files up to 32-bit/384kHz. It’s also DSD compatible.

In addition to great sound and a roughly 1 Ohm output impedance (similar to the G6), you can also output to separate speakers via its RCA Analog outs.

There’s also a balanced 4.4mm output.

I would describe the sound as clear and detailed with a hint of warmth, iFi’s house signature.

This bad boy weighs just over a pound at 1.08 and feels extremely rugged and solid in your hand.

For gaming and music? Fantastic.

Like the DragonFly Red, the Zen is also MQA supported but does support higher quality source files like DSD and 32-bit/384kHz PCM files.

 

 


Creative SoundBlasterX G6

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

Creative SoundBlasterX G6

Gamer’s heaven.

The K5 Pro was my previous go-to for console gaming, but I think the G6 is a little better from a pure gaming standpoint, meaning: It’s better suited for people who strictly game on PC or console with a mic or single-player, watch movies, etc.

It’s also got a bunch of cool features like SBX, Scout Mode, and heaps of power for basically any headphone.

I absolutely love it for music as well so it’s very versatile in that way.

The G6 is a bit more convenient than the K5 Pro as well. All you have to do is plug and play via USB into your PS4.

For Xbox users, you will have to use the line/optical in on the back, but it’s still not really a big deal as the unit is bus-powered and doesn’t require a brick.

I find that it’s much easier to move the G6 around, whether I’m gaming in the living room or listening to music at my desk.

Because I have 2 USB-C cables, I just keep one in both areas.

When I want to switch, it’s as easy as unplugging the G6 and reconnecting it. Nothing more needs to be done.

With the K5 Pro, you’ll have to unplug the optical cable and the power cable, and then brick.

When you get to your desk, you also have to plug it in via USB.

A bit more of a hassle although I still enjoy the sound of the K5 and don’t plan on getting rid of it.

The G6 also edges the K5 Pro out because of SoundBlaster Connect, an app that allows you to do a multitude of different things with it.

It’s really fun, but also can be extremely valuable if you need to quickly EQ a headphone.

Interested in learning all about the G6 and the shootout with other dacs I have here at the pad?

 

Ready to make it yours?

 


FiiO K5 Pro

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos Audio! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

FiiO K7 Review

The K5 Pro is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment I have used so far in my “audiophile” journey.

Note: Also check out the newer K7

Let’s look at what it has/can do:

  • 2 pairs of RCA Jacks. One pair of Inputs, and one pair of Outputs. This essentially means you can output the sound to separate speakers/monitors or use the inputs with a separate DAC.
  • Optical/Coaxial In. The optical input is the main draw here, as you can hook up an optical cable from the back of your PS4 into the input on the back of the K5. This Amp is my mainstay console rig and should probably be yours as well. With the coax, you can also output audio from anything in your home theater that supports optical out, and listen to it through the K5.
  • USB Type-B. This jack will run from the back of the K5 Pro into the front of the PS4’s USB slot. Obviously, you will also use this same jack to hook up to your PC while gaming there as well.

Aside from that, it’s got a 3-gain stage (0, 6, and 12dB boost), and a 3-input switch depending on what you’re using it with.

Like the K3, it’s got an ADC volume pot and supports DSD, but this time plays PCM files of 32-bit and up to 768kHz.

The sound in comparison to the K3 is a bit warmer, lusher, and very inviting.

While the K3 sounded a little snappier, crisper, and more sterile, the K5 is definitely more laid-back by comparison.

 

 


Chord Mojo

Price: Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

Chord Mojo

The Mojo with some of his pals.

Yeah, the Chord Mojo is absolutely phenomenal for both music and gaming, with its warm, smooth, buttery sound and absolutely mind-blowing clarity and detail.

It really does sound the best to my ears in all facets as far as pure sound goes.

I also demoed this bad boy playing Fallout 4 and Uncharted, and boy howdy did it deliver.

It does run hot and can be fairly finicky, but one of the coolest features is its dual 3.5mm jacks on the front.

If you’re into multi-player, you can share the sound with a friend or watch movies with that special someone. <3

Out of the 25+ Amps & DACs that I’ve personally demoed or owned, the Mojo is surely the best sounding.

 

 


Soundcards

As mentioned in the open, you may or may not opt for a Soundcard.

In my mind, it depends mostly on how convenient it is to install such a card, and whether or not you’re building a PC or have a laptop.

Soundcards also tend to have more driver issues than some of the external ones we’ve mentioned today.

None of the above Amps & DACs that I have used have had any.

Instead of acting like I have a lot of experience here, I will link you to a couple of great articles from others who know what they’re talking about with regard to some of the better cards out there.

Per my research, the Creative Sound Blaster Z came up most often:

For gamers, look no further than the Creative Sound Blaster Z and its slew of gamer-friendly audio features that will enhance anything from Minecraft to today’s most popular action shooter. It has a 116dB signal-to-noise ratio, 600ohm headphone amplifier for high impedance headphones and five different 3.5mm headphone jacks (front and rear speakers, subwoofer, amplified headphones and microphone slot). Included with the Z are two different types of software to help make it fit for you, including the Z-Series control panel and Alchemy. The latter allows you to enable EAX support on older games, while the Z-series panel allows total control over the functionality of the sound card with equalizer, changing presets, tweaking microphone parameters and enabling “Scout Mode” for improving the high and middle frequencies. Toggling between headphones and a speaker system requires little more than the flip of a switch, so you can to fill your room with immersive sound and easily adjust back to headphones to avoid waking family members or neighbors. <span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://www.lifewire.com/best-pc-sound-cards-833111" target="_blank">Lifewire</a></span>

Games Played & Sound Impressions

More coming soon

Wolfenstein 3D (1992)

Uncharted – Drake’s Fortune (2007)

Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves (2009)

Fallout New Vegas (2010)

Fallout 4 (2015)

The Outer Worlds (2019)

With that, what’s the final word?

Recommendation & Final Word

I would personally go with an external Soundcard (i.e. Headphone Amp/DAC).

It’s more convenient in the fact that you can plug and play without having to worry about installing anything or making sure it’s compatible with your OS.

Add to that, often times it can be used in more than one way, as in the case of the FiiO K5 Pro.

In fact, that’s my #2 overall recommendation today.

Right now I’m using the K5 Pro on my desktop with a PC version of Fallout New Vegas, but later tonight I will most likely hook it up to my PS4 and play some Outer Worlds.

It’s just really versatile.

Add to that it supports up to 32-bit/768kHz for music, can play DSD files, can output to speakers or monitors if you choose to game that way, and can be paired with a separate DAC if you’re feeling experimental.

The K5 Pro even has a special feature that enables hand jobs if you ask nicely enough.

Just press the button on the side which opens th.. just kidding.

What’s #1?

Gotta be the G6.

It’s perhaps the easiest DAC to use with a PS4 as you can just plug-and-play immediately.

In addition to that,

it’s got a plethora of features at your disposal and sounds fantastic.

Interested in my top gaming DAC?

Learn More:

 

Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the Best Headphone Amps & Soundcards for Gaming.

Which of these sounds like it would suit you best? What’s your favorite video game/system? Be sure to let me know!!

If you have any other questions, or feel I’ve missed the mark on something, leave a comment down below or Contact me!

I very much look forward to speaking with you..

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Memory Lane

Gaming has always held a special place in my heart. I was first exposed to it circa 1988-89 at just 2-3 years old.

My dad had an original Nintendo with the venerable Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo.

I remember being so fascinated by the gameplay (seems silly to think about now).

Even so, that game sparked a run of titles that still continue to churn out almost yearly.

Personally, I think it’s far exceeded the point of overkill, but that’s just my opinion, man.

I also vividly remember Christmas of 1991; my mom and dad bought me a Super Nintendo and it came with the timeless “Super Mario World”.

It’s crazy to think about the fact that the game is still playable, and hasn’t really become outdated or stale over the years.

My sister and I would play the game for hours and hours at a time, also enjoying such classics as Donkey Kong Country 1 & 2 in 1994-1995, The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse, Turtles in Time, amongst many other more obscure titles that I can’t even think of at the moment.

The Best Headphones for Gaming

Some old favorites.

After the Super Nintendo, I delved into the world of PlayStation, while my best friend Ryan got a Nintendo 64.

I’m not entirely sure why I deviated, but I can’t say it was a disappointment in the slightest.

Because he lived next door, I could play the 64 whenever and he could hop on the Playstation with me as well.

At his house, there was lots of Zelda, and at my house, we played Metal Gear Solid non-stop.

Around 2000, the Sims came out for the PC and to make a long story short, I had no life from that point on. XD

To this day, I’ve had every system from PS1 to PS4, and will probably invest in a PS5 when it eventually comes out.

I love the feeling of kicking back on the couch and firing up a game, whereas some of my other friends and followers swear by PC gaming.

Back in the early years, it wasn’t really possible to hook up a Headphone Amp to a console and geek out with your favorite headphones.

Now? It most certainly is. You can even hook up a dual shock 4 to your PC via USB and play that way! I’ve been doing just that with my PS4 controller and a $6 download of Fallout: New Vegas.

With that, let’s take a look at some of my favorite setups, and ones that you should be really thinking about first and foremost.

Finding a great Gaming amp doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. Don’t think about it too much.

I would say finding The Best Headphones For Gaming is a bit more of an excursion, but I digress.

For this article, we’ll take a look at some great desktop solutions for PC gaming, and then delve into some fantastic console setups.

Part 2 will cover a few good internal Soundcards. What is a Soundcard?

All of the same recommendations for console gaming will also apply to PC gaming, so sit back and chill the f out homie!

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2 comments

Sebastian May 29, 2020 - 6:00 pm

Hi Stu, it’s the Ifi Zen good for FPS gaming? I’ve the AD700x and I want them to shine. Thx!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black June 5, 2020 - 12:26 pm

Hey man!! If you’re on PC yeah. I tried it with console and it didn’t work 🙁 Did you see my YouTube comment? I think we might have been talking about it there but I’m not sure lol.

Reply

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