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SteelSeries are very popular; some will call them the best gaming headset.
We loved the SteelSeries Arctis 9X – Best Surround Sound when we tested them. Now we have another from the company. How does it stack up? With the release of the new Arctis series of “gaming-but-not-only-gaming” headsets, SteelSeries is attempting to blur the lines between where the headsets we use at the home end, and those we’d be proud to take on the train begin. In other words, until now, gamers have been forced to spend money on one headset they want to use when they’re in the thick of battle online, as well as an additional pair of cans they wouldn’t be ashamed to show off in public.
The Arctis 5 promises to combine these two categories into one seamless design aesthetic, but will that gamble pay off in the end? Find out in my Arctis 5 gaming headset review!
Price: $99.00 on Amazon
Available: October 2016
Model: Arctis 5
Summary: The SteelSeries Arctis 5 headset is an incredible-sounding pair of cans that have no business sounding as good as they do at this price point, held back only by the confounding decision to use ski goggle straps to hold them to your head.
What We Liked
What We Didn’t
Related: Also, check out our Steelseries Arctis 7 Wireless Gaming Headset review.
For years, gaming headsets have been trapped in a purgatory of crazy designs, over-the-top RGB LED lighting, and large irremovable microphones that would look out of place anywhere else but at a desk. SteelSeries is hoping to change how people think about their headsets by creating a pair of cans that have the features gamers need (in-line mic, onboard volume rocker, USB connection, etc), all stuffed into a design that could compete with a pair of Beats in a beauty contest any day.
Overall, I think the effort pays off. The outside of both earcups is covered in a velvety soft rubberized material that helps the Arctis 5 feel way outside the sub-$100 price range, while the cups themselves are made of proprietary memory foam “AirWeave” fabric. The fabric cups are meant to both wick away heat/sweat from the ears while still keeping you completely isolated from the outside world, something leather cups struggle with. It took a while for the newness of the cup fabric to wear in to the point where they felt comfortable, but after about 25 hours of use, they finally adapted to the shape of my head and provided a tight fit.
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Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the headband. SteelSeries is openly touting the decision to include what the company calls “athlete-level performance ski goggle straps” on the inside of the headband, but here’s the crux of it: people don’t attach ski goggles to the top of their heads, they put them around the back. Getting a good fit on these headphones, so they actually adhere to your head, is no easy task, and as anyone who’s owned a headset before can tell you, a proper fit is crucial to maintaining even sound. If the headphones aren’t snug against your skull, you immediately lose bass anytime you are chewing food or turn your head too quickly. They are too tight, and you can’t wear them for more than an hour at a time without feeling like someone is trying to slowly crush your head in a vice.
If I had to fault the design of the Arctis 5 for anything, it would be this headband. No matter how many times I re-adjusted it, I could never get it to slip on right, resulting in a lot more frustration than it was worth in the long run.
Related: If you are interested in this headset, you might also like our Sony Playstation Wireless Stereo Headset review.
The Arctis 5 headset looks to disprove the notion that just because a headset is made for gaming, its sound quality for other applications like music or movies can take a backseat. Not true, says SteelSeries, including musician-grade 40mm drivers to pump out sound in 7.1 DTS Headphone:X Surround (Windows-only for now).
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The Headphone:X in Arctis 5 is the latest tech in surround sound, which is a huge improvement from the Arctis 3, which only uses SteelSeries 7.1 DTS. Other features include an in-line retractable microphone, onboard volume adjustment found on the left earcup, and a 3.5mm USB adapter plugs into an in-line microphone volume adjuster, letting you swap between in-game voice chat and game volume on the fly.
The Arctis 5 also comes with a small dongle called the ChatMix Dial, which connects to your Mac or PC via USB. The ChatMix Dial has a volume handle that allows you to adjust the balance between the game and chat audio effortlessly. Perhaps my favorite bit of kit was the small USB-to-3.5mm adapter, which turns the headset from a PC/Mac experience into something you could easily plug into a smartphone to take with you on the road. This continues SteelSeries’ emphasis that this is a transitional pair of headphones hiding in a gaming headset’s clothes; something that can play all day no matter where you go in the world.
To test the performance of the SteelSeries Arctis 5 headset, we burned the drivers in over a period of 30 hours using various types of music played through both FLAC and 320kbps sources, as well as dozens of varied games and movies.
Both during and after this burn-in, we found the sound quality of the Arctis 5 to be miles above the status quo, setting a new standard for what gaming headsets should aspire to from here on out. Looking at the price tag, you’d never guess these were the same pair of headphones, playing music with a deep, rich, luxurious bass response and mids that couldn’t be crispier if they were served on top of a caesar salad. Gaming response was equally as impressive thanks to the 7.1 DTS Headphone:X surround sound, whether it was in Battlefield 1 or League of Legends, we always felt like we had the advantage thanks to subtle audio cues which told you exactly where the action was coming from no matter which direction you were pointed. If you are interested, check out our Sennheiser PC 363D 7.1 Dolby gaming headset review for another great-sounding pair. Or you can read this Plantronics RIGF Flex review roundup we put together.
The ClearCast mic supposedly touts all sorts of newfangled tech like “bidirectional” listening, but in both talking to friends on it and strangers in my games, neither said it sounded any better than a plain old mic. This is likely due in part to the lack of any kind of pop filter, which for the layman, is basically a foam sleeve that usually goes over the microphone, designed to soften the “pop” that mics can pick up from people breathing out. Without that filter, any fancy additions to the mic were quickly drowned out by the familiar distortion of my breathing while I talked – which, at least until we figure out a way to communicate telepathically – will be a part of online gaming communication for the foreseeable future.
We’ve written about the SteelSeries 3 Engine in previous reviews before, so I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty details of what you can expect to find here other than to say that the software options for the Arctis 5 were both extensive and highly customizable across the board.
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It’s here that you can change everything from the tone response of the equalizer to the way the thin strip of RGB lighting around the edge of each headphone looks. All the obvious RGB customization is here (change the colors, the breathing pattern, steady on/off, etc), but one thing I have to fault SteelSeries for is the baffling decision to put a bright red LED light on the microphone that turns on when the mic is muted.
Playing a game in total darkness, the red LED shines directly into your eyes, making it harder to see what’s happening on screen and generally being a nuisance throughout the experience.
It’s obvious that with the release of the Arctis line of gaming headsets, SteelSeries is trying to shake up the industry by doing a lot of things differently than they used to, all at once.
Does it work all the time? No, especially not in the ski-goggle headband and the LED-lit microphone departments. But when it does, it really works, with sound quality and customization options that would shame any other sub-$100 headset.
If you’ve been looking for a new headset and want something that advances the category forward in new and exciting ways, the Arctis 5 is the one to get. I can only imagine how much better the next Arctis update will be once the company irons out the kinks and streamlines everything to a T. For more great options from SteelSeries, be sure to read our review of the Arctis Pro, Siberia neckband, and the Siberia 350 headsets.
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