Top positive review
in a constant pursuit to find the best gaming headset for solo and cooperative play
Reviewed in the United States on December 9, 2016
Arctis 7 Review
I’ve been a full time gamer for at least 10 years; really getting involved in online play and buying at least 2 games a month since the PS3 launched. In that amount of time I’ve worked my way through a seriously concerning number of different headsets, in a constant pursuit to find the best gaming headset for solo and cooperative play. I’ve traversed different brands from the well-known to the rather sketchy and if there’s one thing I’ve come to a conclusion on it’s that we as gamers are getting screwed over. Nonetheless this hasn’t stopped me from trying a plethora of different headsets which brings me to the SteelSeries Arctis 7’s.
Arctis is a new line from SteelSeries laid out with three different products, the 3, 5 and 7. What I tested was the 7, the lag free wireless headset designed with pro gamers in mind. In this review I’ll be covering what I feel to be the four major components of a headset: comfort, sound, microphone, functionality and aesthetics as a nice segue. But first let’s start with a little information about what steelseries is trying to accomplish.
They’re looking to make waves in the gaming headset market by offering high quality, no gimmick pieces for the average and above gamer. This includes trying to achieve a high functioning microphone, top notch speakers and an unobtrusive, mature look and feel. I have to say that my time with the Arctis 7’s hits all of these very well – depending on what you’re planning on using them for.
I purchased the black arctis 7’s and upon taking it out of the sports like box I was greeted with a very classy, clean headset that I instantly felt like I could wear outside without getting weird looks. They almost have a sort of professionalism to them that is rare in gaming headsets; substituting flashy lights, logos and shiny plastics for a simplistic design that is appealing to a more mature crowd. Taking them out of the box I immediately noticed they have a satisfyingly practical weight to them. They felt sturdy and not overwhelmingly heavy, something I really wanted to wear on my head. With no telescoping or extending core parts (save for the microphone) I could tell they could take a beating – not that I would ever want to give these beauties such terrible treatment.
As far as comfort goes I must give full disclosure that this is my first true suspension headset. It took a few tries to get the band adjusted to the proper tightness to fit my head but after a few trial gaming sessions I believe I found the best adjustment. Typically, headsets fit well on my head and conform nicely to my ears, the 7’s find some sort of middle ground. The headband is fantastic – I forget it’s even there. The ear cups on the other hand suffer from a slight vice grip. I have a pretty small head and usually this doesn’t bother me, and I did find that making some adjustments to the headband helped this, but it was still noticeable. I found that tightening the headband, therefore bringing the ear cups high up on my head to the point where they pushed up on my ear lobes helped with the discomfort. I did experience a headache from the first use but not nearly the point that other headsets have given me in the past and the later adjustments I made did not cause any further headaches to arise, though I could still feel the gripping during extended sessions. The ear cups are also somewhat shallow, to the point where after long gaming sessions the tops and backs of my ears would become pressurized to pain and require breaks from wearing the headset if the headset were not adjusted properly or would shift during wear.
That being said it looks like steelseries have been the ones to break through the mold with their airweave ear cushions. These things are magic: they allow for a near perfect balance of noise filtering to comfort, something that pleather or other materials haven’t even come close to. After a steady 5 hour session of constant wear I found that my ears did get a little hot but they stayed completely dry, showing no signs of swamp ear or any issues with suctioning them off for so long.
For constant wear these will last longer than most headsets on the market. The vicelike nature of the cups will hold you back from extremely long sessions but the airweave cushions and headband are a compromise you can make if you get the perfect adjustment for your head.
In my haste to try the 7’s out I started using them without first plugging them into my PC, as I am primarily a PS4 gamer. This was a mistake. There is a crucial update for the headset that dramatically improves the sound quality and volume in general – so make sure to do that first before anything. Post update I found that they still sounded flat, rather empty. It wasn’t until I began to mess with steelseries’ engine software that allows you to play with equalizer settings that I found the true capabilities of the 7’s. Their dynamic range and flexibility is impressive to say the least and the software comes with preloaded presents that help you fine tune exactly what you’re looking for. Keep in mind that this software is only available on a computer, however whatever sound settings you setup for your 7’s they will carry over to your console – a necessary feature. The 7’s do not have the deep bass that you’d find in something like a beats – and that’s a good thing. Gamers don’t need the dirty heavy bass and it’s overhyped enough as it is. The sound is crisp, clear and well positioned within the ear cups. After spending a quality amount of testing time I was able to achieve the exact balance I wanted for games – although this was difficult considering the games I’m currently playing are on PS4, requiring me to do some tedious shifting back and forth in order to test/adjust/retest. However once I completed this I was more than satisfied with the sound quality of the 7’s; you could make out every small ambience and all of the deep immersion effects in very impressive quality and clarity. I also tested the headset via aux in from my phone while the headset was off. I was not expecting the near perfect balance and top sound quality while the headset was off, but it was there in full force! I also tested a line in to the wireless transmitter and was happy to hear there was no drop in quality during that experience. However you are not able to balance/offset the regular game sound to the line in sound from the headset, this must be done on the device you’re plugging into the transmitter. When connected to a computer you’re given the options for DTS X 7.1 surround sound as well as dynamic range compression which are both a necessary luxury in this age of headsets, and yet you don’t often see them in this price range.
If you’re wondering what the mic sounds like on the arctis 7’s, wonder no more because this entire review was recorded using it. I personally find the mic to be pretty clear, albeit slightly flat and a little “tin-y”, not to mention soft. Compared to much of the competition though it is still one of the better microphones on the market. Steelseries uses a bidirectional microphone which means it picks up your voice on the inside, and everything else on the outside with an effort to filter out all of that extra noise.
The mic boom is a clever little thing that retracts easily into the headset and can be used while fully retracted (though I do not recommend it). I love how the microphone is almost completely hidden when you don’t want to use it, and you won’t end up losing it like those removable mic headsets. The boom is flexible and mostly sturdy but it does have some elasticity to it, making your finer adjustments take some force to keep it in place. The mic also has a very clever addition in the form of a small, soft red light to let you know when your headset is muted. This may in fact be one of the best additions to a headset I’ve seen in a long time, as simple as it is. When connected to a computer you get the option to enable mic sidetone, the ability to hear yourself through the headset as you speak. This a welcome addition is another one of those small things that make this $150 headset stand out from others in its price range.
Let’s first talk about general usage of the Arctis 7s. The buttons and sliders are pretty easy to find and use despite their relatively small size. Your total volume is on the left cup, and game/chat mixer on the right. You’ve also got an on/off button that upon being held for 3 seconds will either turn the headset… on or … well off. You get beeps that will move up the scale or down, depending on if you’re turning it on or off. The mic mute button is an oval that requires quite a bit of travel distance to activate it; those with larger fingers might find the size and necessary force needed to push the button beyond the cup casing annoying, but they shouldn’t have any issues once they get used to it.
The headband is easy to adjust and despite the appearance that the subtle Velcro won’t hold I never once had an issue with it. As mentioned earlier the 7s have a retractable microphone which moves in and out of the left ear cup with just the right amount of resistance. Using the 7s is easy enough as all you need to do is plug the wireless transmitter into your PC/console and it pretty much works instantly. You’ll have to either coil up, run or hide a lot of the cable for the transmitter though because it is quite lengthy – perhaps due to the option for audio in/out via 3.5mm jack.
It’s what you decide to use your 7’s with that really affects your experience. On PC everything works extremely well. All you need to do is download the steelseries engine (which you should do to update your headset first and foremost anyway) and you’re good to go. You can customize your listening experience, turn on mic monitoring, surround sound, dynamic range compression, and even sync up different profiles to different applications! You can listen to the changes you make to your audio profiles live as you change them so you can perfectly fit each game to a certain equilibration. Your PC will detect the headset audio out as two different sources, one for game audio and one for chat audio, making balancing between game/chat lobbies extremely easy on the headset. Unfortunately, you lose about all of this when trying to use the 7’s on console.
Although steelseries advertises this as a gaming headset for PC/console, they really mean PC. That’s either a result of very good or very bad marketing because I found that while using it on PS4 the experience was vastly different than on PC. While the last audio preset I loaded onto my headset did carry over to console use, as it should, I no longer had mic monitoring or surround sound. My mic quality noticeably dropped and I was no longer able to balance game and chat audio, literally making the right slider useless. This is in part due to Sony’s structuring of the PS4 to promote only sony headsets but there have been plenty of other headsets that get around this via optical cable – yes it’s not perfect but it is an option that should be given for those of us who game on consoles. I also found that while the wireless transmitter was plugged into my PS4, every time I brought it back from rest or off it would default to using the headset as the output source, even when the headset was off. I tried messing around with plugging the headset into the controller, but that just seemed to turn the 7’s off and use them in mono mode – an even more limited functionality and quality setting.
The headset’s ear cups do rotate down to lie flat on your chest, but this is seemingly mute as the suspension headband will most likely bring the ear cups tight to your neck – best to just take the headset off. I will say that one ear headset usage – like I do when I’m trying to talk to my wife – works well because of this rotation however.
For $150 Steelseries’ Arctis 7 is an incredible headset. It has a beautifully professional looking design that makes you WANT to wear it. The suspension headband is extremely comfortable and the ear cup material is God-like. The accompanying software is easy to use and brings out the true value of the Arctis 7, which makes it that much more unfortunate that consoles get the shaft with this piece of hardware. The lack of game/chat balancing on the headset along with the removal of many key features forces me – as a primary console gamer – to send this headset back. Nonetheless I feel spoiled by the clever mic design, although the quality could be improved, as well as the well balanced and enriched audio it can produce. While it took some tweaking I was very satisfied by the sound quality the S1 drivers produced – definitely better than any headset I currently own or have tested recently. It’s not the most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn, suffering from a vice grip at the ear cups but with proper adjustment this can be minimized.
I found it difficult to remind myself that this is a $150 headset. The look, feel and overall quality of it is un-matched in today’s market. If you’re looking for a headset to use while PC gaming, look no further this is what you want. If you’re looking for a console headset… you may want to pass. However for a solo player this is a great option. Not having to worry about game and chat balance would avoid a key downfall for this piece. The wireless range is far enough for any practical reasons – I was able to go three rooms (4 walls) to the other end of my apartment without losing any quality; that was without being in chat though. Keep in mind that on console you also don’t have access to the Engine software, so you will be missing out on some great enhancements as well.
Either way, this is a very classy, mostly comfortable and quality piece of equipment that for just $150 gives a lot in return.
-Great sound quality
-The ear cup material is incredible
-Suspension headband is very comfortable
-Very PC focused
-Mic could be stiffer/better quality