SteelSeries Siberia Elite Headset Review
After being very impressed with the latest SteelSeries Sensei, SteelSeries have now asked if we would like to take a look at their latest headset, the SteelSeries Siberia Elite. It may carry the Siberia name, but for sure the new Siberia doesn’t much look like the Siberia of old, that was developed back in 2004. The Siberia Elite headset actually won a Red Dot Design award in 2014, and from taking a look at it, I can see why…
The Siberia Elite is available in white (51151) or black (51127) and is a circumarual (I think, more on this later…), closed back, stereo headset with a 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound USB sound card incorporating a Digital Sound Processor (DSP). The headset’s design cleverly incorporates a retractable microphone, including microphone mute into the left ear-cup and a volume control in the right. Each ear-cup features Drivers with a frequency response of 16 – 28,000 Hz, which sounds impressive! In addition to this SteelSeries’ Engine 3 allows for further sound manipulation via its preset Profiles and 10-band graphic equalizer.
The Siberia Elite came well pacakged in a smart looking black box, with a large image of the headset on the front. The front of the box also lists compatibility (Mac, Windows, IOS & Android) in addition to the, no doubt required, Dolby logo.
Taking a look at the back of the box we get to see the Siberia Elite in an array of colours, thanks to its 16.8 million ColorShift ear-cup illumination, as well as some further details on the Design, Sound and Comfort. In the lower left corner we can also see some features of the SteelSeries Engine 3 software and the capability of the supplied USB sound card.
With the outer sleeve removed we get to see the smart inner black box with its SteelSeries logo. Within we can see the Siberia Elite sitting comfortably, centre stage. Note the very unusual micro USB cable, not only is it micro USB and white, but it’s flat also!
Within the box we find the headset itself with its captive micro USB cable, a USB sound card, extension cable, PC adapter, mobile adapter and a very basic user guide.
courtesy of SteelSeries
Frequency: 16-28 KHz
Length: 1.2 meters
Mic pattern: Unidirectional
Black & White
First impressions of the SteelSeries Siberia Elite are extremely good, there’s good reason that this headset has won a Red Dot Design Award, it’s a damn cool looking headset and that’s before we even turn it on and take a look at its ColorShift illumination. It’s really good to see a new headset on the market that’s not just a copy of another, respect is due SteelSeries. 🙂
Taking a look at the left ear-cup we can see the highly stylised closed back of the Siberia, with the retractable microphone hidden within. The main cable (Audio & USB) also attaches here and is a approximately 1.2m in length and cannot be removed. What’s not apparent is that the central knurled wheel can actually be rotated and acts a switch providing microphone mute functionality, very clever! Each ear-cup features a small degree of horizontal tilt and a larger degree of vertical tilt, helping the ear-cup to sit flush on the side of the head. But, given the thickness of the ear-cup cushions, tilting less important in this design…
The right side is pretty much identical, as one would expect, but this time the central rotating wheel acts as a volume control. Cleverly the right ear-cup also sports an socket output allowing you to share both audio and voice with another headset, cool! As you can see, the Siberia Elite really has been designed from the ground up…
The headband is of the floating variety, as seen on the original Siberia and is a proven design. The top of the band sports a SteelSeries logo and name, while the inner section of the band has six small sections (25x15mm) of memory foam. It’s not much but should do the trick. The main headband is made from aluminium and seems both light and strong, although I did notice, thanks to its untreated surface, that it was prone to finger prints…
The Siberia Elite’s leather (nice soft leather too!) ear-cup cushions are a bit of a talking point as they are the largest yet seen on a headset, at some 20mm thick (although they look twice as thick due to the design) they should provide a good deal of comfort. Not to mention a fair degree of passive noise isolation. But what is slightly odd and noticeable in the image below, is that this is not really a circumarual (over ear) headset, as my ears (and most others) are not going to fit in there! That hole is only about 50mm in diameter. This means that the Siberia Elite is neither going to sit on the ear or over the ear, hmmm…
The retractable noise cancelling microphone can be found neatly tucked away within the left ear-cup, simply pulling on it (school boy snigger!) allows the microphone to be extended by approximately 100mm. Now while the boom is of the pipe cleaner variety, it also seems to be of the ‘bend it to where you want and it springs back to somewhere near variety’, it’s no deal breaker but it’s a bit of a shame. With enough man-handling though the boom and associated microphone can be placed pretty much where you want. At the end of the boom incorporated into the microphone is a circular LED that illuminates (white) when the mic mute has been activated, which is a nice touch and useful.
Overall the SteelSeries Siberia Elite is probably the coolest headset that I have ever tested, there’s no doubt that at this point, it’s a highly desirable piece of Gaming hardware! 😉
As the SteelSeries Siberia Elite comes with its own USB sound card, we will test with that and also our setup of choice for high-end headsets, utilising a Creative Sound Blaster Zx sound card, that features a dedicated headphone amplifier.
From a cabling point of view (see below), in both instances I utilised the additional 2m USB extension cable and either used the supplied PC adapter to plug into the SoundBlaster ZX’s ACM. Or plugged the Siberia Elite’s extended USB cable directly into the USB sound card and then into a USB socket on the back of our test motherboard (MSI Z87 G45 GAMING). I tested with both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 without issue.
The Siberia Elite headset was tested with both the supplied USB Sound Card and in my own personal Gaming Rig where there’s a Sound Blaster ZX (it can’t be removed because there’s water cooling pipes in the way!). 😉 As per user guide instructions the SteelSeries Engine 3 software was downloaded (here) version 3.2.2 was used throughout testing. Also worth noting is that on initial install of the software the headset’s firmware was updated to 220.127.116.11.
All settings for the Sound Blaster ZX software were left at their default settings.
The following games were used during testing:
- BattleField 4
- Sim City
- Survarium (BETA)
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha
- 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 Siberia Elite headset; of course this is somewhat subjective…
Due to the fact that the Siberia Elite can be used with its supplied USB sound card or a dedicated sound card, I will describe both experiences, especially as one if far different to the other!
USB SOUND CARD (supplied):
There’s not much to tell you about the dedicated sound card supplied with the SteelSeries Elite Headset as there’s not much information on it, other than it features a Digital Sound Processor (DSP) along with some Dolby technologies. In addition to this (and rather importantly) it also provides the power for the headset’s ColorShift illumination.
Leaving all of the software’s settings at their default level the sound reproduced by the sound card seemed ok, but nothing more. After also being a little underwhelmed by the power delivery (I was quite happy at full volume), it was time to take a look at some of the settings to see if I could improve the sound. Although I must say I’m not a fan of manipulating the original sound of game, as it’s something you can effectively do forever! Nonetheless the first thing I did was turn on the Dolby Headphone functionality. Unfortunately things just got worse! Using the Dolby headphone function while listening to the Metro Last Light benchmark, I could clearly hear clipping and general distortion when things got busy in the hight of battle. After a fair amount of further testing I found that the best sound, was with all settings off and even then it wasn’t very good, I would class it as merely OK.
Being rather shocked at the poor quality of the supplied sound card, I decided to try the headset connected to a dedicated sound card a Creative Sound Blaster Zx…
DEDICATED SOUND CARD (Creative Sound Blaster Zx):
Luckily using the Sound Blaster Zx things improved dramatically, allowing the more than capable Drivers within the Siberia Elite to shine through. It also delivered some much needed power to the headset again allowing for a more stimulating experience. Within the Metro test there was no distortion and I could clearly here the detail in the rumble as the attack approaches. Gun-fire, ricochets and flickering flames could now be heard all layered on top of one another. There’s no doubt that when the constraints of the USB Sound Card have been cut the Siberia Elite is a great sounding headset!
Hmm, but hold on now I’ve effectively binned the USB sound card I’ve lost some of the Elite’s functionality, namely the ColorShift lighting, microphone LED mute lighting and the microphone noise cancellation. These are functions that you may indeed want, especially that cool ColorShift lighting. It’s a shame, as neither setup is perfect, if only SteelSeries had supplied another cable splitting off the Audio, Microphone and USB; that way you could have plugged in the audio to a decent source and powered the Lighting via USB…
The SteelSeries Elite may have won a design award for its design (and I for one agree with that as it’s an awesome looking headset), but I bet nobody wore one for 3-4 hours while Gaming! Well I did and from a comfort point of view the SteelSeries Elite is OK (that’s to say not poor but not great either). The lack of good comfort is brought about by the circumarual design (or lack thereof) of the ear-cups. As they neither fit on your ear or over your ear, meaning that parts of your ear will be under some level of compression. Now it seems that SteelSeries may have thought of this and equipped the Elite with massive memory foam cushions in an attempt to alleviate this, and it does indeed help. But over long periods of time that compression of your ear to your head starts to get a little uncomfortable. It’s no deal breaker, but it’s a shame that the awesome design has compromised a little on comfort…
The SteelSeries Siberia Elite’s microphone worked well in testing and there was no complaints from my online friends when using our VOIP application of choice (Razer Comms). I found it worked best without the noise cancellation on that’s found within the SteelSeries Engine 3 software.
The SteelSeries Siberia Elite is a Flawed Gem, it is such a cool looking headset, probably the coolest I have ever seen and I love its design, with the ColorShift technology just being the icing on the cake. The problem is that it comes with its own USB Sound Card that is unfortunately of a poorer quality than the headset itself, and this just lets the whole package down.
The Siberia Elite came well packaged and presented and once out of the box the headset is a thing of beauty (also available in black BTW), I love the overall design and it’s great to see a manufacturer designing and building a headset from scratch. My hat off to SteelSeries for this. From a comfort point of view the Elite performed OK, but its comfort level is lessened due to the circumaural design of those cool looking ear-cups. The lovely soft memory foam cushions neither sit on or over the ear, resulting is some mild discomfort during those long (3-4 hr) Gaming sessions.
The supplied USB Sound Card is just not up to the high quality of the headset and when used in conjunction, it just sounds too muddied for my liking. The sound card even began to distort at higher volumes when the Dolby Headphone mode was on and or when other DSP functions were used. Luckily using a dedicated sound card like the Creative Sound Blaster Zx improves thing tremendously, allowing the Siberia Elite to truly sing. When paired up with a decent sound card/DAC the Siberia Elite suddenly is almost worth every penny of its steep £150 price tag.
But now comes the real rub, if you do indeed cast the USB Sound Card aside and use a dedicated one, you will loose that lovely ColorShift functionality on the ear-cup, along with the Mic mute LED indicator as the headset effectively now has no power.
Overall an awesome looking headset with decent comfort levels and capable of brilliant sound when combined with a decent, dedicated sound card. Unfortunately the SteelSeries Siberia Elite is too tied to its USB Sound Card for its own good, I think SteelSeries should set it free! Here’s hoping… 😉
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Many thanks to SteelSeries for providing this sample for review