Review: SteelSeries Arctis 3 continues the SteelSeries legacy of comfort

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Arctis 3 (black) gaming headset. Credit: SteelSeries

The SteelSeries Arctis 3 gaming headset demonstrates SteelSeries commitment to comfortable, affordable, and well-designed gaming headsets.

 

Arctis: A new vision for SteelSeries headsets

First shown to me (under wraps) at E3 2016, the Arctis is a new line of headsets from SteelSeries, designed from the ground up to provide top tier comfort, sleek aesthetics, and superior ergonomics.

As part of the design process, SteelSeries looked outside traditional gaming peripherals to athletic equipment (ski goggles, shoes, gloves, etc.) for inspiration, and then paired it with a more ‘Apple-esque’ design philosophy. Flashy LEDs and similar adornments were shunned; elegant simplicity and functionality embraced.

arctis-control-panel
The SteelSeries Engine 3 software provides additional features, including an 11-channel equalizer, EQ presets, microphone adjustments, and more.

The result is the Arctis line of headsets, which comprises the Arctis 3, Arctis 5, and Arctis 7 headsets. The Arctis 3 is the base model; the Arctis 5 adds USB and some understated LED lighting, and the Artcis 7 is the wireless version of the Artcis 5.

The Arctis 3 features clean, curvy lines in a classy black matte exterior. It’s a comfortable headset, an office/coffee shop headset, and a gaming headset that doesn’t scream “gaming headset”. Even on the Artcis 5, the LED lighting is limited to a subtle, thin circle around the edge of each ear cup.

Arctis 3 Feature highlights and specifications

arctis-box
“The Arctis 3 doesn’t smell” — My Dog. (Credit: Bryan Edge-Salois)
  • Surround-sound capable with the SteelSeries Engine Software
  • 11-channel equalizer with presets and profiles
  • Voice preview
  • 3.5mm headphone sharing jack
  • Ear cup mounted controls for Mic Mute/Volume Control

Arctis 3 Headphone specifications

  • 40mm Neodymium Drivers
  • Frequency Response: 20-22000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 98db
  • Impedance: 32 Ohm
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: < 3%
  • Connector Type: Dual 3.5mm, 3-Pole Plug or Single 3.5mm, 4-Pole Plug via included adapter
  • 3 Meter detachable rubber cable
  • Adapter Single 3.5mm, 4-Pole Plug

Arctis 3 microphone specifications

  • Retractable
  • Noise cancelling
  • Frequency Response 100Hz – 10000Hz
  • Pattern Bidirectional
  • Sensitivity-48 db
  • Impedance 2200 Ohm

The SteelSeries Engine 3 software provides a modest set of software-driven features such as an 11-channel equalizer, support for EQ presets and profiles, and a few audio tweaks such as bass boost and some microphone adjustments. You can also enable voice preview if you like to hear your own voice when you’re gaming and conversing with team mates—a less common and generally welcomed feature among gaming headsets.

7.1 virtual surround sound is also an available option if you register a login and password with SteelSeries for the SteelSeries Engine software.

Still a king of comfort

Comfort is where the Arctis 3 truly shines. As simple an idea as it seems, the use of a fabric suspension headband is clearly an improvement over the typical suspension band used in many gaming headsets. It’s basically a ski-goggle band and made of the same stretchy fabric. It’s just as comfortable as and more durable than the suspension headband used in the SteelSeries Siberia headsets. The headband is also detachable and replaceable with a variety of headbands in different styles and colors; SteelSeries sells a variety of styles on their Web site.

Similarly, the fabric covering the memory foam ear cups is breathable and made from a thermoplastic material to aid noise isolation. The Arctis definitely provides a decent level of sound isolation (albeit not as much as some headsets), but it doesn’t crush your skull or get overly warm in doing so.

The flexible microphone extends out from the left ear cup – a popular design and a common one among SteelSeries headsets. You can roll it back into the left ear cup when not in use.

A lighted LED tip would have been appreciated to indicate when the mic is muted. Because the mic is muted via a small button on the back of the left ear cup, it’s not obvious or easy to discern whether the mic is muted or not without feeling for the button or asking your team mates “can you hear me now?”

Volume is controlled by a well-placed volume roller on the back of the left ear cup.

Performance

With a focus on comfortable design, the Arctis 3 is a fantastic headset for extended use.  So how does it sound?

Subjectively, it sounds good but it didn’t deeply impress me. The bass is strong. The simulated surround sound is respectable. Overall clarity is good. In short, it’s very good, and you can tweak it enough through the software to make it suit your tastes.

I would rank it as ‘above average’, but not quite as good as some of the better headsets I’ve reviewed over the years. It’s not quite as good as Creative Labs H5 in terms of overall audio performance, and the SteelSeries Engine 3 software doesn’t offer as many audio features as Creative’s Acoustic Engine.

Regardless, the slight trade-off in sound quality and features is more than offset by the exceptional comfort and stellar overall design of the Arctis 3. It’s a solid choice for a headset, especially if you want to travel with it or use it with your mobile devices from time to time.

Overall: 8/10 Highly Recommended

The SteelSeries Arctis 3 is a sexy and beautifully designed champion of comfort with strong audio performance and a good range of software features. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one to a friend shopping in the under $100 price range.

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8 comments

  1. How would you say these compare to the LS30 both in comfort and sound? Have you gotten a chance to try the Arctis 7? I’m torn between those two right now. Although I’ll probably wait until the LS40 is out to compare its 7.1 implementation to that of the Arctis 7.

    1. That’s a good question and a tough one. I really liked the LS30 and I think it fits a little better on my head, but I think I’d still give the Arctis 3 an edge in overall comfort (suspension headband designs are usually the most comfortable in my experience). The Arctis 3 also has more (software-driven) features like surround sound and such. The LS30 is a straightforward wireless stereo headset with no drivers or extra features apart from what the hardware provides. That said, I seem to recall the LS30 had slightly better audio overall, although I haven’t compared the 2 headsets back to back so take that for what it’s worth.

      I haven’t gotten an Arctis 7 for review yet, but as far as I know it’s effectively just a Wireless Arctis 3 with a little LED lighting.

    2. Does either headset have mic passthrough? So I can hear myself in the headset? I know windows has a feature like that, but it adds more latency than built in functionality usually does.

      Fwiw I couldn’t find any mention of that on either product page, so I don’t have high hopes.

    1. Thanks for answering my questions. Final question if you don’t mind, including the LS30 and the Arctis 7 (just pretend it feels exactly like the Arctis 3) what is your vote for best wireless headset?

  2. No problem at all. That’s a tough call — and this may only complicate the answer — but I really like Razer’s Man O’ War Wireless headset as well as the LS30. I think I’d give the edge to the Razer (see what I did there!) in terms of audio quality and features, and comfort to the Arctis 7. The LS30 is great, but it doesn’t offer as many software features or surround sound. I also prefer the retractable mic design on the Arctis and the Man O’ War. But all that said, it would be hard to go wrong with any of them — kind of just depends on what is most important to you vs. price.

    1. Thanks for the detailed response. I think comfort is my top priority, because I’ll never use them if they’re uncomfortable. I only have a 2.1 system with my computer speakers, so I’m not too worried about them sounding amazing. This has been super helpful in narrowing down my decision! I’ll make sure to try out Razer’s offering at Best Buy before I make any decisions.

      Thanks again!

  3. No problem! Hope it helped! 🙂 Best Buy is a good place to buy from if only because I seem to recall they have a pretty easy return policy — so you could potentially buy both, try both, and return the one you don’t want. 🙂

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