SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless Gaming Headset Review
The Best Nintendo Switch Wireless Headset?
When SteelSeries surprise-launched the first Arctis 1 last summer, they got my attention. It was an affordable product packing in most of the features of their more expensive models, with sacrifices to build quality and a permanently-attached cable.
A few months later, SteelSeries dropped the Arctis 1 Wireless. It costs twice as much, adds an impressive compact USB-C wireless receiver that works on both the Nintendo Switch models, as well as PC, Mac, PS4, and certain phones. It also has a secondary 3.5mm cable connection option for everything else, which you can now detach.
Unfortunately, it has the same basic build quality as the wired version, which is tough to swallow at this price.
The Arctis 1 Wireless sells for $99. It’s available in two configurations: a standard model with white lines inside the ear pads, and a “For Nintendo Switch” model with a different box (and blue lines in the ear pads depending on the print run) that’s exclusive to Best Buy, at least in the US. I bought the standard model for its full retail price, and you can find its official product page here.
Both models are identical in terms of features and performance. They include the closed-back Arctis 1 Wireless headset, a detachable ClearCast microphone, a 3.5mm analog audio cable, a micro-USB charging cable, a USB-C to USB-A adapter for use with older PC’s and PS4, and a small USB-C audio receiver.
This is the first Arctis headset with a detachable cable using a standard 3.5mm plug, and I’m super excited about it. Previous models used a proprietary cable based on an obscure USB connector. Any 4-pole 3.5mm cable will work just fine with the Arctis 1 Wireless, making it compatible with any device still featuring a headphone jack. In wireless mode, it’ll work with a PC, Mac, PS4, or Nintendo Switch with no drivers or software needed. On PC, you can additionally install SteelSeries Engine to customize some EQ settings, but you don’t have to.
The Arctis S1 Speaker Drivers used here are a known quantity at this point, offering clean and crisp sound. These are the same speakers used inside the Arctis 3, 5, and 7, and not the nicer hi-res certified drivers from the Arctis Pro.
Fortunately, the Arctis 1 Wireless exhibits the same great sound as its wired counterpart. The bass is thumpy and precise, with barely any extra thickness or mud. Like the original Arctis 1, the bass is a little more prominent than on the 3, 5, and 7, and I enjoy that added richness.
Mid range tones are clean, clear, and mostly natural. They’re colder and more clinical than on competing headsets from the likes of HyperX, but I enjoy their sharp presentation. Similarly, the treble has more energy than the average gaming product, with a bit of bite that borders on grainy.
The result is a bright, detailed sound overall that’s perfect for positional awareness in games, critical music listening, and acoustic material. The extra bass push of the Arctis 1 makes these better suited to explosions and other low end rumble compared to the 3/5/7, but it’s still not a bass heavy headphone at all.
If you prefer the deep, authoritative rumble and punch of a movie theater, you’ll probably want to shy away from these and go for something from HyperX, Astro, or Razer. I personally love the way that the Arctis lineup sounds. It’s airy and detailed, with just enough bass to get the job done.
The headset sounds essentially identical whether you use it wireless or wired, which is awesome.
The clamping force on the Arctis 1 Wireless is tighter out of the box than the wired model, which was immediately soft and comfy on my head. The wireless version eventually got there after a day or so of use.
Headband adjustment range is ample, solving a common complaint about the suspension bands on the other Arctis models. I have a larger head, and I still have 5 extra clicks out of the 11 available here. The cups have lots of lateral and vertical swivel to them, and the ear openings are angled and deep, so they should fit just about any head.
Both the headband pad and the ear pads use a nice memory foam. The ear pads are covered in an athletic fabric that helps prevent sweat build-up.
Once I went through the break-in period for the clamp, these were among the most comfortable headsets I’ve worn. You’ll know that they’re on your head, but they never caused me any sort of hot spot or irritated me over multi-hour listening sessions.
Isolation is above average, turning my local loud coffee shop into a reasonable listening environment. I was still aware of everything around me, and these won’t be the best for air travel or the loudest gaming tournaments.
WIRELESS DONGLE AND BATTERY
I want to gush a little bit about the USB-C dongle. It’s great! It’s tiny and unobtrusive, and works perfectly with my laptop and both my Switch and Switch Lite. It has a low profile thin design that’s marred only by its width. This is fine on the Switch, but might cause an issue if you want to use the ports next to it on your laptop.
Still, SteelSeries claims that this dongle provides accurate, lossless wireless audio… and it does exactly that. It faithfully mimics the wired listening experience, and it broke connection only after I got about 33 feet away with a few walls in the way.
This little dongle feels like the thing that most justifies the increased price of this package over the wired model. It’s clearly where all the additional research and development work went.
The dongle has no integrated pairing button. If you install the Steelseries Engine software on a PC, you can re-pair the dongle, but if you’re planning to use this solely on a console, you’ll miss out on pairing and the EQ adjustment options from the software.
The battery is rated for 20 hours at medium volume and that’s accurate in my testing. It doesn’t offer any kind of quick charge mode, so prepare to let it sit for a while to refuel.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Here’s where my hype comes crashing down. In every category other than build quality, the Arctis 1 Wireless is a top performer. I’d have no trouble recommending it without hesitation, or adding it to this list.
Unfortunately, this is a solidly-built $50 headset design that they’re now selling for $100.
The design itself is identical to the wired version, but with added 3.5mm and charging ports on the left ear cup and a power button on the right one. It’s a nice-looking headset aesthetically.
But it’s not built all that well for a $100 thing. The additional clamping force means that the metal headband portions are under more stress on my head than on the wired model, meaning that they are now bent slightly near the seam where they meet the ear cup.
The plastics have an uninspiring basic feel, without the rubberized surfaces of the other Arctis models. Plastic seams and screws are visible all over the build. The headband pad is seamlessly integrated into the frame, which is nice.
The goofiest little build issue that I don’t like at all shows itself when you rotate the ear cups horizontally. They’re able to lay flat for increased comfort when you wear the headset around your neck, or to lower their profile on a desk or in a bag.
However, the clearance tolerance between the top of the ear pad and the sharp plastic of the frame is less than zero. The sharp plastic hinge component scrapes into my ear pads every time I rotate them flat, making an awful tearing sound. This hasn’t caused any extreme damage yet, but it has caused the fabric of the pads to start pilling and I’m nervous that some day they might rip.
I can avoid this by taking great care when I rotate the cups, but I don’t remember having this issue with the wired version. It could be easily solved by adding a small cut-out angle to the corner of the hinge support, or tweaking the sizes of everything a little. Perhaps in a revision two!
None of these problems are quite dealbreakers, but they do make the build and feel of the Arctis 1 Wireless pale in comparison to other products that cost this much. The Cloud Stinger Wireless, HS70, and Astro A20 are all better- built…but they don’t come with that great little USB-C dongle.
The detachable mic included here is the same good ClearCast mic that SteelSeries features in all of their current headsets. It uses a bi-directional capsule that’s brilliant at cancelling out background noise, and even though it sounds a little bit nasally compared to some other mics, I still think it’s a great trade-off.
Most of the detail is retained when using the mic wirelessly, though there is some noticeable compression. When wired, it performs identically to all the other SteelSeries headsets.
Here’s a couple quick samples I recorded.
I wish these were built with more authority. I wish the pads didn’t scrape against the frame when you rotate them flat, and that I had more confidence in the integrity of my slightly-bent headband pieces. With those tiny complaints out of the way, I’d have nothing bad to say about this headset and I’d shout from the rooftops that you should buy one.
The sound performance is excellent. The wireless dongle is great and compact. Battery life is solid. Mic performance is great. And the wired connection doesn’t use a proprietary cable.
None of that can delete the fact that this is a re-purposed $50 headset with a detachable cable and an excellent wireless dongle, now selling for twice the price.
But it also can’t delete that this is the best wireless headset option if you want to play on-the-go on your Nintendo Switch or Nintendo Switch Lite.
If you can live with the compromises to the build, there’s a wonderful headset underneath the cheap frame. I’d bet a version two will be unassailable in the price range if they tweak the materials used.