Discord is a free app that runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and as a web app (which sadly isn’t as feature-rich as the desktop versions). 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 up to 100 different servers, 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, and here’s how to find the best Discord servers to match your interests.
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, and is well worth checking out.
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 hosted in the following locations: U.S. East, U.S. Central, U.S. West, U.S. South, Europe, Russia, Brazil, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Japan, South Africa, and Australia. If you’re outside those regions, then latency may cause delays in your voice chat.
Discord may actually be a little 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 within 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 of the time, you can buy Mumble server hosting. Expect to pay about $2.50/month for 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 paying 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. Tip: You need port forwarding (what is 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. Thi won’t be a big deal for private groups of friends, but is a possible deal-breaker for public communities.
4. Steam Voice Chat
Despite being one of the most popular gaming platforms on the planet, Steam had no integrated voice chat option until 2018. Which given the astronomical amounts of money spent on the platform, the 100 million users, and the astounding range of games available, is somewhat shocking.
In fact, the lack of an integrated Steam Voice Chat option has helped some of the alternative options on this list grow into a better alternative, building dedicated communities of their own.
The Pros of Steam Voice Chat
If you’re already playing a game on Steam, you don’t have to mess around with a third-party voice chat app. Everyone you play with is using the same game launcher, playing the same game, so all of your friends can chat using the same app.
As you might expect with a Steam product, Steam Voice Chat works well. You can drop different media types, such as a GIF or audio clip, into the Steam Voice Chat to share with ease. Plus, the chat hub makes managing your Steam Voice Chat simple.
Another plus to Steam Voice Chat is the global coverage of Steam servers. Wherever you are, you’re not far from a Steam server location. That proximity is good for latency, helping your voice sound clear.
The Cons of Steam Voice Chat
There aren’t many downsides to using Steam Voice Chat. The voice calling quality is poor at times, but this is often explained through other internet issues.
If you rely on Steam Voice Chat to communicate with specific friends or gamers, you won’t be able to reach them if the Steam network goes down. In that, some users prefer to use an alternative voice chat client because it stops one company from consolidating the market (even further).
In terms of chatting to other people or different gamers, Steam Voice Chat is limiting. You’re most likely to chat with your friends on Steam Voice Chat. Whereas, with other options such as Discord, you can join different servers and chat with different people.
Tox is slightly different from the other voice chat options on this list. Unlike the alternatives, Tox has a strong focus on user privacy, using end-to-end encryption to protect your data. It also uses a peer-to-peer connection model to boost your privacy further while chatting and playing games.
Tox is actually a protocol that has several different implementations, depending on your operating system. Voice chat software using the Tox protocol is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS, as well as a web-based option.
The Pros of Tox
The Tox protocol offers a secure voice chat option for gamers. Privacy is important, and many voice chat options overlook this important issue. Furthermore, as the Tox source code is open source, you can make sure nothing untoward is taking place with your data.
You can find a Tox app for almost any modern operating system, meaning cross-platform chat is a possibility. Also, because Tox is cross-platform, you’ll find developers innovating around the protocol and adding features to their chat clients where possible.
The Cons of Tox
Because Tox is peer-to-peer, the voice quality can suffer. The quality is only as good as your connection to one another. By extension, you cannot send messages if the other user is not connected to the Tox messenger. Some apps might show the message as sent when, in reality, it is waiting to complete transmission.
Moreover, because of the open-source nature of the Tox protocol, developers come and go. There are at least seven different abandoned instant messaging services at the time of writing. That number could increase if a service doesn’t attract enough users, or even if the development team lose interest in the project.