Steelseries Arctis 3 Headset Review: Cheapest in the Lineup, Still High on Value!
The Arctis 3 was on discount at a local retailer, so I thought I would give it a shot and complete the trifecta. It normally goes for about $79 but I’ve seen it cheaper here and there. It’s missing some of the features from its more expensive brethren...but it makes up for that with some exclusive features of its own, and by being the lightest, comfiest, and most portable of the bunch.
Through smart use of engineering resources, Steelseries really brings it with sound quality on the Arctis lineup. This is best-in-class sound for reasonable money, and it competes well with headset legends like the HyperX Cloud. The secret is the “S1” speaker driver, a driver first developed and tuned for a more expensive $300 headset. Rather than re-do this development, Steelseries just used them again here in a newer cheaper model.
More sound companies should do this, honestly. The benefits of that high-end research should trickle down to cheaper products.
Sound is balanced, natural, and just a touch on the bright side. This means that you’ll notice the higher treble sounds a little bit more than the deep bass notes…but everything is here and well-represented. If you love booming bass, it’ll take a few days for your brain to adjust to this sound signature, but you’ll be rewarded with detail and clarity that’s essentially unmatched for the money. I prefer the sound of these to iconic studio headphones like the Sony MDR-V6. They’re just that good.
If you don’t like the sound signature, the Arctis 3 has a little trick up its sleeve. It’s the only analog headset Steelseries makes which includes full support for their Steelseries Engine software for Windows. You have to register a code in the box in order to get the download that enables this. Once you do…you actually get more EQ options than either the more expensive Arctis 5 or the Arctis 7 feature. That’s really amazing!
In addition to extensive EQ features, which include a full graphic EQ, an easy-to-use bass boost, and a sound normalizer, you also get access to Steelseries 7.1 Surround. Is this as good as the DTS Headphone: X included with the other Arctis headsets? Well… no. It’s also not as customizable as Razer Surround. But it’s still quite effective for being a basic on/off toggle. One word of caution: I had trouble getting Dragon Age Inquisition to boot with the software enabled. That’s the only game I’ve had trouble with so far though. If this is a pattern I notice across many games, I’ll update this article, but so far I’ve tested a bunch and only had issues with that one.
If you’re a sound quality purist and you want an all-in-one gaming headset, then congrats, you’re buying one of these Arctis models. They all have the same sound signature/drivers, and it’s great! Bassheads will have more fun with the HyperX Cloud or the Razer Kraken V2.
The drivers are 40mm models with a wide frequency response and a THD across the spectrum of less than 3%. They’re only 32ohm drivers, but the sensitivity is 98dB, which means they might be a just a bit quieter than other gaming headsets you’re used to.
The Arctis 3 is constructed mostly out of plastic. It has metal hinges on the ear cups and metal hooks holding the suspension headband in place. I know I’ve gushed about the headband design in earlier reviews… and I’m going to do it once more here while I have one last chance.
Other headphones have used suspension headbands. But to my knowledge, the Arctis is the first to use one made out of ski goggle headband strap material. This is so obvious and good that I’m amazed no one though of it before. The ski goggle band is easily adjustable with velcro, stretches to fit the shape of your head no matter what size it is, and you can buy replacements for $15 off the Steelseries web site. You can also wash it in a machine if you’d like. Perfect.
The ear pads are made out of athletic shirt fabric, and Steelseries calls them “AirWeave” cushions. They’re light, and the foam underneath them is very soft. They don’t ever get sweaty, and although they aren’t the most isolating, they still isolate pretty well. Steelseries now sells leatherette and velour ear cushions if you want something more traditional. But I honestly don’t see why you’d ever need that. The included ones are great.
Being the cheapest model, the Arctis 3 doesn’t include the RGB lighting modules of the 5, nor the wireless feature and metal headband of the 7. This means the Arctis 3 is the lightest of the bunch. It comes the closest to feeling insubstantial and cheap of all three…but fortunately remains just this side of that line. The materials are solid-feeling, and the light weight makes them easy to throw in a bag. The ear cups fold flat for easy storage, but they don’t collapse at all. I like collapsing headphones, but I get that this was a necessary sacrifice due to the suspension headband.
Comfort is exceptional, thanks to the cool headband design and the light weight. The Arctis 3 has the lightest clamping force of all three models, so I actually prefer to keep the headband adjusted tighter. I kind of wish the clamping force was a little higher, but it’s still enough to keep them on your head.
The box promises that the Arctis headsets will comfortably fit any head, and they’re not kidding. My head is big and weirdly-shaped, and all three Arctis headsets have fit with plenty of room to spare.
The light weight of the Arctis 3 makes it even easier for it to disappear on your head than the other two models. The 7 is noticeably heavier…but all three are perfect for extended sessions.
If I had to rank against other headsets on comfort, the Arctis is going to win every time. It’s comfy in the same way that expensive Bose headphones are comfy. The Kraken Pro V2 and the HyperX Cloud come close, but aren’t quite as good. If comfort is your thing (and it should be) it’s tough to do better.
In addition to the in-box code to unlock the software EQ and surround sound options, the Arctis 3 comes with just a couple other goodies. It uses the same modular removable cable system the other models have, with a proprietary end that goes into the headset and different tips you can exchange for different connections. The Arctis 3 includes a standard 4-pole 3.5mm tip for phones, game consoles, and computers, and a long extension cable with separate headphone and microphone plugs if you need the extra length/older legacy style connections.
Next to the proprietary headphone jack on the headset is a “share jack.” It’s a standard 3.5mm plug that can route your headphone audio to another device. So, you can share your game audio with someone else next to you, or insert yourself in the audio chain of a streaming setup, or the like.
The back of the left ear cup features a smoothly-attenuated volume knob that works regardless of what device you’ve got hooked up. Above that is a mute button for the microphone.
The mic is on a flexible boom and extends out of the left ear cup. It’s the second-best microphone on gaming headsets. It’s only beaten by the mic on the Kraken 7.1 V2. Vocal clarity is good, though it’s a bit more sensitive to position than I’d like. The microphone features basic hardware noise cancellation through the use of a second mic on the back of the enclosure.
There’s no bag included, but at this price point that’s okay. You can buy one for $15 from Steelseries, which is a reasonable price. They’re durable enough that I wouldn’t worry about transporting them anyway.
For $79, the Arctis 3 is a great-sounding headset with support for any device that has a 3.5mm jack, and enhanced EQ and surround sound on PC. It’s more comfy than the competition, and has a more balanced sound profile. It has a removable cable.
There’s no reason to start your search for a gaming headset anywhere else, unless you are on PS4 and want access to Sony’s new 3D audio system. Otherwise, feature-for-feature, the Arctis will win every time.
Impressive Steelseries. Most impressive.
Okay I’m done loving on these headsets now until Steelseries releases another one for me to buy.
Yes, I really bought all three.
Yes, I’m crazy.
Yes, you should endeavor not to be like me.
Thanks for reading.