SteelSeries H Wireless Headset Review
A fair few SteelSeries headsets have passed through the pcG offices in the last 12 months, most of them have been pretty good too, but none of them have been outstanding. Well the SteelSeries H Wireless may just change all of that, why? Because on paper it sounds (haha) brilliant… 😉
The SteelSeries H Wireless headset is, as you’ve no doubt guessed, a wireless stereo Gaming headset supporting PC, Mac, PlayStation and Xbox, although we’re not going to talk about the latter three! The headset itself features Drivers with a frequency Response of 20Hz – 20000Hz, and it features on-board volume control and a retractable unidirectional microphone. The transmitter has a range of up to 12m (line of sight) and features both analogue and optical inputs. The SteelSeries H Wireless comes equipped with two Lithium-Ion, 1000mAh batteries with a life span of approximately 20 hours.
The SteelSeries H Wireless came in a smart predominately black box with SteelSeries Orange accents. Looking at the front of the box we can see a large image of the Wireless headset along with that Dolby endorsement in the top right corner.
Looking at the back of the box there’s some additional images of the H Wireless as well as a list of the box contents. There’s also a description of the Live Mix function, in addition to this the following features of the headset are highlighted:
LAG FREE, UNCOMPRESSED AUDIO
Frequency hopping ensures an uninterrupted audio stream with the highest fidelity
ADVANCED TRANSMITTER WITH OLED SCREEN
Cross-platform transmitter features beautiful OLED display and can be controlled directly
UNLIMITED, IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE
Two swappable batteries enable an uninterrupted 7.1 Dolby Virtual Surround experience
Removing the outer sleeve reveals a rather smart black inner box, adorned with a SteelSeries logo.
Opening this box allows us to the the SteelSeries H Wireless for the first time, you can also see the transmitter just above the headset. As you can see it’s all rather well packaged and beautifully presented…
Removing the upper tray allows us to look deeper into the box, only to find another black box. In here there’s a User Guide and wealth of cables (the most I’ve ever seen for a Headset), but what are they all for…
Hidden beneath all of those cables (luckily we wont be using them all!) is a set of universal plug ends for use with the supplied power adapter.
courtesy of SteelSeries
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20000Hz
Wireless Range: 12m (40ft) straight line
Frequency Response: 100Hz – 10000Hz
H Wireless Headset & Transmitter
First impressions of the SteelSeries H Wireless are very good, after the impressive un-boxing it was nice to see a lot of components in the box, making it feel like you’re getting a fair bit for your money (no bad thing when you’re sending around £200!). The headset itself seems well made and uses quality materials throughout, although the use of glossy plastics is not always a good idea, as it acts as a fingerprint magnet. The headset seems quite light at just 297g (without battery) and 325 grams (with). What I wasn’t prepared for though was the Transmitter, far more than just some functionality at the bottom of a USB cable. The transmitter is truly impressive, featuring not only a myriad of connection options, but also sporting a charging port and even an OLED display!
Both circumaural ear-cups feature a closed back design, with soft black leatherette ear-cushions, with contrasting orange stitching. The backs of both ear-cup’s can also be removed, on the left this exposes the battery and on the right it exposes a mysterious USB socket!? Both of these glossy plastic covers also feature silver SteelSeries logos. Both ear-cups also sport a good degree of both horizontal and vertical swivel, helping the ear-cups to sit flush against the side of even the oddest shaped heads. In fact there’s enough horizontal travel to allow the headset to lay flush on the desk.
The left ear-cup features a retractable microphone that can be tucked up inside the left ear-cup when not needed.
The right ear-cup features a multi-function volume wheel (more on this later) and Chat and Share ports, should you be using this headset with a console (perish the thought!). Here you will also find the main power button and its associated white LED indicator.
The headband appears to be made from plastic, which is a little disconcerting, as plastic has more of tendency to snap. This is made worse by the fact that the H Wireless headset has a fair degree of clamping force; therefore a fair degree of force is required to open the headset up, especially when the headset is at its smallest setting. On the top of the headband we find a large SteelSeries logo embossed into the plastic.
The inner section of the headband features five small leatherette clad, foam cushions that while not that thick do seem to give plenty of support.
The plastic headband is adjustable with approximately 35mm of extension per side, suggesting that the SteelSeries H Wireless is likely to fit most head sizes. Each side also supports specific positioning of the extension arm by way of a simple ratchet (click) system, there appears to be around 12 in total.
Each ear-cup features nice, thick (20mm) foam, leatherette covered cushions. The foam is very squishy and feel like memory foam, but I’m not sure… Inside the ear-cups the Drivers are covered with a thin layer of orange material, that goes well with the matching orange stitching.
As we have already stated the left ear-cup features a retractable microphone, that can be tucked up inside the ear-cup. When pulled out the pipe cleaner style boom can be manipulated to get the microphone in the desired position close to your mouth. Although it does seem to have a little bit of a mind of its own, probably due to the fact that it’s be furled up inside the ear-cup for too long…
The microphone itself is unidirectional with a frequency response of 100Hz – 10000Hz. At the tip of the microphone there’s a handy red LED indicator that illuminates when the microphone has been muted, this can be done by briefly pressing the power button.
Now let’s take a look at this Transmitter, that to be frank is way more than just a transmitter. The wireless Transmitter, is a smart looking, rather unassuming black box, with an embossed SteelSeries logo on the top and two controls (I say controls as both can be pressed, but one is also rotary) on the front. The main rotary knob is not only the volume control but it also acts as a select button in the menus, the other smaller button acts predominantly as a back button.
There’s not much to see on the back of this little box, other than the model details etc. But what is kind of cool (and damn right useful) is that the entire foot-print of the box is covered with a large rubberised plate, ensuring that the box stays exactly where you put it.
As you can see from the image below, the right hand side of this little box also has a charging slot for the other supplied battery, ensuring one is always on charge, nice!
Looking at the back of the Transmitter we can see the plethora of inputs and outputs. Working left to right, we have an analogue input and output followed by the main power socket, next to this we have the USB input (that we will be using) followed by an optical input (that we will also be using) and an optical output. There’s seems to be rather too many connections on the back of the H Wireless Transmitter, this is due to the cross-platform support for consoles etc.
First impressions are now really beginning to look up, not only is the headset a fine looking headset with a build quality to match, but the Transmitter seems to be boasting a wealth of functionality. Let’s get set up and take a closer look, or is that listen… 😉
There’s a lot of cables in the box, but luckily we don’t need too many of them. As we are using a dedicated soundcard (Creative Sound Blaster Zx) for testing the SteelSeries H Wireless, we can make use of its optical out connection providing a direct audio feed to the Transmitter. Also as the headset is wireless we need to get a microphone signal from the headset back to the PC, so we will have to use the USB cable also (this is no bad thing, as we have now isolated Game & Voice audio streams). Finally we will need to power the unit up; there’s a couple of choices; either via a USB wall socket or just via USB. The advantage of using the wall socket is that the unit is always on, meaning that the additional battery is always on charge! 😉
All of the components that I used for testing are shown below.
The SteelSeries H Wireless headset requires no software (and that I rather like, just hardware!) for full operation therefore no new installation of Windows 7 Home Premium 64Bit (service pack 1) was performed.
GAMES/BENCHMARKS USED IN TESTING:
- Survarium (BETA)
- Metro 2033 Redux
- Alien Isolation
- Metro Last Light (benchmark)
- Unigine Heaven (benchmark)
- Unigine Valley (benchmark)
- Headset (Audio)
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 H Wireless headset; of course this is somewhat subjective…
The first feature that we need to talk about really is the connection type; as if you use the optical input you will get Dolby Digital surround Sound. But if you connect via USB you get Dolby Headphone or Dolby Pro Logic IIx surround. I tried both and to be honest struggled to tell the difference, I thought that Dolby Digital was more accurate, but that may have been just a placebo effect. Therefore all of my testing was carried out using the optical input, direct from the dedicated soundcard (Creative Sound Blaster Zx).
Now let’s talk about the surround sound, this is not something that I’m normally a fan of, and here with the SteelSeries H Wireless I assumed that, once again I would be switching for the off button, but this time I was wrong! The surround sound produced either via USB or Optical inputs was far better than what I had heard from other, recent virtual surround sound technologies. These technologies are more than often based around software, with varying effects like FPS, RPG, Action etc. Needless to say, I’ve never been a fan of these technologies as the sound is just modified (echo, reverb etc). It’s not better and it’s never been surround sound, it’s just different! That’s why some people think that they can hear surround sound because they hear, nothing more than a difference…
With the SteelSeries H Wireless this surround sound effect seems far subtler, it may be even more believable and I, (shock horror) rather liked it! So much so, that most of my testing was done (via an optical input) with Dolby Digital Surround Sound On! 😉
OK James, so what does it actually sound like then? Very good, is the short answer. The longer answer is that the SteelSeries H Wireless has a rather unique sound signature, in part due to Dolby (Digital) surround sound but also due to the characteristics of the Drivers used and maybe due to the way the Transmitter is processing the inbound digital signal. The end result is a somewhat Gamer centric sound, but what do I mean by that? Well what I mean is that it’s a little bass heavy, with more emphasis on the midrange and less on the highs. What this transpires into is a Game sound with great explosions (and real rumble etc) and great sounding voices and good music. Gunfire on the other hand (while still very good, helped by the surround sound) is not as shrill as it could be, those spine tingly highs are not quite there.
But I have to say the overall effect of this particular (Game orientated) sound signature and the effect of that Dolby Digital surround sound is really rather impressive, not as good a sound as say the standard SteelSeries 9H, but definitely more immersive.
Comfort wise the SteelSeries H Wireless is very good, helped in part by the relatively low weight, at just 325 grams (inc battery). The ear-cup openings are large enough for the average size ear to fit in and the ear-cup cushions have plenty of padding to remain comfortable. The H Wireless can get a little warm though, due to those leatherette covered cushions and the rather high clamping force exerted by the headband. Although I have to say this never seemed to cause any discomfort, even during those longer (4+ hrs) Gaming sessions.
The unidirectional microphone works well and I had no complaints form my online friends when using our VOIP program of choice (Razer Comms). But if you’ve been reading, you will remember that due to the connection configuration that we went for, we have effectively split the in Game sound from the VOIP sound, and this is rather useful. Because the clever little box of tricks that is the SteelSeries H Wireless’s Transmitter can now balance these two sound sources independently from one another. So if you’ve ever had the Game sound too loud that you cant hear your friends, or vice versa, the H Wireless’s ChatMix function will come to the rescue. Very useful…
- Transmitter & Functions
From a Wireless point of view I had no issues with the SteelSeries H Wireless headset whilst sat at the PC. There we no disconnects (thanks to frequency hopping) and there was no perceivable sign of Lag. Whilst trying to dance around the house though, I did run into disconnection issues, at more than 10m away the H Wireless signal gets lost. Although, this is in-line with SteelSeries’ quoted range of 12m (40ft) straight line.
The more and more that I messed with the Transmitter and its myriad of functions the more and more impressed I was. I will go through some of the function here, but I will also let some of the screenshots below do the talking (or is that typing) for me. 😉
If you start digging around in the Transmitter’s menu, that can either be accessed by the front controls or (rather cleverly) the volume control wheel on the headset itself, you can begin to appreciate the amount of effort that has gone into this little black box of tricks…
The main view is that shown above left, showing Dolby Digital connectivity and the charge state of the battery (inside the transmitter) as well as the Current Source (PC) and the current volume setting. Accessing the menu from here, shows the view (above centre), options here include (AUDIO, SOURCE, PROFILE, OPTIONS etc). Selecting AUDIO takes us to the view above right, where we can modify features such as (EQUALIZER, DOLBY, CHAT MIX etc).
Selecting CHAT MIX takes you to a view where you can simply balance in inbound Game audio (via Optical) and the inbound voice (via USB), a very clever and useful feature. The central image above shows the Dolby On/Of function, while the image at the far right shows you one of the predefined Equalizer settings, of which there are six. But get this, you can also program your own equalizer settings and save them as a profile. But not only can you do that, you can also save your own custom name against each profile, impressive stuff… 😉
The best way to describe the SteelSeries H Wireless headset is that as a package it is the best headset that I have tested, this comes courtesy of a great Gamer orientated sound signature, wireless connectivity and an amazing Transmitter packed with features.
The SteelSeries H Wireless came to pcG in a smart box and the contents were beautifully packaged and well presented. As you open the box you can’t fail to be impressed, by not only the headset and its associated transmitter but by the sheer level of content within the box, it’s a little like Xmas, you open one box after another and find yet more goodies.
Taking a closer look at the headset we find that it’s a good weight at only 325 (including battery), it’s comfortable too with good foam padding all round. Although the headset does seem top have a high clamping force, but this never seemed to bother me during long Gaming sessions, which is strange. The H Wireless looks good, with its orange accents, although those shiny plastic panels on the ear-cups do attract a lot of fingerprints. The controls on the headset work well too, offering not only volume control and a microphone mute but also allowing you to control the OLED menu system aboard the Transmitter.
The Transmitter really is an impressive piece of kit and on its own I think it’s probably worth around £50. This is not down to its stealthy black box looks, but the fact that there’s so much more here than just a transmitter with a volume control. Please take a look at the sections above for a good description of its functionality, but here’s some of the highlights: Multi-source connectivity (PC, MAC, PS & XBox), Dolby support (inc Dolby Digital), independent volume control of VOIP/Game and Equalizer settings with custom Profiles. It really is a great little box of tricks… 😉
So we know the headset looks good, is comfortable and is fed via an impressive transmitter with a wealth of functionality, but how does it sound and how is that wireless connection? Well the wireless connection is solid and Lag free while at the PC, but once you move beyond 10m away (especially with brick walls in the way) the signal gets dropped. Although to be fair SteelSeries quotes 12m (line of sight), which seems pretty fair. The sound produced by the SteelSeries H Wireless is not only very good but also very specific. Let’s first start by saying that the sound produced is geared for us Gamers, there’s extra emphasis on bass (but not too much) and a good mid-range, but the highs are not as shrill as one may like. But I found that using the (hardware based) Equalizer I was actually able to get a good balance.
What is more impressive though is that the Dolby Digital surround sound was far better (and thankfully subtler) than normally found in virtual surround sound headsets (remember this is still a stereo headset). In fact I liked it so much that I used it (via optical, from our test Creative Sound Blaster Zx soundcard) throughout testing as it did indeed lend that little bit of extra immersion to Games like Survarium and Alien Isolation. Overall the sound does have a unique signature, but I’m pretty sure that most of us Gamers are going to love it.
Overall the SteelSeries H Wireless headset is a true Gamer grade headset, with great audio, wire-free connectivity and an amazing, feature packed Transmitter. I know that if I had £200 burning a hole in my pocket and I was thinking about buying a new high end Gaming headset, then the SteelSeries H Wireless would be at the top of my list…
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Many thanks to SteelSeries for providing this sample for review