Headsets are useful things. Obviously, there’s no substitute for a perfectly configured 7.1 surround sound home theatre room, but often, that’s not an option for a variety of reasons. PC gamers, for example, rarely get to throw around that kind of money for a computer that’s set up in an office, den, or just desk in the apartment living room or next to the bed. Portable gamers obviously can’t enjoy that kind of elaborate set up, and even when some console gamers do enjoy such a rich audio experience, it’s not necessarily something that’ll work for a late night gaming session when everyone is asleep.
That’s where numerous first and third party headsets come in, providing both an audio and communication experience that’s considerably more intimate. The SteelSeries of headsets have been offering both PC and console gamers a wealth of options for their personal listening needs, and their latest model, the 5HV3, attempts to cover the middle ground of headsets. The suggested retail price is actually $79.99, which puts it firmly above an economy experience, but still less expensive than a premium model like the SteelSeries H-Wireless or Siberia Elite which are both well over $200. So what do you get with this middle of the road model?
The most obvious thing about the 5HV3 is the high quality of the construction. This is a sizable, around-the-ear headset made with faux leather and generous padding. It’s generously adjustable so that even people with glasses can wear it comfortably for hours, and it breaks apart into three distinct segments for easier packing. The cords are double braided for extra strength and durability, and the microphone is retractable, smoothly sliding into and out of the left earpiece housing. It even comes with a micro-USB adapter so that people using a phone, tablet, or even PS4 can swap out the dedicated ear/mic 3.5mm jacks for a single audio jack they can use on other equipment. Everything about the actual physical build of the 5VH3 screams quality. It doesn’t look cheap, doesn’t feel delicate, and wearing it feels comfortable for long stretches of time.
However, something has to give, and in this case, the 5VH3 has favored the physical aspect of their headset over the actual performance. That is not to say that the audio component of the 5VH3 is terrible, on the contrary, it holds up pretty well. But it is nowhere near the amazing audio experience of its more expensive siblings.
On the one hand, the featured passive noise reduction (which some would cynically refer to as “thick earphones”) does a good job of isolating the listener even in noisier environments such as airplane or subway. But the 5HV3 takes a more balanced approach to sound, which can also be interpreted as a weaker bass response. High and mid tones are actually nicely rendered, but people that expect tremulous bass from explosions are in for serious disappointment. It’s also impossible for a headset at this price point to include surround sound, so again, people expecting a top-tier audio experience aren’t going to get it.
What people DO get for their (on average) $79.99 is a well-built headset with balanced audio and a microphone that is functional enough to get the job done for online play, be it on the PC or on the PS4. The quality of the microphone is a definite step up from the headsets people might be familiar with from the Xbox 360 or PS4 consoles, or even the default microphones included in laptops or tablets. Audio coming through the headphones is clear and crisp, representing all the ranges nicely, but never to the point where it would be a mind blowing experience.
The 5HV3 is an ideal example of a jack of all trades headset. It’s quite good at everything, but not to the point where it’s actually masterful at any one thing. If you’re looking for a quality headset under $100 with a good build, good sound and good microphone, then the 5HV3 is it. It’s not the highest quality product in any one category, but is above average in every single respect. If you can find it on sale for less than $79.99 then it’s a bargain that is highly recommended. However, if you’re looking for the absolute pinnacle in a headset experience, the 5HV3, while delivering the goods in physical build, falls short in the audio department. To be fair however, the absolute best audio experience in headphones is not going to be priced under $100, that’s simply unrealistic. The 5HV3 offers good quality for its asking price.