SteelSeries Arctis 1 Budget Gaming Headset Review

I didn’t see this coming!

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SteelSeries pulled another of their trademark surprise releases this week, and hurled the Arctis 1 into existence out of nowhere, finally answering the question of why the previous models started their numbers with a “3.”

This new budget rendition takes most of the good things from the older pairs, and mixes them with a more traditional headband design and an affordable price. It’s hard to find anything to outright hate here.

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OVERVIEW

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 is a closed-back, wired gaming headset that sells for $49. It comes in a matte black color, and includes a permanently-attached cable, PC splitter cable, and a removable microphone. On the back of the left ear cup there’s a small smooth analog volume wheel and a mic mute toggle switch that has a much firmer response than the squishy button on the older pairs.

You get the same speaker drivers, ear cushions, and mic performance from the Arctis 3/5/7 in a more traditional design, and with the lowest price yet for this headset family.

That’s pretty great.

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SOUND QUALITY

Compared side-by-side with my Arctis 3 Bluetooth, the Arctis 1 sounds nigh-identical. It’s still a balanced, relatively neutral-sounding headset. There’s a little bit of thickness in the upper bass, the mids are warm but mostly accurate which gives vocals a nice gentle vibe, and the treble is crisp without stabbing you in the ears with every cymbal hit.

I was expecting to hear no differences at all after SteelSeries’ marketing claims, but I discovered a tiny bit of extra oomph in the lower bass regions on the Arctis 1 compared to the 3. I’m talking only a couple of decibels here. I’m not sure if this is a slight tweak to the tuning, or down to the differences in fit/seal from the new headband.

The extra bass punch still doesn’t make these fit for bassheads. This is a balanced, relaxed, nice-sounding headset just like its predecessors, and also still a step down from the Arctis Pro, which has a more accurate and impressive sound than any of the numbered Arctis products.

Soundstage is nice for a cheap pair. The angled driver design gives these just a little space past your ears, and helps prevent any “in-head” listening fatigue.

When the Arctis lineup first launched a few years ago, most gaming headsets were still going for bass bass bass all the time, and so its more relaxed, more neutral approach that also had good mids and treble was a revelation. These days however, HyperX, Logitech, Plantronics, and even Turtle Beach all make sub $100 headsets that have nicely balanced audio profiles.

The Arctis 1 has to stand out on its particular sonic characteristics and quirks now, and you won’t know if you really prefer them over other choices until you go ears-on. But it’s close enough to neutral that I can say it has “good audio,” just like its predecessors.

In the sub $50 market, the Arctis 1’s closet competitors are the HyperX Cloud Stinger, the Plantronics Rig 400, and the Corsair HS50. The Cloud Stinger has a worse, more hollow-sounding midrange than the Arctis 1. The RIG has a very similar sound to the Arctis, but its build and materials leave a bit to be desired. The HS50 is more punchy in both the bass and the treble, and I think it’ll serve most gaming applications better. Its bite and power will probably be more fun for most gamers to listen to. The Arctis 1 has a gentler, less clinical sound with a slightly warmer and smoother midrange, with I think makes it better for long sessions and music listening.

It’s no longer mind-blowing for a $50 headset to sound good, but the Arctis 1 is one of the better options out there.

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COMFORT

In spite of losing the ski goggle suspension headband, the Arctis 1 is still comfy. It has 10 clicks of adjustment on its headband sliders, and I only have to go to position 6 on my larger head, so that’s great. The clamping force is mild, and I was immediately happy with how they felt when I plopped them on my head. The HS50 is more clampy on first wear.

The ear pads use the same thicker memory foam from the 2019 revision of the 3/5/7 models, and when combined with the angled drivers most ears shouldn’t slam into the insides of the cups. The “AirWeave” fabric on the cushions is more breathable than leatherette, but your ears will still warm up over extended use.

Ear cups pivot vertically and horizontally, and can fold flat towards your neck, meaning they can pretty easily adjust to your head shape and angle. The headband pad is more squishy than I was expecting for its small size, and I didn’t develop any hotspots over long listening sessions.

The headband isn’t as comfortable as the old ski goggle strap. It’s a very nice standard headband, but it doesn’t fully distribute the weight of the headset across its whole length like a suspension band does. The Arctis 1 won’t totally disappear on your head, though it’s still very light and comfy.

If you didn’t like the old suspension system or wanted a headset with a wider profile, you may like the Arctis 1’s fit better than the older models. And in a vacuum where this didn’t have to compete with those pairs, it provides excellent comfort.

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BUILD/DESIGN

SteelSeries used high grade plastics and some stainless steel in the construction of the Arctis 1, and I have no complaints. There’s no creaks, squeaks, or obvious weak points. The headband pad is seamlessly integrated into the material on the bottom of the headband, rather than being a separate glued-in piece, so that’s a great touch.

It doesn’t have the intense metal build of the HS50, but the steel headband reinforcement feels sturdy, and the swivel points don’t rattle.

The profile of the headset hugs the head nicely, and nothing sticks out or screams “Gamer.” The backs of the ear cups no longer have the soft touch finish of the older Arctis models, another cost-saving feature, but the matte plastic replacement is just fine.

The only flashy note in their design is an angular pattern inside the ear pads that’s reminiscent of the headband pattern from the launch Arctis models. This is a good fun callback to that original look, and makes me lament that the current 3/5/7 models have plain headbands, and also that Steelseries no longer sells different-colored replacements for many of their models.

A detachable mic puts this a step above many other $50 pairs not called the HS50, but alas, just like almost every other budget wired audio product, the cable is permanently attached. Why? Why has the industry collectively decided that a detachable cable is a “premium” feature? The $60 Astro A10 has one, as does the ~$69 Arctis 3.

Oh well.

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MICROPHONE/EXTRAS

In spite of its new detachable design, the ClearCast microphone here is the same great mic that SteelSeries has been slapping on Arctis headsets for a few years. It’s a bi-directional design, meaning it has great acoustic noise cancelling and that you’ll need to get really close to it for optimal voice performance. It’s a little brighter than you might be used to from other products, but I’ve always liked how this mic sounds.

Here’s a short test I recorded.

And here’s an old video showing the background noise cancellation since I didn’t do a loud room test this time.

The volume wheel on the left ear cup is smoothly stepped with no channel imbalance issues, and rolling it all the way down mutes the headset entirely. The new mic mute switch has a good click response and is harder to accidentally hit than the switch on all the other Arctis pairs. This should be their mic mute solution going forward.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

The Arctis 1 is like an alternate universe version of this product line where SteelSeries never attempted a suspension headband. If they released 2/4/6 models in the future that mimicked the featuresets of the suspension-based versions, that would be interesting.

If this had a detachable cable, it would easily be my new first recommendation at the $50 price point. As it is, it’s still a great option for those that want a quality headset at this price, but it’s facing stiff competition from the HS50. They’re identical feature-for-feature, and personal preferences alone decide which is “better.”

This headset puts the non-Bluetooth wired Arctis 3 in an awkward spot. It’s charging a few more bucks for a detachable cable and a different headband design. Consumer choice is good in theory, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it were eventually phased out of the product line to make the choice between the 1 and the 3BT/5 a bit clearer.

If this particular design and a brighter, pleasant sound signature appeal to you, the Arctis 1 is an exceptional choice. It’s the best sort of surprise launch, and costs exactly what it should for what you’re getting.

Written by

I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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