Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20000Hz Wireless Range: 12m (40ft) straight line
Weight: 297g (without battery) Latency: <16ms, fixed
Max Volume: 100dB* SPL @ 1kHz Ports: Analog In, Analog Out, mini USB
Ports: Wired Mode / Share Port Optical In, Optical Out, Power
Chat port, mini USB FW update port Battery Type: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion
Battery Life: 20 hours per pack
A quality headset is, in my humble and ever-so-slightly erratic opinion, one of the best investments any dedicated gamer can make. In truth nothing can match the might of a proper 7.1 surround sound speaker system dominating the room, but even a semi-decent setup of this nature can be a major blow to your bank account, and not many people have the space for seven speakers and a sub-woofer. A good 7.1 headset, though, is a more realistic option for many, and can be a truly wonderous thing, massively improve your gaming experience, all while leaving you able to play late at night when the family are asleep in the other room.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to try out a fair few headsets, donning them as a knight dons his armour, only with considerably less pomp and squeaky hinges. The only truly notable exception to my list of tested head-gear being the much-loved Astro A50, a caveat which I one day hope to remedy. Hint, hint, Astro, hint, hint. Most of those I’ve tested have been at least good, but my favorite became Turtle Beach’s PX5, which have set proudly underneath my TV for some considerable time now, their wireless brilliance bringing a smile to my face whenever I used them. Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying out the relatively new Steelseries H Wireless, a wireless 7.1 surround sound headset boasting a big price-tag. And do you know what? My PX5 isn’t sitting under the TV any more.
In terms of comfort the H Wireless fairs really rather well, sporting a thickly padded headband and relatively large earcups with an equally lavish amount of cushioning that also successfully stops too much sound escaping. Though still quite different from the real thing the pleather on offer here is of much higher quality than found on cheaper products and has a slow rebound, meaning there’s pretty much no break-in time. They do grip rather tightly, something which those with a larger head will wish to keep in mind, but overall are a very comfy pair of headphones which caused me no discomfort throughout testing, even during lengthy sessions of gaming and film-watching. At 297g (without batteries) the H Wireless is also one of the lighter headsets I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying, but that lack of weight doesn’t translate into them feeling flimsy.
They also happen to look rather nice, I reckon, with a clean, black aesthetic that doesn’t feel the need to draw attention to itself. Some orange stitching finishes it off with a touch of color and personality. Likewise the overall build quality is hard to find fault with, soft plastic atop the headband and a general sense of sturdiness giving them a well-made aura. I won’t say they quite feel like £250 in your hands, but then much the same can be said about the majority of expensive gaming peripherals. It’s the performance that counts, and as I’m going to spend a lot of time explaining later, the H Wireless certainly isn’t lacking in that department.
My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is that the two buttons located on the headset, one which controls power and the other which mutes the microphone, are a little on the small side, making them a bit tougher to locate through feel. Given how quickly one commits their placement to memory, though, it’s doubtful that this will be anything other than a very minor inconvenience for a short while.
Connectivity is always an important question when it comes to picking up new gear, and the H Wireless doesn’t disappoint in this regard, coming packaged with enough cables and wires to successfully hook up to just about anything that produces sound, although for obvious reasons I would not recommend attempting to connect it your cat/dog/wife/husband or children. Included in the box is optical, analog 3.5mm, USB, mobile, power and chat cables, enabling the headset to be connected to a PC, PS3, PS4 Xbox 360, numerous different tablets and phones, and even directly to a TV or DVD/Blu-ray player. For testing purposes I hooked the headset up directly to my Blu-ray player, Xbox 360, PC and Xbox One. The Xbox One is not on the official list of compatible products for the Wireless H, but after testing I can confirm that the headset will draw audio from Microsoft’s console using the included optical cable, though due to the limitations of the Xbox One itself only standard stereo sound is available using this method. It’s also worth noting that currently there’s no way of using the chat feature when connected to an Xbox One, though Microsoft have recently announced an official adapter for this purpose. In short if you’re an Xbox One owner looking for a new headset simply stop reading now: being stuck at standard stereo audio and a lack of chat make it pointless to consider the Steelseries Wireless H, at least until Microsoft enable better audio options. A normal stereo headset is what you need.
The wireless receiver is a relatively small little black box that blends in nicely with the environment, its small frame and straightforward design allowing it to sit innocuously amidst consoles, blu-ray players and speakers. Tasked with producing the crisp Dolby Surround Sound that is then transmitted directly to the headset via the magic of witchcraft, it’s powered by simply plugging it into a wall socket. Located on the front of this box of sorcery is a simple OLED screen from which you can access and tweak a variety of options, setting up the different sources you’re feeding into the receiver. While the screen certainly won’t be winning any awards for stunning presentation it’s an easy system to navigate, which is frankly far more important. Different profiles can also be created so that you can quickly jump between settings for watching movies or gaming, while Dolby can also be turned on or off as the situation requires.
There’s a total of five equalizer settings to pick from, each altering the audio a touch to better suit the task at hand, but should these prove to be of little use to you, or should you simply like playing around with stuff, then you’re also free to create your own equalizer settings and save them as well.
If you’re relaxed in your favorite armchair then it’s also possible to cycle through the menus using the controls positioned on the headset itself, the volume spinner acting as both a directional controller and clickable button, allowing you to quickly alter settings without having to venture over to the receiver. This is a feature I greatly appreciated when watching Game of Thrones with a beer in hand, and really just couldn’t be bothered getting up to swap over equalise presets. However, not everything can be accessed using this method, most notably the receiver’s standby mode which is inexplicably buried within several menus. Why there’s no simple off-switch located on the receiver itself is something of a mystery, so do keep in mind that if you want to actually turn the unit off completely you’ll need to do so at the wall.
According to Steelseries the H Wireless boasts an impressive signal range of 40ft, a bold claim I immediately set about testing. Leaving the receiver parked underneath my TV I began to walk around my house, first staying within the confines of my room, a range of around 10ft, before then moving down the stairs and into other rooms. To my surprise the signal remained clear and strong even when I was on the floor below. To the horror of my family this now means I can idly wander around the house singing the lyrics to Back in Black by AC/DC. They’ll never know peace again.
Ever the curse of wireless products is the threat of running out of battery power at exactly the wrong moment, a universal sod’s law if ever there was one. The inevitable death of the battery always seems to occur at precisely the worst moment that it possibly could, forcing you to hurriedly fumble with a fresh set, assuming you’d even remembered to put any on charge. It’s the price we pay for having the relative freedom to wander over to the fridge and grab a beer, all while continuing to listen to an angry teenager from some country we’ve never heard of whose grasp of the English langauge seems to revolve entirely around one’s mother. Thus we have arrived at what is arguably my favorite two features of the H Wireless, aside from its outstanding audio quality; in-built charging and impressive battery life. The H Wireless comes packing two square, black lithium-ion batteries, and when not in use the spare pack can be slid neatly into a slot on the right-hand side of the receiver, where it’s then charged. As soon as the battery in your headset dies you simply remove the earcup, yank out the battery pack and replace it with the fresh one from the receiver, slotting the used cartridge in its place.
Of course this doesn’t eliminate the threat of a battery dying at the most inopportune moment possible, but it does lessen the problem considerably by making it easier and more convenient to keep a backup battery charged. Furthermore the simple, clear OLED screen on the receiver displays both the current charge level of the battery contained within and that of the one in your earphones, allowing for constant monitoring of how long one has before another change is required, so you can always pre-empt the swap during a quiet moment in-game. The final icing on the cake is some impressive battery life, claimed by Steelseries to be 20-hours per pack. In my experience 15-hours is more accurate, but that’s still a good number. I found that swapping batteries became a far less common practice than I’m used to, almost managing to eliminate entirely one of the most significant weaknesses that wireless headsets have had over the years. I tip my hat to you, Steelseries.
If there is but one flaw that I’d mention is that there’s no way to plug the headset in and charge the battery directly whilst in use, a feature that could have obviously been of benefit should a gamer forget to place one of the battery packs in the receiver for charging.
In keeping with tradition the Wireless H also features Steelseries’ Chatmix and Livemix features, both designed to help balance in-game sound with the volume of the loud-mouthed armies of teenagers that inhabit the wonderful world of online gaming. Chatmix allows one to manually adjust the balance between game and chat volume in order to find the perfect blend, while Livemix does the whole thing automatically for you, turning down in-game audio and turning up the chat volume whenever it detects someone talking. It’s a handy feature, and while at first having the audio adjust itself is a little strange it generally does a good job of it. It’s still witchcraft, though.
Finally we arrive at the thorny issue of performance, and I say thorny because much like I stated when reviewing the Steelseries Rival mouse, at this level of brilliance it becomes damn hard to declare one headset better than another, or to even pinpoint the subtle differences between them. Making the issue more complex is the simple fact that talking about audio is a rather subjective thing. This, then, is simply a description of how I perceive the headset’s performance to be, and thus it is important to understand that I am by no means an audiophile. I appreciate great audio, possibly more so than most, but have not the talent to dissect it to the same degree as a true audiophile.
Packing in three different Dolby technologies in the form of Dolby Headphone, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Pro Logic IIx along with Steelseries latest generation of speaker drivers the H Wireless delivers absolutely beautiful 7.1 audio which arguably has the best virtual positioning I’ve heard. No matter how much they claim otherwise headsets can never match a true 7.1 speaker system when it comes to creating positional audio, because it simply isn’t a physical possibility, but the H Wireless does as well as I can ever imagine a headset being able to do, managing to create a wonderful facsimile of true surround sound. Fire up a shooter and you can pinpoint the direction of enemy footsteps, using them to guide you to your foes location. Should somebody be foolish enough to reload you’ll hone in on them within seconds, ending their miserable existence. Then load up something like Battefield 4 and close your eyes – just for a second you could believe you were standing in the middle of a war, able to distinguish the tiniest details amidst the glorious destruction, your mind calculating the exact position of every sound.
It’s not just shooters, though. Hitman: Absolution’s second mission, the King of Chinatown, takes place in a small market bustling with thousands of people, all crammed together, creating a cacophony of sound. With the H Wireless headset firmly attached to my cranium I began picking out detail to the audio that I simply had not noted before, while the positional audio gave the entire level a sense of genuine place. Equally Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag sounded utterly beautiful, the hustle and bustle of towns again making great use of that positional tech, whilst naval battles were brought to life through sheer power, the roar of the storm damn near deafening and crack of guns ringing true.
The bass doesn’t quite have the same power or depth as other headsets I’ve tested, the only genuine complaint that I can muster, though one I feel a tad half-hearted about. It’s a perfectly sufficient level of bass, make no mistake of that, and performs very well when gaming, but when it comes to watching a movie or listening to certain pieces of music there’s definitely just a little something missing. Explosions don’t quite have the oomph that other headsets can generate, but it’s more noticeable when listening to a bass heavy song. Therefore if you’re a complete bass nut, the kind of person that demands an Earth shattering degree of power, then this small criticism may hold some sway over you, otherwise it’s just fine.
If I really wanted to pick the audio apart I’d hazard that the highest end of the sound spectrum is a little on the dry side, something which can effect any music with a lot of percussion instruments. Should you desire a rich audio experience in regards to music then there’s other offerings on the market far better suited to your desires, likewise even for movies there are better choices than the H Wireless. But then, the H Wireless is designed for gaming, and the fact that the headset performs as well as it does outside of that chosen domain is damn impressive. Both the bass and dryness are countered by the fact that everything between them is utterly superb, the H Wireless delivering crystal clear, powerful audio from the lows to the highs.
In terms of sheer volume the H Wireless might just be a little limited for some. The volume peaks at just about the maximum level I could ever imagine myself requiring, which is pretty damn loud, but for those of you reading who like to have the option to make your eyes bleed and brain melt the H Wireless may not quite be able to reach those requirements.
Packed away in the left earcup is the retractable microphone, a staple of Steelseries design. When muted the tip of the mic will glow a faint red, hopefully ensuring that you never accidentally say anything over the Internet that you didn’t mean to, although sadly we must all accept that such precautions will never put a stop to those infuriating people who insist on singing down the microphone for all the world to hear. As for the quality of the audio produced by the microphone it was quite good – not exceptional, but good. Friends online reported that they had no problem understanding what I was saying.
But what of the price-tag? I’ve made my stance clear before in numerous reviews, but for the sake of clarity it bears repeating: pricing isn’t something I factor into my final opinion of any game or product because what I personally view as good value for money may not be what somebody else views as good value. However, while money does not alter my final view it’s still a topic worth talking about in certain cases, especially when dealing with something so expensive. With a current asking price of £254.66 on Steelseries’ official site the H Wireless is not an easily affordable option for the large majority of gamers out there, though it remains more viable than a full 7.1 speaker setup for most. It’s up to you whether or not you believe the level of quality I’ve described warrants the price.
It’s nearly impossible to explain in the medium of written word how much of a difference high quality audio makes when gaming, especially to someone who has always simply accepted in-built TV speakers as being perfectly fine. The modern flat-screen TVs are absolutely stunning pieces of technology, but their size comes with a price: the speakers are trash. And yet most people never realise that, until you plonk them in front of good speakers or whack a good set of headphones on their head, at which point their mind is almost literally blown. It’s not just that the audio becomes richer, deeper and more powerful, because it does, it’s that suddenly there’s just so much more to be heard. An actor’s performance becomes more impressive as you can hear subtle nuances in their voice, a sweeping orchestral score becomes a force of nature, sweeping over you, while a game suddenly comes to life with tiny audio details, giving rise to a far better appreciate of sound design.
In a strange way reviewing the H Wireless has been something of a sad affair for me, because while testing them I came to the saddening realisation that never again will I experience 7.1 sound for the very first time, cleansing me of any sense of genuine amazement upon first hearing Steelseries’ latest effort, and rest assured it’s deserving of amazement. Never again will I get to experience a whole new world of audio detail where I could pick out amazing layers of sound that I never knew existed, even in a game I’d poured hundreds of hours into. But these are the lamentations of a sad gamer. Let’s finish up this review.
Had the H Wireless simply offered superb audio then I would have been impressed, but they bring far more to the table, the most important of which being the impressive battery life and ease of use. With the ease the H Wireless makes the usual tedium of keeping batteries charged they’ve now become my de-facto headset, replacing my beloved Turtle Beach PX5s as the dominant audio force in my room. Utterly brilliant.
+ Superb audio.
+ Great battery life.
+ Charging batteries is easy.
+ Simple OLED interface.
– Buttons could be a tad larger.
– Doesn’t perform quite as well outside of gaming.
– Does not make cups of tea.
The Verdict: 5/5 – Awesome
Quite simply the best headset I’ve had the pleasure of getting my grubby mitts on, producing fantastic audio while minimising the drawbacks of wireless.