Steelseries Arctis 5 Review: The Best Value Headset on the Market!

The Steelseries Arctis 5 is the first Steelseries headset that’s fit perfectly on my giant head.

It turns out, the fit is but one of the exemplary qualities of the Arctis headset line. It starts at $79 bucks for the base Arctis 3 model. Go get one and give it a try! It’s an easy recommendation and if you hate it you can always return it.

Still here? Okay let’s dive in.

The Arctis is a wonderful headphone for every application, and a great value overall.

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The 5 is the midrange headset, and it has nice, tasteful RGB lighting. It only works when plugged in through USB. You can select the color, or turn it off, using the Steelseries Engine software on PC/Mac. It’s easy to use.

I’ve bought two Steelseries headsets in the past, in the Siberia line. They were both too small for my stupid big head, so I returned them.

A few days ago, Steelseries launched the Arctis out of nowhere. I fell in love with everything they said on its expansive web site. So I dove in.

I was worried about the fit, given my previous experiences with the brand. The back of the Arctis 5 box says “fits any head comfortably.” Emphasis mine.

They’re not lying. The comfort of this headset is stunning, particularly for the price.

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The hovering plastic piece over the suspension system has a little bit of padding, in case your head ever bumps into it. I like the way the headphones look like they float gently above your head.

The secret is the headband. Other headphones have used suspension headband systems, but none of them are quite as cushy as the one on the Arctis.

Steelseries looked to the world of athletics, and decided to replace the old standard headband concept with a stretchy piece of ski goggle strap.

This is brilliant.

I’ve tried a number of headphones that have “mixed up” the design language of the headband. It doesn’t always work. But this thing is amazing. You just stick it on your head and it stretches to the perfect size. It will never ever cause you any pain, and it is easily replaceable and machine washable. You can adjust the tension of it with two little velcro bits along the sides, and it takes just a few seconds.

Incredibly…I was able to wear it on the default setting.

This is the first headphone I’ve been able to wear on the default size since I was about 12 years old. That’s amazing.

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It comes in both black and white, and you can order several replacement headbands with different art on the Steelseries web site. You can also get leatherette ear pads if you want more isolation, but I’d stick with the defaults.

As you can see, the ear cups are thick and plush. What you can’t see is that Steelseries made a smart change here too. Rather than go for the standard leather/pleather, or velour fabric…they use a blend of a moisture-wicking athletic fabric and polyurethane. They call it their “Airweave” ear cushion.

Like the headband, it’s a wonderful choice! The pads provide solid bass response and decent isolation, similar to leather. They provide comfort and openness, similar to velour. They never get sweaty on your head. Or at least they didn’t on mine. I refuse to come measure the sweatiness of your head.

And they are also machine washable!

The headband and ear pads combine to make this among the most comfortable headphones you can buy.

The frame is made from a solid, light plastic that doesn’t feel cheap. The backs of the ear cups are rubberized, a nice premium touch. The ear cups fold flat for easy storage in a bag or on a shelf, but the headset doesn’t collapse, sadly. The cable system is modular, and although it uses some proprietary connectors, its design means you can just replace part of the cable instead of the whole thing.

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That black rectangle bit above separates, allowing for different types of cable ends to be stuck on. The cable can also detach from the headphones. Here, I’m using the analog plug with my MacBook…

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And here it is plugged into the included USB sound card. The little unit provides impressive, full-bodied sound out of my Mac, and the knob allows you to balance game and chat audio.

The knob feels great.

Let’s talk sound.

It’s wonderful for this price category. It competes extremely well with headphones that cost more. It gives other value-tier headphones like the Cloud II and the MDR-V6/7506 some serious competition.

At first the Arctis sounded a bit bass-light, but that’s really just a function of brain adjustment, and bass distortion on other headphones. My brain got used to the sound after a day or so, and then the bass seemed about right. My glasses impact the seal a little bit, but the cushions eventually settle and it has a great overall balance. The tone is natural, clean, and pleasant.

Many other headphones on the market use distorted bass to make the bass bigger and “more impressive”…but that sound is not really present in the recording. Gaming headsets are particularly guilty of this.

The Arctis does not lie to you in this way. It provides pure, clear audio, rife with detail. The soundstage is nice and wide. The bass is present, but the highs and mids are the stars of the show, providing you with every detail of the sound, without too much harshness or grain. Its lack of bass impact might be a deal-breaker for those used to other v-shaped or gaming headphones, but its clarity of presentation impressed me.

If you want to hear sound that’s not overly sweetened for the cheapest possible price, the Arctis is a great choice.

The secret to this quality? Steelseries has put the same driver and enclosure into these headphones that they use in their $300 dollar flagship products. Then, they’ve tuned it for neutral balance.

I’m not sure how they’ve managed this driver situation from a cost level, but hey! These sound wonderful!

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There’s a button to mute the mic, a very nice volume wheel, and a headphone jack for sharing your audio with a friend. I mean, who even includes that? Well, Steelseries did it.

Being a “gaming headset,” and not just a headphone, these include a retractable mic. It is quite nice. It’s good enough that I’ve recorded audio intended for broadcast with it. It has a very slightly nasal tone, but it’s still great for the price.

This headset is a disruptive product in its price category. It sounds amazing. It’s comfortable thanks to some really smart design tweaks. It looks cool enough that you can wear it outside even though it’s a “gaming” product. And here’s the kicker: It starts at $79 dollars. That line in the opening wasn’t a lie. Go get one and check it out!

They’re available at Best Buy for the next month, and everywhere after that.

The Steelseries Arctis comes in three flavors, much like other gaming-focused products: Arctis 3, Arctis 5, and Arctis 7. Thankfully, unlike the common market practice, the base headphone is completely identical, and you just pay more for more features. Here are the prices:

Arctis 3: $79 bucks — comes with analogue cables for PC/Mac/Console/mobile/whatever. Includes Steelseries Engine surround sound software for Windows.

Arctis 5: $99 bucks — adds a USB sound card (Windows/Mac) with DTS Headphone X (Windows only) and RGB lighting. Also includes analog cable adapter. I bought and reviewed this model, because it was the one I found at my local Best Buy.

Arctis 7: $149. Wireless model. DTS Headphone X (Windows). Also includes cables. Costs half as much as the old flagship Steelseries wireless headset. Which is insane, cause this is super comfy and uses the same drivers. This model features a longer headband strap that fully encloses the headband, but uses the same suspension principle.

The gap between headphone marketing hype and actual value/quality is rarely so small. These are the real deal. The people that designed this product are clearly very smart. They’ve looked at every other headset and headphone on the market, and they’ve designed something that’s packed with value. A rare treat, and worth giving a look if you’ve got the cash. The Cloud II still beats it on extras, but it’s no longer the only amazing choice in value headsets.

Edited on 10/19 for clarity and length.

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These will fit any head. Even my scruffy unshaven giant one. :)

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