There are the headsets you get packed in with a game console, or pick up for Skype and other voice communication for $20 or less at your local retailer. Then there are those “other” headsets; the ones some people spend hundreds of dollars on. The SteelSeries H is one those “other” headsets. At an average retail price of $299.99, it’s just $100 less expensive than some of the hardware it can work with. So with that kind of hefty price tag, what are people getting, and, more importantly, is it worth it?
The thing people need to understand when looking at the SteelSeries H is that this is a purpose built headset. It can function as many other things, but it was built specifically to do one thing better than anything else and in that role, it succeeds. This is probably one of the best wireless gaming headsets available to general consumers today on the PC, PlayStation or Xbox families of consoles.
Like its siblings in the H line, such as the 5HV3 and 9H, the H screams quality physical construction the moment you see and touch it. The retractable, flexible microphone is still present, but now with a red light circling the mouthpiece to indicate when it’s muted. Memory foam padding, leather on the earpieces, a generous around-the-ear design and a strong but flexible frame ensure maximum comfort for average sized heads. You can wear this thing for hours, and in all honesty, you’ll probably want to after trying them.
What pushes the H into the premium levels are all the extras built on top of an already strong foundation. Most importantly, the headset is wireless, with a claimed effective radius of 40 feet, though actual usage with walls and other electronics seems to be less than this. It’s certainly possible, however, to walk into another room and still receive audio clearly. The H also comes with a base that acts not just as a transmitter, but an equalizer that can save profiles for personal taste, as well as a charger for one of the two lithium-ion batteries that power the headset. This makes long-term use of the headset extremely easy, as there’s always a fully charged battery ready to go when the one in use is nearly drained, and is a surprisingly useful feature. When not used at home some analog audio jacks plugged into the H let it double as a portable headset for the Vita, 3DS or even tablets and smartphones. As an added extra, the headset itself comes built with a “share” audio jack so that another person can plug in headphones to listen to whatever is coming through the H headset. Not many people will use this feature, but it’s nice extra for those with a partner or close friend to listen to a game together. All of these little features combined earn the SteelSeries H its premium pricing, but what puts this headset over the edge is the actual performance.
Using the optical cable provided with the headset enables the H to go into full “virtual” 7.1 Dolby surround sound. When using directional audio, the H has some of the clearest, distinct, cleanly separated audio you’ll hear through headphones. There are other headphones out there that have better bass, and clearly, any headphones dedicated to music will shine in that regard, but the mid and high ranges of sound are rich, distinctive and easy to pick out with no distortion. What’s most impressive is how well the positional audio works. When playing a first person shooter, horror game, or even any open world game where the player walks through a crowded environment, such as Infamous: Second Son or Assassin’s Creed IV, it’s easy to pick out the sounds and exactly where they are coming from. Games like Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition have crisp, sparkling audio that is startling in its detail, with dripping water in caves cleanly moving through the soundscape as the control and camera are rotated. For the gamer, competitive or otherwise, that wants the cleanest, most accurate, sound separation and positional audio, this is probably one of the best headphones on the market.
If, however, you’re not in that category, then this headset isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The quality of the microphone is, as with other headsets in the SteelSeries line, very good, but not top of the line. There is no noise canceling, and while people can hear you, it won’t be the cleanest sound. The bass, as mentioned before, is focused more on natural balance, not artificially boosted as some headsets like Sony’s own Pulse Elite with its “bass impact” that simulates the vibration of a subwoofer. There’s really no substitute for a true 7.1 speaker system with a full functional, floor-shaking subwoofer, and if that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for, headsets are probably not an option at all. The SteelSeries H does manage to represent bass decently—it doesn’t crackle—though it does distort somewhat, unlike other gaming headsets like the mighty Astro A50 which is in the same price range.
This is also a decent—but not masterful—headset for other functions. You can use the H to watch movies in surround sound, and they’ll be very good, with a broad sound stage, but again, the audiophiles and other sound aficionados won’t be finding a miracle solution here in terms of headset sound. And if there’s one area where the H is not at its best, it’s for pure music listening. Again, most average users will probably find the H more than acceptable, but the comparatively subdued bass is going to shine through most clearly here, with some distortion that serious music fans will rightfully take issue with.
The final question then is, “Is the SteelSeries H worth $300?” The answer is, “Yes, if you want the best overall surround sound wireless gaming headset.” Other headsets beat out the H in some areas, such as bass, or quality of microphone communication. However, a combination of quality build, with very impressive sound and some useful conveniences—like the batteries and its flexibility as headphones for portable devices—all make the SteelSeries H a versatile, powerful headset with impressive positional audio. If you want to play late at night without kicking in the home theatre—or even just don’t want to buy a home theatre set up, but still want surround sound—this is one of the best solutions on the market.