SteelSeries Siberia Elite 7.1 Gaming Headset Review

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Introduction

The respected and well-known brand SteelSeries have been pushing forward on the peripheral market over the past 12 months with the release of some fantastic products and colour schemes such as the Heat Orange/Frost blue Siberia V2 headsets which we previously reviewed.  This particular Danish company has been supporting as well as sponsoring numerous top tier gaming teams/clans and has been helping evolve the landscape of e-sports since its huge rise in the early 2000’s.

With that being said, from a personal standpoint, what is it you look for when buying a new headset?  Is it purely performance?  Is it style and design?  Everyone has their own personal preferences and a lot of companies try and cater for the majority but it is very hard to please everybody.

That might be soon to change as today I will be taking a look at their brand new headset, the SteelSeries Siberia Elite, which is the cream of the crop in the Siberia line out.  With many features including a retractable microphone, lush padding, a USB sound card and the ability to customise the colour of the LED on the ear cups; will it be the headset that sets the standard?  Let’s find out, starting with a little bit about SteelSeries as a company and then the specifications…

About SteelSeries:
From day one, SteelSeries has been focused on making high performance gaming gear used by the most demanding, top professional gamers worldwide and peripherals that provide superior quality and a competitive edge to gamers of all skill levels. We believe, as most gamers do, in winning, not trying!

What originally began with two people who recognized the need for superior, high-quality/performance gaming gear that would give gamers a competitive edge, has grown into a global leader in gaming and entertainment gear sought after for their high performance capabilities.

Fast-forward to today, and we’ve come a long way since our first glass mouse pad. We have global offices in North America, Europe, and Asia, providing an integrated portfolio of products designed specifically for gaming. Fuelling our growth is you, the gamer!

Specifications

Speakers

Frequency: 16-28 KHz
Impedance: 32 Ohm
[email protected] 1KHz, 1V rms: 113 dB

Cable

Length: 1.2 meters
Extension cable: 2 meters
Connectors: 3.5 mm 4-pole & 3-pole x2

Microphone

Mic pattern: Unidirectional
Frequency: 75 – 16000 Hz
Impedance: <2.2K Ohm
Sensitivity: -38 dB

Colours

Black & White

Packaging

The SteelSeries Elite Gaming Headset comes in a rather large and mainly black box, with a clear illustration of the headset on the front.  With the moniker (Siberia design, Superior sound) it remains to be seen but looking at the headset on the packaging, it looks rather luxurious.  In the top left corner we have the brand and model with an official Dolby logo in the top right.  This particular headset features true Dolby sound, something I will touch on later on in the review.

On the rear of the box, the black design remains but this time we have illustrations of some of the colours the Siberia Elite is capable of displaying.  Pictured in the illustration is the orange, purple and turquoise effect.  SteelSeries claim to be able to reproduce 16.8 million different colours which I find very impressive, especially for those looking to match it 100% to other devices such as mice, keyboards and even their PCs.

Also noted on the back is information regarding the headset in three different languages, English, German and French.  Clearly this headset is geared for the European market but I would have liked to have seen Chinese on there as it is currently the most frequent language spoken in the world today.

Upon opening the packaging and sliding the sleeving off, we are greeted with an enclosure where the headset lays snug inside.  This protects it during transit and shows the quality of the packaging used; simple but effective.  It also looks very well done with an orange contrast inside which makes the headset stand out and taking a first look at the headset itself, as you can see this is the white version, but there is also a black version available.

Bundled with the SteelSeries Siberia Elite, we have the following accessories:

1 x SteelSeries sticker
1 x Instruction Manual
1 x micro USB – 3.5mm adapter
1 x micro USB – 2 x 3.5mm adapter (Phono/Mic)
1 x SteelSeries USB sound card
1 x Micro USB extension cable

Doesn’t sound like a lot, but there is plenty to make this a versatile headset in terms of connectivity.  SteelSeries have also included a USB soundcard which allows you to use any headset through this but this also doubles up as the main hub for using the in-built drivers on the Elite headset itself.  If you would prefer and already own a high quality sound card, you can use the adapter included in the bundle.

Taking a closer look at the USB sound card SteelSeries have provided, it acts like a little audio hub which when in operation, has a little white LED.  The little sticker on the USB sound card informs you where to download the latest SteelSeries Engine software which I touch further on in the review.

In terms of connections, there is 1 x audio input, 1 x mic input and 1 x Micro USB connection which also provides power to the Elite headset which allows illumination on the ear cups.

Closer Look

Taking a closer look at the SteelSeries Siberia Elite gaming headset, as you can see this particular one is white and it is a very crisp white with no discolouration or any noticeable impurities.  The headset features a retractable mic on the left hand side, very large ear pads and a padded headband which are designed to provide comfort.  The stitching on the ear cups not only looks great, it feels great to the touch and looks to be very secure too.  I have no qualms over the quality and feel they would only come apart with serious misuse.

Here we have the retractable mic which allows you to push it inside the headset if it is getting in your way and currently not in use.  If you look closely at the end of the mic itself, it has a clear ring around it.  This light’s up bright white when the microphone is muted and adds to the design in my opinion.  How many of you have muted your mic and have then forgotten about it whilst being left confused as to why people cannot hear you?

The outer ear cup is more than meets the eye, the grey ring around the inside illuminates when used with the included USB sound card and users can customise the colour via the SteelSeries Engine software.  Also if you look closely you can see the white ridged ring which controls the volume on the right side and twists on the left side to mute the microphone.  This eliminates the need for any in-line microphone controls and allows you control when placed on your head with utter ease.  The SteelSeries logo is also etched into the plastic in the middle.

Taking a better look at the ear cups, as you can see, the padding supplied is very generous and looks/feels luxurious.  The stitching as I previously mentioned is of very good quality and I have no fears that it would come undone any time soon.  Everything on the cup is white including the inner-ear section which has thin foam over it.

SteelSeries have equipped the Elite headset with flat white cables to connect all the audio components of the headset together.  From the initial connection from the ear cup to the soundcard, this is carried on with another flat white cable through the headband.  The headband is also supported with an aluminium brace which allows the headset to remain automatically adjustable.  This is a feature I would like to see implemented on all gaming headsets as it makes them a lot more comfortable in my opinion, especially if it is done correctly.

Here we have the headband padding which is separated along the line.  It is tapered into the plastic headband with the aluminium support band connected over the top of it.  This makes the headset automatically adjustable and should help with the comfort.

Taking a look at the top of the headband, we have the SteelSeries logo etched into white rubber which finishes off the headbands elegant design.  This looks good in my opinion and although it is a small touch, it’s a nice one nevertheless.

Illumination

Since the SteelSeries Siberia Elite has the ability to display 16.8 million different colours via the LED lights built into the head band, I figured it would be a good idea to show off a couple of colours to show you how well it works and how vibrant the colours are themselves.

Here I have demonstrated four different colours:

Red

Pink

 Blue

 Green

As you can see, the colours are vibrant and via the SteelSeries Engine software, you can change the colours, but you can also change how they are displayed as well.  There are options for steady, breathe, audio volume trigger and Colorshift.  Steady and breathe do exactly what they say on the tin, breathe pulsates and can do this slow, medium and fast.  Audio volume trigger illuminates the headset based on the loudness of the audio being played through the headset.  This lights up to the beat and it does look pretty cool in my estimates!  Colorshift allows the headset to rotate between different colours, the Engine software has 4 different pre-sets/effects to choose from and although you can’t see work when the headset is on your head, you can take pleasure knowing that it looks stylish and vibrant.

Software

Although no discs come enclosed in the packaging, the software is available to download from www.steelseries.com/engine.  This is easy to do and ultimately saves on packaging which helps the environment too.  The software itself installs like any other piece of software and it’s easy to install.

When you open the software, you are greeted with the SteelSeries Engine three main screen which detects any compatible SteelSeries devices/previously used ones.  As I am using the Siberia Elite, all you do is double click then you are onto the next screen.  It is worth noting from the main menu, you can also choose which pre-set you wish to use if you have already created your own, alternatively you can just use the default.

The main panel of the SteelSeries Engine 3 software gives you an overview of the different options and settings available.  It allows you to turn Dolby Headphone on and off as the Elite supports full Dolby.  You can also enable mic noise reduction which is useful if you have a lot of background noise like I do sometimes.  One of the good features of the software is the live preview switch at the bottom; this enables users to preview their chosen settings before confirming/saving them.

One of the strong points of the software and the Siberia Elite is the amount of pre-sets available to use.  These include custom, balanced, MMO, FPS, sports, explosive action, immersion, performance, entertainment, music, movie and voice.  Plenty of predefined options to choose which just by looking at them shows how versatile SteelSeries have intended the Siberia Elite to be.

Underneath the options, we have the mic sidetone and mic volume controls of the headset.  These settings allow you to alter the sound omitted through the mic and they can be tweaked and altered to your hearts content.

On the top left of the Engine 3 main panel, you have the option to add different configurations.  These can be changed easily and allow you to create fully custom setups alongside the pre-sets.

Finally we have the LED illumination control panel, as you can see there are four different effects to choose from which are steady, breathe, audio volume trigger and colorshift.  You also have the option to disable all the illumination but I really do think it adds extra style to the headset.  SteelSeries as previously mentioned, claim to be able to output 16.8 million different colours, as you can see you have the ability to set your own RGB settings or choose the colour from the paint box itself.

Performance

To test the capability and overall sound quality of the SteelSeries Siberia Elite Gaming Headset, I decided to test the audio with gaming, a movie and music, the comfort during a heavy gaming session and the microphone via Skype/voice communication software.  I feel this will give a better range of results as not everyone is one dimensional when selecting a headset and this will determine if the Elite lives up to its name.

Gaming
As the Siberia Elite is marketed towards gamers, I thought it would be a good starting point.  The games I have decided to go with were Battlefield 4, DOTA 2 and F1 2012.  Starting off with the latest foray into the FPS from EA/DICE (Battlefield 4), I changed the pre-set from default to FPS in order to see how the Elite works with its pre-defined pre-sets.  I was simply blown away by the quality of the audio I experienced which the bass of the explosions were second to none for any headset I have previously used/tried.  Obviously more expensive audiophile typed headphones will have better range but for a headset, this is most definitely the best one I have used so far.  The highs of the twanging bullets off tanks (I am a noob), the mid-range of tanks grunting past me while I try and hide from incoming enemy fire was all superb sounding.  The general ambience of the different maps also were a joy to behold and whist using voice communication software, I could still hear peoples instructions clearly and could easily distinguish different tonality in voice/game.

Moving onto DOTA 2, I changed the pre-set to MMO (closest to MOBA in my opinion), headed into the game which has many different sounds etc.  I wouldn’t say I was as blown away as I was with Battlefield 4, but I could certainly tell the quality was superb.  Magical spell casts, the whirl of Juggernaut and the activation of items all sounded sweet and the booms of killing other champions had a nice ring to them.  Overall, a good experience with DOTA 2 and although not exactly the most tasking of games audio wise it is surely one of the more popular ones at the moment.

Finally, I switched to F1 2012 which in my opinion has some amazing tones to be heard.  From the humming and roaring of the engines to the screeching of tyres when you accidently spin out, this is a good indicator of highs and even bass.  Upon starting my first race, I was impressed with how great the sound was.  I wanted to try out the immersion pre-set with F1 2012 as when I play this game, I get very into it.  Switching to the cockpit camera and racing around Monza (Italy), I was in awe at the quality of the sound that was flowing into my ears, again another strong point of this headset is racing games and being classed as a gaming headset, I was expecting high things from the Siberia Elite but I was not disappointed.

For all three of the games, I also tried them with Dolby activated.  Personally I preferred using the pre-sets but it did sound very good in Battlefield 4 due to the 7.1 surround sound capabilities.  This is virtual surround as the software/drivers emulate it via the different games.  That being said, you get the choice and I feel that SteelSeries adding Dolby 7.1 to the Elite was a very good choice indeed.

Music
To test the music reproduction qualities of the Elite, I picked 3 songs from 3 different genres.

Rock: INME – Crushed like a fruit

Dance: Tony De Vit – The Dawn (Dark by Design remix)

RnB: Rihanna – SOS

For this part of the testing I changed the pre-set to music.  Starting in order, up first was a song that means the world to me, Crushed like a fruit by rock band InMe.  The opening guitar lick sounding phenomenal which was a good start and soon as the drums/bass kicked in, I was deeply engrossed in the sound.  Although I would consider the sound to be a little muddy across all 3 tones, I was more than satisfied with the sound quality.  The bass drum kicks punched hard, the guitar was deep and vibrant at the same time and the song sounded fantastic in my opinion.  A lot of tonality within the SteelSeries drivers made it a very pleasurable experience.  I tried listening to the song with Dolby switched on but I really didn’t like what I was hearing so I quickly switched it off.  There was too much echo with Dolby turned on.

Next on the list is a hard house track synonymous with Tony De Vit, specifically mixed by Dark by Design.  With the main focus of this song being on a hard dance bass line, lots of funky keyboard/synth effects, I always use this song personally when judging audio equipment.  I wasn’t exactly blown away but with this being a headset, I was still impressed with the sound quality and again, found it to be the best headset I have used so far.  Going from hard sounds to soft euphoria in the song all the tones sounded great especially the highs as they sounded clear and concise.  With Dolby turned on, the song had too much echo again due to the 7.1 virtual surround sound the Elite comes equipped with.

Last but not least is the epic R+B song SOS by the lovely Rihanna.  The bass line was pumping in my ears throughout with amazing vocal tones; she has a great voice so it is easy to determine the audio quality.  I did however notice the bass and deeper synth sounds to be a little muddy together and although this headset is clearly not designed for audiophiles, it has great tone and has many different pre-sets/custom options for you to change the settings to suit your own preference.

Movies
With Dolby being one of the main features of the SteelSeries Siberia Elite, I decided to try it out with a highway chase scene on Transformers 3, which is a very epic fighting scene and has many different sounds/things going on at the same time.  I was deeply amazed by the quality and I clearly found where Dolby shines (not in my music testing unfortunately).  From the roar of the cars, to the clinking of the autobots changing into their natural form, even to the rattling and tingling of the machine guns going off, the sound was immense and immersive.  This headset will definitely be used when I intend to watch films on my PC and I am already contemplating switching them in for my Audio Technica ATH-M50’s which I consider to be one of the budget sets of closed cup headphones on the market.  The Elite has really surpassed my expectations and I really enjoyed watching the scene over and over again to listen to the Dolby do its stuff.

VoIP/Communication Software
With this being a gaming headset, one of the main functions is the ability to communicate with people over software such as Skype, TeamSpeak and Ventrilo.  As Skype conversation is a daily occurrence for me, I decided to do a blind test with the SteelSeries with my colleagues at Play3r.  The first thing people noticed was the severe lack of background noise due to me enabling mic noise reduction.  This eliminates the majority of background noise and having switched between it, there was a hugely noticeable improvement.  On Skype I was told the headset mic sounded great, but I was told it had slightly less quality over TeamSpeak.  Whether this is to do with the different audio codecs used, I don’t know.  I tried playing around with the settings to no avail.  That is not to say the quality was bad, there just seemed to be a little more background noise compared to Skype, even with the noise reduction turned on.  With that being said, the overall quality of the microphone was great and it was clearly an improvement over the Logitech C920 webcam microphone I was using prior to testing the Siberia Elite headset.

Comfort
With the thick luxurious padding of the ear cups, I was concerned about the possibility of having hot, sticky ears after long gaming sessions.  This was not to be as the Siberia Elite is easily the most comfortable headset I have ever worn.  The headset doesn’t feel at all heavy and was automatically adjustable to the size of my big head.  With that being said, I prefer this method of adjustable headsets as it is easier to get a proper balance, especially if you have a funny shaped head.  The headband provided ample comfort without being overly imposing on the top of my head, but the ear cups are so comfortable, a real joy to behold.  One issue for me is the aluminium headband support, if you accidentally knock this, it sounds like huge church bells going off in your ears and it can be quite annoying given the circumstances.  This happened quite a few times when I went to scratch my head and it can be very loud; this headset utilises closed cups.  All in all, the Elite is as comfortable as it gets and definitely is one of the headsets strong points, especially for those who game for prolonged periods of time.

Conclusion

Now it’s time for my final thoughts on the SteelSeries Siberia Elite gaming headset.  Is it as versatile as SteelSeries make it out to be?  Does it represent good value for money?  Is the audio quality any good?  Let’s start with the performance….

The audio performance of the Siberia Elite was nothing short of impressive.  As the headset makes use of Dolby 7.1 Virtual Surround Sound, this gives it added clout when playing compatible games and while watching DVD/Blu-Ray films.  Audio when gaming was pretty much perfect as far as my hearing goes and with plenty of pre-sets available and even the option to customise your own, the sky is the limit.  Having owned a pair of Siberia V2’s previously, there is no doubt in my mind at all that SteelSeries have taken one of their best headsets and made it even better.  The best thing about the audio quality is how versatile the Elite actually is, it performs great in gaming, fantastic in music and it sounds out of this world when watching moves, especially with Dolby activated.  With that being said, a couple of songs I listened to sounded a little muddy but I must remind you all that this is a gaming headset and not a pair of headphones designed for audiophiles.  The Elite certainly lives up to its name giving fantastic sound with plenty of adjustments available on the highs, mids and lows.

The design and aesthetics of the SteelSeries Siberia Elite were also a joy to behold, from the sheer amount of padding in the ear cups, to the clean and stylish design, the Elite has it all.  The automatic adjustable nature of the headset via the headband certainly adds to the comfort and allows you to worry less about getting the right fit, than finding the right settings to fit your ears sound requirements.  One thing that I didn’t like was if you knocked the aluminium headband support which goes over the top of the main headband, it really did cause discomfort to my ears.  It was loud and twangy, a bit like when someone comes over and flicks your ear cups for a laugh (I don’t find it funny).  The retractable mic is a useful feature and allows you to slide it back inside the headset.  A good use for this is when you are watching a movie at your PC and want to have a snack; no worries about accidently getting popcorn butter all over your mic!  Overall bar the niggling headband support, the headset certainly gets my vote in the looks/comfort stakes as I feel it is gorgeous and sublime.

In terms of features, the SteelSeries Engine software has always been one of my favourite suites and adds to the versatility of the headset.  With the accessories, you can use this headset through literally anything you want which includes the Xbox One, PS4, other games consoles and with the extension lead for the USB soundcard; you can happily trail the wire across your room.  Although I feel a wireless headset would be better for this type of thing, it certainly doesn’t handicap the Elite headset in this respect.

The USB sound card really does give the headset added clout in terms of audio quality and performance over using on-board audio.  It is up to yourself whether or not you want to use the headset through your own sound card but to use the illumination features of the Elite headset, you must use the sound card which is a little bit of a drawback, but not too much as the sound card has been improved by SteelSeries pending the release of the Elite headset.

Coming in at around £160-170, it is certainly not the cheapest headset on the market and I find it hard to consider it to be a good value headset.  However, you do get a high quality product which not only has superb build quality, but includes fantastic features such as a USB sound card and Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound at the flick of a switch on the software itself.  You can get a lot more for your money but given the full package of the Elite headset, I would still say it was worth the given value.

Overall the SteelSeries Siberia Elite is a fantastic headset offering tons of versatility and quality.  From the aesthetics, to the actual audio quality, the headset deserves the Editor’s Choice award and more for its outstanding quality.

Thanks to SteelSeries for the Elite for today’s review and I look forward to seeing more in the near future.

  • Performance
  • Design
  • Value

Summary

The SteelSeries Siberia Elite ticks all my boxes, it has immense audio quality which expands beyond gaming into music and movies. The microphone quality is also fantastic and the overall look and design is simply stunning. SteelSeries have not only improved on the brilliant Siberia V2, but created a headset that I don’t think anyone will beat on overall quality/performance for a good while!

4.3

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