Playing games on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X can occasionally feel like a taste of the future. Thanks to solid state drives (SSDs), things like 4K, HDR, ray tracing, and ultra-fast load times are now becoming the norm. Unfortunately, both consoles are still rooted in the past in one way: They don’t natively support Bluetooth audio.
Every modern phone, laptop, and tablet on the market can connect to your nice Bluetooth headphones, but neither of these $500 gaming powerhouses can.
It’s a bummer, but we don’t just give up and walk away when we run into problems around here. We find solutions. And, thankfully, there are some easy and affordable ways to route game audio to a wireless headset.
What’s the problem with Bluetooth?
In case you’re curious as to why game consoles still don’t support Bluetooth audio when so many other devices do, the reason largely comes down to two issues: signal interference and latency.
Windows Central has a good Xbox-centric rundown of this from 2019. Microsoft made its own proprietary wireless signal for Xbox that can connect to several devices at once with minimal latency. Bluetooth, on the other hand, can introduce a level of latency that’s not really noticeable if you’re just listening to podcasts, but can leave you on the losing end of a skirmish in a twitchy multiplayer game. It’s a tiny delay between what happens on your screen and what happens in your ears, but it can make a big difference in certain scenarios.
Beyond that, anyone who’s ever used wireless earbuds or headphones while out on a walk can probably attest to how easy it is for the signal to momentarily drop in the presence of other Bluetooth devices. Case in point: When I first got AirPods, I was blown away by how poorly they worked in busy city intersections. So it’s clear that connecting Bluetooth headphones directly to a console with other devices nearby clogging up the signal and no additional hardware might not produce a great audio experience.
We’ll get into this more in a bit, but it also probably doesn’t hurt that Microsoft and Sony can financially benefit from the lack of Bluetooth support thanks to official first-party headset offerings.
How do I connect my existing wireless headphones?
If you already have a pair of Bluetooth headphones or earbuds that you like and you want to game without waking up your roommates or neighbors, there’s a rather simple solution: USB dongles.
Both consoles have multiple USB ports and can work with USB audio products, providing a nice workaround for Bluetooth headphones. You can get a USB Bluetooth signal transmitter like these ones from OLCLSS and Avantree for around $30 at most. Simply plug it into a USB port on your PS5 or Xbox Series X, and use the Bluetooth pairing button on the transmitter to pair with your headphones of choice.
It should be noted, though, that you might not have a great time trying to use voice chat with a regular pair of Bluetooth headphones and a USB transmitter. A quick scroll down to the FAQ section of either of those Amazon links confirms that getting high-quality audio to come in and go out of the headset may not be a seamless experience. If you’re just in the mood to listen, that’s fine. If not, it’s time to talk about wireless gaming headsets.
What if I want a new wireless headset?
The good news for folks who want to chat with their buddies is that wireless gaming headsets are becoming more common and slightly more affordable. A word of warning, though: Don’t wade into the world of wireless gaming headsets if you aren’t comfortable spending at least $100. I know I said “affordable” a mere two sentences ago, but that’s a relative term in this case.
Remember the wireless Xbox standard we talked about earlier? Razer’s Kaira headset line can connect natively to the Xbox Series X or Series S because it supports Microsoft’s proprietary signal type. For $100, you can get the regular Kaira headset with Xbox Wireless support, but for $150 you can get the Kaira Pro, which supports Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth. Finally, $200 will get you the SteelSeries Arctis 9X, an Xbox-specific wireless headset that can connect via Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth at the same time. SteelSeries says you can do that to take phone calls while gaming, in case your brain is a multitasking supercomputer.
There’s also a regular version of the Arctis 9 that can connect to a PS5 via an included wireless transmitter, so PlayStation owners aren’t left out of the fun. Speaking of which, Sony has a first-party option called the Pulse 3D Wireless Headset that you can get from most retailers for $100 (when it’s in stock). Speaking from personal experience, the headset’s been very difficult to find and you might need to set up some stock alerts to get your hands on one while supplies are still low.
PS5 devotees should probably at least consider the Pulse headset, though. I’ve been using it for a few weeks and the sound quality is groovy, the build is lightweight and comfortable, and it’s just so much more convenient than using a wired headset. The Pulse 3D connects to the PS5 using an included USB dongle, so setting it up is as easy as plugging that into the console and turning the headset on. The built-in mic works great for voice chat and the headset charges via USB-C for added convenience.
If you want something a little more versatile for the same price, the SteelSeries Arctis 1 is just $100 and uses a USB-C dongle (with an included USB Type-A adapter) to connect to the PS5, PS4, PC, and even a Nintendo Switch or a phone.
Maybe someday game consoles will natively support Bluetooth headphones. Until then, find a wireless headset solution you can afford and cut the cord.