One of the confounding problems with a number of “gaming” headsets is that so many of them look like gaming headsets. Which is fine if you’re at home in front of the computer, but if you want to buy a headset that can also be the headphones you listen to out and about, The Arctis 5 from SteelSeries is a great option.
First things first, the Arctis 5 starts from $184 locally, with major retailers charging just under $200. Like most SteelSeries headsets, the microphone is retractable, and when extended, it’s just the right distance from your mouth. When retracted into the headphones, it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t detract from the look or fit.
Bottom line, you could wear these at home while you’re gaming and have your teammates hear you loud and clear over voice chat, and then retract the microphone, plug the headphones into your phone, and listen to them in public or on the train without them looking gaudy or out of place.
Soundwise, the Arctis 5 is inoffensive. Not too tinny, not too bassy, not as clear or rich as reference headphones, but still fairly flat. You could certainly find headphones with better isolation, richer sound, and wider soundstage for $US100 ($134), that’s for sure, but these don’t sound bad by any means, and the fact that it’s a full headset makes it a good option for people who want to be able to listen sometime and talk other times without having to swap gear on their desk or attach or remove an external microphone.
Since SteelSeries sent over a pair for me to try out, I’ve used them as my daily drivers at work for a month or so now, and they sound just fine.While I would say the isolation isn’t great, that’s actually a bit of a good thing because they’re closed-back headphones.
The Arctis 5 is available in simple matte black or white, with a patterned semi-elastic fabric band (reminiscent of AKG’s Q/K701s) under the headrest that matches the exterior. The logo — and a ring around each earcup — are actually RGB LEDs, and slowly change colour while you wear the headset, or have it resting on your desk. The LEDs aren’t bright, and they’re not distracting — they just add a little flare, which I actually appreciated.
If you prefer, you can load up the included software (Windows only) and customise the lighting pattern, set them to a solid colour, or turn the lights off completely. In fact, they’re actually understated and modern-looking, or depending on your perspective, they’re “grown up” looking. Don’t just take my word for it, our colleagues at Gizmodo felt the same way, and we agree.
The Arctis 5 comes with a chat/music in-line mixer you can connect to your computer via USB, and the included software that lets you customise the lights. The Arctis 3 is a tier down at $168, ditches the lights and the mixer, and makes for a more bare-bones purchase if you’re on a budget, but misses a little of the style.
The Arctis 7, at $338 keeps the lights, puts the mixer directly on the headphones, and goes wireless with 40 hour battery life (less under intense use, obviously.) Choose as your budget allows, but the 5s feel like the sweet spot to us.