The display on your PC is quite vital for interacting with it in any meaningful way, whether you choose an ultra-portable 11 inch laptop, or a serious 27 inch LCD monitor for your desktop. Sound, however, is a factor that many of us don’t think much about when it comes to using our computers.
Your need for sound on your PC will relate, naturally enough, to what you do with it. If your laptop is a pure Excel machine, for example, your need for high quality audio is going to be considerably less than if you want to listen to music, watch video or play games. Unless you want to listen to music while you sort your spreadsheets, of course.
Most laptops, and even a few desktop machines come with inbuilt speakers, which is OK if you don’t mind blaring and sharing your audio, but that’s hardly the best move if you’re working with others, or even at home in a shared family space. Your tastes in music, or games, or movies or any other audio-heavy content may not be shared by others, and that’s presuming the PC speakers you have are any good in the first place.
That’s where buying a decent quality set of headphones can make a big difference. I’ve recently been testing out a couple of different approaches to PC sound, both of which can make a big difference to your PC audio experience.
There’s little mistaking the core audience for the RIG 500E headphones, which retail for around $167. They’re gaming headphones with a slight accent on the kinds of visual flair that a lot of gaming gear tends to have. Where they stand out is in their customisability, because they offer an adjustable headband that you quite literally “click” the RIG earphones into. Two sets are supplied; one of which fully encloses the ear for audio isolation, and one of which allows air to flow through in order to be more comfortable for longer wear. Neither is uncomfortable, and the inclusion of a Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound module in the inline cable means that you can get a virtual surround sound effect while playing games or watching movies. No, it’s not quite as good as having an actual surround sound effect from proper speakers, but if you want to watch a movie while others around you are doing something else, it’s a great way to vanish into your own world for a bit.
The RIG500E are cabled headphones, which means that while they offer a decent length of cable, you’re still essentially tethered to the one spot. That’s probably not a huge problem for gamers generally, especially if you favour titles that use the keyboard as much as a controller, but it’s more limiting if you want to move around, or if you have your PC connected to a larger display where sitting back on a sofa is more comfortable than in an office chair.
The other pair of headphones I’ve been testing out solve that particular problem, albeit at a price. Sennheiser has a very strong reputation in the audio space, and with that reputation for excellence comes a stiff asking price. The Sennheiser Momentum headphones use Bluetooth for connectivity to just about any Bluetooth device, which means you can pair them with your phone or your laptop, presuming the latter supports Bluetooth. If your system doesn’t support Bluetooth, adaptors can be purchased for a relatively modest sum in any case. The Momentum headphones sound great, but then with an asking price of $799, they’d absolutely want to be.
So which way should you jump if you’re after good audio? It somewhat comes down to your needs and preferences. Bluetooth is super handy if you do want to move around, and headphones of that type — you can buy much cheaper but still solid headphones than the Momentums — offer flexibility by easily pairing with your phone or other Bluetooth devices, although the experience sometimes be flaky depending on how well the initial Bluetooth pairing goes. Problems like that can often (but not always) be solved by restarting the headphones, or sometimes the connecting device, which sounds like the worst IT support cliche ever — it is quite literally turning it off and then on again — but it’s still true. Cabled headphones tend to be cheaper, but they do fix you in place while you’re using them, and the cable itself can be a serious tangle hazard.