SteelSeries Arctis 3 Gaming Headset - Stylish Surround
SteelSeries is a popular Danish manufacturer of PC gaming peripherals and we've looked at several of their products here at LegitReviews over the years. In March 2017, I looked at the SteelSeries Arctis 7 Wireless Gaming Headset
and came away thoroughly impressed with the design and comfort of the headset, giving it an Editors' Choice Award. Today, I am looking at the SteelSeries Arctis 3 Gaming Headset, the most basic offering in the Arctis headset lineup. With the Arctis 7 being a great gaming headset that I still use on a regular basis, I am looking forward to seeing what the entry level Arctis 3 ($64.99 shipped
) brings to the table.
The SteelSeries Arctis 3 is a relatively lightweight gaming headset that is very stylish and streamlined, especially compared to a lot of the offerings on the market. While similar to the SteelSeries Arctis 7 in many regards, using the same type of AirWeave ear cushions and speaker drivers, the SteelSeries Arctis 3 lacks wireless functionality, doesn't have an LED indicator on the microphone and can't be connected via USB. The SteelSeries Arctis 7 and Arctis 5 have their surround sound functionality built into the sound cards that they employ over USB connections, while the Arctis 3 uses code-activated software that interacts with your sound card drivers to provide surround sound functionality.
Boreal Blue, Slate Grey, Solar Red and White editions of the Arctis 3 are currently available from SteelSeries if the standard black color isn't your style. The special colors of the Arctis 3 were released as part of a special anti-bullying campaign and 10% of the sales on the SteelSeries website of the Boreal Blue, Slate Grey and Solar Red Arctis 3 headsets go towards the anti-bullying charity "Ditch The Label." SteelSeries is trying to reach a $10,000 goal and for more information, you can visit the Arctis Colors website
The Boreal Blue Arctis 3 that I received for this review looks good and has a uniform color across all of the components. I think most users will gravitate towards black because it is color-neutral and fits in well in most scenarios, but the special colors of Arctis 3 definitely look unique and stand out from the pack of countless ugly gaming headsets on the market.
SteelSeries Arctis 3 Specifications
- Neodymium Drivers: 40mm
- Headphone Frequency Response: 20-22000 Hz
- Headphone Sensitivity: 98db
- Headphone Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Headphone Total Harmonic Distortion: < 3%
- Headphone Volume Control: On Ear Cup
- Microphone Frequency Response: 100Hz - 10000Hz
- Microphone Pattern: Bidirectional
- Microphone Sensitivity: -48 db
- Microphone Impedance: 2200 Ohm
- Microphone Location: Retractable
- Microphone Mute Toggle: On Ear Cup
- Connector Type: Dual 3.5mm, 3-Pole Plug or Single 3.5mm, 4-Pole Plug via included adapter
- Cable Length: 3m/10ft
- Cable Material: Rubber
- Adapter: Single 3.5mm, 4-Pole Plug
- Share Jack: Yes
- Detachable Cable: Yes
- Product Information Guide
- Arctis 3 Headset
- Main Cable
- Dual 3.5mm Extension Cable
- 3.5mm 4-Pole Adapter
SteelSeries covers the Arctis 3 with a one year warranty, which is similar to the warranty provided with all of their other products. Gaming headsets can take quite a bit of user-inflicted abuse and SteelSeries' competitors like Corsair and Logitech both offer two year warranty on all of their audio products, so it is time for SteelSeries to step up their warranty coverage in the face of competition.
The SteelSeries Arctis 3 comes in an appropriately sized box that is well-made and illustrates the product very well. SteelSeries puts text that says "Best Gaming Headset" and denotes in big letters, but above it it says in small letters "From the makers of the..." A little of the old cleverly deceptive marketing. The rear of the SteelSeries Arctis 3 box does a good job of explaining which accessories are included with the heeadset, along with pointing out some of the features of the unit. As with the rest of the product in their lineup, SteelSeries notes on the top of the box of the Arctis 3 that more money has been won by esports players by SteelSeries than any other brand. I am not sure which qualifications and considerations SteelSeries uses to calculate how much money their peripherals have won vs. other manufacturers in esports tournaments, but they definitely have some interesting marketing points on with their packaging.
The Arctis 3 is packaged within the box inside of a molded clamshell that has the SteelSeries logo stamped into the center. There is a molded plastic piece on top of the headset to keep it secure during transport. The presentation of the Arctis 3 is good, while keeping the headset well protected during use. The Arctis 3 accessories are all packaged in a single labeled box underneath the headset clamshell. This packaging method ensures no loose accessories are in the box and that the end users unpacks all of the necessary accessories for the Arctis 3 without missing anything or accidentally tossing something aside.
SteelSeries includes a quick start and warranty guide with the Arctis 3. The quick start guide is illustrated, informative and contains all of the information a user will need to get the Arctis 3 set up. A registration card is included for the Arctis 3 so that the SteelSeries Engine 3 software can unlock the SSAudio application, which allows for surround sound, equalizer effects and microphone adjustments for the Arctis 3 to take place through any sound card with 3.5 mm audio inputs for the microphone and headphone.
The Arctis 3 ships with a 4 1/2 foot main cable that has a proprietary end to connect to the headphone and extension cables. Unfortunately, if this cable is lost, you won't be able to source another one from Amazon or a non-SteelSeries source. The main cable has a single gold plated four-pole connection on the end, which allows it to work on consoles, phones, or other devices with a single four-pole connection, such as the Corsair ST100 RGB Headset Stand. The dual 3.5 mm extension cable extends the main cable into individual mic and audio jacks. The extension cable adds an additional five and a half feet to the Arctis 3 audio cable, bringing the total cable length to ten feet, which is more than adequate for pretty much any scenario where the headset is going to be used for PC gaming at a desktop. The cables that SteelSeries includes with the Arctis 3 have a soft touch rubber coating, are thin and easy to route, while maintaining a high level of quality and durability. There is concern over the cables being proprietary, but SteelSeries does sell replacement accessories for their entire Arctis lineup.
SteelSeries didn't include any stickers with the Arctis 3 Colors Edition headsets and I know they included them with my Arctis 7 and previous revisions of the Arctis 3. That's four SteelSeries products in a row with no stickers, when I had become very used to SteelSeries including case stickers and full on sticker packs with their headsets and mice.
The overall packaging and presentation of the Arctis 3 are solid, though minimal. Everything was packaged well and SteelSeries includes the accessories in a clearly marked, easy to access container. The included cables have a nice feel to them and are more than adequate in terms of length.
Let's take a closer look at the SteelSeries Arctis 3 Gaming Headset, next.
SteelSeries Arctis 3 Gaming Headset - A Closer Look
The SteelSeries Arctis 3 are well-built and stylish, making them ideal for use in multiple environments. You won't find any RGB lighting or other over-the-top features on the Arctis 3 and they'd fit in fine on a bus ride as much as they would at a LAN tournament. The Boreal Blue color does stands out, though I would lean towards the standard black unit if I were purchasing the Arctis 3 for myself, as the blue was just a bit too attention-grabbing for my liking. If you are going for a blue setup or have an infatuation with the Smurfs, you're going to love the Boreal Blue Arctis 3. The upper headband of the Arctis 3 is covered with soft touch plastic and has a rubber piece lining the inside. While most of the Arctis 3 is made of plastic, the connecting pieces where the swivels meet the band, the headband suspension clips and upper band are made of aluminum. The Arctis 3 has a very solid, durable feel to it, while not being too much of a tank.
Unlike most of the other gaming headset on the market, which rely on typical material-covered foam padding for the headband, the SteelSeries Arctis 3 uses an adjustable suspension headband that is made out of cloth and is replaceable. While the headband may look a bit odd and you may question its function, it works extremely well at keeping pressure even across the head and is adjustable, giving range for the largest of heads. I found the default adjustment from the factory to be perfect for my head. This headband keeps the head from touching the top headband of the Arctis 3 in most scenarios, though larger heads will probably still make some contact with the top bar, which is rubberized and soft, so comfort isn't an issue.
The ear cups of the Arctis 3 each carry the SteelSeries logo in a tasteful black font. These ear cups are stylish and have an oval shape that flows well. There is a small indented ring that goes around the outer perimeter of the cup, this is where the RGB lighting ring is on the Arctis 5.
The Arctis 3 are capable of being folded completely flat, allowing them to sit around the neck when not being used, or stored in low profile storage cases. The swivels on the Arctis 3 have clean movement to them and there isn't any creaking or other noise presented when using the Arctis 3, even when moving my head a lot. The AirWeave cushions cover a nicely padded foam material that feels great on the ears, while holding well and firm. The material on the AirWeave cushions is very similar to the material you'd find on a pair of workout shorts from Adidas. While I like this material and find it breathes well, my wife said it was a bit too scratchy and she prefers the leatherette material on my HyperX Cloud Alpha headset. The S1 drivers do sit pretty close to the ear and may actually touch some ears, depending on their shape, but I never had any comfort issues.
The Arctis 3 has all of the controls on the left ear cup. I think they could have used the right ear cup to get rid of some of the clutter, but really, there are only two controls the user will ever use on this side. The volume rocker is easy to use and offers a nice, clean action, without any play or slop. Unlike wireless or USB gaming headsets, the Arctis 3 volume dial actually controls the resistance in the headphone rather than the Windows OS volume, so it works with any device. There is an easy to press mic mute button that pops out when the mic is muted, making it very easy to tell your current microphone output situation. Beneath the proprietary connection for the included audio cable, there is a 3.5 mm audio jack. This jack allows you to daisy-chain the Arctis 3 to any other headset or audio device with 3.5 mm input. I could see this jack coming in useful at a gaming tournament where a single team were on the same audio chain, perhaps.
The ClearCast microphone of the Arctis 3 is the same microphone SteelSeries uses across all of their headsets. This version doesn't have the LED indicator that is present on the Arctis 5 and 7, which let the user know if the microphone is muted. The ClearCast mic has a rubberized cable that is very easy to maneuver into place and is bi-directional, with capsule inputs on both sides of the microphone. SteelSeries claims the ClearCast microphone is the best microphone you'll find on any gaming headset, which is quite the bold claim.
Let's take a look at the SteelSeries Engine 3 Software and see how the Arctis 3 performs in real-world testing.
SteelSeries Arctis 3 Gaming Headset - Engine 3 Software and Testing
SteelSeries Engine 3 version 22.214.171.124 was used for testing of the Arctis 3. This version is available on the SteelSeries website and is the latest official release of the software. I've used this particular version for the past couple of SteelSeries products I have reviewed. To test the SteelSeries Arctis 3 headset, I used the Sound Blaster X Katana, which has a built-in 24-Bit DAC that operates over USB. I've found that the Katana mic input allows for clear, clean recording and have used it for my last few reviews to get recording samples. I also verified that the Engine 3 software interacted properly and allowed for virtual surround sound on the Aorus Z370 Gaming 5 Realtek onboard audio and Corsair ST100 RGB Headset Stand, as well. The Engine 3 software worked fine with all of the sound devices I attempted to use it with and toggling between different sound cards wasn't an issue.
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Upon initially registering the Arctis 3, additional audio control software had to be downloaded from SteelSeries. This download went particularly fast and was seamless, with Engine 3 starting up completely once the download was completed and the additional software had been automatically installed.
Since the Arctis 3 connects over a 3.5 mm connection, the SteelSeries Engine 3 software can't actually tell if it is installed. In order to get around this, SteelSeries provided a registration code that unlocks the headset in their software, giving a layer that installs over the sound card, allowing the Arctis 3 to be used in Surround Mode with any sound card that has a 3.5 mm input.
Besides offering a 7.1 surround sound toggle, the SteelSeries Engine 3 software gives users an equalizer with several presets and a bass boost slider. In the microphone settings section, SteelSeries gives users a preview mode, along with settings for dynamic compression, noise gate and noise reduction. Dynamic compression reduces variances in volume when you speak, so there won't be peaks and valleys in your voice. The noise gate setting mutes the mic when no audio is detected and you can manually adjust this to three levels, making it so that you have to speak up to activate the microphone, which may be helpful when you are playing with an open microphone in a noisier environment and don't want background noise picked up. Noise reduction is an overall reduction of noise picked up by the mic, which may sacrifice detail. In general, the ClearCast microphone worked great with the default settings, but it is nice to have the extra settings provided by the Engine 3 should you need to use them in a noisier environment.
The added functionality provided by the SteelSeries Engine 3 software was excellent and really helps wake up the Arctis 3 and turn them into a finely tuned gaming headset. The Arctis 3 SteelSeries Engine 3 functionality is activated through software and registered to the logged in user, so the Engine 3 software can theoretically be used with any headset that uses a 3.5 mm input. It was fun taking my other gaming headsets like the HyperX Cloud and using them with the Engine 3 software to bring out some extra functionality that my sound cards weren't capable of. While the Arctis 3's virtual surround mode isn't quite up to par with Dolby Surround or DTS-X provided by the higher end Arctis units, the Engine 3 software offers extended equalization modes that aren't even present on the higher end Arctis headphones, so there are some interesting trade offs. SteelSeries continues to improve their Engine 3 software and I haven't experienced any issues or crashes with it across the past four SteelSeries products I've reviewed.
Subjective Audio Quality Comments
I've generally found that stereo mode on gaming headsets gives me the best positional audio in most games, with the typical surround modes available doing a decent job of phasing the audio, but not providing excellent audio quality. In general, the surround mode on the Arctis 3 is passable, but still has the typical airy, spaced out sound that comes with surround sound headsets. However, the positional audio in stereo mode on the Arctis 3 is great and I am able to tell where action is coming from, though a little more audio separation would have helped in that department. Basically, for the best experience with the Arctis 3 stick with stereo mode for most scenarios and toggle on surround when you find it applicable. Battlefield 1 and PUBG both sounded excellent on the Arctis 3 and I had no trouble telling where footsteps or gunfire were coming from, though a little more audio separation would have been bliss.
For listening to music, the Arctis 3 are passable, but since they tend to lack dynamic range and offer a more flat, neutral sound, they aren't going to offer the best experience. Still, they were enjoyable to listen to electronic music on and certainly won't turn users away based on how they sound. Most audiophiles will recognize the Arctis 3 sound as passable, but lacking range and not sounding completely natural. Compared to many gaming headsets, the Arctis 3 are great for listening to music, just don't expect them to be on the level with some mid-level Sennheiser or Audio Technica cans.
Movies sound good on the Arctis 3, with vocalization coming through clearly and audio properly represented, without any over-boosting of frequencies or dynamic issues. I used Star Wars: The Force Awakens to test the Arctis 3 with an action movie encoded in surround. Surround mode was airy and spaced out, giving a less immersive feeling when watching content, so I just left the headset on stereo mode and tried equalizer settings, which gave better results. The Arctis 3 are definitely passable to watch movies on, but their relatively flat sound takes a bit of the punch and excitement out of the film. Still, the audio of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was reproduced well in stereo mode on the Arctis 3 and I could hear little details like individual laser blasts and BB8 scuttling along with great detail.
Microphone Recording Quality Comparison
I tested the microphone recording quality on the Arctis 3 over the Sound Blaster X Katana, which has a built in DAC that operates over USB. The recording was done at 44.1 KHz in Audacity at 90% recording levels for both microphones, with each microphone placed about three fingers width from my mouth at the proper, recommended angles. I tested the microphone on the Arctis 3 against the HyperX Cloud Alpha, a $99 LegitReviews Editors' Choice Winner
that I consider to be the standard-bearer for wired gaming headsets.
The ClearCast microphone on the SteelSeries Arctis 3 has clear pick up, though it isn't as dynamic as I would like. Compared to many of the gaming headsets out there, the Arctis 3 sports a quality microphone that picks up my voice clearly and consistently. I think that the microphone on the Arctis 3 favors well against the mics on most gaming headsets, though there are certainly headsets with better, more dynamic microphones. One issue I have to note, that I won't exhibit due to how annoying it would be, is that the ClearCast microphone suffers from bad pick-up of any cable-noise. So, if you you need to move the mic at all and your headset isn't muted, you're going to pass a lot of static and noise on to whoever you are chatting with. Just try to remember this and mute the mic on the Arctis 3 before you do any moving of it, or you might make people upset.
I do find that the HyperX Cloud Alpha and Arctis 3 microphones are very comparable, but that the HyperX has more dynamic range and a bit more fullness to it, bringing out more of my true voice and inflection. The HyperX Cloud Alpha microphone is one of the better microphones I have tested to date on a gaming headset and I do give it the slight edge over the SteelSeries offering, as it also doesn't suffer from pick up on the cable and is removable and replaceable, something that the SteelSeries Arctis 3 can't claim.
Here, we get a comparison against the standalone ModMic 5, a $69.95 standalone unit. While the recording quality is best and clearest on the ModMic 5 out of the three tested microphones, I think it paints the ClearCast microphone of the Arctis 3 in a good light. The Arctis 3 retail for just $10 more than the ModMic 5 costs, alone. Sure, the ModMic 5 sounds the fullest and has the best range, but for online games and Skype calls, which often compress recording quality anyways, the Arctis 3 is beyond acceptable. Now, if you're trying to roll your own headset with a quality Sennheiser, Audio Technica, or Grado headphone, the ModMic 5 makes sense. For a gaming headset, the ClearCast mic on the Arctis 3 is damn fine.
Overall Thoughts on Sound and Mic Quality
Overall, the Arctis 3 have a clean, clear audio that is well-defined, but lacking in dynamics and separation. For gaming, the headset works well, with directional audio being precise in FPS games like Overwatch, though the surround mode generally made the audio looser and less precise, so I stuck with stereo mode. For music and movies, the Arctis 3 are passable, but they lack the dynamics and purity you'd find with a true audiophile headset. The S1 speaker drivers are good, better than the drivers you find in headsets from competition like Razer, but they aren't quite up to par with the sound quality of the HyperX Cloud Alpha. The ClearCast microphone quality is top notch for a gaming headset, though not as dynamic or clear as the ModMic 5, which is understandable.
Let's wrap up this review with my overall thoughts on the Arctis 3 as a complete package and see where it stands in the competitive gaming headset market.
SteelSeries Arctis 3 Gaming Headset - Conclusion
I was really happy with how the SteelSeries Arctis 3 performed, overall. The Arctis 3 presents a fairly neutral audio signature that is close to the Arctis 7, with solid clarity in all ranges. None of my audio devices had issues driving the Arctis 3 and it was able to reach full volumes without distortion on my ST100, which provided very loud, clear audio that could have drowned out the loudest of LAN tournaments. The microphone quality, which SteelSeries touts as the best in gaming, is good, though I think the HyperX Cloud Alpha microphone sounds better overall, with more apparent range and better pop filtration. The on-ear controls for audio and microphone mute were very well-implemented on the Arctis 3, with the volume rocker in an easy to reach location and offering a nice, tactile response.
Comfort is where the Arctis 3 really stands out from other gaming headsets, as they offer the perfect amount of clamping force out of the box for users with medium to large sized heads and the AirWeave ear pads allow for the ears to breathe while feeling good against the skin. The out-of-the-box adjustment for the ski goggle suspension headband on the Arctis 3 was perfect, but users with smaller heads may feel the need to tighten things up. With excellent comfort and good sound quality on their side, the SteelSeries Arctis 3 nailed my two most important considerations for a gaming headset.
Though it is pretty solid headset and there isn't any one area where I'd say they completely fall flat, the SteelSeries Arctis 3 certainly has a few areas where improvement can be made. Audio quality is good, but there is a lack of separation, with the sounds blending together rather than having a dynamic range. The sound is clear and crisp, but I just would like the audio to be more dynamic, allowing foot steps to stand out more from the rest of the audio. The bass is definitely on the neutral side, which I like, but it may turn off gamers who love a little thump and tingle on their ears. While most users are going to like the included AirWeave ear cushions, the Adidas basketball short-like material that SteelSeries is using may not feel good to some. Thankfully, SteelSeries has a full set of replacement ear cushions available
for the Arctis 3 in different materials like velour and leather, so concerns about the ear cup material being uncomfortable, or long term wear, are easily addressed.
Right now, the SteelSeries Arctis 3 ($64.99 at Amazon
) has some solid competition in the form of the Corsair Void Pro ($49.99 at Amazon
), another stylish wired gaming headset that I use on a regular basis. I rank the Arctis 3 above the Void Pro in terms sound and microphone quality, with the Void Pro having a slight edge on style due to its sleek design and RGB implementation. I'd say comfort between the Arctis 3 and Void Pro pretty even, though the Void Pro have the least clamping force of any gaming headset I've ever tested at the expense of being somewhat loose on the head. For users who want the best build and sound quality, the Arctis 3 from SteelSeries is the clear choice out of the two. For $20 more than the Arctis 3, you can get into my personal favorite wired gaming headset, the Hyper X Cloud Alpha ($99.99 at Amazon
). The Arctis 3 matches up very well with the HyperX Cloud Alpha, though, especially when you consider the extras that the Engine 3 software brings to the table.
It's very easy to recommend the SteelSeries Arctis 3 at their current $64.99 price at Amazon
, but if you want some extra features like a built-in sound card and RGB functionality, the SteelSeries Arctis 5 is currently available for $99.99
. The awesome Arctis 7 wireless, which offer a low latency wireless connection and illuminated microphone are also available for $99.99
. Users who want to support an anti-bullying charity and get a special color of the Arctis 3 like Boreal Blue or Solar Red can go to the SteelSeries website and buy directly
. SteelSeries has done a great job with their Arctis lineup, offering quality sound on each unit, while differentiating each headset enough to give them a proper space in the market. Regardless of your choice, if you are looking for a quality gaming headset, you can't go wrong with a SteelSeries Arctis.
Legit Bottom Line: The SteelSeries Arctis 3 is a comfortable, great looking gaming headset with good sound quality and a decent microphone.