From time to time you expect a good quality product depending on the company in question. It's fair to say that the Steel Series brand (and also Icemat) are perceived as that of high quality and genuinely good computer accessories. The nice looks of products does not always mean top-notch gear but Steel Series more often than not, have the quality to pull this off.
You may only know Steel Series for their excellent mouse surfaces, which are used by the world famous 'SK Gaming' clan. A product rarely gets a higher recommendation than that. Like a lot of businesses, they have decided to diversify into other products, still focusing on their core market of gamers. One of their recent additions is gaming headsets, and that's what I'm going to look at in this review.
Steel Series have kindly supplied a set of Steel Sound 5H headphones, who's target is the serious gamer, so I'll look at whether it gives the edge over 'regular' headphones, and what the benefits, are if any, of these. Then we'll see if they are suitable for the casual gamer, and their performance for films and music etc.
So why headphones anyway? Well, there is many reasons why your speakers are not always the best option. For me the main reasons are to block out other noise from your surroundings, so you can hear all the sound from the game, and to not disturb others. Let's face it, you would have to pay out well over the odds for a sound system and play it very loud to be able to hear all the details like player footsteps and gunshots of the guy shooting you from over there somewhere. And with a setup like that, you are going to annoy a few people unless you are lucky enough to live on a farm in the middle of now-where, and then you would upset the sheep and cows who are trying to have a nice peaceful day in the sun!
If you're still not convinced that headphones are a good option then read on and see if your opinion changes. Anyway, let's have a look at Steel Series' audio offering:
Enough of the box already, lets see the 5H in all its glory:
The most noticeable thing for me is the size, it is a pretty meaty piece of kit, no flimsy parts or things that will break off as soon as you put it on your head. The headset is pretty much entirely made of plastic as expected, but it does have a really nice gray metallic finish on the earpieces and the headband. Having said they don't look flimsy, they are deceptively light which might suggest they need to be handled with care. After testing them, it is quite clear that they are durable and hard wearing and good quality plastic has been used to create the headset.
One thing I like about this type of headset is that it fits over the ears, rather than on or in the ear, one benefit of this is comfort - an essential consideration of headphone choice, because when do you ever just have a five minute battle on your favourite game?... never. So the headphones should be comfortable for a couple of hours for the avid gamer. The 5H does not disappoint in this department at all, and things are helped by the foam padding on the headband, which is approx. 1/2 inch think (over a cm.). The padding on the ears is thick as well, and has a soft fabric layer that makes contact with your head which is appreciated but you probably wont realise unless you use a headset without this.
There is another clever design feature which might not have been too apparent from the above pictures. Check out the picture below:
The mic coils up inside the earpiece! Seems like a really good idea, especially for over the ear phones where is is not generally easy to store the mic boom away. Smaller phones don't have the problem because the mic boom can rotate upwards, but for bigger phones I cant really think of a better method than the way Steel Series have done it on the 5H. Personally I would like the mic to extend a bit further, it just reaches the edge of my mouth, I just feel it should go further, but in reality it is far enough out for its purpose, and it still lets you eat and drink at the same time so it is probably best how it is. The mic boom is metal, coated with flexible tubing, and does stay in any position you bend it in, makes sense really as everyone is different, so another good point there.
One feature that you don't normally see with headphones is the ability to take them apart (intentionally)! To aid traveling the headphones split into three pieces:
The headband separates from the earpieces just by pressing a small clip in the inside of the band, you cannot do this by mistake, so there is no danger of the whole thing falling off your head at any random time. Due to how headphones are made, it is generally not a good idea to pack them up in a suitcase or holdall incase they get squashed, but this seems to be an idea solution. As each piece is separate, the risk of squashage is significantly reduced, so a bonus for those who frequently travel to LAN's or similar events.
Connector-wise, things are all pretty good. The cable has two jacks as expected seeing as the mic is integrated.
However, instead of plugging these straight into the sound card, an extension cable is supplied.
For my personal setup this idea so I don't have to fiddle behind my computer if I want my speakers on. This is yet another simple solution that you take for granted after using this headset, which just is not provided with other headphones.
There is at least one important thing I've not covered yet and it is arguably the most important aspect, yes, the sound. Unfortunately I cannot take any more sexy pictures to show the sound, so I'll have to explain instead. Due to the nature of over the ear headphones, they generally provide better sound depth than on the ear phones, and the 5H follows that trend. They sound much better in terms of bass and depth than most other headphones I've tried. The sound is loud but remains clear depending on how good the quality the sound you are listening to is.
Now here is a problem. Because the sound is very clear, you are very aware of the quality of music for example (ok this is a gaming headset, but let me explain). You may find yourself re-encoding all your mp3's to a better quality because you can hear that it is bad, something that is not always noticeable with some headsets or speakers.
In games the sound is stunning, as I said about music, it can go loud but it still remains clear and sharp. The range of sound that can be heard is impressive, you can hear distant gun fire, bullets going past, footsteps of other players, and the bass will rock your head when that grenade goes off next to you.
The microphone performs well also, delivering clear sound across Teamspeak and in the voice recorder. There is not really a lot I can say other than, it does its job.
Because the 5H is a combined headset, with headphones and mic, then it is really aimed at the keen gamer. Certainly it provides the build and sound quality to be considered a pro gamer's headset. Gamers who primarily do not play online will not need the mic and would probably choose a different model of headphone, but any multiplayer gamer will indeed approve of this piece of kit, and will reap the benefits of clearer sound and also enjoy their experience of music, films and gaming to a greater level.