To most in the gaming community, SteelSeries is now a household name, with the company producing everything from keyboards to gaming apparel. As would be expected from any major manufacturer of gaming products, SteelSeries also produce quality headsets with their SteelSound range. Catering from the ultra-portable 3H's to the ultimate gaming essential 5H's. Today I will be looking at SteelSound's mid-range headset, the 4H's.
To give you an idea of what kind of headset we are looking at, here is a picture of the headset from the SteelSeries website.
As you can see, the 4H headset is medium sized, with large padded earcups and adjustable headband. Clearly identified as an inferior to the 5H headset, I will evaluate just what you get for your money.
Before we take a detailed look at the specification, let's view the bullet pointed features list found on the back of the packaging.
- Lightweight gaming headset with XL-sized earcushions - Developed in cooperation with professional gamers - Retractable uni-directional microphone system - Volume control, featuring 3 microphone settings - Full-size earcups for maximum individual comfort - Strong and deep resonating in-game sound projection - 40mm SteelSound SunDancer Units
SteelSeries continually claim to be in close contact with real gamers to find out what they want, and looking at these features, it seems that's exactly what they've done. In many headsets I've used the microphone has been sub-par, or they have been uncomfortable. If this headset is as good as it looks on paper, it might be what gamer's on a budget have been waiting for.
Right, onto the specification list then, as taken from the SteelSeries website.
16 - 28.000 Hz
SPL@ 1kHz, 1 Vrms
1.8 meters (6 feet)
75 - 16.000 Hz
Pick up pattern
For the audiophiles amongst you, you will see that the microphone specification looks promising, and for the more practical amongst you, note the generous cable length.
Next let's take a look at the packaging and presentation on the 4H's.
Not dazzling, but multi-lingual and very revealing. Clearly designed with retail display in mind, the 4H packaging shows the headset off from the front and the sides, which i really like.
As I said, the packaging is very multi-lingual, meaning that the amount of information that can be included is limited, however the features list and technical specification listed on the previous page are both there, as is a small history on the company and a list of the professional gaming teams that the company sponsor.
Once opened, you instantly get an idea of just how light this headset is, and to be honest I couldn't wait to test it out.
Steelseries Steelsound 4H Gaming Headset Page: 3 A Closer Look
The earcups are made of plastic, and actually look quite nice in their rounded and shiney state. And as with many headsets today, the earcups can tilt on a horizontal axis for maximum comfort.
As you can see the retractable microphone is hidden inside the left ear cup. It is coated in a thick plastic tube and moves in and out of the earcup with ease.
Once fully retracted, the microphone protrudes roughly 6 inches. It won't go right in frotn of your mouth, instead sits against your cheek.
The padding on the cups is made of a very soft velour, and it is incredibly comfortable to the ear. You can just see that the inside of the earcup is made of cardboard, which was surprising.
The headband around the top is also plastic, but the underside of the middle section is sponge, and the whole middle section is coated in a lacy plastic. As expected the headset is fully adjustable, allowing for an extra inch on each side.
The 4H headset features an inline remote which allows for a volume control by means of a dial, and a switch to change between the 3 different microphone settings. The remote also has a clip in the back to attach to your belt, or pocket for easy access when it most matters.
The wire protruding from each earcup unfortunately doesnt seem very secure, and a couple of times i was afraid I was going to pull it out.
However for a mid-range priced headset, these are the sorts of details I am glad to save money on, and in fairness it is consistent with the light weight design.
I have been running the 4H headset on an Audigy 2ZS sound card, which has also been claimed to be a gamers favourite. It is a mid range 7.1 capable sound card, which would not be out of place in any gamer's system.
Although SteelSeries to claim to be aimed at professional gamers, I think we all agree that other factors are important aswell. For this reason, in addition to seeing how it performs in game, I will be testing the 4H headset in its abilities to listen to music and watch DVD's.
For gaming, I will be using the 4H headset whilst playing Counterstrike:Source and Unreal Tournament 2004. Counterstrike is an FPS where it is often essential to know where your enemy are by listening for footsteps. I am hoping the 4H headset can supply a good soundstage for the precision you need when playing. Unreal Tournament is a fast paced shooter where although knowing where the enemy is still useful, I find that a good headset in this game can supply a lot of atmosphere, as there is often lots of sound going on at once.
For listening to music, I will play tracks from a CD through both iTunes and Windows Media Player, and also a high bitrate MP3 file. And as for DVD watching, I will be playing the beach landing scene of Saving Private Ryan, as this seems to be a great test as to how a headset performs in terms of bass, clarity and soundstage.
I will also be taking a detailed look at the performance of the microphone on the 4H headset, as most gamers will agree that this is a key factor in more competitive situations.
But first, let's take a look at the headset itself...
Firstly I will be testing whilst playing CounterStrike:Source. When I first got in game, the main thing I noticed was how aware I became of the ambient sounds in game. Sounds I had never paid any attention to previously suddenly stood out and added a lot of atmosphere to the game. I imagine this would make other games a lot more enjoyable also, especially scarier ones such as FEAR.
As I continued to play it became clear that SteelSound had put a lot of work specifically into how this headset performed in games. Sounds like footsteps were easily distinguishable from others, and details could be picked out even in the middle of a firefight. It was relatively easy to know where your enemy was, however there were times when I was never quite sure and it took a second too long to make sure. Overall though, in CS:S I was confident enough to trust the headset most of the time, and most of the time it was enjoyable to use, as it presented the sound a lot differently to anything else I had used in the past.
I will have to comment on the lack of bass however. When a grenade goes off, or an AWP shot is fired next to you, you just dont get the feedback you would want, and often it leaves an almost tinny echo around you. I wasn't too surprised by this though, as such a lightweight headset is bound to have sacrificed some bass, and at the end of the day you cannot have it all.
Playing Unreal Tournament 2004 was a similarly good experience, where the lack of bass was less noticable, and the previous comments about the atmosphere created by the headset were also shown. The 4H headset seemed to cope better with the less realistic game, as it was much easier to believe the sound and just sit back and enjoy the game.
On the whole though, the 4H headset is definately a good performer in game, and will be a much better buy than most in its price category. The only thing you must bear in mind, is that due to its lightweight design, it must cut back on some aspects, and it seems that in this case, it is the bass.
On the next page we will take a look at how the headset performs in other categories.
Steelseries Steelsound 4H Gaming Headset Page: 6 Testing: Music
As said previously, First I played tracks straight from a CD through both iTunes and Windows Media Player. At first I was very impressed, the sound was crisp, and the distance between your ears and the earcup creates a clear speaker like quality. The bass also wasn't too bad, considering it is a lightweight gaming headset I was very impressed.
Then I experienced a problem which we also had with the SteelSound 5H headset in a recent review. The left speaker began to crackle intermittently. I could not pinpoint the problem but it was definately more prominent in songs with a heavy bass drum sound. Even when I turned down the volume I could still hear it and it became very annoying. With the volume turned up, it could be heard in almost every song I played. Besides this however, the headset did very well at higher volumes. Sound was still clear, however the bass couldn't quite keep up. For the average music listener though, the 4H headset will suffice, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it if you spend most of your time listening to music through your headset.
I watched the beach scene from Saving Private Ryan to test just how the 4H headset performed when watching a film. In terms of soundstage, the 4H was impressive, but there was a lack of atmosphere due to the poor bass output. There just was not enough vibration during mortar fire, something which I have experienced in other headsets.
But, once again we have to remember that this is a gaming headset, and most people will not be using the 4H's primarily for these purposes, it just seems however that they could have performed much better in both of these departments if there was slightly more bass.
I thought it would be best to take a more detailed look at the microphone on the 4H headset, as since it is aimed at gamers this is a key factor. As mentioned previously the microphone is built into the left ear cup and retracts to the side of your cheek. It seems to be built to a high quality, but lets see how it sounds.
After testing the microphone online in both Teamspeak2 and Vent, the response was good from my teammate. He could certainly understand me well enough even with a high compression codec.
To give you an idea of how well the microphone performs, I have recorded this sound bite in Audacity.
As you can tell, the quality really is quite impressive and is up there with more expensive headsets. Another thing you will notice is that there is almost no difference between the high and low settings that I could detect. Whether others can notice, I'm not sure but either setting sounds great to me anyway.
Overall I think the 4H headset has many good qualities and only one major let down. It is lightweight, portable, comfortable and has an excellent microphone. When it comes to sound however, the lack of bass often shows through and this alone is a fault that affects the headset quite adversely.
We must keep in mind though that this is infact a mid-range headset, and is priced at £29 from Komplett. It will be lacking in some of the best qualities found in high end headsets, and often some of the qualities the 4H headset possesses, and some it lacks are mutually exclusive, ie. lightweight and good bass. If you are looking for a light, comfortable headset with decent sound then the Steelsound 4H's are for you. Even for the average gamer the inclusion of a high quality microphone is an appealing quality.
However if you have stars in your eyes, and want to make it to the very top, no matter how much it costs, then I would have to recommend spending a little more money on a better headset. Especially now with more and more 5.1 headsets hitting the market, and their sound quality also improving it seems to be the best way to go for gaming.
In conclusion, I think the 4H's serve their purpose as a mid-range portable headset, but a better gaming experience can be had from spending a little more money.