How to Fix Buzzing Sound in Headphones Only when Gaming?

by Alex.   Last Updated On April 23rd, 2022.
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Gaming is a very engaging and entertaining activity. If you are a serious gamer, you already know that you cannot play competitive games with speakers. A gaming headset is essential because you need to communicate with your teammates while also being vigilant of anybody trying to creep up behind you. (I’m talking about creeping up in the video game)

Now there’s one issue that can plague gamers: a distinct buzzing or crackling noise coming from the headphones heard during gaming sessions.

So, what can be the cause of this buzzing/crackling noise? And how can we get rid of it?

The buzzing noise caused whenever playing video games could be due to several reasons, with the most probable reason being electromagnetic interference. (EMI) Typically, it is due to electromagnetic interference, and a high-quality DAC will help you get rid of this problem.

Along with that, there are several other alternatives in which you can diagnose this issue and fix it up. Therefore, in this article, we are going to talk about several related topics such as:

  • Diagnosing Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)
    • What is EMI?
    • How to identify an EMI source?
  • Bypassing the in-built sound card using
    • Adapters
    • USB headsets
    • Soundcards
    • DACs

So grab your favorite headphones and put them carefully on the table because instead of listening, we are going to do some reading.

Table of Contents
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Diagnosing Electromagnetic Interference

Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)

Almost all electronic devices emit some form of electromagnetic radiation because of the current passing through them. However, not all devices have harmful effects or produce strong interference.

In our particular situation (of the gaming environment whether it’s on PC or console) the only major emitter of electromagnetic radiation is our smartphone, which is also not that harmful.

Although it’s not harmful to us, it can cause electromagnetic interference with other devices, devices that are more sensitive to this type of radiation. This weakness or vulnerability to electromagnetic radiation happens because the device is poorly isolated or “shielded” from these types of radiation.

Therefore, whenever you have a device (such as a sound card) with inferior isolation, it can get overwhelmed by EMI. (electromagnetic interference) In most devices, this does not produce any noteworthy issues but in the case of headphones, it will be very noticeable as the audio signal will have buzzing, crackling, or any other form of unwanted noise.

Identifying the Source

If you’re plagued with this issue, then there are several methods by which you can eliminate/minimize EMI. The first one is to disable or distance the emitting device (mobile phone, microwave, cables. etc..) from the receiving devices. (in this case, receiving devices can be headphones or the sound card)

Therefore, the best way to identify the source is to switch off all unnecessary devices in the vicinity and try to identify the source device, sometimes it will be your smartphone but it can also be an improper ground connection, other wireless devices (from the house’s electrical wiring) or even cables that are not shielded properly.

Note: Sometimes, you can easily identify a ground leak if the buzzing sound goes away when you put your legs up i.e when you have no physical connection to the ground.

Fixing up Issues with the Sound Card

If you haven’t identified any ground leaks and have already distanced potential radiation-emitting devices from your sound card, you might be fine. However, if the problem keeps persisting, then it’s time to replace your sound card.

Most low-end motherboards have in-built soundcards built using cheap components. Hence, they don’t have sufficient shielding to isolate the audio signal from conventional radiation-emitting devices.

If you want to resolve this problem, there are several different options you can take ranging from cheapest to the most expensive, with the more expensive options being the most reliable:

  • Install an external USB sound card/adapter.
  • Try out a new USB gaming headset.
  • Install a new sound card module to the computer’s motherboard (via PCIe interface)
  • Install a high-quality DAC (Digital To Analog Converter)

Installing an external USB sound card/adapter: The primary object (in each of these solutions) is to bypass the existing internal sound card. The cheapest method to do this is by using a USB adapter. This adapter consists of a small DAC (although not high-end as actual DACs) that will bypass the internal sound card. It’s a cheap solution, but it’s very likely to fail. Nevertheless, worth a shot since buying one is not very expensive (as compared to getting an actual DAC)

Trying out a new USB gaming headset: USB headsets are better than 3.5mm headsets because they bypass the internal sound card and use their own DAC located inside the headset. However, USB headsets are not the most ideal for avoiding EMI. (some users have reported issues where a high-end USB headset, such as a Razer Kraken Pro, was not able to steer clear of EMI)

Installing a PCIe sound card to the motherboard: One of the more viable options is installing a sound card to the motherboard. (as an expansion slot) Most modern motherboards do provide better in-built soundcards. However, nothing is guaranteed, and therefore, you will have to install a soundcard to your motherboard via the PCIe slot. Fortunately, there are many reliable soundcards out there, but some can be expensive. However, they provide better sound and lots of utility that is perfect for an experienced audiophile.

Install a high-quality DAC: This is the most advanced option. Yet, it is the most reliable and surefire way to isolate your sound system from EMI. DACs are high-end devices used by many audiophiles to replicate the best possible sound quality from their computers. A typical DAC is not very affordable (but don’t worry cause we have searched and reviewed DACs under 200), but with the right hands, (and ears) it can be an amazing tool.

So let’s recap what we’ve gathered so far:

The best way to fix the buzzing sound in your headphones that happen when gaming is to use a DAC to bypass the soundcard. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to do so, and therefore, the only remaining options are to install a sound card, try out another USB headset or install a cheap adapter.

Conclusion

PC Gaming is an engaging activity that requires gamers to be on high alert when planning out their strategies and responding to events in the game world. However, when there’s a buzzing sound going on, it can be a real annoyance. Therefore, to minimize noise and improve audio quality, using a high-end DAC has become something of a necessity for gamers.