Voice chat is now standard fare in video gaming communities. Gone are the days when you had to share a couch to socialize while playing. Why bother when you can stay at home and chat over the internet all the same? The technology exists!
But with so many options available, you may be confused as to which one is right for you and your circle of friends. We’ll show you the five best voice chat solutions for gaming and each of their pros and cons.
Discord is a free app that runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and as a web app (not as feature-rich as the desktop versions as far as voice configuration). If you’ve ever used Slack or IRC, then you’ll feel right at home on Discord. In addition to voice chat, Discord supports text chat and video chat (for up to 10 people).
The Pros of Discord
Anyone can create a “Discord server” for free. Users can join as many servers as they want, and each server is essentially its own independent community. Servers can have text channels and voice channels, and the server owner can tweak pretty much everything about it. Discord hosts the servers itself.
In other words, you and your friends can get set up and running within minutes. Servers are private and people can only join them through invite links (a “public” server is one with a permanent public invite link that anyone can use). Discord has many features beyond just the voice chat client—it’s one of the best game launchers to organize and launch your PC games. It’s also one of the best social networks for gamers!
The Cons of Discord
Since all servers are hosted through Discord, an outage means all Discord servers go down and you can’t do anything about it except wait.
Furthermore, Discord servers are only hosted in the following locations: U.S. East, U.S. Central, U.S. West, U.S. South, Europe West, Europe Central, Russia, Brazil, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia. If you’re outside those regions, then latency may cause intolerable delays in voice chat.
Discord may actually be a bit overkill if you only want voice chat. It’s best to use if you’re already participating in a few other Discord servers, in which case you’ll already be running the Discord app and have nothing to lose.
Mumble is a free and open-source app that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. On mobile, you can use a third-party app: Plumble for Android and Mumblefy for iOS. It’s mainly used for voice chat, though it also supports primitive text chat.
The Pros of Mumble
Mumble specializes in low-latency communication, which makes it great for high-octane games with lots of fast action, especially ones that involve teamplay. It can also do positional audio based where you are in the game world, but this is only supported on some games (such as most Source Engine games and Guild Wars 2).
Everything is in your control. If you want to host a server, you just download the server version of Mumble and run it on your computer. Then everyone else downloads the client version of Mumble to connect to your IP address. You can create channels to keep everything organized.
If you want 24/7 uptime without leaving your computer on all the time, you can buy Mumble server hosting. Expect to pay about $2.50 per month per five slots, although the price-per-slot drops drastically as slots increase. And you can get hefty discounts by paying for multiple months at once instead of going monthly.
The Cons of Mumble
You can only connect to one Mumble server at a time.
The clunky interface is probably its worst aspect, followed by the learning curve. While Mumble is extremely easy to use once you get familiarized, that initial experience can be pretty frustrating, especially when you’re trying to set up the server software on your computer and can’t figure out why your friends can’t connect. (Hint: You need port forwarding!)
TeamSpeak is a free app that runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS (the mobile apps are client apps only). TeamSpeak is very similar to Mumble in design and operation, but offers some unique features while also falling short in certain aspects.
The Pros of TeamSpeak
TeamSpeak has an easy-to-use interface with high-quality audio, though with slightly more latency than Mumble. However, the difference is negligible in most cases.
TeamSpeak also has a flexible and powerful permissions system that allows different users to have control over different areas of the server based on their “power level.” The permissions also divide into groups, so you can grant control over a channel to one user and grant control over the server to another. This makes community management much easier.
Like Mumble, you can self-host TeamSpeak or you can pay for hosting.
The Cons of TeamSpeak
You can only connect to one TeamSpeak server at a time.
Self-hosted TeamSpeak servers have a maximum capacity of 32 simultaneous users. If you request and acquire a non-commercial non-profit license, you can raise that limit to 512. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay an annual fee based on maximum capacity. Not a big deal for private groups of friends, but a possible deal-breaker for public communities.
The options above are the Big Three, and almost every gamer develops a preference for one of them. If you don’t like any of them for whatever reason, there are two other voice chat solutions you can use. But be warned: they have some glaring flaws.
Hangouts lets you make free voice calls to other Hangouts users, plus video conferences with up to 10 total participants. It’s fine for lounging around with fellow gaming friends, but not the best for actual gaming because the quality isn’t optimized for it, you don’t have options for push-to-talk, and there’s no persistence between calls.
Skype is more fit for gaming because you can have persistent group chats between voice chats, but the Skype software itself leaves much to be desired. It’s buggy and prone to errors, plus the voice quality is generally bad and has a distinct Skype “tinnyness” to it. But if you decide to use it anyway, here are some tips for more efficient Skype usage.
Which Voice Chat Client Do You Like Best?
I personally use Discord and haven’t looked back since. Once you’ve picked a voice chat client, you’ll want to make this quick router tweak to eliminate lag, and you don’t even need a gaming router for it. If you’re looking for more free apps to up your pc gaming, check out this list of free apps for PC gamers. Lastly, to truly maximum performance, you should tweak your PC for gaming and tweak Windows 10 for gaming.