Steelseries Arctis 3 headset- proprietary connector, too quiet, just… okay.
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The Steelseries Arctis 3 starts out with a great presentation, a nice slick black box with red accents, the product majestically presented and “Best Gaming Headset” proclaimed on the top right corner. Inside the box we got the headset, manual, registration code, a sticker sheet done on thick cardboard which has gone AWOL, and a surprising amount of cables!
The Arctis 3 comes in a black, and a white variant, and I got the black one. The standout features of this headset are a bi-directional microphone, on-ear volume and mic controls, a ski-goggle suspension band, airweave ear cushions, it’s multi-platform and mobile ready, and a big one, it has 7.1 surround support- we’ll get to that later.
The pair is sleek, all black with very subtle Steelseries branding at the bottom of the cans. The outside of the cups is covered with a very nice smooth rubber, and fit comfortably over my large head and ears. The foam pads are made with Airweave fabric and are super soft, have a lot of give, and they’re very comfortable going over-ear, great for long gaming sessions.
Below the sturdy black overband is the ski goggle camo-styled adjustable fabric headband. It’s light, head fitting, and breathable. You can buy different styles to swap out at 15 euros each, about 16 US dollars currently. It’s an interesting concept, though because it’s interior, it doesn’t have a large impact on changing the style- I would have liked to see a cover or wrap for the outer headband, now that would be cool.
Between the ear pads and the headband, I have to say that In my years of using different headphones for exercise, recreation and especially for DJing, mobile and studio use, these are the one of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. Very well designed.
On to connectivity. The left speaker has all the action happening. From the top, there’s a microphone mute button, easy enough to find, but is sometimes a little difficult to engage. The volume control is next, a rubberized outer wheel with a microdot texture, very tactile and easy to adjust.
When I was turning the volume on the headset I did notice a spot of slight grinding about three-quarters of the way up. Not sure if it was a problem in just my particular model or not, but a little worrying in an 80 dollar US pair of headphones. I probably won’t use the headset volume much anyways though.
Next up is the main cable jack port. This connects the audio to the headset, and it uses a proprietary connector, a UC-E6. I googled and could not find ANY replacement cables, and checking Steelseries’ website, they aren’t even providing them as of yet, but maybe soon. So, if you have kittens, you should probably stay away until cable replacement is possible.
Nobody is ever going to complain that the cable they accidentally destroyed was replaced with a cheap 3.5″ male to male connector while they order a replacement. -Everyone- will complain that they couldn’t use their 80 dollar headphones because it uses a proprietary connector.
This is where the wiring in the box comes into play. There’s three cables. You’ll connect up the headset side shaped UC-E6 male to a UC-E6 six male computer side connector, and the cable measures 122 centimeters or 48 inches. From here you have two choices, first is the dual 3.5 millimeter to UC-E6 female adapter cable, measuring 182 centimeters or 72 inches which plugs into your headphone and mic jacks on your PC.
Second is the four-pole 3.5 mm jack to UC-E6 female jack, it’s just basically a bendy adapter measuring in at 8 CM or 3 inches. It allows you to use the set with mobile devices like phones, mp3 players and the like.
Next port down is the headphone share jack, a nice feature. It’s also controlled by the volume wheel, and when you insert another pair the volume drops on the set by a DB or two. Still, a nice addition to have.
As we turn the set around, you can see the microphone nub. This retractable mic pulls out, and extends 9 cm or 3.5 inches. The support is easily moveable and light, but stays in position. The sound through the mic is quite good, comparative to my other LAV mic. Let’s do a little testing.
They are a bit quieter than I’m used to though, about minus 6 dBs.
Ok, so the bases are loaded and the game could go either way. Next up is the quality of the actual sound. I’ll split this into two parts- 7.1 surround and normal stereo content. First, how’s normal stereo sound? Considering this is a very subjective test, let me give you some background.
I’ve used Panasonic, JVC, Realistic, Sennheiser, Philips, Behringer, Technics, Pioneer, Audio Technica and others. And, full disclosure, I have been sponsored by Sony twice for two pairs of headphones while DJing in the clubs a couple years back, although what I wore at home or outside was up to me. I moved from Technics to Pioneer to Sennheiser to Sony and well, they stuck with me.
For pure listening to music, I’m actually a big fan of Sony’s sound for years now, with crisp highs and rich well-defined lows. I’ve heard people say with some of Sony’s headsets, bass isn’t the studio level sound, but in -my- studio, when I was chopping remixes up late night and couldn’t use my monitors because of the noise complaints I got, Sony’s were the only sets I used for the full low frequencies to see if they distorted the vocals or highs.
So, compared to proper cans… the sound from these is decent. They reproduce well, good highs, great mids, and defined lows. They are a bit quieter than I’m used to though, about minus 6 dBs from my Sony MDR-V55’s, which I’ll be using as a straight comparison, they price out at 45 to 50 bucks off of Amazon.
Weighing in at 272 grams or 9.6 ounces, the Arctis 3 has 40 millimeter or 1.6 inch drivers, rated at 98 db and with a 32 ohm impedance. For comparison, the Sony MDR-V55’s weigh in at 220 grams or 7.8 ounces, and also have 40 mil drivers that deliver 105 dB at a 40 ohm impedance.
While I can listen to music at 100% on my PC with the Steelseries, I need to adjust the volume down around 90% for either my Sony MDR-V55’s or my very used Sony MDR-XB920s. Checking to see power handling, I hooked them up to my home receiver, also Sony but not sponsored heh. Volume on this STR-DH750 maxes out at 74, and looks like a little juice was all the Arctis 3 needed. I was able to get some real volume and nice bass as it got up to a volume of 40. My Sony’s easily hit that same volume at 36, but with the extra bonus of all that rich deep goosebump-inducing bass.
Anyways, with a bit more juice, the Arctis 3s can really deliver. Now, I’m gonna try out the 7.1 surround with Witcher 3, hopefully it works.
So I guess what I’m saying is, the Steelseries Arctis 3 are excellent pc and gaming headphones. And if you happen to have a way to boost headphone output a bit, you’ll really get the most out of them. For most people using these mobile for both listening to music and the occasional voice call, they’re a great all-round pair, and the retractable mic is a awesome feature.
Should you buy it? As a complete package, these headphones are a really great deal, sturdy, well-built and with a great mic, the Steelseries Arctis 3 hits a 9 on the meter. At 80 dollars, they have the same drivers as the RGB Arctis 5 usb headset at 100 bucks, and the same as the DTS wireless Arctis 7 at 150 bucks, it’s a real steal at this price for the same quality.
I’m also giving this a Gold award for its excellent features and quality. Me personally, I’ll be using these from now on to make voice calls on my phone and pc around home, especially as the mic beats any solution I own! And, no chance of ear damage as they’re a little on the quiet side, but for most, I think they’ll be fine.