As technology continuously improves, we find that gaming headsets achieve a sound definition and rendering capability that outclasses anything that has gone before. Not only is the audio exceptional, but they usually come with high-fidelity microphones that are an advantage for the competitive pro player. On the other hand, a good many gaming headsets seem to place more of an emphasis on looks and LED lighting than on sound quality. We found the SteelSeries Arctis 5 a welcome exception, providing exceptional quality at a very competitive price, while being a headset that is comfortable enough to wear through long gaming sessions.

While the SteelSeries Arctis 5 is exceptional, it’s unavoidable that it should be compared to other SteelSeries headsets that have gone before. To avoid this to an extent, the brand has put a lot of effort into the design, making it more sophisticated and discreet. The result is both sober and pleasing to the eye. We tend to prefer the matte black model, with its sturdy plastic bow. When you use the headset, you being to understand the care that has gone into making this an optimal gaming headset.

The volume wheel integrated into the left earphone is a nice touch, for example

It controls a small amplifier in the helmet, ensuring that you have an external hardware control for your sound, no matter what the volume and adjustments made to the source sound may be.

In short, the SteelSeries Arctis 5 offers exceptionally adjustable sound, and a crystal-clear microphone. The cables are just about the only shortcoming this headset has. While the Arctis 5 allows you to connect to a device either via a 3.5 mm jack or USB, both of these connect to the headset via an adapter.

The headset itself can only plug into the adapter

The adapter for USB allows you to control and modulate the volume of the microphone through an amplifier. This really adds a completely unnecessary wire to the mix, and an extremely long one, to make things worse. Worse, the tiny adapter that is meant for the 3.5 mm plug could easily be lost. Despite all this, however, and considering the overall exceptional quality of the headset, the cables remain a relatively minor complaint.

Besides the listening hardware, there is a flexible microphone that can retract into the headset – it fits right inside the ear cup on the left. There’s also a button that mutes the microphone if necessary. Everything has been ergonomically designed to be intuitively within reach.

Within this price range, the SteelSeries Arctis 5 is just about the best gaming headset that money can buy.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 microphone slot

An exceptional profile

The SteelSeries Arctis 5 is a nice median between the usual garish gaming headset design and an understated professional level headset. It is not bulky, and it’s smooth white or black look is ideal for a dedicated pro gaming team.

The fact that the SteelSeries Arctis 5 has a professional look does not at all mean that it doesn’t have the look of a gaming headset, complete with RGB lighting. The light elements are compatible with a PC or a Mac, and they appear when you connect the headset via its USB connector to either kind of system.

While this headset isn’t what one would call small, it nevertheless has a very streamlined look, without unnecessary bumps or angles. This gives it a very elegant look that wouldn’t be out of place in a pro gaming practice room, and which would still look at home if you wore it on the subway.

Ergonomics and fit

The comfort levels of this headset, as with most SteelSeries headsets, put down just about every headset by any other brand on the market. The smooth ear cups and flexible headband are extremely well designed. They are very well ventilated, and feel soft and luxurious. They remain comfortable even if the person wearing them is wearing glasses, or happens to have a thick head of hair.

The fit is instantaneous and perfect, unlike with some headsets on the market, where one has to endlessly adjust a couple of extending rods to get the right fit.

Besides the ‘automatic fit’ of the flexible headband, there are velcro straps that can make the fit absolutely perfect. This allows for a headset that just doesn’t move out of place, no matter the game you play.

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Weight distribution

When you place it on your head, you’ll find that the SteelSeries Arctis 5 distributes its 305 grams of weight perfectly across the skull, aided by a wide band of elastic fabric. The latter can easily be detached from the headphones if you want to wash it, or swap it for another fabric strip, which can be purchased separately.

The basic design of this band is in white and black, but there are colourful alternatives. However, each of these will set you back by around twenty dollars or so. One wonders why a little piece of cloth should cost so much, but since the difference is purely decorative, you don’t have to go for a flashier headband unless you feel it will make a difference to how your team looks.

The large ear cups encompass the ears, while not placing too much pressure on the skull

As a matter of fact, there is only enough pressure to ensure that the headphones do not slip when making sudden movements of the head. This can be crucial in pro-gaming, but is equally crucial in another up and coming field of gaming, virtual reality. The pads of each cup are extremely comfortable, while micro vents ensure that they do not heat up on the inside, and this after hours of pro gameplay.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 Drivers

The SteelSeries Arctis 5 drivers are nothing short of exceptional. The headset uses 40 millimetre drivers of neodymium that respond in a frequency range of between twenty to twenty thousand hertz, while the microphone responds in the hundred hertz to the ten thousand hertz range. The headphone’s sensitivity ranges to about ninety eight decibels. The maximum distortion of the harmonics of the headphone never exceeds more than three percent.

These technical specifications show just how powerful the SteelSeries Arctis 5 really is

Especially on a PC, Mac or an Xbox, the USB connection allows a surround sound that is incredible to experience, utterly immersive.

Did you know that the SteelSeries Arctis 5 drivers are the same drivers that the best and most expensive headsets that SteelSeries turns out use? The very same, yet with the SteelSeries Arctis 5, you get that superb sound quality at a fraction of the cost of the company’s premium headsets.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 RGB

SteelSeries Arctis 5 in Games

With a headset as optimally configurable as the Arctis 5, setting the optimal configuration for one particular game can actually be a challenge, as well as interesting. As an example, the surround sound system optimally suits Overwatch, while being less than optimal for a game like The Witcher 3. With Witcher 3 it’s best to turn off the surround sound because, while it makes the in-game sound and music sound incredible, the speech channel seems a trifle subdued, so NPC characters don’t sound too realistic. This can be easily adjusted with a little customization and tweaking.

However, the very same original settings work incredibly well in Overwatch

In Overwatch, being able to judge the direction a sound is coming from can be crucial, and the game demands an excellent ‘soundstage’. That’s where the Arctis 5 seems to excel. You can hear footsteps, and judge the exact direction those footsteps are coming from. You can hear ulti trigger sounds and weapons, and judge the location and direction of each precisely. This gives you a massive advantage in-game.

Other games like Marvel Heroes and Starcraft II also seem to work exceptionally well without much tweaking at all. The default sound not only sounds great, it also delivers exactly what’s needed from the point of view of gameplay.

Besides which, the tonal range is exciting and the depth excellent

One of the most excellent features of how sound is set up with this headset is that the bass is pleasantly understated, unlike with some headsets, with which there’s a distinct danger of hearing damage. This doesn’t mean that explosions do not feel real, because they do, but they are unlikely to result in hearing loss.

The customization capabilities of this headset are almost infinite, which means that you can set it to be perfect for virtually any game you wish to play. However, with most games, the default settings also work very well.

The headset has an adapter with a 3.5mm jack

This means that it can work with both the Xbox One and the PS4. While the surround sound isn’t as good as with a USB plug and a PC (a 3.5mm jack can’t match the USBs surround sound capabilities), it is nevertheless perfectly adequate.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 PS4

The Arctis 5 works very well with the PS4. There’s a dial that allows for perfect modulation of voice chat in multiplayer, which is a distinct advantage. Whether you go with the white or black model, it will go very well with the architecture of the PS4 and its accessories, even the PSVR and its wand controllers.

The headset doest not support a great many characteristics (such as the RGB lighting) if you use it directly with the 3.5mm jack, but there’s a way around that. You need to use a fairly small-sized USB mixer that connects to the PS4. When you connect the headset to this, you’ll find that RGB works just fine, as does the dial that allows you to selectively amplify chat or the game volume, which is a very useful in-game feature in multiplayer.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 volume dial

While the sound on the PS4 will not match the finest and most expensive dedicated PS4 headsets on the market today, for the price of the Arctis 5, it is certainly more than acceptable. The audio is more than exceptional for any headset in this price range, and the same applies for the attached microphone. While it cannot compete with the best and the most expensive headsets, it still represents pure performance and superb quality.

Music Quality

The Arctis 5 is a dedicated gamer’s headset, and is best suited to hardcore or pro gaming. While that’s what it works as best, it can also be used for music. The vocals come through with surprising clarity, while the treble is strong. The mediums are present, a little too powerful compared to a treble that occupies substantially the same place on the frequency spectrum and tends to be a little stifled by the mid frequencies.

The highs are quite crystalline and are well suited for listening to classical music or more dynamic titles. The percussion range and the bass are also powerful enough to make most music genres truly enjoyable. The distortion levels on music are very low, and do not have the massive emphasis on bass that is a signature of most gaming headsets, and which tends to make them unsuitable for playing music.

If you’d like a headset for your computer for casual listening, the Arctis 5 is certainly more than adequate for this. The attached software for the headset, called the SteelSeries Engine 3, has presets that are perfectly suited to listening to music or watching movies. On a PC, the surround sound with these presets is nothing short of excellent. And all this is on the default settings – if you actually do a little tweaking, you can achieve even more optimal results.

Capabilities and features

With the Arctis 5, SteelSeries delivers two tips to place at the end of the cable (137 cm) of the helmet, in order to use it with a console, PC or smartphone. The first tip is a conventional 3.5mm jack. The second end is, for its part, a small casing surmounted by a wheel. It ends with a USB cable (185 cm), and is called a ChatMix Dial. This allows the headset the ability to effortlessly adjust, by turning the dial, the mix between the sound of the game and that of a possible chat software (Discord, Mumble , TeamSpeak). It works very well and requires only a few minutes of configuration to be operational.

The SteelSeries Engine 3

The SteelSeries Engine 3 has a lot of customisation options, as we’ve already explained, far more than most users will even use. However, the excessive options ensure that you will always be able to get the results and effects you want with this headset.

The RGB lighting on the headset can also be set to presets and individually programmed to profiles. There can be different profiles for this, set to different games. It would take the average person about an hour to set up profiles for all the different games and apps they like, which isn’t too much time, and is actually bound to be interesting and a lot of fun. Doing this utterly optimizes your soundscape and audio experienced for many games. The Immersion setting seems to do best for Witcher 3, while Overwatch seems to sound much better on Performance.

There’s a small button that activates or deactivates microphone transmission

The microphone itself can retract into the left earpiece, which is quite convenient for when you don’t need it. This microphone has also been upgraded, and, while it cannot quite compare to a stand-alone high-end microphone, certainly comes very close to that standard.

The microphone itself is bi-directional, and offers excellent clarity, while also cancelling out background noises. Do note that it will tend to emphasize certain consonants, a failing of many high-end microphones. The best way to deal with this is to angle the microphone so that your mouth isn’t too near to the microphone. After that, the ability to balance the chat with in-game sounds assures you of clarity in both speech and in the in-game soundscape.

SteelSeries Arctis 5 vs 3

Since there are a trio of models in the Arctis series, it’s a good thing to compare them with each other a bit. The Arctis 3 is by far the cheapest option, but is not at all as sophisticated as the 5, not being compatible with either the SteelSeries Engine 3 that allows limitless customization, nor allowing for the full range of surround sound that the Arctis 5 and the Arctis 7 are capable of. The 3 also does not have RGB lighting. The Arctis 7 is at the other end of the spectrum, being nearly twice the price of the 3, and is exceptionally sturdy, being made of steel (an alloy that is very light in weight). The 3 and the 5, in comparison, are constructed of hard plastic.

SteelSeries Arctis 3 box

The Arctis 5 is a reasonable middle ground between the two

It has almost everything the Arctis 7 has, including its excellent drivers and sound quality. The Arctis 5 has a USB connection, and is compatible with the SteelSeries Engine 3, and thus capable of almost infinite customization. It also has the RGB lighting. The Arctis 3 lacks those features. The only features of the Arctis 7 that the 5 lacks are the steel construction and a USB dongle that allows the 7 to go wireless. The 5’s much more affordable price more than makes up for that, and makes the Arctis 5 by far the best option for the dedicated gamer without limitless access to cash.

To Buy or not to Buy?

We don’t have to spell it out. The previous paragraph does that. The Arctis 5 is an optimal gaming headset, boasting hardware and software that can be infinitely refined to best suit your favourite games and apps. The only downside is the cables, which can be a little unwieldy. If you have the extra money, you could go for the Arctis 7, if you seriously object to this. Otherwise, a few zip-ties will keep those cables folded neatly and at a reasonable length at no extra cost to you.

Should you buy the Arctis 5?

Absolutely. If an optimal gaming headset at a very reasonable price is what you want to go with your latest gaming experience.


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