I’ve been a fan of SteelSeries ever since I reviewed the 5H v2 back in 2008, and that same love of the brand made me buy a 9H a couple of years ago. That headset still serves me well to this day, and that’s why reviewing the Arctis 5 has been such a challenge.
It starts at the very beginning, proudly emblazoned on the front of the box with the words “7.1 surround”. Given that this headset only weighs 280g, it’s obviously virtual 7.1 surround. I’ll confess that I’ve never been a fan of surround sound headphones, virtual or otherwise, so this didn’t really endear the Arctis 5 to me.
Prejudices aside, the Arctis 5 is a lot more than a 7.1 headset. SteelSeries put a lot of effort into the microphone on this headset, dubbing it the ClearCast microphone. SteelSeries would like us to believe it delivers broadcast-quality sound, but since I don’t have another broadcast-quality microphone to test it against, I had to rely on the complaining of my friends to get an indication of its quality.
The fact that they didn’t complain at all after I switched to the Arctis 5 is a good sign, because they usually have endless complaints regarding the bleed-through from which my 9H’s mic suffers. Not once did I have to adjust microphone gain or boost to please my “audience”. SteelSeries claims this is all due to the specially designed bidirectional microphone, which boosts your voice and blocks out all background noise.
Sound quality is an important factor when considering a headset, and the Arctis 5 doesn’t disappoint. When playing games and watching movies, it’s an all-rounder that delivers crisp sound and is able to reproduce lower frequencies adequately without making the plastic cups rattle. Sadly, there’s a noticeable limit to how loud the headset can go and all attempts to boost the volume proved fruitless. Simply put, it’s loud enough, but won’t make you deaf.
The Arctis 5 fails to impress when playing music, however. The bass is good and the mids vivid, but the higher frequencies tend towards the vanilla end of the spectrum. There were no goosebumps when listening to a classic like Bohemian Rhapsody. Still, I’d consider this a minor bugbear since this is a gaming headset and in that regard, it does an exceptionally good job.
As a final little “gamer-friendly” touch, the Arctis 5 has both a volume controller (on the ear cup) and a mixer knob (on the cord). The latter allows the fine-tuning of game volume and chat volume (useful for TeamSpeak, Discord, etc.), and it’s a feature I find beyond useful. I’ve often had to use the Windows volume mixer to find a balance between the volume of Dota 2 and TeamSpeak, but this handy volume knob allows me to do that on the fly – in the middle of a gank, no less.
As previously mentioned, this headset weighs only 280g – which is an ideal weight for a gaming headset, since it didn’t bother me at all after wearing it for eight hours straight while gaming, watching series and doing general web browsing.
Is this all worth around R2,000? Unfortunately, due to the rand doing its merry rollercoaster ride you can expect to pay between R1,500 and R2,500 for a decent wired gaming headset. So, the question we’re forced to ask is whether or not the ClearCast microphone warrants the price premium this headset carries. I’d argue that it does.
Overall, the Arctis 5 is a comfortable gaming headset that delivers good in-game audio as well as ensuring that your teammates can hear your commendations and insults in perfect clarity. Oh, and it features RGB lighting as well as an adjustable and interchangeable ski goggle headband.