Rating: ★★★★½

It’s one thing when major retailers want to sell a company’s product. Company executives have a meeting, an agreement is reached, and in a few months’ time that product hits store shelves. But when it comes to Apple stores, something very different happens. Apple controls everything it sells, and discriminates between products heavily. They don’t care how big or popular the product may be. If Apple doesn’t certify it, it isn’t sold in any Apple store, anywhere.

Guess who just certified gaming peripheral maker SteelSeries?

The Siberia Neckband (the updated version – the critically acclaimed original Siberia Neckband released a few years back) is specifically made to work with the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch as both headphones and a headset. Just like the original, the Siberia Neckband comes with a boom microphone that will work with all of the devices just like the standard earbuds. The Siberia Neckband can be used t0 make phone calls, listen to music and voice commands.

When I met with SteelSeries at CES earlier this year, the company had just announced that they were working with Apple to finalize and release the Siberia Neckband, and their spokespeople couldn’t be happier. And why not? Customers who walk into Apple stores know the products sold therein are good to excellent. Apple certified products have a certain level of quality that shows, in plain terms, how good the product actually is.

And when you look at the Siberia Neckband, it makes sense. It’s stylish, sleek, and looks great. The back-and-forth contrast between white and black on the headset gives it a scent of crispness and a clean-cut definition. The headset employs an over-the-ear design, where the cans are small and round, but uniquely shaped with slits on the sides to allow for better airflow. The microphone boom sits hidden on the underside of the left can and extends about 4”. On the left side is the 3’ audio cable, with iOS media buttons just like on the iPhone’s included earbuds.

If you’re interested in the newer Siberia Neckband, there’s a few things you should know. First, as a headset made with iOS devices in mind, the microphone will not work with most PC’s and non-smartphone electronics. Before smartphones went back to 3.5mm connectors for both stereo sound and microphones (through the single port), most electronics required two cables, one for stereo and one for a microphone. To this day, nearly all electronics still require two audio jacks, which means the Siberia’s microphone will not work on anything but smartphones. They will produce stereo sound when plugged in.

The Siberia Neckband has round, over-the-ear cans. These look great, but ears are not round in shape, so if you have larger ears the can cushions may rest on part of your ear. I have big ears (the better to hear you with) and I found the Neckband uncomfortable after about two hours of continual use, though I prefer over-the-ear headsets. This is, however, a personal preference, but an important one for headphones and headsets.

Finally, the Siberia Neckband is called “Neckband” for a reason: the band sits around the back of your head, not on top like most headphones. My experience with both the original and new Siberia Neckband is that the band tends to rest on the neck, where it tends to lean toward. The band itself is strangely built to fit any head size by pulling the cans apart, as seen in the picture above. It’s a good method to keep the Siberia more orderly (no readjustments necessary, just pull and put on and the headband will collapse when you’re not wearing it), but it also tightens the set to stay in position. That tightness isn’t a big concern, but for sensitive ears, it may prove uncomfortable after extended use.

Sound quality is very good to excellent on the Siberia Neckband. For the price, I am more than satisfied listening to streaming music through Pandora, watching movies on my iPad and having phone conversations. It does a great job with all audio on the iOS devices, which is to say lower-bitrate MP3 and condensed videos sound just fine. That sort of testing is, well, minimally stressful, so I also used some high-quality audio from CD’s and HD films, as well as DVD audio, and found that the sound quality is excellent. Lows are spot on with very rich bass, something most headphones can’t do. I am very impressed with the bass quality. The Siberia Neckband easily overpowers larger and more expensive headsets,without using an external power supply. High’s and mid-range are equally accurate. Sounds are not sharp and users will find that even if they have the audio too loud, sounds will not be painful (to a point). As far as sound quality is concerned, SteelSeries has done brilliantly.

The Siberia Neckband’s controller compared to Apple’s own iPhone earphones

The Siberia Neckband, thanks to its design, does not have good noise cancelation. It’s not the best headset for plane or trains, nor is it great for noisy roommates. The headset is too prone to outside noise, though thankfully the softer tones enable users to just turn up the volume to drown out sound. Privately using the Siberia Neckband could be better.

SteelSeries representatives told me a story about how their very first headsets were audiophile quality. Sounds were as completely accurate. But gamers didn’t want that, they wanted pinpoint precision and timing, so SteelSeries adapted to meet those needs. The irony is now the company has gone back to their original philosophy for the updated Siberia Neckband, and audio quality is excellent. For $80, good luck finding other headphones that sound this good. iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch support isn’t just another added benefit, it’s a mainstay for the device and may prove incredibly useful as gaming evolves on Apple’s handhelds. Even now, telephony and media viewing is vastly improved using the Siberia Neckband over competing devices. I can’t recommend the Siberia Neckband enough.

Pros:

  • Excellent sound quality, wonderfully accurate
  • Great low price
  • Stylish, has the “Apple” look

Cons:

  • No option for dual 3.5mm jacks for non-iOS use
  • No noise cancellation
  • 3′ cable is a bit short, could use an extender cable

Maybe:

  • Neckband design is not for everyone
  • Round cans look good but may not fit everyone over-the-ear



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.