Professional gaming is perceived by some as a bastardization of their favourite past time. How can gaming, the symbol of relaxation, laziness and pure fun pleasure ever be turned into a serious, wannabe-sport for professionals? It's a question that is certainly becoming more mainstream, as companies sink millions of dollars into promoting their own pro-gaming equipment: sound cards, graphics cards, network cards, mice, monitors, you name it – it's had the pro-gaming treatment.
The one common factor among all these companies is that they see the pro-gaming market sector as a bandwagon to jump upon. That by sticking a signature of a pro-gamer, or a badge explaining that it will give you super performance in your favourite RTS game, they are guaranteeing their product sales. Until now we hadn't really been shown a company whose products were fashioned solely for those who have the highest ambitions in online competitive gameplay. That was until Steelseries, a group of Scandanvians with rich histories in the pro-gaming circuits walked through our door.
We've knocked up a review of some of the company's best-selling pro-gaming products - mousepads, headphones, keyboard, gaming glove and even mouse cord holder. The biggest questions in our mind are whether these products really do make a difference to your online gaming experience. What really makes them so special? How do they operate under normal, everyday circumstances? Are they worth forking out the cash for? Pro-gaming hopefuls – read on…
Steelsound 5H v2
We've had a look at headphones a few times before on bit-tech. However, we haven't had our hands on a headset designed specifically for gaming. The Steelsound 5H v2 is specifically designed with gaming in mind, aimed at enhancing your audio experience in games where sound really does make a difference; like Counter-Strike and Quake.
First let's have a look at some of the features. The headset's most impressive feature is its ability to be disassembled into three parts. This is a painless task that's ideal for anyone who spends a lot of time either on the move or at LAN parties. This is complemented by the built in mic, which neatly slots away into the left earpiece. I can't count how many times at LAN my headphones and mic have been damaged during transportation so this is a really nifty feature.
As you have probably noticed the headphones are called 5H v2. These letters aren't there to make the headphones sound cool, it's because this is the second generation version of the product. After looking at feedback from the first iteration the designers decided that a key feature for many gamers was the need for more comfort surrounding the ear, especially for gamers who wear glasses. To fulfil this requirement they have doubled the size of the padding around the speaker area, making it quite a meaty proposition (don't often get to say that in tech reviews!)
The other distinguishing feature of the headphones is the cord. Firstly, it comes supplied with an easy to use extension. This means if you are like me and sit fairly close to your PC or headphone jack then you needn't have metres of cable trailing across your desk. Alternatively, if the distance is longer than two feet, then you can use the extended cords which stretch up to about six and a half feet. The second interesting feature is the material used to make the headphones, rather than the typical plastic wire it is a braided cord that looks like it can deal with heavy duty use.
The interesting bit now, do all those cool features equal a top quality headset? In short, the answer is a conditional yes. The headset does what it says on the tin extremely well, if you want to have a headset for your online FPS games then this is about the best I have ever used. I was sceptical that a headset would really make a big difference in online games, whether it would be able to really help me distinguish where footsteps and gunfire was coming from. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sound quality in games was crisp and clear, all the noises that were important in Counter-Strike seemed to be emphasised making the game a more enjoyable experience.
The one thing that really contributes to this, oddly, is the cushioning on the 'phones. The amount of padding brings the speakers away from your ears and gives you a field of sound that you don't usually get with headsets. The speakers have been optimised to favour certain frequencies above others, and it really is possible to pinpoint footsteps behind you in CS - a great advantage when you're playing.
It's not a completely glistening review though, as there were a few shortfalls. At 80 Euros this is by no means a cheap piece of kit. When considering that the benefits are pretty limited to online multiplayer shooters and that in other games (such as RTS and MMO's), although noticeable, the Steelsound 5H v2 doesn't perform spectacularly better than the other cheaper competitors. On top of this, the musical playback quality isn't amazing - it's not poor either, but there are more suitable headphones on the market if you listen to a lot of music.
Overall though the Steelsound headphones do what they say they will do: provide an unrivalled experience in online shooters. My feeling is that if you want the ultimate setup for an online shooter you won't be able to get better than this (without spending ludicrous amounts of money). The series also has another model, which comes with a built in sound card. We didn't get to test these but were told that although the sound card isn't the best on the market, it provides a consistent sound – an absolute must for gamers who play a lot at LANs.