Wondering if you can use Bluetooth for gaming? While this technology is excellent for all kinds of convenient audio and recreational functions like for a portable speaker at a backyard gathering, it may not be the best for games. Understanding how Bluetooth works and its limitations is a great place to start when it comes to assessing the technology.
Bluetooth headphones aren’t the best for gaming because the connection is not reliable enough for the immersive sound environments designed by gaming producers, moreover, Bluetooth commonly has issues with low bandwidth and latency.
While the technology behind Bluetooth is constantly advancing, consumer products don’t necessarily keep up. Often, the products we see on the market are a few years behind the announcements for better protocols – this plays a significant role in the technology used for some of the more common activities, including gaming. If you want to learn more about Bluetooth, and how it relates to gaming headsets read on!
What Qualities Does a Good Gaming Headset Need?
When you think about what makes a headset great for gaming, there are a couple of situations to consider including whether you want to be a single-player gamer or a multiplayer gamer. Different games require different settings. While it might seem like each environment would call for the same audio and microphone qualities, you’d be wrong. Think about what kind of audio needs you will require when gaming in single-player mode.
Usually, you’ll need to hear the game itself, but you won’t send audio signals through the microphone. While some games may have advanced features like voice commands, usually, you will not use the microphone. In contrast, playing in multiplayer mode means you’ll need to speak with your teammates. In this way, a microphone is essential to enhance your gaming experience. Picking a low-quality microphone may mean your teammates can’t hear you or can’t hear that well due to static or audio drop-outs.
In both scenarios, you’ll need your headset to relay some precise audio information. Modern games are intended to be immersive experiences. While graphics undoubtedly are a huge part of that equation, so is audio. Most games will have very slight directional audio cues. This could be footsteps, gunshots, dialog, or any other sound to help a more believable gaming world. This is why gaming headsets exist. Manufacturers want to cater to these specific needs in a way that enhances the gaming experience.
You could use a regular headset for your gaming needs, but you’d be missing out on a lot. Gaming headsets tackle audio and can offer advanced features across several key categories including isolation, surround sound, microphone quality, build quality, and comfort. Gaming headsets also need to have a reliable and fast connection to deliver audio without the risk of lag. This is where you may run into some issues with Bluetooth.
How Bluetooth Affects Audio Quality and Data Speeds (Lag)
When it comes to Bluetooth technology, there are some issues. These issues may not be consequential for the casual gamer, but if you want to up your game with your headset, there are some things to consider. Some of the biggest areas of concern with Bluetooth include latency, chat, compression, and surround sound as well. With that said, there is no denying that Bluetooth is an incredibly useful bit of technology; it’s just that it has better areas of applicability.
It can provide wireless audio connectivity easily over a local network. It can also work with a whole array of devices without much issue. These types of conveniences can’t be understated. What makes the technology so convenient may also play a role in making Bluetooth not so great for gaming. Let’s explore what these issues are and how they might affect your gameplay. The first big one is latency, and this is a problem in not only gaming but in music production as well.
If you have been gaming for a while, you know how important latency is to your experience. You are often looking for the lowest ping times and the fastest refresh rates. This makes the game smoother, the transitions crisp, and the visuals as snappy as possible. But when it comes to audio signals, how important is latency?
For example, if the sound from the game hits your ears after the visual cue, how can it affect your gameplay? Frankly, it depends on the games you like to play. While it may not be an issue for non-action-packed games, it can be consequential to fast-paced shooters or multiplayer games. Here is where Bluetooth comes in.
While latency will depend heavily on the type of codec your headset uses, some can reach up to 150ms in lag! What does that mean? Well, the human brain can notice a lag as low as 25ms, so you can imagine how annoying a lag eight times that would be like. This kind of lag is acceptable if you use your headset to say listen to music, but it can ruin a game. This is one of the things to look out for when shopping around for a Bluetooth headset, in fact, I already mentioned this in our other article on the differences between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Communication is a huge part of many multiplayer games. If you are playing with a team, you need to be able to talk with them. You need to quickly identify objectives, enemy players, or just hang out with online friends. While this might seem like something Bluetooth has down pat, you’d be surprised. See, it all comes down to how Bluetooth works. Different modes are used depending on if you are sending or receiving audio. They are 1) A2DP—for receiving audio, and 2) HFP/HSP—for sending audio.
When you switch into chat mode, your headset will automatically switch to HFP mode. The consequence of this is that your bandwidth decreases dramatically. In doing so, you can significantly reduce the quality of the sound and its fidelity.
To understand why this has such an effect, you need to understand some audio engineering basics including the bandwidth of the human ear. When it comes to the sounds our human ear can hear, there is a limit.
Generally speaking, your average person can hear frequencies from 40Hz to 20,000 Hz. That huge spectrum of sound takes up quite a bit of space on digital systems. Consequently, the HFP mode will cut some of the frequencies out to save bandwidth. This could mean shaving off everything above 4,000-8,000 Hz.
Unfortunately, this means that you will sacrifice some of your voice data. This can result in poor audio quality and choppy conversations when using Bluetooth. Additionally, the area above 4,000kHz is where a lot of audio information is stored so eliminating these frequencies will sound terrible to the human ear.
When it comes to audio quality, how Bluetooth transfers data can affect things. This is due to the different Bluetooth codecs. Codec stands for compression/decompression and is how Bluetooth can transfer audio with minimal bandwidth. The fewer data that needs to be transferred, the more reliable the connection will be. There is a couple of popular codecs you may run into including SBD, AAC, aptX, and Mp3.
There are nine in total, but most consumer electronics will feature the ones listed above. Each of these codecs are “lossy.” This means that they discard audio data that isn’t easily discernible to the human ear. Typically, you will see a reduction from the common 1,411 Kb/s found in CD-quality audio down to 300 Kb/s.
As you can see, this is quite the reduction. While the complex algorithms within the codecs try and only sacrifice audio you can’t hear, sometimes more gets cut. Consequently, for audio-intensive experiences like gaming, this can be a real issue.
Often soft noises—like approaching footsteps—are cut out instead of louder, more prominent sounds. Keep in mind, technology is advancing, and some codecs can support higher-quality audio. But for most devices, you will be losing quality when using Bluetooth.
Finally, the way Bluetooth compresses your audio will depend on the source. In some cases, the source audio is already compressed. In these cases, it might mean you can transfer them over Bluetooth networks without audio loss. But, this will be contingent on both devices supporting the same codec.
Good Bluetooth Gaming Headset Options
Bluetooth standards have advanced in recent years. To get the most out of a Bluetooth headset, you need to find one with the latest standard and some more advanced functions. It is worth noting that you may see headsets advertised as 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.
This can be confusing as Bluetooth does not support this multi-channel function. What they mean by this is that the headset can work in different connection modes. Additionally, they may feature clever audio functions to simulate surround sound.
Either way, you are never getting true surround sound with a Bluetooth headset—at least not yet. When more advanced standards start to get adopted, like Bluetooth 5.1, then we will see true surround sound headsets on the market. But, if you are on the lookout for a Bluetooth gaming headset, here are some solid options:
- JBL Quantum 800 (on Amazon)—This headset features a JBL propriety surround sound system and Bluetooth 5.0.
- PHOINIKAS G2000 (Amazon)—If you want the best of both worlds, this headset features 7.1 surround sound in wired mode. But, it can also support wireless connections through Bluetooth.
There is no denying that Bluetooth has the potential to be great for gaming. But, as it stands right now, the tech just doesn’t deliver when it comes to surround sound and latency, especially when you consider that it can sometimes interfere with Wi-Fi as we suggested in our other article. For this reason, you won’t find many headset manufacturers producing gaming headsets with Bluetooth. So what are the alternatives you may be asking?
Alternative to Bluetooth Headsets for Gaming
When you look in the gaming headset space, you see a lot of wireless headsets. These headsets offer low lag and features like 7.1 surround sound. Why can these headsets work when Bluetooth ones can’t? Well, like we touched on before, Bluetooth just isn’t up to snuff when it comes to gaming. But there is a technology that is, and it’s what is being used by the major brands.
Why Don’t Most Gaming Headsets Rely on Bluetooth?
The simple reason why most gaming headsets don’t use Bluetooth is reliability. When it comes to gaming, having a reliable connection with no lag is so essential. Producing headsets that don’t carry this innate feature would mean not selling your product. Until Bluetooth can compete with other forms of wired and wireless communication, you will not use it extensively.
How Do Other Wireless Gaming Headsets Communicate
Since they don’t use Bluetooth, you may be curious as to how they communicate. The answer is 2.4 GHz technology, also known as fully gaming-grade wireless. This type of technology operates with a fixed latency rate of 16ms.
At this level, the lag is almost imperceivable to the human ear. These headsets usually function by having a connection straight into your PC or gaming console. They use a USB dongle to connect your headset to the device directly. Some products, like headsets made by Turtle Beach, even use a standalone base to help reduce lag. They can significantly enhance your gaming experience.
If all else fails, you can always opt for a wired connection. As we briefly touched on in our article on wearing headphones in an interview, this will be the most direct way to reduce lag and connectivity issues. Wired headsets can also be much cheaper than their wireless counterparts. When it comes to the question of audio quality, the type of connection can have an impact.
Bluetooth has a bad habit of cutting frequencies, however, sound quality comes from driver quality as well. Another reason why wired connections are usually superior is that it doesn’t compress audio the way that Bluetooth does.
However, as time passes, and with codecs becoming more advanced, this may become less of an issue. But, if you want to avoid sound degradation due to compression, wired is your best bet. Keep in mind that the 3.5mm jack used for some wired connections has limitations. For example, you won’t be able to use surround sound. The wired connection can’t support 7.1 or 5.1 surround sound. It can only use stereo.
Best Wireless Gaming Headset Options
If you are looking for the best wireless headsets, Bluetooth shouldn’t even be on your radar. What you want to source are high-quality wireless headsets that use the 2.4 GHz connection. These manufacturers design these headsets to perform well in gaming situations. This means low lag, reliable connection, high-quality sound, and an immersive sound experience. Here are a few to watch out for: