Date: January 30, 2017
Author(s): Ryan Perry
Last month we looked at SteelSeries’ fantastic Arctis 5 surround sound headset, but now we’re looking at the top-tier headset in that product family, the Arctis 7. Knowing how well its little brother performed along with how much we liked the last wireless SteelSeries headset that we tested, means the Arctis 7 has some big shoes to fill.
Based on how well the Arctis 5 performed in an earlier review, it appears that SteelSeries can do no wrong with this product lineup, but here at Techgage, we don’t take things at face value.
The Arctis 7 boasts some serious features aimed at those who want the best wireless headset possible, and we’re here to see if it can live up to the hype.
While this model does share some similarities with the Arctis 3 and 5, there are a number of features exclusive to the 7, with the major draw being lag-free, wireless connectivity.
Read on as we break down this headset by looking at the core features, and then run it through the same tests as the Arctis 5 to see how it stacks up.
Like the other models in the Arctis lineup, the Arctis 7 is compatible with PCs, Macs, consoles, and mobile devices. It comes in either black or white, but drops the Arctis 5 RBG accents on the outside of the cups to help extend the battery life. The wireless range is listed as 12 meters or 40 feet, and battery life is advertised at 15 hours, while the charge time is one specification that’s strangely absent.
The AirWeave padding around the cups is featured across the entire product line, however there are leather ear cushions sold separately if a smoother feel is preferred. Also returning are the high performance SP1 drivers that deliver DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound straight to your ear holes (A scientific term… probably).
This time around the on-ear controls have been expanded and split between the two cups. The right cup houses the illuminated power button and the ChatMix dial used to balance in-game and incoming voice chat volumes.
The left cup holds the mini-USB charge port, audio share port, console/mobile cable port, volume dial, and microphone mute button. The controls start at the bottom of each cup and curve up the around the back slightly so that they are in line with the thumb or fingers for easy access.
Also returning is the Clearcast bi-directional, noise-cancelling microphone. It sits at the edge of the mouth when extended, but can be tucked into the left cup when not in use. Like before, the illuminated top section glows red when the mic is muted, and will slowly fade in and out when the headset is charging.
The headband design of the Arctis 7 is unique to this model in that it’s a full wrap headband compared to a half wrap found on the other models. This means that the soft, ski goggle-like material of the headband wraps the entire way around the inner metal headband that supports the cups. At no time does this metal part contact your head so the stretchy bits of the headband wrap support the weight. Sizing is again handled by a Velcro-like pad, and there are different designs available separately for this model as well.
Wireless connectivity between the Arctis 7 and a PC, Mac, or PS4 is handled by the Dual Source Audio Transmitter, and is about the size of a small cookie. Along the right side is the sync button used to pair the headset, and in the middle is a small white LED that indicates connectivity.
On either side of where the roughly 4′ USB cable connects is the line in port that can be used to connect a second audio source, and the line out port that allows audio to be played through another device such as a speaker system. The audio will go to the headset when it’s powered on, but when powered off, the audio will go to whatever device is plugged into the line out port.
Included with the Arctis 7 is another strange assortment of stickers, a card with a few links to SteelSeries’ social media accounts and the URL for support, and a product information guide. The cables included consist of the console/mobile audio cable (sorry Xbox and mobile users – you’re wired), the mini-USB charge cable, and the USB receiver.
The software interface for the Arctis 7 is again handled by SteelSeries’ Engine 3, which acts as a management hub of sorts, where all supported peripherals can be accessed and tweaked. The UI looks sparse compared that of the Arctis 5, but that’s because RGB support has been dropped on this model.
Users can enable DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound and choose from a few presets depending on the activity. You can tweak the EQ or choose from a set of separate presets, and change the amount of compression (dynamic range) to make the quiet parts loud and the loud parts quiet.
As mentioned in our Arctis 5 review, testing a headset is almost as subjective as it is objective, unless there’s a glaringly obvious shortcoming. To provide a form of standardized audio testing we went back to audiocheck.net and ran the Arctis 7 through the same tests as last time to compare this headset to its little brother, as well as a past top-end headset from SteelSeries, the H-Wireless.
We also performed another comparison test of the Clearcast microphone, gauged the comfort level of the headset, and looked at ease of use with regards to the placement of the on-ear controls and software. We also tested the battery life and the charge time with the battery completely exhausted.
Finally some general testing was performed by checking out the stereo and surround sound capabilities of the Arctis 7 in two drastically different game types, as well as while watching a movie and listening to music.
It should be said that just because we found this headset to perform a certain way doesn’t mean that others will if they were to run through the same tests. The results are affected by an individual’s hearing just as much as they are by the hardware chosen by the manufacturer.
I have hearing tests performed every 2 years that have been coming back clear, and always protect my ears if I’m playing with a band or attending a loud event. Based on this we feel confident that the vast majority of those with healthy hearing should have a similar experience.
Like before, in an effort to keep this review as short as possible, we won’t go into detail about each test and what it represents, but readers are more than free to head over to the website for more information. All tests were run with the EQ flat, and without any other options enabled unless specifically mentioned.
|Arctis 7||Arctis 5||H-Wireless|
|Spectral Flatness||Flat||Slight dip in the upper range||Slight dip in the upper range|
|Dynamic Range||72dB below full scale||66dB below full scale||66dB below full scale|
|Quality||No rattle or buzz||No rattle or buzz||No rattle or buzz|
|Driver Matching||OK||OK||Slight fluctuation towards right cup at mid-high frequencies|
Looking at the table above we see that the bass response on the Arctis 7 is superior to the Arctis 5 and H-Wireless models. The sound produced by this test became audible at the lowest level provided, which bodes well for those who wants some truly deep bottom end.
During the spectral flatness test we found that all sounds were produced perfectly without any loud peaks or quiet dips meaning that either the drivers just happen to be matched to my hearing, or that my hearing is perfect and the Arctis 7 provides absolutely flat sound production.
While I’d love to think that my hearing is indeed perfect, it’s most likely a fluke that the drivers and my ears are closely matched. Whatever the reason, this should play into our gaming, movie, and music testing quite nicely.
The other improvement over the Arctis 5 came during the Dynamic Range test. We were able to hear sounds beyond the other two test models, meaning there’s a higher level of sound isolation. If the Arctis 7 was to be used in a noisy environment, such on the go with a mobile device, the dynamic range test results show that it would block out more outside noise than the Arctis 5 or the H-Wireless. Don’t confuse this result with total isolation as noises in the next room were muffled, but still audible.
The Clearcast microphone continues to impress, although it loses some clarity and sparkle when compared to the Arctis 5. The quality is still well above the H-Wireless’ muffled recording, but there’s a noticeable difference between the two Arctis headsets. Is this due to the wireless signal? We can’t say for certain, but in our eyes, or rather ears, the Arctis 7 falls behind slightly in this round of testing.
When it comes to comfort, things started off great, but after about 10 minutes we found that the aggressive bend in the metal headband created a fair bit of clamping force on my rather large noggin. This caused quite a bit of discomfort as part of my ear made contact with the thin foam lining the covers the speaker driver due to the shallow depth of the cups, and frequent adjustments were required to alleviate the pain.
Not everybody will experience this since smaller heads mean that the cups won’t be pulled as far apart and smaller ears will fit inside the cups better than mine did. For those with larger heads and ears, one possible way to combat this is to loosen up the flexible headband a bit more than normal, and/or to very gently try to take some of the bend out of the metal headband. We don’t suggest the latter as it could damage the headset, but if you’re feeling adventurous, who are we to stop you?
When it comes to ease of use, the Arctis 7 can’t get any simpler. Headband adjustments are easily made by resizing the contact patch on the headband wrap, and all of the on-ear controls are easy to find.
If the power button were raised a bit it would be easier to find, but after a while, hitting it became second nature. The volume and Chat-Mix dials move a little too freely and can be accidentally hit, but again, once the placement is learned it became a non-issue.
The SteelSeries Engine 3 software is also as simple as it gets. The options might appear basic, but it’s all there, and laid out very clearly. There’s also a ? in each corner that gives more information on what the options do, making any learning curve minimal.
Moving on to the battery life, the advertised 19 hours must be based on the headset pumping out sound at the maximum volume for the entire duration.
With the volume set to just shy of the half way point, which was the most comfortable listening level for me, we were able to get over 23 hours of sound out of the Arctis 7. Once the headset did finally power off after the battery ran out, it was ready to go again a short 4 hours later.
In order to gauge the sound quality during every day use, we fired up Grand Theft Auto V again and tore up Los Santos for a bit while using only stereo audio, which resulted in an enjoyable listening experience.
The multitude of sounds, layered one on top of the other, coming from all different directions remained clearly audible.
With DTS surround sound enabled, we again found the audio to be thin and lack-luster with a ton of echo, which made us quickly switch back and never want to turn on surround sound with this title again. It was nasty.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 however continued to wow us, with and without surround sound enabled. Using stereo sound, we engaged in a few close range firefights on the Heavy Metal map and had a blast as the Arctis 7 provided solid sound reproduction including a ton of bass that made explosions hit extra hard.
When surround sound was kicked on however, the level of immersion was taken to the same level that we experienced with the Arctis 5.
It seemed like all 64 players converged on a single point as the scene became absolute chaos, but missed sniper shots, exploding tank shells, and mortars raining from the sky all remained crystal clear and easily detectable.
At one point it almost became too much as I found myself completely confused about where to go next because there was gunfire, yelling, and explosions coming from all sides. Running for cover seemed like my only option as I tried to calm down. Now that’s what we call immersion!
We again turned to Deadpool to provide some action and lulz for our movie testing, and we were impressed at how great things sounded in stereo. Music, voices, and sound effects all sounded large and full, but our chimichangas were blown clean off by the rich, broad soundscape once surround sound was enabled.
Moving on to music, we disabled surround sound since neither Fear Factory’s classic Demanufacture, nor Cake’s all around fantastic Showroom of Compassion were recorded to be listened to in such a manner.
Both listening experiences were easily on par with the superb Arctis 5 with the EQ flat as all elements of both albums remained crystal clear. Don’t forget to dial in that EQ though, because that’s when the Arctis 7 really shines! The heavy use of the bass drum by Fear Factory, and the wonderfully funky bass lines from Cake really stood out without drowning out any of the other elements.
In terms of sound reproduction, the Arctis 7 is about as good as it gets when it comes to an affordable, high-performance, wireless gaming headset. Without a hands on review of SteelSeries’ other wireless headset, the Siberia 840, we can’t say if the Arctis 7 makes this higher priced offering obsolete, but it should certainly wow the majority.
The audio truly is lag-free, and the audio quality is fantastic in all situations except for GTA V, which we still can’t explain even after combing through all of the audio options in the game.
Like the Arctis 5, audiophiles probably won’t be impressed, but folks who don’t feel like shelling out the cost of a car payment for a headset should be lining up in droves for one of these. From gaming to movies, to music, the Arctis 7 lived up to the hype, and as an all around headset, is an incredible bargain.
The only aspect where we were left disappointed was with the comfort of the headset during extended use. As the shallow cups are spread further apart, the clamping force on the ears becomes greater meaning those with large heads could experience some discomfort like we did. Again there are some “fixes”, but out of the box those who are “cranially gifted” might end up with some sore ears.
If we had to nit pick further, we would say that the changeable battery setup of the H-Wireless is superior to the plug-and-charge configuration of the Arctis 7. Having a second battery ready and waiting means that the H-Wireless remains wireless at all times, whereas forgetting to plug in the Arctis 7 will require you to have a cord dangling from your ear for a few hours.
This wasn’t mentioned in the main part of the review because it’s a personal preference, but the good news is that with at least 19 hours of battery life and a 4 hour charge time, the time spent plugged in should be minimal.
At $149.99, the Arctis 7 is still a steel (see what I did there?), even though it appears that the price has gone up at some of the major online retailers since we reviewed the Arctis 5 last month. Smart shoppers might still be able to find it for about $20 less though.
The only thing keeping us from awarding the Arctis 7 the Editor’s Choice Award is the comfort problems, however it truly is a fantastic headset. Our suggestion is to find one that you can test out, either at a friend’s place or at a retailer that has a demo unit. If it doesn’t hurt after a few minutes, you’re likely good to go and have found a headset that should bring your gaming, music, and movie experiences to a new level.
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