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SteelSound 5H USB - TechAmok

SteelSound 5H USB

Date: 10:52 AM EST - Feb,05 2007
Category: hardware
Manufacturer: SteelSeries

If you are a gamer that uses a headset, you know that it has to be high quality in order to be ahead of the game. You want to know which direction enemies are in, and you want it to sound like you are in the game. Today, I will take a look at the SteelSound 5H USB, which includes many features that may appeal to the hardcore gamer.

Packaging

The SteelSound 5H USB arrived in one piece shipped from Denmark in a packing box and its sturdy and attractive display box. Checking out the retail packaging it's a clear plastic box, not one of those ones that are a pain to open. Opening the box up we have the following items: The headphones themselves, 6.5' extension cable, USB soundcard, and a mini CD with drivers, and the manual on it.

Specifications

Before we go any further lets take a look at the specs:

HEADPHONES:
- Freq. response: 16 - 28.000Hz
- Impedance: 40 Ohm
- SPL@1kHz, 1Vrms: 110dB
- Cable: 1 + 2 = 3m / 10ft
MICROPHONE:
- Freq. response: 75 - 16.000Hz
- Pick up pattern: Uni-directional
- Sensitivity: -38 dB
- Impedance: 2K Ohm


Design

From the pictures you can see the SteelSound 5H looks stunning in their black, silver and grey livery. The headset is made of a lightweight yet sturdy plastic. At first this material feels cheap, however, upon closer inspection it is apparent that it is not. In trying on the headphones, I found them quite comfortable. The padding is relatively thick and when wearing the set, they do not grab onto the ear tightly like some thicker sets. You can wear these for hours and they will not hurt your ears. The retractable microphone can be seen pulled out of the right headphone on these SteelSound 5H. When not in use you simply push it back in so you would not know there was a microphone attached. This is really cool!

The headphones can also be broken down into three pieces for easy transportation. This is great especially for travel. The headphones come with a fairly long cord, so you never have to worry about reaching your PC. Midway on the cord is the volume control for the speakers as well as the microphone. It is also fitted with a clip so that you can clip it onto say your shirt.

Installation / USB sound card

The installation is super easy. If you are not going to be using the USB sound card (Cmedia USB sound dongle) then all you have to do is plug the audio/microphone jacks into your current sound card. However, if you use the 5H's this way you are missing out on some features. The included USB sound card set uses Xear 3D sound technology, which is optimized for 3D gaming. It also offers a virtual 7.1 channel sound field which will allow you to get a 7.1 feel from your 2 speaker headset, regardless of what type of output device is actually utilized. And the quality of it isn't bad at all. So, If you are going to use the USB sound card then you will need to install the software included on the mini CD. Installing the drivers was straight-forward, although I did find it annoying (I bet it's a bug) that it required a reboot and offered no way/dialog to reboot later! After the reboot you will notice a small white icon ("USB 3D Sound Configuration") in your system tray. Double clicking this item will expose the following (see pictures). Here you will find the sound test and a few other setting.


How do they sound?

For the gaming portion of our evaluation, I played a variety of first person shooters, including Battlefield 2: Special Forces, Call of Duty 2, F.E.A.R, Half-Life 2 and Quake 4. The headset performed greatly here, and the sound was crisp and clear, even at loud volumes. The accuracy of the sound direction really impressed me too, and helped me increase my kills because I was able to hear which direction enemies were coming from. The quality of the sound in the games was excellent. Also the microphone performed much better than I had expected.

Next, I tested the SteelSound 5H USB while watching, and listening intently to The Matrix and From Dusk Till Dawn movies. I was very impressed with just how clear the sound was and it truly added to my movie experience. Of course, don't expect the headphones will provide a quality that is on-par with a real surround-sound system but as I already wrote - it was really most certainly a stunning experience.

The last test for the headset was listening to a wide array of music. Needless to say it's the most difficult test for any headphones. I used both Winamp and Windows Media Player, and listened to MP3 tracks (death metal, rock, industrial, jazzrock, ambient...) ripped with Exact Audio Copy and encoded with the LAME encoder using the alt-preset settings with variable bit rate. The bass was solid and the highs were very clear. Sure, they're just not in the same league as the Sennheisers, nor are they designed for the same purpose. But the overall music quality will still blow away a cheaper $30 set of headphones.

Conclusion

The SteelSound 5H USB do everything a good headset should and more: they produce quality sound, it has a good microphone on a sturdy stalk and it has long cables. The virtual 7.1 channel sound (requires the USB dongle + drivers) is amazing compared to normal headset sound quality. I honestly feel like they're worth every penny, just like the Icemat Siberia.

Pros:
- Comfortable fit, and easy on the ears
- Amazing sound - highly optimized for gaming
- Gold plated contacts
- Microphone is very responsive and clean
- Pull-out microphone system (Microphone is easily stored when not in use)
- Positional audio when using the USB adapter and drivers
- Cmedia USB sound dongle is truly plug and play (no driver was needed for basic sound)
- Detachable headband for safe transportation.

Cons:
- Price

*** Thanks to SteelSeries for providing the SteelSound 5H USB for evaluation. ***



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