SteelSeries Arctis 5 7.1 Surround Sound RGB Headset Review

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by Ryan Perry on November 14, 2016 in Audio & Media, Peripherals

After 2 years we’re back looking at another headset from SteelSeries. Where the last one occupied the premium end of the scale with a price tag to match, the new Arctis series is set to take aim at the mainstream market, but retain the premium features. Read on to see how the Arctis 5 stacks up.

Games, Movies, Music, Plus Final Thoughts


Now for the nitty-gritty – everyday usage scenarios in the form of playing games, watching movies, and listening to music.

The games we chose to test the sound and positional audio quality of the Arctis 5 were Grand Theft Auto 5 for its multitude of layered sounds, and an old-time favorite, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which can push the player to determine where sounds are coming from at times. As mentioned, the EQ remained flat in all tests, but this time around, we played an additional session with the DTS surround sound enabled to see just how immersive gaming could be.

GTA V tends to have a lot going on, with things blowing up, gunfire ringing out, yelling, crashing, and/or jets flying overhead. It can get intense at times, so being able to hear everything clearly is very important. During a quick session, gunfire, NPC voices, radio chatter, and car engine noise were all easily distinguishable.

Explosions were crisp and booming without being too over-the-top to the point where they were overwhelmed. With surround sound enabled, the audio became somewhat lack luster in my opinion.  Some sounds that were well pronounced in stereo became thin and in some cases almost inaudible.

Grand Theft Auto V

Switching over to BF:BC2, which has far less going on at times unless you’re front row center in a fire fight, we joined a game of Conquest on the Heavy Metal map, which is my go to map for some fast and dirty sniping fun.  It puts a lot of emphasis on positional audio because enemies will try to flank you or take long shots to force you to switch position.

Sound quality here was great as well, and positional audio was pretty darned good using only stereo sound. Teammates dropping ammo behind me and footsteps off to my side were easily tracked.  Kicking on surround sound however brought things to another level as the map seemed to instantly open up and the game became incredibly immersive.

Tanks roaring along beside me, gunfire from choppers on the other side of the ridge, and explosions out of my field of vision sounded incredibly real. It’s instances like this that make the surround sound capability of the Arctis 5 shine.

Battlefield Bad Company 2

Our in flight movie was the retail Blu-ray of 2016’s Deadpool, which has enough of everything going on at all times to make it a prime target.  Even though we ended up “testing” this movie from start to finish, with and without surround sound enabled, for the purpose of this review we focused on the highway scene at the beginning of the movie.

There’s dialogue, there’s gunfire, revving engines and more, all of which was reproduced very well using stereo sound. However, when surround sound was enabled, the audio sounded so good that the only thing missing was a bag of stale, overpriced popcorn, and some jerk kicking the back of your seat.

Deadpool

For testing the Arctis 5 while listening to music, we turned to my all time favorite metal band, Fear Factory, and their breakthrough album from 1995, Demanufacture.  Rather than limit testing to one particular genre, we also tested Cake’s 2011 album, Showroom of Compassion.  After listening to both albums from start to finish, we’re happy to say that neither held an advantage over the other as the Arctis 5 did a fantastic job in both scenarios, even with the flat EQ.

The fast bass drums and staccato riffs of Fear Factory didn’t overpower some of the more subtle samples that the band has become well-known for, while Cake was nearly blissful to listen to as the trumpet rang out clear above the funky bass lines that remained deep, yet articulate, without drowning out the guitar or vocals.  We’re sure that audiophiles would be disappointed, however they likely aren’t reading this review, so the rest of us should be extremely happy with the performance.

Fear Factory - Demanufacture Cake - Showroom Of Compassion

When it comes to comfort, based on the size and shape of my head along with personal preference, the Arctis 5 was very comfortable due to the fact that other than the cups, only the soft, stretchy, ski goggle-type headband makes contact.

Many headsets, including the H-Wireless, have some sort of foam on the inside of a hard headband, which compacts after a while and could cause pain, especially if you only have one cup on as I frequently do.  Thankfully with the Arctis series, that’s not the case. Those with smaller heads might have problems with the somewhat limited sizing available due to the small contact area of the Velcro.  The AirWeave pads on the inside of each cup, do a good job at keeping the headset as lightweight as possible, while still allowing your ears to still breathe, without losing any sound isolation.

Steelseries Arctis 5 - Headband Removed

Final Thoughts

There is absolutely no reason that we can think of as to why you shouldn’t own this headset.

The stereo and virtual surround sound quality found after running our usual battery of gaming, movie, and music tests, was superb. The new Clearcast microphone is far beyond many that we’ve tested before, including the one found in the much more expensive H-Wireless.

The suspension headband system is comfortable enough for some extra long sessions, and the price point is very attractive.  Couple this with the fact that our new tests found no deficiencies in the build quality, and this is one tough headset to beat

This complete package makes us wonder if some of the Siberia lineup will become obsolete? Who knows, but one thing’s for certain, SteelSeries has a winner on its hands.

As mentioned several times throughout the review, much of this comes down to either a person’s hearing abilities, or personal preference.  For me, the Arctis 5 hit all of the marks dead center.  There wasn’t a single instance where I wasn’t completely happy with this headset.

Some might cite the surround sound quality in GTA V as a possible negative point, but based on what was experienced with BF:BC2 and while watching Deadpool, we don’t feel that the headset was to blame.

Steelseries Arctis 5 - Press Shot

One small complaint, as we noted earlier, is that the ChatMix dial is so small and lightweight that it sometimes flips over if the cable is twisted even a tiny bit, or if the user takes too much slack out of the cable.  A little bit more heft in the base could possibly help with this, but it’s such a minor annoyance that we feel it’s really a non-issue.

If you want to get into one of these headsets on the ground floor, the Arctis 3 will set you back $79.99USD, while the Arctis 5 is retailing for $99.99. The big brother of the bunch, the wireless Arctis 7, is currently selling for $129.99USD.  All models are available in SteelSeries’ store, along with the replacement headbands, and other accessories.

A few of us on the staff had a quick conversation about gamer gear versus audiophile gear, and while I have yet to try a true set of audiophile headphones, I’ve tried a few gaming headsets while on the clock here at Techgage, and many more on my own time.  After a week and a half with the Arctis 5, I feel comfortable saying that it is a standout piece of gear in every sense of the word.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 7.1 Surround Sound RGB Headset - Techgage Editor's Choice
SteelSeries Arctis 5 7.1 Surround Sound RGB Headset

Pros:

  • Fantastic sound reproduction in stereo and surround sound modes in all scenarios
  • New Clearcast microphone is a major step forward
  • Suspension headband keeps the headset light and comfortable
  • Middle of the road price point for high-end quality across the board

Cons:

  • In game surround sound quality might be hit or miss depending on the title