SteelSeries is a name well known in the gaming community, sponsoring some of the best teams in the world and supplying quality gaming products, from security software to keyboards. One of SteelSeries' largest lines is their range of gaming audio equipment, under the Steel Sound brand. We all know that a good quality headset is a must-have for any hardcore gamer, unfortunately most headsets do not come cheap, and those that do never fail to disappoint in the long run. This is where the SteelSeries 3H headset comes in, offering more 'bang-for-buck' than either of its bigger brothers, the 4H and 5H V2 headsets.
SteelSound 3H at a glance;
* Foldable/collapsible lightweight gaming headset * Retractable non-directional microphone system * Comfortable to use, easy to transport * Developed in cooperation with professional gamers * Strong bass for optimal in-game sound projection * 40mm SteelSound SunDancer(LCP) Units
SteelSound 3H is a compact and lightweight headset for gamers who frequently attend LAN events, and expect high quality sound. With it's foldable design the size of the SteelSound 3H makes for easy transportation, even in the most crammed situations. The small size also means that the headset is very light weight, which makes all the difference when it comes to wearing this comfortable headset. With pads that lightly press on top of the ears and a light headpiece that keeps the headset in place at all times, SteelSound 3H is hardly noticeable when the sound start playing. A strong bass and crystal clear sound will help you determine where you can expect the next encounter with your enemy. At a very affordable price, everyone will now be able to buy a high quality gaming headset build for and by professional gamers.
The 3H's successors unfortunately failed to make any great impression on us here at Overclock3D, which I must admit has left me relatively skeptical about how well this lesser, cheaper model would perform. The previously reviewed headsets had also been designed with the help of professional gamers, which showed in the comfort and physical features of the headset, but not the sound. However, here at OC3D we pride ourselves on our impartial reviews and prefer to let the facts do the talking.
SteelSeries' website has a fair amount of technical specifications for potential customers to take a look at:
10 - 27.000 Hz
2 meters (6.5 feet)
50 - 18.000 Hz
Pick up pattern
Not exactly a far cry from the specifications of the SteelSound 5H V2:
16 - 28.000 Hz
SPL@ 1kHz, 1 Vrms
1 + 2 = 3 meters (10 feet)
75 - 16.000 Hz
Pick up pattern
As you can see there are a few practical differences such as the relatively short cable. Other than that, the spec sheets don't exactly embarrass the 3H headset, especially when lined up with a £50 opponent.
SteelSeries 3H Gaming Headset Page: 2 Packaging
The 3H packaging is again not too far off that of its successors. It's fairly reserved as packaging goes and certainly doesn't jump off the shelf at you, however the clear plastic gives you a good look at what you're getting.
The back of the packaging is again very similar. Sporting a range of languages and more technical information on the product than we see on a lot of packaging today.
As usual there is a list of teams with which the headset has been developed and a bit of blurb on the company and its history.
The headset's appearance is fairly timid, the whole thing weighs next to nothing just like the rest of the SteelSound range. The plastic the same matte finish as the other headsets but thicker, giving the headset a sturdier, more robust feel.
It's clear that the headset was designed with portability in mind. The folding system certainly serves to reduce their size well. This coupled with the lightweight structure is bound to save space in your backpack. Furthermore, the folding mechanisms make the headset adaptable to most head shapes, increasing comfort.
The earcups are surprisingly small in comparison to the rest of the headset, not only this but their shape is fairly acute. This was fairly concerning on the comfort front, leaving me worrying that too much attention has been spent on trimming size and weight off them.
The padding is, in my opinion, just the right thickness. On the 5H, the over thick padding reduced bass and sound quality in the search for comfort. Here the padding is just the right thickness. The padding is skinned with another synthetic leather, which while soft and comfy may lead to sweating around the ear after prolonged use.
The headband or 'bridge' between the two cups is of a similar system seen in headsets such as the Siberia headset. With a plastic upper half providing inward pressure on the cups and a fairly supple synthetic leather strap to support the headset and prevent sliding.
Unfortunately the 3H headset does not carry an in-line controller for regulating volume. I did not at first think this would be any problem at all but after starting up several applications only to have my eardrums assaulted while not being able to do anything about it quickly has lead me think that the inclusion of an inline control would be a nice improvement. The quality of the stereo jacks and 'Y' split is a fair way above average and look like they could take a serious bit of wear and tear.
The microphone with the 3H headset, as with the higher end models is retractable. This is one if my favorite features of the SteelSeries headsets. Unfortunately the 3H headset microphone boom is made from plastic segments, coated in plastic, this does not hold its shape as well as the metal segment system seen in other models. In addition to this, the boom is relatively short and when deployed, retains the curve from within the ear cup. This leaves the tip of the mic around the eye area, which is quite annoying and needs a good bend downwards to rectify.
To gain a fair feeling for the 3Hs abilities, I have tested them across a range of soundcards with a range of games and music. Fistly the headset was tested with the ASUS Commando onboard sound (SupremeFX), a Creative Live! Soundblaster Platinum and a Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic.
Tests: - Counterstrike: Source - Quake 4 - CD played with WMP 11 - DVD played with WMP 11 - High Bitrate MP3 played with WMP 11 and Foobar2000 - Teamspeak RC2 and Ventrilo
With Counterstrike and Quake 4, I was obviously looking for different things from the headset. With counterstrike, my main priority is accuracy. A player needs the ability to pinpoint an opponents location. This needs directional accuracy and clarity to distinguish between surfaces. Quake 4 on the other hand offers far more of an immersive soundscape, requiring a high frequency range, good bass response and again, clarity.
With the music testing, I opted for some of the most testing tracks I could find, including a range of genres and bass tests. With each test, I would look out for any form of distortion or crackling and the overall sound quality. In addition to the music testing, I watched the same section of the film 'The Pianist' on DVD for each soundcard.
Lastly, I used the 3H microphone for ingame communication via teamspeak and ventrilo with a range of audio codecs to see just how clear the output of the microphone was.
For the first gaming test I started up Counter-Strike: Source. The first thing I noticed after starting the game was the bass. More specifically, the amount of bass. The previously tested, higher level SteelSeries headphones were slightly lacking in the bass department, especially at high volumes. The 3H however, I am very glad to say provided full, smooth bass. In games such as CS:S, accurate and heavy bass is a must for creating a feeling of realism and immersion. This headset kept this up with each soundcard used and across a wide range of volume which was fairly impressive.
Sound clarity can only really be described as average. I had no trouble identifying footsteps over other noises but found it harder to distinguish surfaces and numbers of opponents despite using several of the ingame sound modes. Directional sounds were fairly good for a stereo headset.
For testing with Quake 4 I played the first section of game over for each soundcard. The opening level of Quake 4 starts with a large range of gunfire and explosions at various distances, making it a perfect test for the headsets ability to convey atmosphere.
Again, the first thing I noticed with the 3H headset was the bass. Explosions and gunfire sounded extremely realistic, with the headset providing punchy bass and next to no distortion on high rate of fire weapons when at full volume. The fact that the headset is a stereo configuration limits the level of realism but I strongly feel that the 3H comes very close to fulfilling the full potential of stereo output. Which, given the headsets size, weight and price has left me happy to leave these on for gaming in preference to my Speedlink headset.
The first music test carried out was the playing of a CD through Foobar2000, followed by Windows Media Player 11. Here, once again, the bass on the 3H headset did not fail to impress, in fact, nor did the treble. The overall sound quality was far better than that of the 5H headset and on par with headsets of double their price and reputation.
The volume range of the headset, like mentioned, was very impressive. I was able to take the headset up to a level that was probably unsafe with next to no distortion to the music. I did on several occasions turn the headset up full and leave it on my desk to act as a pair of speakers. Usually this would give a very harsh, tinny sound due to the failing bass but this was not the case with the 3H at all.
For the DVD testing I played various clips from the film The Pianist. I chose this film for mostly the same reasons as I chose the opening section of Quake 4. There is plenty of distant explosions and gunfire, emotive and subtle soundtrack, a range of close up sounds such as gravel underfoot people crying, which, all together creates quite a trying sounscape.
Here I feel the headset struggled slightly. The sound was clear and the bass was good but there was just not the sense of atmosphere one would expect, which detracted from this particular film slightly. This is however, like its successors, a gaming headset and so cannot be expected to be an outstanding all round performer.
As this is a gaming headset, it is essential for it to have a good, clear and accurate microphone. The microphone on the 3H, as with the other headsets, is built into the left ear cup and retracts pretty much fully into the cup. As mentioned in the appearance section, when deployed, the microphone naturally sits very close to the corner of your left eye and needs a fair bend to put it where it should be.
The sound quality of the microphone was limited by the two lower end sound cards, which was a good sign. The output over teamspeak and ventrilo was, with all available codecs, clear and understandable, it just lacked in crispness. With the X-Fi XtremeMusic the microphone was available to perform to its full capability. This was not a large step up from the quality seen on the Soundblaster card but did provide better clarity.
Overall the microphone is perfectly adequate for gaming, providing clear and understandable output, which is what matters. For recording or higher definition communications however, you would definitely want look into a separate, higher quality desktop microphone.
SteelSeries 3H Gaming Headset Page: 7 Conclusion
To start off, I must admit I did not hold a great deal of hope for the 3H headset. I am glad to say, however, that after using it for a few days, I have grown very fond of them indeed. The two main reasons for this are firstly my love of bass, and secondly the fit provided by the double over-head band system. The cups fit well, the plastic is solid, the sound is very respectable and the construction is lightweight and portable.
The microphone is not outstanding but through about 20 games of CS:S has not left me having to repeat myself once. Really my only two gripes with this headset is the looks and the lack of an in-line volume controller, but for a price of around £25 you really can't expect much more.
Pros - Lightweight - Excellent bass - Retains quality at high volume - Very portable - Good fit - Retractable Mic
Cons - Average microphone construction and output quality - No in-line controller - Plain looks