Pros: Build quality, sound quality, microphone clarity, software, retractable microphone, accessories, different types of connections
Cons: Microphone physical extension length, headband comfort (for long sessions)
Overall sound quality for a headset: 9.5/10
Microphone quality: 9/10
Review price: £145
Value: 9/10 (at £145 price tag)
Overall rating: 9/10
First of all I would like to thank SteelSeries for sending me their headset for review. After having reviewed the Siberia V2 Heat Orange Gaming Headset, I was very much curious to see how the closed-back offering by SteelSeries would compare, both sonically and in terms of its overall performance as a headset. The 9H can be found on AmazonUK. The product can be found for anything between £135 and £155. I took the mid-point for this review and reviewed it at a £145 price tag.
For more information about the headset and its specifications can be found on SteelSeries' website.
Here's my video review:
Now let's get into the written review:
Before I get into the build quality of the 9H headset, I'll quickly mention what the package includes.
With the 9H headset you get:
-A 3.5mm removable jack for mobiles and OSX
-2x 3.5mm removable jacks that are used for connecting the headset to a Windows machine or a soundcard
-A removable USB soundcard v2 by SteelSeries, with Dolby technology integrated within it
-A 2m extension cable
-A 1.2m cable with a volume rocker and mute slider integrated within it
-A SteelSeries sticker
Overall, the accessories you get are great, especially with the extra cable for different types of devices.
The only downside is the lack of a pouch. The only reason I mention a pouch, is because the headset can be taken on trips and be used with different types of devices. Therefore, I can easily see myself or anyone owning this keyboard taking it with them on the train or on a trip, where they'll want to use the headset with a given laptop and/or wit their friend's PC.
Thus a pouch would have been nice to have, in order to protect the headphone from spills or scratches, whilst being placed in a bag.
Moving unto the build quality of the 9H, which in all honesty is extremely impressive. I really like that SteelSeries maintained the retractable mic from the Siberia V2 range, however wasn't too convinced about the overall length of the retractable mic. I found the mic to be falling a little short, thus finding myself having the mic not directly placed in front of my mouth, but rather next to my cheek. This might not seem a problem, but what I found (demonstrated in my video, linked at the top of this article) was the microphone picking up external noises (such as keyboard typing and mouse clicking) and more so, the headset's own sound output. Thus if I was listening to music on my headset and not on "push to talk" (ie on Skype) or talking with music playing in my headset, I found that the other person that I was talking to, was able to hear my headset, via my mic.
Thus, on Skype for example, whilst listening to music on my headset, my cousin was able to hear the song I was listening to, despite me not talking. This wouldn't have been a problem if the microphone was placed further away from the drivers/cups. It's slightly disappointing, but not a major downfall of the headset, as I don't really expect gamers to be listening to music, whilst gaming and talking to their friends. However, it should be something to bear in mind and could cause discomfort for whoever is on the receiving end of your conversation.
Moving unto the actual materials that the headphones was constructed with, I found that the overall strength and durability of the headphones to be extremely good. The top of the headband is made out of a solid plastic construction, the headband is adjustable (despite not having marking to show how much you've adjusted it by), the ear pads are nice and thick (which comes as a huge relief over the Siberia V2) with a nice orange stitching around them to give them a good look, the wires are all braided and follow the orange colour scheme, which adds a nice little touch to them and finally the outer cups of the headphones are made out of a solid plastic material.
Overall, the build quality is great, however due to some flaws, I didn't feel it deserved a perfect rating, especially with the synthetic headband pads which just don't feel great nor absorb sweat well enough.
In comparison to the Siberia V2 it was nice to see the ear pads to have increased in volume, but it was a little disappointing to see SteelSeries dropping the suspended headband design assembly. I can see why they created a moire "solid" headphone, however I feel that it wasn't as comfortable as the older Siberia V2 (more on than just below). Furthermore, the Siberia V2 seemed to have the right mic length for me. Even if it was "too long" for some people, it could still be retracted to the desired length. For me on the other hand, the 9H was just too short - I just wish it extended that little bit extra. The comparison thus is a little give and take, with the Siberia V2. One one hand you got a more solid construction and robust design (the 9H), but on the other hand you got a more "thought out" design, that's really made for home use. I personally think a combination of the two models would render into a perfect gaming headset, in terms of build quality. The extra pads and closed back design from the 9H and a longer mic with a suspended headband assembly from the Siberia V2. That for me, would be the perfect gaming headset, build quality wise (and even generally).
The comfort of the 9H was great, although not perfect. Being super analytical of the 9H's comfort, I found that over long periods of gaming sessions my head would "hurt" a little from the four small synthetic pads located at the top of the headband. This is me being super analytical of the headphones though and with long periods of gaming, so do bear that in mind.
With that said, the comfort did improve in respect to the pads. In my Siberia V2 review I tried to highlight the thing pads as a comfort issue. This is thankfully not the case with the 9H headset, as due to their thicker pads, comfort in that respect is really good. I was very much satisfied with the pads that were included with the 9H.
Again, as mentioned above in the build quality section, it was a little give or take on the Siberia V2 progression. I personally prefer a suspension headband design, as it sits looser and lighter on your head, but with that said I can see why SteelSeries went for a more robust design with the 9H.
Thus overall, in terms of comfort I liked the thicker driver pads, but personally disliked the headband, especially compared to its brother the Siberia V2. I guess there is a little subjectivity that plays into this, but in all honesty, I feel the Siberia V2 would come out on top (in terms of assessing headband only) for the majority of gamers and even casual listeners.
Sound quality & Isolation
Here is where the 9H is supposed to perform, as if it doesn't it won't be popular among gamers or music listeners and my god did it impress me.
In my Siberia V2 review I was a little disappointed by the bass strength and extension, however was reasonably pleased with the mids and highs, comparing it to a cheap-man's AKG K545 headset variant, which in all honesty is an honour to be compared with such an excellent audiophile headphone.
However with the 9H, especially being closed back, I was intrigued by its different approach to sound. The mid-bass and sub-bass is really what stood out for me, especially when compared to the Siberia V2. The 9H headset in fact completely blows the Siberia V2, in terms of bass extension and quality, out the water by a country mile. The bass was just lovely to my ears, when it came to listening to my music, it felt that there was no "compromises" being made by SteelSeries, especially at its price point. Then came my gaming experiences, and there I was very happy with the bass extension in explosions and the "rumble" you got from tank driving in Battlefield 4. I should say, I mainly based my audio impressions, based on my own personal music (which is R'n'B and dance music), as I personally feel that sound in games has degraded as years have gone by. Although that's a different debate, Battlefield sounds like overblown farts. That's got nothing to do with the headset, just the game itself(as my 5.1 speakers also perform like that with that particular game). I thought I should mention that as a little side note.
Anyway, I digress, the 9H really impressed me with the low end tones and especially with the sub-bass that it really did well in.
In terms of the mids and highs, I was neither excited nor disappointed. Just like the Siberia V2 they were slightly veiled and rolled off, which in all honesty I was expecting. However one thing did stand out from the Siberia V2, and that was the soundstage of the 9H headset. The soundstage of the Siberia V2 was sublime, due to it being a fully open back headphone. Although this compromised isolation, it really didn't matter as most of the gamers would use it at home, rather than in loud environment (ie. train commutes) - thus isolation not really being a problem.
The 9H, due to being closed-back really does well in the isolation front. I would in fact feel comfortable taking it on the bus or train, without worrying too much about isolation, especially seeing as it doesn't leek too much music. It certainly isn't perfect in isolation or the prevention of leaking music externally, but it does a better than average job.
The soundstage on the other hand was heavily hit, in comparison to an open back headphone, the Siberia V2s. This is really a debate between closed-back and open-back headphones. On one hand, you get better isolation and better bass (with closed-back) and on the other you get better soundstage and position with a compromise in bass. This really is the case with audiophile headphones, let alone with affordable priced headsets. So, it is to be expected, but it is something I feel I should mention for Siberia V2 owners, or people who were thinking of buying the Siberia V2 instead.
The Siberia V2 has a much better soundstage, simply due to its design. With that said the 9H is extremely good in soundstage, but just not as good as the Siberia V2. IN fact, the Siberia V2, due to being open-back would perform technically better in the soundstage department, in comparison to my "audiophile" modded Denon AH-D2000s. Again, this is due to the design.
Does this mean the 9H is bad at soundstage and position? No, absolutely not. But if you want something better, then an open-back headphone would be a better choice. Personally I prefer closed-back headphones, due to their better bass extension and increased isolation (due to my loud G710+ mechanical keyboard, isolation is always a plus). To put it into perspective for you, in numbers, the Siberia V2 would score 10/10 in soundstage, the modded Denon AH-D2000s 9/10 and the 9H headset a very reasonable 8/10. Thus you can now get a reasonable idea of how the 9H compares to other types of headphones.
Overall, the sound quality really impressed me. I really was with a smile with my face listening and using the 9H for gaming. In all honesty, with the Siberia V2 I was impressed, but the 9H for me took it to another level sonically. It just did that extra little bit. Sure it was outperformed in terms of soundstage, but other than that, especially in the bass department, it really excelled. I wasn't really keen in using the Siberia V2 for my gaming or musical needs, simply due to its lack of bass. But the 9H on the other hand has been leaving my Denon's on the shelf a few nights in a row (I think it might be getting jealous). Don't get me wrong the 9H doesn't outperform my Denon's sound quality, however it is reasonably close and give sit a good run for its money. Due to the 9H being a headset too, it gives me that added convinence, which makes me choose it over the Denon's when it comes to solely gaming.
Recording / Microphone quality
The recording and mic quality had a significant improvement for me. The microphone was very clear and more so didn't have any problems with the noise cancellation feature, unlike the Siberia V2. I felt the 9H really did well overall, however there were a few noted problems, which meant it didn't score full marks for. This came down to the build quality really and the design of the headphone. The mic didn't extend as far as I wanted it to, meaning the mic would often pick up other noises (even with the mic reduction/cancellation on, via the software). For example, my keyboard was easily heard and even my mouse clicks at times (tested via Skype and personal tests/recordings). The biggest issue however was the fact that the mic would pick up its own sound coming out from the headset. For example, when I was playing music via my headset and recording my voice in a commentary, you could clearly hear the song and even distinguish the song itself quite easily via the microphone. This meant it could potentially be bad for commentaries and/or the other person on the receiving end of your call or chat. Imagine having to play on Skype with someone, where you could hear all his or hers music/gameplay sounds, whilst talking to them. It would be quite annoying for me personally.
Thus the microphone isn't perfect, but it definitely is an improvement and in all honesty, I think it does an excellent job. Giving it anything lower I felt was a little criminal to do, as it does exceptionally well, especially when compared to other microphones out there that can be bought for as much as £20 and perform even worse. My Logitech USB mic is my go-to recording mic, but it can cause problems with keyboard clicks, speaker pick-up noises and even mouse clicks. So in all honesty, it sort of has the same problem, but that's another story.
The software was what really let me down with the Siberia V2, with conflicts and problems with other gaming software (most notably the Logitech and Anker software), however whatever SteelSeries have done with their new Engine 3 is an absolute miracle. It had absolutely no problems with any other software and more so was a refined, more polished version of their previous iteration. I was completely blown away by the software. So simple, yet so effective to use. A job well down, all round from SteelSeries with the Engine 3 software. It provided all the options I was looking for and especially with its live preview function it made deciding between the options, extremely easy. Top marks, and well deserved to SteelSeries for that one.
Overall, this headset is extremely good and really did surprise me. I wasn't expecting such an improvement (especially software wise) in comparison to the Siberia V2, but what SteelSeries have done, is an excellent job in incorporating a good quality sound with a great piece of software innovation. Furthermore their build quality, although not perfect, really did impress me. I can't quite stress how impressed I was with the Siberia V2 and now the 9H takes it to another level. I think SteelSeries had a very high bar to reach, and boy did they reach it with the 9H. As far as I'm concerned, it's a new high standard for headset around the world. I want to commemorate SteelSeries for this fine headset, as in all honesty they did a great job. More so, when you think about the price to performance ratio it really does well. At a £145 price tag I would recommend it, any lower (say £100) would be a total no brainer, and that is coming from someone who has always been sceptical about headset and more so their raw sound quality.
Top marks to SteelSeries, highly recommended from me.
Hope you enjoyed my review!