In terms of technology, gaming headsets have never been much better. They sound great, and their microphones offer a clear advantage to competitive players. However, they still leave a lot to be desired for the overall user experience. The SteelSeries Arctis 5 ($100) offers a promising solution to the problems faced by its often ostentatious and uncomfortable competitors while maintaining a sleek design that can be worn for hours. This is our SteelSeries Arctis 5 Review.
SteelSeries Arctis 5 Review: Design
SteelSeries wanted to recreate the gaming headset with the Arctis 5, and for my money, the result is an unrivaled success. The Arctis 5 is neither bulky nor oversized but is a sleek black (or white) edge profile with smooth, over-the-ear cups, and a flexible Velcro headband. You don’t need to adjust two stiff, expandable bars to get a perfect fit; just put the headset on, and it fits perfectly.
Although the Arctis 5 is a bit large, it lacks a single external hump or curve. This elegant peripheral might as well feel at home in a gambling corner or a crowded subway, and not many gambling headsets could claim that. Furthermore, there is a bendable, retractable microphone in the left ear cup, as well as a volume wheel and a mic-mute button around the back. Everything is easy to reach without messing around too much.
My only complaint – and it’s not small – is that cable management is a mess. The Arctis 5 is connected via USB or 3.5mm audio jack, but either way, you have to plug your jack into an adapter. The USB adapter goes through an amplifier that controls the chat volume, which is pretty useless when you are playing a single-player game. Moreover, the microphone is too light to sit comfortably on a table, and the extra-long wire tends to get in the way of everything. The adapter for the 3.5 mm connection is small and easy to lose.
SteelSeries Arctis 5 Review: Comfort
SteelSeries has generally disgraced other headset manufacturers when it comes to comfort, and the Arctis 5 is no exception. Not only does the elastic headband adjust directly to your head, but also, if it’s even slightly off, you can simply change the Velcro straps. This is a first for a SteelSeries product, or any gaming headset as far as I know. The ear shells feel plush and breathable but never squeeze hard, even for people (like myself) with glasses and lots of hair.
In case the standard, black and white headband is not to your liking, you can also buy alternative designs, starting at $20 per doll. I think that’s a bit expensive for a small, thin piece of fabric, but it’s purely aesthetic, so the choice is yours.
Like other peripherals of the SteelSeries, the Arctis 5 runs on SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software. SteelSeries has made incredible strides with its software in recent years, turning Engine from a buggy “me-too” product into something almost as polished as the offerings from Razer and Logitech.
As mentioned above, you can use the software to activate and deactivate surround sound feature, select equalization options (immersion, entertainment, music, performance, and voice are just some of the useful choices), and customize a ton of mic options, including the sidetone (how well you can hear your voice while chatting) and noise reduction. There are more alternatives here than I think the average user will need to play with; however, it’s better to have too much control over a product than too little.
You can control the RGB lighting on the ear shells (a feature I find a bit useless on a headset, but which at least looks nice) and set individual profiles for games and other programs. If you’re willing to take an hour or so to determine the sound settings of your favorite apps and pair them up, you could listen to your PC in a completely different way. Setting the SteelSeries Arctis 5 to Immersion for the Witcher 3, to performance for the Overwatch and Voice for Skype software eliminates a lot of legwork and makes the programs sound noticeably better.
SteelSeries Arctis 5 Review: Performance
The Arctis 5 has more configurations than you can shake with a joystick, so finding the perfect settings for a game can be both satisfying and tedious. (We’ll talk about this later.) For example, first, I wanted to give The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt a chance to see how the system handles a compelling single-player adventure.
I chose the DTS 7.1 surround sound with the Game preset, and the Immersion equalization option. However, I soon discovered that the music and sound effects sounded great, but it seemed like everyone’s dialogue was coming from the bottom of a well. By simply turning off the surround sound, everything was put back in order, at the cost of a bit of wealth.
On the other hand, the surround sound was the perfect complement to Overwatch, a competitive first-person shooter that relies heavily on directional sounds. Not only could I hear every footstep and shot from my opponents, but I could also locate quiet locations. This proved incredibly crucial in finding a safe approach to game-winning goals.
If you already have decent music headphones, the Arctis 5 probably won’t replace them. The headphones deliver perfectly competent sound due to the 3.5mm jack, complete with clear vocals, intense highs, and a surprising amount of punch from bass and percussion. On the other hand, you can’t play with the equalization options, so all genres sound a bit the same, and just a bit muffled.
On the other hand, if you want a daily headset, the Arctis 5 can work wonders for both music and video. The SteelSeries Engine 3 software provides presets for both music and movies, and both work great, with or without surround sound. Flogging Molly’s “The Hand of John L. Sullivan” came through loud and clear, especially the lively accordion and stable bass line. An episode of Black Mirror was just as compelling, giving equal weight to the passionate vocal work and creepy music.
SteelSeries Arctis 5 Review: Mic
SteelSeries also made a large part of the microphone, promising that this peripheral would revolutionize voice chat by providing something equivalent to high-end, stand-alone microphones. After testing the microphone with Windows Voice Recorder, I can say that the company has succeeded, although the success comes with a few caveats.
The microphone does indeed produce a clear and beautiful sound, but like any high-end microphone, it has the unfortunate tendency to overemphasize consonants, especially “S” and “T.” This is why high-end mics need pop filters; there is no such option with such a small microphone. You have to point it a bit away from your mouth for maximum clarity; at that moment, it’s still better than a standard microphone, but not quite to the night-and-day degree promised by the company.
SteelSeries Arctis 5 is an excellent product as a whole, with a refined sound, comfortable design, and sensible software. It is also a frustrating product because, with a few small adjustments, it could have been much better. The cords are too long and cumbersome; the surround sound doesn’t play in every genre, and the amplifier stands in the way of most games. Still, if you can live with a few small annoyances, it’s hard not to recommend the Arctis 5. For more options, check our list of Best Gaming Headsets