I’ve gone through dozens of headsets in my time as an audio enthusiast. While I won’t obsess over audio quality to an insane degree, I certainly give a damn as to whether or not my headphones output clear, quality sound. Having gone through two SteelSeries Siberia V2s (they’re certainly fragile), I know that SteelSeries can produce quality products (albeit, not the longest-lasting). With that said, the SteelSeries 9H headset delivers on nearly all fronts. This cozy over-ear headset comes in a well-organized package with clear instructions and plenty of accessories for the premium of $160USD.
Upon opening the box, you’ll find the headphones with an extending microphone, a USB sound card with your standard audio-in, mic-in, and micro-USB ports, a yard-length braided cable with in-line controls (a volume wheel and microphone on/off switch), a seven-foot long extension cable (also braided), and two choice audio adapters: a 3.5mm audio jack (in case you want to use the 9H with your iPhone as well as your PC), and a 3.5mm audio/mic dual-jack. There is sadly no carrying bag for the headset or cables, so you’ll have to provide that for yourself.
Setup proves easy enough. All connections are via mini-USB, which comes in handy for swapping out audio adapters and plugging in the extension cord. The headset is extremely comfortable to wear, fitting on my very large noggin without feeling like it’ll fall off. Leather lines the cushions, making for a cozy padding (though in a warmer climate, you may find the leather will trap in heat, which is the exact opposite of “cozy”).
In addition to the quality “fit” of the headset, the SteelSeries 9H also includes fantastic audio isolation that was capable of muffling one of the loudest plane rides I’ve been on in ages (don’t expect noise-cancelling headphone quality, but it’s certainly nice to be able to ignore the clicking of my mechanical keyboard while playing Skullgirls or typing out another essay. The audio drivers of the SteelSeries 9H are nothing short of impressive. With the sound card in use, the output quality of the audio was incredible, pumping out high frequencies in songs with parts I was never able to distinguish on my Sennheiser HD558s.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a “gaming headset” if the SteelSeries 9H lacked supplementary software. While not required, if you’re going to spend $160 on this headset, it’s best to get your money’s worth (and by god, do you get your money’s worth). SteelSeries Engine 3 is a free download for Windows and Mac OS off SteelSeries’ website (and is linked via a label on the sound card, so you’re certainly urged to use it).
Within the SteelSeries Engine is a slew of options to choose from, including an equalizer (with presets) and mic noise reduction (which not only works, but works well). Another neat feature is auto mic compression, which boosts low frequency audio and reduces high frequencies that the microphone outputs, providing a more more balanced transmission over VOIP clients like TeamSpeak, Skype, and in-game voice chat. Mic sidetone, which plays back what your mic picks up through the headset with configurable volume so you can tell that your mic is working properly, and mic volume are also welcome features. A multitude of profiles can be configured to launch automatically when specific programs are launched, meaning your music listening can smoothly translate into a match of Battlefield 4, disabling the music preset and enabling mic compression and sidetone while the game runs.
Of course, I always have to voice my complaints with the product. The SteelSeries 9H is a fantastic headset, but has a single glaring issue in the form of the one “feature” I avoided discussing: Dolby Audio. Sure, surround sound audio sounds like a great idea, but in the end, it makes listening through the SteelSeries 9H like having speakers mounted in different corners of a very large cave; it’s simply not ideal for any scenario, and a true surround sound setup sounds far better. Stick to stereo, and don’t even bother using Dolby (unless you’re curious). Another thing of note is audio artifacting; prior to handling the SteelSeries 9Hs, I’ve never encountered audio artifacting, but it’s definitely noticeable when it occurs (which is thankfully very rare, as it has only occurred twice, and was easily solved by disconnecting and reconnecting the headset). Other than that, the SteelSeries 9H is a very capable headset that is easily transported (you’ll still need to bring your own bag, though) and allows for clean audio, a quality microphone, and a comfortable fit.