Most of us, despite our adoration of the personal computer as a gaming platform, also own a console or two. There are many things that a console does well that it's difficult to find with a home computer.
Sure you'll never get a console that can give games of the complexity of a PC title, and they'll never look as good, but the ease of just sticking a disc in and flopping on the sofa, pad in hand, certainly has plenty of benefits over the lengthy install, patch, drivers, configuration process of a PC.
So you've got a console and you want to talk to your friends whilst gaming. Your choices are pretty limited with either a "personal assistant" style bluetooth number for the PS3, or the woeful christmas-cracker quality of the XBOX 360 headset. Today we're looking at a headset for the XBOX 360, the SteelSeries Spectrum 5XB, that promises not only to be more comfortable and better looking than the Microsoft effort but also has stereo and is compatible with any other audio device that uses a standard 3.5mm jack plug. Our beloved PC included.
So is it the Swiss Army Knife of headsets, or merely a "as seen on TV" special?
The product page for the Spectrum 5XB on the SteelSeries website is naturally tailored more to many special features of the 5XB which we'll be covering later on, so for now here is the nicely concise specification for the 5XB.
Headphones Freq. response: 16 – 28.000 Hz
Impedance: 40 Ohm
SPL@1kHz, 1Vrms: 110 dB
Cable: 1 m / 3.28 ft.
Jack: 3.5 mm
Microphone Freq. response: 75 – 16.000 Hz
Pick up pattern: Uni-directional
Sensitivity: -38 dB
Impedance: 2K Ohm
AudioMixer cable: 3.7 m / 12 ft.
As you can see we're not short for cable, and the response and impedance look very good. Speaking of looks, let's see how it is in the flesh.
The Spectrum 5XB comes in a very sturdy package, certainly up there with the best headphone boxes we've seen. The packaging is a stylish blend of the black and grey we're used to, alongside the standard white and green 360 colours. It helps it really stand out as a product designed for the Xbox 360 rather than PC.
The rear of the box also has a handy diagram for installation. It's actually pretty simple, although instructions are always handy.
The headset itself is well packaged in a slightly furry plastic. The cable is hidden under the front sticker and then tucked behind. The only real issue is if you like to keep your packaging mint you're out of luck.
Apart from the normal SteelSeries manual we have the main cables to connect the 5XB to the console. Firstly we have a 3.5mm jack to Phono adaptor. This can be used as an "inbetween" for the headphones to the back of the tv.
The headphones themselves are incredibly lightweight as we've come to expect from SteelSeries. The headband and ear-pierces are covered in very soft foam which give a snug, but comfortable, fit. There is also the 360 green used for both the detail touch and SteelSeries logo.
The part that connects to the pad is has two volume controls. One for the microphone and one for the main audio. On the top is the microphone mute and below is the SteelSeries LiveMix which balances the levels to ensure that your team-mates speech is clear over the general melee of the battle.
The green touches extend to the SteelSeries branding on the band itself. The microphone is the always excellent retractable design which can be placed almost anywhere you choose.
As I've still got one of the original XBOX 360's rather than the modern HDMI ones the 5XB was first plugged into the audiomixer, which then gets plugged into the pad as normal. The other end is plugged into the pass-through phono adaptor which finally gets put in the back of the TV.
Testing and Conclusion
Putting the Spectrum 5XB to the test is one of the more enjoyable tasks as a reviewer. After all, playing games for fun is something we can all relate to and so besides paying extra attention to the audio it was just a standard weekend.
Everything plugged in and set and we hit Modern Warfare 2 which has the largest friends take-up and so we could test the microphone capabilities and LiveMix.
The first thing we noticed was a tiny bit of hiss coming through the headphones, but we realised that the Play and Charge cable was still plugged in and this obviously caused a little noise. Nothing that doesn't disappear as soon as the battle starts raging though.
The Spectrum 5XB have SteelSeries usual excellent audio reproduction. The LiveMix in particular worked well at ensuring our team-mates orders, and our own, could be heard above the clatter of fire and other battlefield noises. Other games that are full of less hubbub faired even better. The range of the speakers is very good indeed. In fact when we plugged them directly into the PC rather than going via the XBOX we'd say they were pretty close to the excellent SteelSeries 5H we've previously reviewed and thanks to the standard 3.5mm jacks the headset comes equipped with they are definitely dual-purpose and will plug into anything you choose.
So they're built very well. They disassemble for easy portability. The microphone works great and the sound quality is good too. They're also very comfortable. You could wear these for a long time without either succumbing to hot ears nor the fatigue that can occur with a weighty pair. The bass isn't going to make your ears bleed, but unless you're friends with Barry White or George Clooney you'll want the middle range to be the dominant one and that's right where the sweet spot of the 5XB's are.
About the only things we don't like are the tremendous tangle of cables that the SteelSeries solution leaves you with, and the tiny hiss that occurs from plugging into a wireless pad if you're charging it. It's a minor irritant but not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination.
At £60 they aren't the cheapest headset you can buy, but the compatibility with our normal gaming weapon of choice, the PC, means you only have to buy one pair, and pull them out the pad when you want to use them elsewhere. For the money they are good, and certainly a mile ahead of the terrible official headset.
If you can live with a bit of cable spaghetti they come highly recommended. All of the SteelSeries audio quality you've come to expect, with a design that apes the 360 itself, and PC compatibility. A very pleasant surprise indeed.
Thanks to SteelSeries for providing the Spectrum 5XB headset for review. Discuss in our forums.