A Second Look at the Steelseries Arctis 3
Sometimes I like to look back at stuff I loved in the past to see if I still like it. This helps me maintain my own personal opinions of what "quality" means.
Today, it's the Steelseries Arctis 3.
When the Arctis first launched last year, I went kind of nuts for it. I first bought the middle model, the 5, and wrote a lengthy hyped-up review of it.
A few days later...I got a little scared of how hyped I was. I went back in and edited that review slightly. It's still full of superlatives, but I gave myself some "room at the top" so to speak...in case something better ever came along.
Talk about hype!
Then I closed the loop by reviewing the cheapest in the line, the Arctis 3. It's basically a 5, but without the RGB lighting, and with Steelseries' own surround software in place of DTS Headphone X. And for some reason I got hung up on the clamping force and mentioned it a few times in that article.
OKAY YOU LOVE THE ARCTIS BUT WHY ARE WE BACK HERE?
A lot of good gaming headsets have come out since the release of the Arctis lineup.
Astro got into the lower-cost space with the Astro A10 and A20. The A10 competes well with the Arctis on features, with its removable cable and excellent microphone.
Corsair launched the H50. While it's not the flashiest thing, it offers most of the features of the more expensive players in the market for a budget $50 price.
And of course, HyperX finally released a proper successor to the Cloud lineup with the Cloud Alpha. While it's built around the same foundation, almost every aspect of the much-loved headset was improved.
Even Steelseries has released a new member of the Arctis family: The Arctis 3 Bluetooth. This $129 model seems to only be sold through their web site currently, and it's basically a full Arctis 3 that also has a Bluetooth module built into it for optional wireless transmission. I'm not sure, personally, that this is worth the $50 price premium over the original model. But it's still an interesting move!
Further, the inclusion of DTS Headphone X in the more expensive Arctis models is less important in a world where Windows 10 now has Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos support built-in. And so does the Xbox One.
So...does the Arctis 3 still stack up?
It absolutely does!
WHAT STILL WORKS?
The biggest advantages of the Arctis lineup have always been the sound signature and the comfort.
These two things still hold true.
Steelseries employed their S1 speaker drivers in the Arctis headsets. These drivers were first tuned and designed for the Siberia 800, a $300 wireless headset. They have a very accurate, very neutral sound. Bass and treble extension are both good, and the response on the whole is shockingly even and flat, and wonderful to listen to.
Even the cleanest-sounding of competing headsets, the HyperX Cloud Alpha, has a little more "fun" in it sound, with just a touch more push in the bass and the treble.
Listening to the Arctis 3 today, I'm still struck by how clean and accurate it is. I'd be totally happy using these to master audio.
The Arctis sounds good enough that even an ardently-picky Audiophile will find something to like. Other companies have risen to something close to this level in the gaming space...but it's still the best-sounding gaming headset in my opinion, and it got there first.
It's also the most pleasant to wear for long stretches, thanks to the ski goggle suspension headband and soft "Air Weave" ear pads.
Yes, the pads might be a little shallow for a minority of users...but that's the only comfort complaint I could make here.
The headband stretches easily to fit even my stupidly large head, and I barely feel it while I'm wearing it.
WHAT ISN'T THE BEST?
While I'm still fine with the modular cable system and the build of the Arctis 3...other headsets now do this stuff a bit better.
The whole Arctis series uses a modular, removable cable system built around the USB mini 8 pin connector. You can change out different tips onto the cable depending on what you need, whether that's 4-pole 3.5mm, split 3.5mm audio and mic plugs, or a USB plug for the sound card of the Arctis 5. You can also remove the cable easily from the headset.
But if this breaks you have to go straight to Steelseries for a replacement instead of a third party.
It's not the worst thing ever. And only a few other headsets use non-proprietary removable cables. But the option is out there now on the Astro A10 and the HyperX Cloud Alpha.
The build of the Arctis 3 and 5 is mostly plastic, but it's a nice sturdy high-grade plastic. Still, the new Corsair HS50 is built with tons of metal in its chassis and it's cheaper. The Arctis 7 still has a good build with its metal headband...and I have to wonder if a cheaper version of the metal headband design is on the way in the future.
These aren't deal-breakers, but they aren't quite as appealing as they were a year and a half ago.
I don't love the Steelseries software, but it gets the job done. It's nice that all three headsets will work wired without the software. It's nice that Steelseries still sells a wide range of accessories for all of these headsets this long after launch. It's nice that there's a jack to share audio with someone else on the headset...though I've never used that.
And the included analog volume wheel is nice and smooth...but other headsets also finally have smooth adjustments on them.
The mic on the Arctis 3 is still amazing. It's a bidirectional acoustically noise-cancelling mic with a very natural and clear tone.
It requires a different sort of positioning than the average gaming headset. The close position you need to use it in does make it a little more prone to picking up mouth and breath noises, but I think the trade off for the quality is worth it.
I've seen lots of reviews complain about the mic on the Arctis lineup, and I'm guessing that they just didn't get it positioned right. Steelseries wrote a blog about the development of their mic earlier this year, and everything they say there is true.
Here's my new audio test I just recorded on the Arctis 3!
I would happily use this microphone for any audio task.
DID STEELSERIES PAY YOU TO WRITE THIS?
No. If they had, they wouldn't have let me do the part where some things were bad. Also, they don't pay anyone to write these kinds of things, to my knowledge.
Some other really good wired gaming headsets have come out in the last year. I was thinking about doing some headphone showdowns between them and the Arctis lineup...but first I had to know if I still liked the Arctis 3, or if it had been surpassed to the point where showdowns would be pointless. I had actually sold off my Arctis 3 to a friend, so I bought another one on sale to test out.
It's still a great product...it's just that other products have finally started to approach its level. And honestly, I'm not sure what Steelseries could do to really improve it other than releasing things like the Bluetooth model or new colors, or maybe adding the metal headband from the 7 to the lower-tier units.
I don't accept review units or money from any audio companies, and I buy everything on my own with my own money. If you'd like to support my writing directly, you can read about how to do that right here!
Thanks for joining me as I randomly revisited an old headset!