Headsets are something I really don’t enjoy having to review. The experience that one has with a headset is perhaps the most subjective of any of the peripherals in a computer setup. Most people can come to grips with someone bashing their choice of mouse, and it’s become trendy to argue about which Cherry switches you prefer in your keyboard as of late (spoiler alert: I prefer membrane), but ripping on someone’s choice of headset can really rustle their jimmies. Case in point: I’ve never understood what the big deal is with SteelSeries headsets. But then again, I use Razer gear, so swings and roundabouts, really.
The problem with audio peripherals is the false baseline that most people establish. It’s what I refer to as the Beats by Dre effect: wash out everything in heavy bass and tell people that’s how it’s supposed to sound and people will believe you. The post-dubstep consumer tends to have little appreciation for quality sound beyond heavy bass, and I find most consumer-grade headsets as of late lacking any real quality in the mid or high ranges—or real clarity down low, for that matter.
That leaves the SteelSeries Siberia 200 in a bit of a weird place. Sure, it boasts frequency response well beyond the ranges of human hearing (10hz-28khz), but it just doesn’t have the clarity I had hoped for. I constantly hear people raving about the merits of SteelSeries headsets, but in truth, aside from them offering more punch on the low end, they’re no clearer or better focused than the pair of Hammerhead earbuds I keep around for when I’m on the go. That’s not to say that I don’t like the new Siberia 200; I’m actually quite fond of it. But I’m fond of it for subjective reasons, not objective ones.
First off, I think it looks brilliant. Even in the shockingly awful Ferrari red that they sent over, it’s quite a handsome headset. Sure, it’s not nearly as distinct as the Tiamat on my desk; it’s also much more discrete—less tryhard, if you will. And it’s light—so light, in fact, that I thought the box was empty when I first picked it up. And while I’ll wax lyrical about the superiority of braided cables, the Siberia’s cleverly grooved solution to the tangle dilemma of cables is at least effective. It’s not terribly comfortable, though, if I’m honest. Sure, it claims to be so light and comfortable that you’ll forget you’re wearing it, but that’s just ad-speak for things they wish it was. In fact, it’s considerably less comfortable than that Tiamat of mine, which is notoriously one of the least comfortable headsets on the market. But it’s also a good 2 pounds lighter, too, so they’re only half lying.
The real complaint I have with the comfort, I suspect, is also part of the issue I have with the overall sound quality—the ear cups. They’re just not substantial enough, and they’re made of a pretty low-density foam under the leatherette coverings. It prevents them from properly focusing the sound within them towards your ears, while simultaneously allowing the frankly aggressively tight grip the headset has on your head to feel like it’s trying to squeeze your brains out through your nose. I’m starting to suspect that there just aren’t any properly comfortable headsets in the sub-$100 range anymore. But, you know, I can’t really complain for that price. Hell, they’ll still hold their own against a pair of Beats, and it’s considerably less embarrassing to be seen wearing the Siberia.
As far as gaming goes, I’ve been wearing 7.1 headsets for the better part of a decade now, so I may as well have been playing blind for all the good it did me to drop down to 2.0 in CS:GO, but overall, the Siberia did a pretty good job of not muddying up the sound of enemies through walls and whatnot. I may have constantly missed wallbangs, but I suspect that has more to do with me not being used to the 2.0 interpolation anymore, and at least I could hear when people were coming.
On the whole, I quite liked the SteelSeries Siberia 200. It may be a middle-of-the-road 2.0 headset, but it’s got quite a lot going for it. It’s acceptable when it comes to in-game clarity, the Beats by Dre crowd would be happy with its music playback, it’s very handsome in any colour but red, it’s remarkably durable and I don’t think I could break the extendable mic if I tried, it sports a tangle-free cable with inline controls, it comes with an in-box splitter to plug it into a smartphone, it’s light enough to wear for extended use, and it comes in under $100. It may not be the best when it comes to raw audio or comfort, but it’s pretty brilliant at everything else.