Hardware Review: SteelSeries Arctis 3

After several years of headphone frustration I spent plenty of time wringing my hands about what headset to purchase next. I ended up going with SteelSeries Arctis 3 and so far I don’t regret it. They have the right combination of price, comfort, and audio quality that I was looking for and they worked great right out of the box. I also don’t mind them being white…why is it that everything has to be black plastic these days?

TL;DR:
Pros: Cheap, Comfortable, Great Sound, Works without a lot of fuss.
Cons: Corded, Must setup account & download software for surround sound, controls poorly located

To explain why and how I ended up here I have to go back in time. Way back in the day headphones weren’t anywhere near as comfortable as they are now. Long gaming sessions would cause significant amounts of ear pain due to my glasses. I ended up propping my glasses up above the ear cups just to avoid pain, but obviously the tilt meant my vision was a bit askew.

On the recommendation of a friend, I purchased my first serious (& comfortable) gaming headset – Turtle Beach PX22. Initially the sound these produced blew my mind. So vastly superior to anything I had ever used and I could wear them with my glasses without any discomfort! As time went on, various annoyances started to pop up though. Due to the in-line audio amp/driver you had to constantly tweak the Windows audio settings to avoid the sound cutting out. Since the headset was designed for consoles in the living room, the cord was a mile long with a really loose quick-connect in-line to avoid tripping. This added up to me constantly getting the cord tangled up, tugging on it and disconnecting it unintentionally. Below is a ShadowPlay video captured while using the PX22’s when the audio was complete garbage, which happened frequently.

This led me to finally get a wireless headset – the Corsair Gaming H2100. The sound was great, no tweaking necessary, and they were equally comfortable. I loved the wireless freedom. But then things shuffled around the house and I needed my PC to be on the WiFi instead of hard-wired. Frustratingly, my WiFi router and my headset were both 2.4GHz so anytime I downloaded something on my PC my headset would cut in and out. Add to that the constant static that I didn’t hear but anytime I used ShadowPlay it came through in my videos. The final straw was when the adjustable part of the headset broke so they no longer fit comfortably. Below is ShadowPlay captured game footage. Hear that static? I didn’t while playing…

2 expensive headsets in a span of a few years. I expect better from my hardware, I cannot afford to constantly throw money at a single accessory like that. So naturally I spent a lot of time on internal debates about what headset to go with. My PC is stuck on WiFi for the foreseeable future, so wireless headsets were out unless I could find a 5GHz headset. That was affordable… There weren’t any, while the Astro A50‘s look like they would be amazing, they cost more than I spent on my graphics card. So I knew I had to stick with corded, but I didn’t want one designed for consoles in the living room with a mile long cord. Surround sound was important for gaming reasons, but turning on/off USB headsets with in-line amps was also an annoyance. I debated between a few different headsets that I felt most closely met my criteria and ultimately went with the cheaper option of those. With a 1 year old at home finances are tight to start with and with my frustrating history with headsets I felt like the responsible choice was to get the most headset for the least money. While I normally like to stick to brands that I have positive experience with, I decided to try something new, a brand that focuses on headsets.

The Steelseries Arctis line of headsets have an adjustable ski-mask style elastic strap that actually connects with the top of your head. For me this serves 2 purposes. Easy and durable adjustments and most importantly it relieves the weight on your head. My previous headsets were fairly heavy and while they were comfortable – after a few hours of use I did feel their weight. This ski-mask strap acts as a suspension system. This headset is already seriously lightweight, but the strap reduces the strain on your head even further. The ear cups are plenty big enough with comfortable cushions and plenty of flexibility. These headphones are at least as comfortable as any other headphones that I’ve ever tried before.

The mic is retractable and seems to work just fine. I’m not a big time YouTuber, so my needs are simple. My friends need to be able to hear me and it’d be nice if my voice was the only annoying audio on my ShadowPlay captures. My particular Arctis is the Arctis 3, which is analog, which means the surround sound is virtual. In order to achieve this, you have to setup an account on the Steelseries site, download and install their software, and login to register your headset. I suppose this is a bit of a hassle but I did not feel like it was much of a big deal. The virtual surround sound works well, in both Battlefield 1 and PU Battlegrounds I have been able to easily determine which direction enemy sounds are coming from.

I only really have 2 complaints about the headset and one I already knew was coming. Cords man, cords… No matter how short, they have a tendency to twist up. The cord does have a disconnect in it so you can switch to a different cable for the XBone. That connection is tight and I don’t imagine it will come apart accidentally. For now, I must live with the cord. The other issue is the location of the controls. They are on the back of the left side ear cup. Exactly where I want to grab them when I’m putting them on or taking them off. So I have to constantly remind myself to be careful lest I hit the volume wheel or the mic mute button. Having the controls here allows the headset to look minimal and clean, which I like better than having the controls on the face of one of the ear cups. However, I think the controls would have been better located either up the side a bit more or perhaps all the way down on the bottom. As it is I am certain I have a future of constantly having to readjust my volume.

Bottom line though, these headphones were exactly what I was looking for at the price (~$80) that I was willing to spend. They are comfortable, they sound good, and most important is that they just work without much intervention. Hopefully they will last me a few years at least and if so, perhaps I will try one of their higher level/more expensive headsets next time. Would recommend!

For your viewing pleasure, an awesome aerial goal – wearing my new Steelseries Arctis 3. You will note my voice is a bit quiet, I may need to adjust some volume level in ShadowPlay.

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