Summary: Got big bucks? Want a pro gamer to endorse your headset? Do you abuse your headsets and go through them like a fat kid goes through a jar of cookies? Then we may have something to interest you...
Enter the Steel Sound 5H USB. A large, robust and fully-featured headset, it comes with its own USB sound card but that is detachable and the Steel Sound 5H can be connected to your regular audio device. Of course, in that case, you may wonder why you bought the USB version at allÖ
The 5H is a competent headset noticeably higher in quality than the cheaper Plantronics and other devices Iíve used in the past, but still falls well short of a comparably-priced Sennheiser pair of headphones. Of course, with the microphone it technically offers more features than a HD555 for example, but the sound quality difference is too vast to ignore. Though I am far from being an audiophile, the 5H clearly has a flat higher range compared to my beat-up Sennheisers. That, as well as a certain static and hiss at some volumes and frequency ranges, are the main drawbacks. For a gaming headset, there is no doubt that the 5H delivers good audio, but it pales in comparison to similarly-priced audio products.
Of course, quality listening is not why I bought the 5Hs. Where the headset stands proud and tall is in its features and durability. After 6 months of frequent use and constantly having the cord tangled in my feet or rudder pedals, not to mention the usual tugging, pulling and twisting, there is no sign that this headset is about to give out. It has endured more abuse than any other head audio piece Iíve had other than my Sennheisers, which have had their cords replaced routinely.
The microphone itself is about 5 inches long and retracts into the left headphone. Composed of a flexible metal cable, it is also durable and hasnít suffered from stress, like the stiff plastic Plantronics devices have. More importantly, microphone response is very good. It obviously wonít compare to a professional device, but whether tested against stand-up boom microphones or the ones on a headset, it is vastly superior. The difference is most noticeable in Ventrilo where audio quality is high, but fellow players on even TeamSpeak felt the difference was clear compared to the stand-alone boom microphone. My voice came in more naturally and clearly, with less distortion from amplification.
All in all, the quality of construction is very high. Again, we canít speak for the actual value of internal components used, since the sound quality is not particularly high, but as a matter of toughness the Steel Sound 5H headphones are by far the most robust to have come under attack from my feet, pedals, and careless throwing around.
Comfort is impressive for a headset, though again only typical of other items in this price range. The ear muffs are well-padded as is the top bar, and prolonged usage gives no discomfort. The manual volume adjustment knob is easy to reach and is firm enough that it doesnít adjust from merely casual brushing. Considering the rather wide size of my head, Iím impressed overall by the comfort, though the vertical extension on the ears is somewhat limited and may Ė I stress may - pose a problem for people with longer/taller heads.
The drivers that come with the Steel Sound 5H USB regular the USB sound card and offer a few mixer and effect features that in essence act like an equalizer. This isnít a feature Iíve found any use for in the months Iíve owned the headset, though I did try to fiddle with higher-frequency sounds to see if I can shed some of the distortion and static. Turning the amplification down to 0 decibels above normal may have helped, but again, in comparison with my old Sennheisers, thereís little doubt that the 5H isnít in the same league. I stress though, that this is in comparison with my Sennheisers. When tested next to a regular headset, the 5H tends to deliver a better signal, especially on the lower end of the frequency scale.
Whether or not this is worth ~$150 though, is much more difficult to tell. Personally I will be satisfied if the headset lasts 12 to 18 months without needing replacing, which will make it worth the money. The improved sound quality over cheap headsets is a bonus but itís not as if I listen to CDs using the 5H anyway. The most significant audio quality advantage is the microphone, which makes communication clearer and involves less deliberate enunciation and permits me to use a lower tone of voice than I would with a set of Plantronics.
Personally, Iíd put the Steel Sound 5H USB in the same category as a GeForce 7950 GX2. Itís a luxury that is better than its direct competition, but not necessarily being the best value. If you want excellent headphones for music purposes, the 5H doesnít fit that category. If you play online games only occasionally with a headset, youíll be served with a cheaper alternative. Only if you want good sound from your games and the convenience of a headset, especially a durable one, does the 5H become justified in price. Thatís a very narrow segment of the market, though probably it fits the profile here, considering the hardcore audience we have here at FiringSquad.
Price and Value