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Introduction

SteelSeries have quickly gained a reputation as a great company for gaming hardware with their mice, pads and headphones proving very popular. From their humble beginnings as a two man team in Copenhagen in 2001, they are now recognised throughout the world as a producer of high quality gaming products that meet the demands of the whole gaming community from the small amateur to the professional team.

With their goal being to neither follow the mainstream trends, nor to add features solely for the sake of adding them, it is great interest that greets any new product launch.

Today we're going to take a look at three of their audio solutions, the 5H v2 USB Headset and soundcard, the Xbox 360 compatible Siberia Neckband Headset and the Siberia In-Ear Headset with passive noise reduction.

All three products are available in either black or white, but for that crisp winter look OC3D has all three in the very attractive white.

Firstly we'll take a look at them all separately, before testing them together. So without further ado let's delve right in and see what is on offer today.

We shall start with the top of the range SteelSeries 5H v2 USB.



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SteelSeries 5H v2 USB


In recent times it has become very popular for headset manufacturers to provide a USB soundcard along with their high-end headsets to ensure that the sound quality remains consistent no matter which PC you are using them with. SteelSeries are no different and supply the 5H v2 with a 7.1 virtual surround soundcard. However, unlike most manufacturers where the addition is nice, but the headphones are so bulky that one wonders where you'd use them, the SteelSeries 5H v2 easily disassembles for those lanparties and gaming tournaments.

Packaging

Unlike a lot of fancy packaging that only gives you a hint of what is inside the box, SteelSeries have chosen to go for the attractive clear box which nicely highlights the 5H v2.

Taking the clear box off we can see the a nice pale insert holding the headphones themselves that is an almost suede feeling plastic.

   

Flipping the box around shows off the very crisp screen printed SteelSeries brand logo across the band of the headset, in a white that nicely matches the cans themselves. The actual headphones are a closed-back design which not only should ensure a tighter sound quality, but also allows you to increase the volume without having the "drum and bass guy on the bus" problem. Especially good for those of us with our PCs in the room with the TV.

One of the key points about the SteelSeries 5H v2 is it's ability to disassemble easily for transportation around wherever you might need them. There are two incredibly sturdy clips that allow the ear sections to be removed from the headband. These re-assemble with a very satisfying clunk and any doubts about the longevity of such a system can be dispelled. Even the most heavy-fisted attempts to bend, stretch and generally mutilate the 5H v2 were shrugged off.

  

The microphone is a very swish piece of design resembling a tadpole or a stretched spade for those of you who play cards. It recesses back into the left earpiece when you aren't using it, but has a nice thick neoprene coating and is very easy to slide in and out.

Special mention must be made of the cables. Rather than the standard plastic coated cables we're all used to that you can never quite put where you want and over time become a little stiff or twisted, the 5H v2 come with braided cables. And not just any old braid either but some of the finest braid we've been fortunate enough to see. It's super soft and really tightly weaved. Very nice.

       

Time for a look at the Siberia Neckbands.



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Siberia Neckband

Along with the full-monty 5H v2, SteelSeries also make a neckband variant of the popular Siberia series. SteelSeries have taken the already eye-catching design and pure white colour scheme of the original Siberia and, with comfort advice from DJs and pro-gamers, created a neckband design.

Those same people were also used to tune the soundscape to ensure that these aren't a sole gaming headset, but useful for a multitude of audio tasks. SpawN, who regular readers will remember from our recent Zowie reviews, was then drafted in to fine tune the final sound levels to optimise it for gaming.

If you own a Xbox 360 these will also plug directly into the pad to ensure combined voice and audio but with the comfort of the SteelSeries design.

Packaging

Following the very clear packaging of the 5H v2, SteelSeries have returned to a more standard type of packaging for the Siberia Neckband. The outer box is designed with a very clear vision. A nice coherent theme runs throughout and the dark theme of the box only accentuates the whiteness of the Siberia Neckband itself.

Taking out the packaging we see a similar plastic holder as we've just seen on the 5H v2 although not quite as tactile.

     

Taking them out of the packaging it's clear how compact the design is as a neckband rather than the full size headset. The microphone is neatly stored within the right earpiece with the same neoprene coating that we saw on the 5H v2s. The action in taking them in and out is easy and very smooth indeed. It's clear a lot of thought has gone into the design by enabling them to have a very clean appearance, whilst still retaining easy functionality. 

Whilst the 5H has a closed back, the Siberia Neckband has an open back design, the influence of the musicians in its design shining through. This also really highlights the white of the cans themselves and provides for a very pleasing aesthetic.

   

Let's take a quick look at the Siberia In-Ear Headset and then we'll put these to the test.



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Siberia In-Ear Headset


Finally we'll look at the in-ear option. These are much more like the headphones we're all used to, with the bud type of earplugs.

SteelSeries have kept the same packaging design across the range which helps establish a good brand identity. The package is clear and easy to see the contents, with a good sturdy plastic used.

Taking the inner packaging out, two things sprung instantly to mind. Firstly that although they are part of the Siberia series, the headphones and microphone are most definitely a light blue. Secondly, that white headphones in clear packaging on a white background are going to be a little difficult to photograph. So apologies if these are aren't quite as crisp as our usual ones, they were a nightmare.

     

The actual headset and microphone part are in a light blue. This was very unexpected for something as part of the Siberia range, and whilst you probably will never notice the buds themselves because they'll be in your ears, the microphone most certainly stands out.

SteelSeries have provided a few little extras. A nice soft cloth back to keep the In-Ear Headset in when you aren't using it, which certainly makes a nice change from carrying some spaghetti around in your pockets, and the standard extra ear buds for the large and small eared among us.

     

Taking a closer look at the buds themselves we can see that the rubber in-ear part are unlikely to fall out unexpectedly. They seem to be borrowing their design from bee stings or similar. Easy to put in but unlikely to fall out, something that is the bane of anyone who can be a little over-active in their gaming reactions.

    

Time for a look at the system we're testing these with today and the specifications of the three headsets.



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Testing Hardware and Specifications

Testing Hardware

Motherboard : ASUS Rampage Formula
RAM : 4gb Corsair Dominator 1066
GFX : ATI HD4870
Soundcard : ASUS Xonar
PSU : Corsair HX1000
HD : Western Digital 320GB
CPU : Intel Q6600
OS : Windows 7 Ultimate

Specifications

As with all our tests, specifications have been taken directly from the manufacturers website. The main thing of note is that the microphone on the 5H v2 USB and the Siberia Neckband appear to be identical, and the specifications bear this out. The Siberia In-Ear microphone has identical specifications too, so hopefully they all provide the same performance.

SteelSeries 5H v2 USB:

Headphones

- Frequency response: 16 - 28.000 Hz
- Impedance: 40 Ohm
- SPL@ 1kHz, 1 Vrms: 110 dB
- Cable length: 1,0 + 2,0 = 3,0 m (9,8 ft.)
- Connectors: 3,5 mm

Microphone

- Frequency response: 75 - 16.000 Hz
- Impedance: 2K Ohm
- Pick up pattern: Uni-directional
- Sensitivity: -38 dB

Soundcard

- USB: 2.0
- Surround sound: Virtual 7.1
- Equalizer: 12 channels
- Jack: 2 x 3,5 mm (USB cable included)
- Operating systems: Win XP/Vista/Win 2000/Win 98/Win ME

Siberia Neckband:

Headphone

- Frequency response: 18 - 28.000 Hz
- Impedance: 40 Ohm
- SPL@1kHz, 1V rms: 104 dB
- Cable length: 1,2 m + 1,5 m = 2,7 m / 8,9 ft.
- Jack: 3,5 mm (6,3 mm converter included)

Microphone

- Frequency response: 80 - 15.000 Hz
- Impedance: 2K Ohm
- Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
- Sensitivity (1V/P@1 kHz): -38 dB

Siberia in-ear headset:

Headphone

- Frequency response: 30 - 24.000 Hz
- Impedance: 16 Ohm
- SPL@1kHz, 1V rms: 90 dB
- Cable length: 1.0 m + 1.8 m = 2.8 m / 9 ft.
- Jack: 3.5 mm

Microphone

- Frequency response: 80 - 15.000 Hz
- Impedance: 2K Ohm
- Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
- Sensitivity (1V/P@1 kHz): -38 dB

Phew. That's a lot of data to take in so I hope you were keeping up at home. Finally we're going to test these and see if the performance is as good as their looks.



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Results and Score

 

For the purposes of testing we ran all three headsets with the same games, movies and audio, along with a test of a VOIP conversation. For gaming we used Modern Warfare 2 and Dirt2. Movies were Transformers 2 and Valkyrie, neither much good as films but provide the full range of audio tests from quiet speech to bombastic music and loud fight scenes. Finally for the audio testing we dug out our much played copy of Rammstein's Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da.

SteelSeries 5H v2 USB

First up for testing was the 5H v2 USB. As we mentioned earlier they come apart and go back together very easily, and fit comfortably on the head. The ear pieces are very comfortable and will fit over even the most generously proportioned ears. The soft braid cable feels very nice against your skin and doesn't at all become irritating like some cheap plastic cables can.

Sound quality was very good indeed. The headset was able to deliver clear voice reproduction and tight music thanks to the closed back design. Very occasionally we felt that they needed to be slightly bassier, but they coped easily with the transitions from the moments where there was the calm before the storm, both in the games and the films, to the time when all hell broke loose. All around the sonic quality was very high indeed and the reproduction of music is especially good for a gaming-based headset. Naturally gaming performance was outstanding.

The microphone comes complete with an in-line switch that allows it to be adjusted from high, low and off. In testing at high it provided very clear audio indeed. Some of the best we've heard from a microphone. Unfortunately switching from high to low not only led to an incredibly loud clunk, anyone who has had an older style Hi-Fi that had the on off switch at the bottom of the volume knob will know what I mean. Also moving it to low made us almost inaudible to the person on the other end. It does tend to swivel slightly too easily for our liking though meaning we sometimes became a lot quieter in the heat of battle.

As a dedicated gaming headset these are very good indeed. Lacking a little bass for general all around use, or if you're a gamer who likes to feel that grenades explosion in their chest then you might be slightly disappointed. The fact the microphone is only usable on high and the switch is very noisy for the listener are about the only drawbacks the 5H v2 has.

The cable is so nice we want to find out where SteelSeries get they braid from. The headphones are very well built and come apart simply and go back together easily too, but without the connection being fragile in the least. An excellent piece of design.

All in all, a product we can heartily recommend if you use your headphones for mainly gaming us, with the odd multimedia thrown in.

 

SteelSeries Siberia Neckband

The Siberia Neckband are very different. Having been designed as more of an all-rounder, with maybe a slight leaning towards audiophiles, the open back design meant they were very good at coping with various types of music. Naturally an open back headset means that it's easier for those in the room to hear what you are listening to when compared to the 5H v2s, and the music itself has more of a airy quality that the tightness you get with a closed back.

Still they had good range and response throughout our testing and for certain things, Dirt2 especially, the open back nature of them gave a much more pleasant aural experience.

The microphone slides smoothly in an out and seems to not swivel as much as the 5H v2 one did. The quality from the microphone is just as excellent though, and because the Siberia Neckband doesn't have a in-line volume control you don't get the terrible crackle when you're muting it. Although you also don't get the ability to turn those loud bits down either without reaching for your keyboard if you have one that adjust volume or just suffering if you don't.

They are surprisingly comfortable for something that sits in an unusual place on your head. You are aware that they are there though and they aren't the kind of things you'd want to wear for extended sessions.

Very nicely priced, and with reasonable sound quality in a sturdy package, if you desire something a little different, these suffice nicely.

 

SteelSeries In-Ear Headset

Oh dear. As good as the 5H v2 and Siberia Neckband headsets are, is as bad as these are. They look very nice, although the touch of baby blue on the earbuds and the microphone is strange given the pure white nature of the rest of the range. They are billed as a passive noise reducing headset and they kinda work, but mainly through them being in your ears and blocking the outside world with loud music. So by that definition putting your fingers in your ears are passive noise reduction.

Sonically they are a bit lifeless. Very dodgy bass notes, the mids are a bit gutless. Before you all wail and gnash your teeth, we have taken into consideration that these are really tiny speakers and so we should expect the same quality as other walkman-style headphones rather than Wisdom Audios efforts. We are. Even by those standards these are pretty weak.

The microphone is nearly wholly useless. Placed on a collar as near to the mouth as physically possible it sounded as loud as a mouse coughing. To get the person on the other end of the call to hear properly it had to be held in front of the mouth, which led to the whole breathing and s/p sounds" problem that microphones held too near always give.

Finally, even with the biggest ear buds in they slipped out more often than we'd like, and yet weren't very comfortable at all. All in all, very tough to recommend. The only part that bumps the price way higher than standard bud headphones is the microphone, and that doesn't work in any way that would be useful.

 

Many thanks to SteelSeries for providing the headsets for todays review. Discuss in our forums