SteelSound 5H USB Review
|Product:||Pro Gaming / Communications Headset|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
Headsets these days are fast becoming an important part of any self-respecting gamer's set-up. Competitive gaming demands high sound quality, and a decent microphone. On top of this, if you're anything like me, your headset won't come unplugged during the day, and as such it's an absolute requirement that they be comfortable for long periods of time. You may remember SteelSeries from an earlier mouse pad review. As makers of professional quality gaming gear, they've also made the SteelSound 5H USB, a headset designed with the avid gamer and LAN enthusiast in mind.
Here's a quick run-down on the technical jargon:
Out of the box the first thing you'll notice is the size of the headset. It's big, bold and chunky - yet somehow looks sleek and sexy in the process. The design is closer to a pair of DJ headphones than more traditional small gaming headsets. For this I can only applaud it - for far too long we've had to put up with flimsy call-centre type designs. The build quality seems exceptional, and with few small parts or joins, there's little obvious area for easy breakage. Indeed, I dropped the headset intentionally a few times and was reassured by the fact that it seemed to do more damage to my dodgy floorboards than to the headset itself. The cups and the headband can be detached for easier storage and carrying, a feature some of the more LAN fanatic of us might appreciate. The wires connecting to my PC were long enough that I could move across my room before being yanked back, and the volume and microphone control seem solid and have a rubber join on them, which should prevent stress and tear on the wire at this point.
The SteelSound 5H USB comes with a small USB sound card that was a breeze to set-up. The drivers it comes with allow for a high degree of customization and a virtual 7.1 headphone surround sound system. The ability to use the USB card is optional, so those of you with exceptional cards can continue to use them. I chose to use the USB sound and drivers provided. Of course the only way to test a gaming headset is to take it in-game, so I'll get to that later.
As far as I'm concerned, a headset could allow me to hear the sweat drop from a roaring Wookie, but if it's not comfortable, then I'm not interested. Planting the SteelSeries straight on my head, the quality and thought gone into making this is apparent. The ear cups are over-sized so that your entire ear can pretty much fit inside. Never before have my ears experienced such luxury. The headband comes with a meaty slice of padding (about an inch thick) which is welcome. You may be familiar with the term 'pressing' when talking about headphones. This when a pair of headphones seems comfortable, but after removing them your ears become very sore due to being pressed against your head. After using these headphones up to ten hours a day I can confirm that I had absolutely no pressing on my ears.
The mic on the headset is not rigid and fixed on a swinging boom. Instead SteelSeries gives us a flexible pull-out microphone attached to the right cup. This is a fantastic feature. Several times in the past I've broken the microphone on my headsets, purely due to treading on the mic or from loose connections. The flexi-cord seems to have solved this little annoyance. It also allows me to listen to music or watch films without looking like a reject from a call centre - always an item of great amusement amongst my female, non-gamer housemates.
Now for the real test - taking the headset in-game. Gaming these days is a full-bodied cinematic experience. Gone are the days when we were happy sitting in front of screen listening to all manner of MIDI beeps and screeches. Now we want a fully immersive surround sound experience, we want to feel the bullets whistle past our cheeks, and more importantly - we want hear the clothes rustling on the son-of-a-gun who's creeping up on us from behind. With this in mind I booted up Battlefield 2 first. Anyone familiar with Battlefield will know the thrill of being caught in the middle of an urban fire fight with explosions going off around you, and choppers soaring overhead. The SteelSound certainly seems to deliver, I could hear every bullet and every reload perfectly. The virtual 7.1 sound worked perfectly, and was immediately obvious when a fighter roared directly overhead. Definitely a huge improvement over previous headphones I've used. I've no doubt that using this headset in a game like Counter-Strike would be tantamount to wall-hacking, such is the strength of its positional sound.
Switching games and trying out Oblivion, the level of quality remained high. Footsteps, the clashing of steel on steel, and the sweeping musical score all seemed to come alive whilst playing. The combination of the special USB sound drivers and comfortable headset made this the most enjoyable time I've ever had in a game audio-wise. The only thing left to try was the microphone, which to many competitive gamers is an essential part of the headset. Almost a month of both in game comms and external programs like Skype and Ventrilo has left my usual online buddies impressed with the quality improvement that I gained from the SteelSound's microphone.
I also tested the SteelSound with my music mp3s and was really impressed. I ripped a few tracks at high quality, especially for testing these, and my goodness it sounds great. Bass was beautifully clear but not over dominant and the sound remains perfect at high volumes. Guitars on some of my more heavy tracks were crisp and heavy. These headphones are starting to sound better than my speakers! As a result of testing the SteelSound headset I've started to re-rip my CDs at a higher bitrate, which can only be a good thing. If you're looking for a headset that delivers in Windows as well as in-game, then this headset can seemingly do no wrong.
I seem to recall calling a SteelSeries mouse pad the finest I had ever used. A similar accolade must go to the SteelSound 5H USB. The sound quality remained consistently high during testing, both in-game (with fantastic 7.1 emulation) and when listening to mp3. Comfort is exceptionally high, and little touches like a retractable microphone really are appreciated. Without a doubt these are the best headphones I've used and are highly recommended to any gamer looking for a solid choice in headset.
- Off the charts comfort-wise
- Retractable microphone
- Superb 7.1 sound emulation
- High quality build design
- Crystal-clear sound
Not so good stuff
- Maybe a little expensive for the casual gamer
- You might have to upgrade the rip-quality of your music
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