SteelSeries 9H Headset Review
Today I will be taking a look at another one of my favourite hardware components, the Gaming Headset. Here we have the SteelSeries 9H a closed back, circumaural, stereo headset form peripheral giant SteelSeries. The 9H is classed (by SteelSeries) as a Premium Tournament Gaming headset and is equipped with Drivers with a frequency response of 10 – 28000 Hz. The headset also features a uni-directional,retractable microphone, that slides back up into the left ear-cup.
The SteelSeries 9H came in the traditional (for SteelSeries) black ‘n orange box with a large image of the 9H headset on the front. On the top of the box (not shown) there are also endorsements from several Pro Gaming teams (NAVI, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Tyloo & Fnatic). Also on the front there’s the Dolby logo lurking in the top right corner of the box.
The back of the box gives you some idea of what’s within as well as a breakdown on some of the main features of the 9H.
Opening the outer box gets you to the inner box (or plastic tray) with its SteelSeries stamped wallet sitting smartly on the top.
Lifting the lid allows you to see the 9H nestling within, with the USB sound-card taking centre stage. It’s all nicely packaged, but to be fair we have seen better presentation…
Within the plastic tray there’s the aforementioned wallet and USB sound-card and a bag of various cables. The wallet itself contains a user guide and a SteelSeries sticker. The bag of cables contains, 1.2m main audio cable with in-line control box (ILCB), USB to 3.5mm plug adapter, USB to 4-pole 3.5mm adapter for Mac®, Mobile & Tablets and a 2.0m audio extension cable.
At the time of review the SteelSeries 9H is retailing for approximately £140 on Amazon and comes with a 2 year warranty.
courtesy of SteelSeries
Compatible with: Windows, Mac OS X, PS4*, Xbox One*, PS3*, Xbox 360*, Mobile*
Manufactured under license from Dolby Laboratories
The SteelSeries 9H gets off to good start, it’s a good looking headset, if a little subtle with its all black exterior. The orange highlights give it a lift though and the build quality also seems extremely high. Putting the headset on reveals that the 9H should offer good levels of comfort too, thanks to a low weight (280g) and comfortable over the ear ear cushions.
Both ear-cups feature a large degree of horizontal swivel and a large degree of vertical swivel, this helps to ensure that the ear-cup cushion exerts equal pressure around the ear. The vents that are on the side of each ear-cup are actually not vents, they’re just for aesthetics, the SteelSeries 9H is definitely a closed-back headset.
The left ear-cup also has the microphone concealed within, this can just be slid out when required, just a push up and the microphone is unlocked. Push it back again to lock it in place. It’s a clever and unusual system that I have not seen before. In addition to this the left ear-cup also houses the main audio connection by way of (what appears to be) a Mini USB connection. The correct cable is actually labelled with a white label (as all connections are Mini USB) and it also has two small clips to help secure the plug to the headset.
The headband is made from a thick, solid single piece of plastic that seems real tough, it’s also embossed with the SteelSeries logo. But there’s no illumination here… 🙁
The inner section of the headband has four large and thick foam pads that seem to provide plenty of comfort.
The SteelSeries 9H has approximately 36mm of adjustment per side, courtesy of a sliding steel insert (with ratchet), this gives the headset plenty of adjustment even for the largest of heads.
Each ear-cup has a very large opening, with a nice large, thick foam cushion, enhanced by that rather smart orange stitching. The inner section of the ear-cup protects your ear from the Driver within by way of thick orange material. In fact it’s nice to see some depth to this material, as often Drivers get covered with the thinnest of material in an attempt to aide acoustics, resulting in minor discomfort. But will the 9H suffer acoustically due to this, we shall see…
As we have already seen the uni-directional microphone retracts back into the left ear-cup (see below left).
When extended its pipe cleaner style boom seems to have a mind of its own, due to the fact that it’s been curled up inside the ear-cup. It takes a little taming, but it can be done… 😉
Approximately 60cm down from the headset we find an in-line control box (ILCB). The ILCB supports microphone mute via a simple switch on one side, on the other there’s a small SteelSeries logo. On the side of the ILCB we find a wheel based volume control. What’s really impressive though is the cables, not because there’s 4 of them! The braiding IS the finest that I have ever seen; it’s the most flexible and the most tangle proof, it’s also incredibly small; it even looks good! 😉
First impressions of the SteelSeries 9H at this point are extremely high, there’s very little (well nothing) to complain about. Let’s take if for a spin and see what it sounds like, fingers crossed…
There are two ways to connect the SteelSeries headset, either by way of the two 3.5mm jack plugs to a dedicated sound-card, or by using the supplied USB sound-card. Of course I will need to test both…
As the SteelSeries 9H is a high end headset it seems only right to pair it with a decent high-end dedicated sound card. Therefore for testing purposes I used a Creative Sound Blaster Zx sound card, that features a dedicated headphone amplifier.
As the SteelSeries 9H headset requires software for full operation a new installation of Windows 7 Home Premium 64Bit (service pack 1) was carried out. The SteelSeries Engine 3 software was then downloaded and installed, version 3.2.9 was used throughout testing.
|During installation of the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, a critical firmware update came through for the USB sound-card, so I let it do its thing…|
GAMES/BENCHMARKS USED IN TESTING:
- Survarium (BETA)
- Metro 2033 Redux
- Metro Last Light (benchmark)
- Unigine Heaven (benchmark)
- Unigine Valley (benchmark)
The performance of a headset is predominately based upon what it sounds like, therefore what we have here is my opinion on what I think about the audio performance of the SteelSeries 9H headset; of course this is somewhat subjective…
Well there’s good news and there’s bad news and I want to get the bad news out of the way first. The USB sound-card is well, rubbish! There I’ve said it. With the USB sound-card plugged in and the headset plugged in, the sound takes a definite turn for the worse. The power takes a nose dive, that’s the first thing you’ll notice. Then you’ll probably reach for the software in an attempt to improve things (which really you shouldn’t have to do) via the equalizer settings or the presets. Now while these work to some degree, all you’re really doing here is messing with sound because the source is not up to par. Certainly don’t bother with the Dolby Headphone switch either as that poor sound just gets worse! This is the second time I have seen this USB sound-card and my opinion of it remains the same, best leave it in the box and forget about the software… 😉
The GOOD news is that when paired up with our test Creative Sound Blaster Zx sound-card the SteelSeries really shows its true performance and it’s brilliant.
There’s plenty of volume on offer with very little distortion, the devil is of course in the detail and all the details can be heard too. There’s real clarity here, all of the high tones such as the ricochets in the Metro: Last Light benchmark can be clearly heard. The flames can be heard too (so often missed on lesser headsets) and the shrill sound of the gunfire is impressive to say the least. Of course this wouldn’t be a Gaming headset review if we didn’t talk about the bass. Impressive I would say, but more importantly not overly intrusive either. The overall sound signature produced by the SteelSeries 9H is very impressive and is one of the first headsets that I have tested in a while that is clearly better than our test headset of choice, the HyperX Cloud. Testing with a little music, either via benchmarks such as Unigine Heaven and Valley or online also reveal the headset’s calmer side, with just that little bit of bass to wake you up every now and again.
Comfort is also so important when it comes to a Gaming headset as many of us play for hours at a time. During my testing (3-4 hours) not once did the 9H feel uncomfortable. This is helped by its relative low weight (280g) and excellent fit. Then there’s the nice large ear-cup cushions that your ear fit easily inside of. With nice thick padding on the cushion itself, the SteelSeries 9H is one comfortable headset.
The omni-directional microphone worked very well with our VOIP program of choice (Razer Comms), so no complaints here. The in-line mute switch was also easy to reach and use.
The SteelSeries Engine software has been seen here at pcG before in the following review (SteelSeries Sensei & Sims 4 Headset) and it’s generally impressive. Here it’s not so much what it does from a software point of view but what it does to the sound output. As you may have already read I’m not a fan of the supplied USB sound-card, therefore I’m also not a fan of its associated software. Although there’s nothing wrong with the software per se…
Here you can play with a graphic equalizer to your hearts content and also sample some of the pre-defined presets such as (MMO, FPS, Sports, Music etc.). You can adjust microphone levels as well as sidetone, which indeed can be useful. You can also enable Dolby Headphone, which quite frankly seems to sound awful IMHO. There are various other settings but to be honest none of this makes the SteelSeries 9H sound better. As I have said before best forget the USB sound-card and the software and just plug this headset into a good dedicated sound card, as that’s when it really shines…
There’s is no doubt that the SteelSeries 9H is one of the best headsets tested by me in recent months, it sounds great and it’s extremely comfortable. The issue is likely to be the price and the fact that one of the accessories needs to be left in the box…
The SteelSeries 9H came well packaged enough, but to be fair, considering the asking price maybe SteelSeries could have done a little more. Once out of the box the general build quality of the 9H becomes obvious; the 9H is both well designed and made, with use of good quality plastics throughout. The orange inner ear-cups and cushion stitching help lift the all black design enough to make the headset desirable (as long as you like orange, I guess!).
Placing the 9H headset on the head for the first time immediately suggests that this is going to be one comfortable headset. And it is; helped by its relative low weight (280g), those large circumaural ear-cups and thick foam cushions. Even during those long Gaming sessions (3-4 hrs) the SteelSeries 9H remained very comfortable.
Now we come to the sound and the first (and only) fly in the ointment, the supplied USB sound-card isn’t up to scratch, both sound volume and quality is diminished when it is being used. There are some useful features in the SteelSeries Engine 3 software that help though, and there’s also some usefull features such as microphone volume, sidetone and microphone noise reduction. The software (seen before) is actually pretty good, but the USB sound-card is best left in the box. Of course the rub here is that you’re paying for it regardless…
Without the USB sound-card the SteelSeries 9H really shines in Game though. All the frequencies are well represented, with ricochets being clearly heard during the cataclysmic Metro: Last Light benchmark, the gunfire is shrill and will send shivers down your spine. And then there’s the bass, as the attack approaches there’s real low down rumble, you not only get to hear it, you feel it too. As I have already said, one of the best sounding headsets that I have heard… 😉
So the only issue is the price, which is very high, and to make things worse some of your money is being wasted on that USB sound-card! If you’re happy to pay £140 and leave the sound-card in the box, you’ll find that the SteelSeries 9H is one of the best Gaming headsets on the market.
Please Share, Like & Comment below, we really value your thoughts and opinions…
Where possible we always use Amazon’s price for Value…
Many thanks to SteelSeries for providing this sample for review