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Review: The SteelSeries 9H gaming headset rocks the house and the workplace

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The SteelSeries 9H gaming headset does something not many other headsets can do: provide excellent noise isolation, sturdy build quality, and exceptional comfort all in a single package.

That’s a balancing act that isn’t as easy to achieve as it is to write. Typically good noise isolation requires an extra-snug fit that can force some compromises in comfort and design. But the SteelSeries 9H delivers on all fronts equally well.

[Smite players: There’s an unlock code hidden in this review]

SteelSeries 9H Features (courtesy of SteelSeries)

Headphones

  • Frequency response: 10 – 28000 Hz
  • Impedance: 32 Ohm
  • SPL@ 1kHz, 1 Vrms: 110 dB
  • Cable length: 1.2 + 2 = 3.2m
  • Jacks: 2 x 3.5mm for PC
  • + 4-pole 3.5mm Mac®, Mobile and Tablets

Microphone

  • Frequency response: 50 – 16000 Hz
  • Pick up pattern: Uni-directional
  • Sensitivity: -37 +/- 3 dB
  • Impedance: 2K Ohm

The 9H doesn’t require any software drivers, but you can install the SteelSeries Engine software to get additional features, such as audio profiles you can configure to automatically change based upon the game you launch. The software also includes a 10-band equalizer and auto mic gain settings. [-797-]

Design

The SteelSeries 9H is a relatively rugged headset. The headband is metal, sheathed in plastic and covered with about ¾” of segmented memory foam.  The ear cups are lined with 1” thick foam. Combined with the snug—but not too snug—fitting headband, the 9H does an excellent job of reduces distractions. I tested the 9H both at work (in a small 3-person office) and at home for gaming, and it did an excellent job in both environments. (Sometimes at work I just wore them to drown out noise, even if I wasn’t listening to music.)

The 9H features the same retractable, flexible microphone found in many SteelSeries headsets, which is an elegant and travel-friendly design if you travel with your headset. When not in use, the microphone retracts into the left ear cup, virtually invisible thanks to a conforming external shape—although this design also makes it a tad more difficult to extend the mic.

The 9H cable includes an unremarkable but perfectly functional inline controller with mic and volume controls. Also included are a micro-USB extension cable and two adapters: 1 unified mobile (i.e. smartphone) connector, and 1 Y-connector (mic/audio), the latter of which connects to the large, square USB sound processor that connects to your PC. [-251-]

The sound processor provides all the ‘extra’ capabilities such as Dolby-powered surround sound, but you can also connect the 9H directly to a PC via the stereo/mic or unified connectors.

Unfortunately, the ear cups on the 9H don’t rotate 90 degrees, but this is a minor shortcoming at best. It’s a feature I like, but hardly a deal breaker.

Comfort 

SteelSeries has earned a reputation for comfortable headsets thanks to the likes of the Siberia V2 line, and the 9H lives up to that reputation. The extra-thick ear cups and headband provide generally good comfort and enable the 9H to provide superior external noise suppression, particularly when compared to other headsets with similar features.

Although slight discomfort courtesy of the tight (but well-cushioned) headband still settled in after about an hour,  it’s considerably less than the level of discomfort experienced with the vice-like, thinly cushioned ‘Jaw of Doom’ headband found on the Turtle Beach XP Seven.

Audio performance

The SteelSeries 9H sounds good, although its default settings are definitely not gaming tuned—the bass is far too low. For gaming, you’ll definitely want to use the equalizer in the SteelSeries Engine software to pump up the boom.

I didn’t detect any distortion at the highest volume levels (in games or music), and the surround sound is on par with other headsets in its price range—which is to say it’s good enough for Left 4 Dead 2 but not as good as a dedicated 7.1 speaker setup.

Assuming you want to use the SteelSeries Engine 3 software with the 9H headset, know that it isn’t (currently) compatible with the SteelSeries Apex keyboard. This, unfortunately, means you’ll have to run both driver suites (SteelSeries Engine 2 and SteelSeries Engine 3) if you happen to have an Apex keyboard (and possibly other SteelSeries peripherals). Presumably this will be addressed at some point in the future.

Overall: Recommended

The SteelSeries 9H provides all the ‘essential’ features of a good gaming headset — good sound, simple design, surround sound, and comfort — and scores well across the board for all of them. In addition, the SteelSeries 9H provides superior noise reduction without sacrificing comfort, which makes it good for virtually any environment—work, home, gaming, or otherwise.

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