SteelSeries Arctis 7 Headset Review: Great Sound Meets Tons of Functionality
SteelSeries makes a lot of excellent gaming peripherals -- especially keyboards. (In fact, its circular logo is branded on the keyboard I'm using to write this review.) And its line of Arctis headsets is only compounding that reputation.
Available in three different models at a variety of price points, the Arctis line is engineered to be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. If you're the sort of gamer who will spend 8+ hours in your cans, SteelSeries designed this headset with you in mind.
After spending a fair amount of time with their top-end wireless Arctis 7 model, it's clear that SteelSeries wants to give players the coziest experience it can, but without sacrificing great sound in the process. And in spite of a few minor issues, this headset has done just that.
The Arctis 7 is a sleek wireless model that comes packed with inline volume controls, an adjustable headband, and a retractable mic. Unboxing reveals the usual USB wireless amplifier setup, along with a micro USB charging cable and a regular 3.5mm auxiliary cable for wired use with mobile devices and the like.
The headset itself is incredibly lightweight, sporting a smooth metal casing and padded ear cups. The proprietary feature is its velcro headband, which uses a ski goggle material and design to provide extra comfort for long hours at a time. Rather than fiddling with sliding arms on either side to get the right fit, you can simply adjust the band and let its elasticity do all the work for you.
Although the largest in its line, the Arctis 7 is still a surprisingly small headset -- which makes it great for traveling. Because the ear cups can be rotated to lie flat, it's easy to take this set of cans anywhere. And its diminutive size compared to other gaming headsets means that you won't get weird looks if you decide to whip it out for some Pokemon Go while taking a walk in the park.
Made For All-Day Wear
Because of its buoyant ski band, the Arctis 7 feels unlike any other headset on the market. Rather than using padding and memory foam to mitigate discomfort through long periods of wear, this headset distributes its weight across the band so it doesn't put as much pressure on your head overall.
The padded cups sit snugly on either side to seal in any sound coming from the headset, and they're breathable enough that you won't be going incommunicado to give your ears a rest.
But there is one problem...
If you're a gamer who wears glasses or has piercings (or in my case, both), it's worth noting that the small size and snug fit of the Arctis 7 might actually be uncomfortable for you. When I first tried it on, it put way too much pressure on several of my piercings, and pinched my glasses a bit as well.
A little bit of adjustment to the headband helped to some degree, but not as much as I wanted. And while the problem did sort of go away the more I wore in the headset, it did get bothersome enough at times that I had to switch back to my standard HyperX Stinger every now and again.
Sweet, Sweet Surround Sound
The Arctis 7 packs in both stereo and DTS 7.1 surround sound. And using the SteelSeries Engine 3 program, you can dig deep into tons of different configurations and profiles to create the best sound experience possible.
Like any other gaming peripheral worth its salt, you can link certain profiles and their sound settings to specific games, so that you'll always have the right configuration no matter what you're playing. I was able to play up the sounds of enemy abilities and movement in games like SMITE or Paladins, then quickly switch to a more balanced and immersive sound profile for games like Elder Scrolls Online or Skyrim.
On the whole, the surround sound was quite impressive. There was a notable difference between the stereo and 7.1 settings, and it made a world of difference in games where being attuned to enemy movement and action is paramount. In SMITE, I could hear a Loki ult coming from a mile away. And in Paladins, the excellent sound positioning in 7.1 mode made it much easier to pin down flankers like Skye.
But where the Arctis 7 really shines is in a game like Horizon Zero Dawn. Since it's fully compatible with consoles, I tested it out on my PS4 to excellent results. Sound is incredibly important in Horizon, and this headset gave the aural aspects of the game a sort of depth that I had been totally unaware of before. The music was richer, the dialogue more rounded, and the sounds of enemies were crystal clear. The keen sound positioning really caught me by surprise a few times, and more than once I felt a tinge of goosebumps upon hearing the metallic skittering of a Watcher trying to sneak up from behind.
If I were the sort to play horror games, I can only imagine how this would add to the fear factor.
Something is definitely lost when using this headset in stereo mode, but even then it sounds pretty great. The audio quality is still leagues above other stereo-only headsets on the market -- and when coupled with the size, it makes the Arctis an ideal on-the-go headset. I went on several outings with Spotify running through it and never had an issue. The headset doesn't quite translate musical sound as well as it does in-game sound, but it's a hell of a lot better than other travel-oriented headsets I've tried out.
Small Features Make a Big Difference
Although its full-bodied sound and innovative design are the main draws for this flagship headset, there are lots of little features that really make the Arctis 7 shine.
The inline controls on either side, for example, made adjusting both the audio input and chat output a breeze. I could quickly turn up my in-game volume during hushed dialogue scenes, or turn down my mic when I started to rage at randoms in SMITE matches. And though it's a feature I've come to expect from most headsets, being able to mute myself entirely without fumbling for mute toggles in Discord or Skype was a boon as well.
And that microphone...
Although there's a lot to love, my favorite feature of the Arctis 7 was actually its microphone. Since I spend most of my time using HyperX and Logitech headsets, I'm used to having microphones that either swivel up or detach entirely. But the Arctis 7 mic slides discreetly into the headset instead.
This is a blessing in disguise for someone like me. Every headset I've ever owned has suffered a broken mic before any other sort of wear, because I tend to put them through the wringer with how often I'm adjusting, muting, re-adjusting, etc. An exposed mic will never last long in my headset usage. But the Arctis 7's design makes the mic much less intrusive, and shields it from the sort of wear and tear that plagues my other cans. I could have the mic out when I needed it, then put it out of sight (and out of danger) when I didn't.
The fantastic sound quality and noise cancellation are really just a bonus. Even if they had been sub-par (and they definitely weren't), this would still be my favorite microphone of any headset I've ever used.
The few downsides the Arctis has don't really diminish the great experience it delivers on the whole. Some might find its snug fit a bit too snug, and there's not as much room for adjustment as you'll find on other models. And while its wireless capabilities are totally lag-free, the range is a bit shorter than others at its price point -- notably, the Logitech G533.
But on the whole, the Arctis 7 delivers everything you'd expect (and a little bit more) for the price tag. If you've got $150 to throw down on a solid set of cans, this model should be at the top of your consideration list. And even if your wallet isn't quite that deep, you pick up the Arctis 5 at $100, or the Arctis 3 at $80.
The bottom line is: this headset packs in a lot of great features for the money you're spending. The sound quality is top-tier, its size makes it ultra-portable, and the miscellaneous features take it from "great headset" to "awesome headset". And its wide range of compatibility is a huge plus, too. As an all-purpose surround sound headset, it's hard to beat the Arctis 7.
Note: SteelSeries provided the Arctis 7 used for this review.