What is a USB Stereo Headset?

John Lister

A USB stereo headset is designed for use on computers, and combines earphones with a microphone. It is commonly used for Internet telephony and online gaming. It has the benefit of being a relatively cheap option, but the drawback of usually being wired, restricting movement.

Some stereo headsets link directly to a computer through a USB cord.
Some stereo headsets link directly to a computer through a USB cord.

As the name suggests, a USB stereo headset connects to a computer or games console via the USB port. This makes such a device compatible with numerous machines, and also means the computer can power the headset, meaning there is no need for separate batteries. In most cases, the term is used solely to refer to wired devices, even though theoretically, a headset could connect wirelessly to a special USB dongle or even to a wireless router. In contrast, most wireless headsets are known as Bluetooth headsets, as this is the most common wireless networking technology used for headsets.

USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as headsets -- to computers.
USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as headsets -- to computers.

One common use of a USB stereo headset is in Internet telephony services. These are commonly classed under the term Voice Over Internet Protocol, but many services allow video calls via a webcam as well. Another use for a USB stereo headset is in online gaming. This involved multiple players in different locations playing the same game. Using a headset allows players to talk to each other, which can be particularly useful when playing in team games and deciding on a strategy. Using a headset in this situation means that only the player's voice is picked up and transmitted to other players. If players simply used a microphone and left the sound coming out of the external speakers, each player would be able to hear the sounds from the other player's games, which would not only be confusing, but could create a very disorienting effect thanks to audio delays.

One major difference between a USB stereo headset and a wireless headset is that the former traditionally resembles a pair of earphones, with a plastic loop between the two going over the head. The device then has a separate microphone, usually on an adjustable arm. In contrast, a wireless headset will often consist simply of a one-piece device that clips onto the ear and can pick up noise from the mouth. Some online players find this more convenient, as it means they can hear other players in one ear, and the game itself in the other ear. This means the headset itself is only in mono, though usually this doesn't matter, as it isn't necessary to hear other players in stereo.

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Discussion Comments


@NathanG - One great application of the stereo Bluetooth headset is to connect it to your cell phone. It’s usually dangerous to drive while on the phone, but with the wireless headset you can just wear the headset and drive with both hands on the steering wheel.

Sometimes I drive a lot for business travel and it’s important I stay in touch with the head office while I’m on the road. The wireless headset gives me that option without having to pull over and stop to talk.


@Charred - The pastor of our church uses a wireless headset to deliver his messages. It’s excellent quality in my opinion, very comparable to the old hand held microphones that he used to use.

One of the benefits of this kind of microphone from what I can tell is that it gives him the freedom to move around the stage and address different people in the congregation at different points in his message. He’s no longer tied to standing behind the pulpit.


@nony - I’ve gone through several computer microphones – usually of cheap quality – and I had to spend a little to get a quality wireless USB headset.

I think it helps if you go with a big name brand manufacturer. Finally I found a pair that I use when I do my VOIP communications with my relatives overseas. Since we were using VOIP instead of landline calls, it’s important that call quality be crystal clear.

Having a high quality microphone ensured that they were able to hear us well. Of course, the VOIP service that we used was also good quality too, meaning that there was no latency or delay with the call.


I have a USB wireless stereo headset that I use for some dictation. I use it in connection with speech recognition software. For this reason, the quality of the microphone is of utmost importance, as well as its flexibility.

I need a high quality microphone that I can easily position in front of my mouth to pick up my words clearly. Speech recognition software is not very forgiving in that regard.

If you swivel the microphone off to the side the software will complain that it can’t hear you. Similarly, if the microphone is of low quality, you will get gibberish instead of clear transcriptions of your speech. I have a great USB microphone that I got for less than $50 which does the trick for me.

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