Whether a frequent LAN goer or the family computer happens to share the bedroom, there are plenty of reasons why a good quality headset might be needed. 105mm Howitzer fire going off at 1am on a Monday morning with your window wide open and your neighbors bedroom about ten feet away would be an ideal example! The SteelSound 3H we have for this review is the most economical headset offered by SteelSeries. Nonetheless these are marketed as a professional gaming headset, therefore I will test them accordingly.
When I mention SteelSeries I’m sure some of the gamers out there will recognize the name. SteelSeries is about professional gaming gear. They offer everything a gamer would use from gaming mouse pads to gaming keyboards, even security software designed for the online gamer. They may likely be best known for their SteelPad series of mouse pads, including their original all-aluminum SteelPad 4S. Today we are taking a look at the SteelSound 3H Retractable Headset which will by my first product review from SteelSeries. Bjorn3D has previously reviewed the SteelSound 4H headset here.
Whether a frequent LAN goer or the family computer happens to share the bedroom, there are plenty of reasons why a good quality headset might be needed. 105mm Howitzer fire going off at 1am on a Monday morning with your window wide open and your neighbor’s bedroom about ten feet away would be an ideal example! The SteelSound 3H we have for this review is the most economical headset offered by SteelSeries. Nonetheless these are marketed as a “professional gaming headset”, therefore I will test them accordingly.
SteelSeries is all about gaming. Our mission is to create performance enhancing gaming gear, created for and by leading professional gamers. We continuously strive to better ourselves, and work with leading professional gamers from 3 different continents to create our products.
Our staff is distributed throughout the world, working from offices in Europe, North America and Asia.
The SteelSeries headquarters are located in Europe (Copenhagen, Denmark), and host the primary office facilities for the company. The headquarters handle all planning, production and partner coordination.
For logistical reasons we also have sales offices in Asia (Taipei, Taiwan) and USA (Los Angeles, California). From Taipei we can each the entire Asian market, as well as New Zealand and Australia. From Los Angeles we can reach North America, Canada and South America. All manufacturing is done by sub-suppliers from Europe and Asia, and then delivered to one of our warehouses for final processing.
SteelSound 3H at a glance:
- Foldable/collapsible lightweight gaming headset
- Retractable non-directional microphone system
- Comfortable to use, easy to transport
- Developed in cooperation with professional gamers
- Strong bass for optimal in-game sound projection
- 40mm SteelSound SunDancer(LCP) Units
- Frequency response: 10 – 27.000 Hz
- Impedance: 50 Ohm
- SPL@1kHz, 1Vrms 102dB
- Cable: 2 meters (6.5 feet)
- Frequency response: 50 – 18.000 Hz
- Pick up pattern: Non-directional
- Sensitivity: -40 dB
- Impedance: 2.2K Ohm
A CLOSER LOOK
This headset arrived in the usual plastic-on-cardboard blister packaging. And yes, the package really has that large “FRAG YOU!” printed on the back. Eye catching, no? Also nice to note this headset is RoHS compliant. Up to ten different languages are duplicated on the back of the packaging and inside advertisements.
The headset itself is extremely light-weight due to its all plastic contruction and thin vinyl headstrap. This does give the unit a “cheap” feel, but the construction was not shoddy nor poor. Also each earpiece can be adjusted downwards for best fit as needed.
Below we can notice the speaker out and mic-in plugs share the same cord. The headset is built so the speaker cord actually connects to the right side earcup, while the mic boom can be extended from the left earcup when needed.
Included in the package was more advertisements for other SteelSeries products and a brief, obligatory anti-lawsuit warning to always use safe volume levels otherwise you might actually damage your hearing. Who would ever have thought that could happen, really?
I’d better start with the obligatory warning that everyone’s hearing and opinions can vary, so my opinion (and ears) may not be quite the same as yours. Therefore as much as I would like to run a few conclusive benchmarks, I can only provide a subjective analysis on the audio quality and other aspects of this headset.
Donning the SteelSound 3H was a simple affair. I will forewarn that this reviewer is disinclined towards any set of half-cup style headphones, so when I say as expected the fit was not don-and-forget then it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Full-cup size stereophones not only make for a better seal around the ear but also put the pressure against the wearer’s head instead of molding the wearer’s ear into an uncomfortable shape. This already hints that this set of headphones may not be better suited for extended use as they are of the half-cup variety.
To gain a better idea for the audio quality comparison I donned my own KOSS UR-30 stereophones which I have faithfully used for so long that Froogle (Now simply known as Google Product Search) doesn’t even list them anymore. MSRP on them fell within the same $35-50 range of the SteelSound 3H, so I consider them to be a valid comparison despite the lack of a milc.
At first when plugged directly into the P180’s front audio out port, audio quality was pretty poor due to the audio sounding “tinny” with a lack of any bass to be found whatsoever. Thankfully I later tried the audio out jack on my computer’s speaker system and was amazed at the stark difference in quality. The nonexistent bass was no longer missing and the audio fidelity went from tinny to good. In fact the fidelity is better than my own KOSS UR-30 stereophones with a slightly more crisp audio quality. Also interestingly noticed was that the SteelSound 3H required a much lower volume setting to output the same level of sound compared to the KOSS UR-30 stereophones plugged into the same port, due to the difference in impedance between both headphones.
The average game can easily last for 30 minutes to over an hour, let alone mentioning those extended gaming sessions with a favorite RPG style game or the regular Saturday night Counterstrike LAN party! After a little over an hour of use I would have to start adjusting the SteelSound 3H headset as after an hour it would quickly grow uncomfortable. Approaching two hours of use was becoming painful and was my tolerance limit.
For short term use however they fit comfortably, even despite that I happen to wear glasses. If these had simply come in a full-size cup then I doubt wearing these for extended periods would have been a problem at all, and hence why I stated I have a preference for full-size stereophones.
The SteelSound 3H was compared with the KOSS UR-30, and then I listened to the same variety of tracks of music a third time over a 5.1 surround speaker system to discern any apparent differences in quality.
While the lower end of the bass range–best characterized by that loud reverb you frequently feel more than hear from that car sitting in the lane next to you–was absent, this is expected with all but the most expensive headphones out there contrary to whatever the specifications claim. Overall sounds were indeed very clear and discernable, with just enough bass response that it wouldn’t become missed.
These headphones do not block out or even appreciably diminish surrounding environmental noise. In some cases where the user needs to hear what is going on around them this is fine, but in the majority of cases listeners tend to prefer a completely submersed experience with their music which this headset cannot give.
There is some dispute regarding the type of microphone the 3H uses on the SteelSeries information page. The paragraph above the spec table lists the 3H as having a uni-directional mic, however the actual spec table itself says “Non-directional”.
A uni-directional microphone is sensitive to sounds from only one direction and is intended to help diminish background noise such as from a noisy nearby computer or its speakers. After some testing I can say this mic is non-directional, it faithfully reproduced not just my voice but the background environment noise, with again surprisingly good fidelity I will add. I should elaborate the mic was not especially sensitive, it did not reproduce background noise from the nearby (quiet) computer or anything below a certain threshold. The mic easily picked up and recorded any playing background music if played at more than a whisper though, so anything nearing a normal speaking volume will be picked up by the microphone.
Voice quality is better than some $10 desktop microphones I’ve used in the past for online voice chatting during games. My voice came through clean and crisp without any of the usual background distortion or static.
A quick glance around found at least a few headsets at the $50 MSRP price range offering noise canceling microphones and almost all with uni-drectional mics. Also there is no in-line volume control or microphone mute switch, which can be a hindrance when unable to alt-tab out of a game to adjust the sound properties when the action heats up. Comparable models at this price tended to offer at least some in-line controls.
This headset offers the bare essentials which means no in-line volume, mute, or microphone mute controls are included. The mic quality was surprisingly good in practice and the audio quality would be great for games, but not for music for any audiophiles out there. Due to the half-cup size cushions, using these for any extended length of time (after an hour or more) would become uncomfortable or even slightly painful. Since a great many games can last much longer than an hour, this was unacceptable for a professional gaming headset and by far was the 3H’s largest shortcoming. It is also probably why the 3H is the only half-cup headset found under the SteelSound brand.
While far from the best buy out there, I can say that buyers could still do far worse than these (well, unless you happen to pay the full $49.99 MSRP that is). A quick search showed prices were at a much more realistic $35 or slightly less at more than a few online merchants.
Even so if my own KOSS UR-30 headphones died today, would I buy this “Professional Gaming Headset”? The answer would truthfully be no, I would spend a little extra to find a full-cup sized headset with audiophile quality sound within the slightly higher $40-$60 range. It just so happens that for about $10 more you can find just that from SteelSound with their full-size 4H and 5H series headsets (Bjorn3D has previously reviewed the SteelSound 4H already). The results will be well worth the slightly higher cost, so that is what I will recommend for anyone considering purchasing a SteelSound headset.
+ Compact, folding design
+ Crisp Sound/Mic Fidelity
– Uncomfortable for extended use
– Average Bass Response
– No In-line Controls
Final Score: 6.0 (Pretty Good) out of 10.
Word of Thanks
I’d like to personally extend my appreciation to SteelSeries for sending in a retail sample of this product for review. Without companies like them willing to take the risk, time, and cost to send in products for review sites like Bjorn3d wouldn’t be nearly where they are at today!