Preferred headphones store
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Base/Dock Score and Tests
Headphones

What it is: The base station, dock, or dongle transmitter of wireless headphones that receive data/audio via a specific frequency range or wired headphones that have a proprietary amp.
When it matters: When you need to know which inputs and outputs the headphones support, so you can set them up with your home theatre system for gaming or watching movies.
Score distribution

Some headphones come with a base/dock that provides added functions or connectivity options. The most common kind of headphones that come with a base transmitter or a docking station are wireless gaming or home theatre headsets. Most wireless gaming headsets come with a small USB dongle that simply acts as a wireless transmitter while others come with fully-fledged DAC/amp combos. Home theatre headphones tend to have charging stands that you set up with your home theatre system for wireless use. Truly wireless earbuds also come with small charging cases that we consider to be a form of base/dock as well.

For our base/dock tests, we determine what type of base/dock the headphones use and whether or not it can charge the headphones. We check what connectivity options it has and we test for PS4, Xbox One, and PC compatibility with audio and microphone support.

Test results

When it matters

Different types of base/docks provide different connectivity options. Larger docking stations can often provide various connectivity options for setup with home theater systems or gaming consoles while small charging cases charge earphones on-the-go.

Our tests

Our base/dock tests evaluate the connectivity options provided by the base transmitter or docking station of the headphones. Base/docks with more connectivity and compatibility options score higher.

We first determine if the headphones actually come with a base/dock. If they don’t, they automatically score a 0 in this category and all values are set to N/A. If they do, we determine the type of base/dock the headphones use. We then look to see what connectivity options are provided: we check for optical line in/out, and USB and RCA inputs. We then test for PS4, Xbox One, and PC compatibility with audio and microphone support. Lastly, we consider the base/dock’s power supply options and whether or not it can charge the headphones.

Type

What it is: The type of base/dock the headphones use, whether a USB dongle, charging case or docking station. Wired or wireless.
When it matters: Larger docking stations tend to have more controls and sometimes even customization options while smaller USB dongles are more portable. Charging cases allow you to keep your earbuds charged on-the-go.

There are different types of base transmitters or docking stations. Truly wireless earbuds almost always come with a charging case, while gaming headphones are more likely to come with a USB dongle or docking station, either wired or wireless. Headphones designed for home theatre use generally come with wireless docks. Some wireless gaming headsets come with a small USB dongle that simply acts as a wireless transmitter, while others come with more complex docks that might provide customization options or even charge the headphones. Wired headsets may also use simple USB dongles for PC compatibility or feature more intricate docks as well.

To determine which type of base/dock the headphones we use, we consider a couple of factors. First, we consider whether we’re testing truly wireless, gaming, or home theatre headphones. We then take into account the size of the base/dock and whether it connects directly to a PC via USB or utilizes an external power supply. We then take note of the features it provides and whether it acts simply as a transmitter or provides added functionality to the headphones.

It is worth noting that truly wireless charging cases do not add to the overall base/dock score due to difficulties in testing charging capacity and generally limited added connectivity options.

Optical Input

What it is: Optical input for audio.
When it matters: Optical can carry a bit more data at faster speeds than typical wired connection which allows for more high quality, lossless audio.
Good value: Yes

Optical inputs are helpful for gaming and home theatre headsets that utilize optical audio. Some gaming headsets have greater console compatibility and feature support when set up with optical audio. Optical audio also can carry a bit more data at faster speeds than typical wired connections, which can help provide higher quality, lossless audio.

To test this, we visually inspect the base/dock to verify if an optical input is present.

Line-in

What it is: The regular wired input via a 1/8" TRS audio jack.
When it matters: For any device that has a line out for audio transmission.
Good value: Yes

Line-in is an analog audio input that lets you connect any device with an audio output via line out, like a TV, AV receiver, MP3 player, gaming console, PC, turntable, or preamp.

To test this, we visually inspect the base/dock to verify if line-in is present.

Line Out

What it is: A regular 1/8TRS audio jack output.
When it matters: If you need to share the audio source with other devices. A line out lets you connect other headphones or speakers to the dock/base station.
Good value: Yes

Line out lets you share the audio passing through the dock/base with another device that has line-in. For example, a USB DAC with line out can receive digital audio via USB, convert it to an analog signal, and output it to a device that has line-in, like another pair of headphones or a speaker setup.

To test this, we visually inspect the base/dock to verify if line-out is present.

USB Input

What it is: A digital USB input instead of a typical 1/8 TRS line-in.
When it matters: A USB connection can provide both an audio input and power to the Dock or Base station.

A USB input is helpful when your primary audio source can output audio via USB, like a PC or PS4. To qualify for this value, the USB input must be able to provide both audio and power to the base/dock.

We visually inspect the base/dock to verify if a USB port is present. If so, we plug it into a PC and verify whether it can power the base/dock and provide audio to the headphones simultaneously.

RCA Input

What it is: Audio input using via an RCA connectors.
When it matters: Provides better stereo audio to the dock/base that's then transmitted to the headphones.
Good value: Yes

RCA inputs are rather uncommon but can be convenient to help set up certain gaming or home theatre headsets with older gaming consoles or receivers. RCA can also provide better stereo audio than other wired connections.

To test this, we visually inspect the base/dock to verify if RCA inputs are present.

PS4 Compatible

What it is: Dock/Base station compatibility with the PlayStation 4.
When it matters: To be able to use all the features of the dock/base station with out losing audio or microphone capability.
Good value: Audio + Microphone

Most gaming headsets are compatible with the PS4, which uses the same USB and wireless technology as a PC. However, some Xbox One-specific headsets don’t support full audio and microphone compatibility on the PS4 and most home theatre headsets don’t have a microphone.

To test PS4 compatibility, we plug the base/dock into our test PS4 as per manufacturer instructions specified in the instruction manual or documentation online. We then attempt to send an audio message through the chat interface. If we can only hear the system sounds, we conclude the headphones support audio only, but if we can record, send, and play back a message, then they have audio and microphone support. If no audio or microphone support is observed, we reattempt the test with alternate connections until the test succeeds or all options have been exhausted.

Xbox One Compatible

What it is: Dock/Base station compatibility with the Xbox One.
When it matters: To be able to use all the features of the dock/base station with out losing audio or microphone capability.

Audio and microphone support on the Xbox One is rarer than compatibility with the PS4 or PC, due to Microsoft’s proprietary Xbox Wireless protocol and dedicated communications chip that controls USB device access. Most headsets will support audio via the Xbox One, but only headsets certified as being “Made for Xbox One” will fully work with both audio and microphone support.

To test Xbox One compatibility, we plug the base/dock into our test Xbox One as per manufacturer instructions specified in the instruction manual or documentation online. We then attempt to send an audio message through the chat interface. If we can only hear the system sounds, we conclude the headphones support audio only, but if we can record, send, and play back a message, then they have audio and microphone support. If no audio or microphone support is observed, we reattempt the test with alternate connections until the test success or all options have been exhausted.

PC Compatible

What it is: Dock/Base station compatibility with your Personal Computer.
When it matters: To be able to use all the features of the dock/base station with out losing audio or microphone capability.
Good value: Audio + Microphone

Virtually all gaming headsets are fully PC-compatible, however, most home theatre headsets don’t have a microphone and therefore do not provide any mic support on PC.

To test PC compatibility, we plug the base/dock into our test PC as per manufacturer instructions specified in the instruction manual or documentation online. We then attempt to send an audio message through the chat interface. If we can only hear the system sounds, we conclude the headphones support audio only, but if we can record, send, and play back a message, then they have audio and microphone support. If no audio or microphone support is observed, we reattempt the test with alternate connections until the test succeeds or all options have been exhausted.

Power Supply

What it is: The connector type of the power source for the base/dock.
When it matters: The accessibility of the power source. For example, a power supply with USB/USB-C connects to multiple devices, PC , PS4, Xbox One or even with your regular phone charger whereas an AC adapter is less common.
Good value: USB/USB-C

The power supply determines how the base/dock remains powered while in use. The majority of the base/docks we’ve tested use USB power, but home theatre base stations that are intended to be used alone, without a PC, use AC power.

To determine the power supply, we visually inspect the base/dock and observe what is used for power. At this time, this test does not account for multiple power supplies, so we indicate the value that we believe would be the most commonly used.

Dock Charging

What it is: Charging the headphones via the dock/base station instead of a charging cable.
When it matters: It makes charging your headphones easier and gives you a sport to store your headphones when they are not in use.
Good value: Yes

Certain base stations and transmitters can also charge the headphones while not in use, like the of charging cases that come with various wireless earbud models. Many gaming or home theatre headsets come with dock charging as well. Some docks have charging stands that you can set your headphones on to charge when not in use and others have dedicated ports for external battery charging.

To test for dock charging, we visually inspect the base/dock for charging pins that would charge the headphones directly or dedicated ports for battery charging.

What is not included

There are a couple of elements that we don't test for explicitly. These elements include:

  • Charging information about truly wireless cases (charging time, number of charges, wireless Qi charging, etc.)
  • Compatibility with more gaming consoles (Nintendo Switch, mobile consoles)
  • Other inputs that support audio (HDMI, XLR, MIDI, CAT5e, etc.)
  • Base/dock dimensions and weight
  • Radio frequency information
  • DAC/amp information

If you feel there is an item missing that should be included, please let us know in the Discussions below.

Conclusion

Using headphones with a base transmitter or a docking station can offer lots of neat features and connectivity options. There are different base/dock options you might be interested in depending on your needs. If you want super portable earbuds that charge on-the-go, truly wireless headphones like the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air tend to come with a compact charging case that helps keep them charged while not in use. If you’re looking for headphones for watching movies at home, you might want a wireless transmitter with dock charging and lots of inputs for compatibility with your home theatre setup, like the Sennheiser RS 185. If you like to game wirelessly, the Astro A50 have a great base with dock charging, while the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless come with a transmitter that provides lots of customization options. If you prefer the reliability of a wired connection, consider wired headphones with a dock like the Astro A40 with MixAmp Pro or the SteelSeries Arctis Pro GameDAC.

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