Bring the Noise: SteelSeries Spectrum 7XB Gaming Headset
I loves me a good suite of sounds in my games. The metallic crash of swords, the whoosh of missiles, the roaring thunder of explosions, it’s all to me as soothing as a lullaby. My spouse, however, does not concur. Particularly at 3am. This resulted in my exploration of the world of gaming headsets. Most recently this brought me to the SteelSeries Spectrum 7xb headset for the XBox 360. Let’s get to the dissection:
Someone had their thinking cap on when they were designing these cans. The headband is squared off a bit more than is typical, though I couldn’t feel any significant difference compared to my Turtle Beach or Sony headsets. The earpieces themselves are smooth domes, with the microphone and batteries fitting into the housing of the left earpiece and the functional buttons lining the lower edge of the right earpiece (more on this in a minute). SteelSeries didn’t cut corners on the headset and you can tell by the look and feel of the 7XBs. Nothing about the headset says “cheap”, and at a $180 retail price tag it bloody well shouldn’t. The headband and cans were adequately padded and remained comfortable even after extended use. Given the solid feel of the set, this was a point of concern which I was glad to see proven groundless. If leather isn’t your thing, cloth pads for the earpieces are available for sale. The retractable microphone is flexible, sensitive, and rests along the cheek so gamers can eat and drink without fear of adding the microphone to the menu. The function buttons line the lower curve of the right earpiece and meld just a little too well with the outer shell. With only the EQ button bearing any kind of raised surface, it’s difficult at times to tell exactly what button you’re about to press – especially when making adjustments on the fly. High points for aesthetics, but the 7XB gets docked a point here for lessened functionality.
The outside world is a persistent obstacle to an immersive gaming experience. Grudgingly, I typically put my phone on the table in front of me, leaving the ringer just high enough to grab my attention on the off chance something not gaming-related is worthy of my attention. After an hour – ok, two – of Deus Ex, I was surprised to find I missed three calls and two text messages and that my neighbor was running a grinding wheel again. I didn’t notice because I couldn’t hear them. The 7XBs do a fantastic job of isolating your ears from those unimportant non-gaming-related noises (children, pets, tornado sirens, spouses) and gets two big thumbs up for it.
I know, that’s nice and all, but how does it sound? The highs and mids were clear, with the bass tones, always a weak spot for headsets, being better than average. Being used to doing worship at the altar of Dolby, switching back to stereo was a bit of a shock. Many games nowadays take a surround sound environment for granted and the overall effect suffers when put through a two-speaker environment, particularly when those speakers are centimeters from your head. While the speakers themselves delivered crisp sounds throughout their frequency range, it was a bit disconcerting to play the Space Marine demo and hear a left channel sound only go through the left channel, with nary a peep coming from the right. So keep your system audio settings in mind when gaming, kiddies.
Also, some games allow you to specify how the sounds and music from your games are supposed to get to your earholes and I suggest you take advantage of that. Not all games treat audio identically, and you’ll really able to appreciate the quality of the 7XB’s 50mm drivers without the jarring results of games trying to push 5.1 sound through 2 speakers. Lumines Live got itself an upgrade via use of the 7XBs allowing me to really appreciate the carefully crafted sound suite and Halo: Reach was also treated well. Never knew I’d be happy to hear the distinct “clink” of a grenade landing nearby. Video was also handled well with the first dozen episodes of Samurai Champloo and Inception sounding great, with voices, effects, and soundtrack all coming through as cleanly as one could hope.
It’s worth noting that the 7XB has three EQ presets depending on your digital poison of the moment: Performance, for FPS gaming. Immersion, when the background music or environmental sounds deserve more attention, or Entertainment, for movies and the like. Like with any other suite of preset EQs I found myself most satisfied with the default settings, though personal preference may vary. The LiveMix function is purported to balance voice chat vs. effects so you don’t have to crank up the voice volume to hear your teammates over the general racket of combat. However, if you need to engage this function you’ve probably got the volume up way too loud to begin with. On the topic of voice communication, the 7XB acquits itself well. The microphone didn’t pick up a slew of background noise and carried my voice clearly, if a bit flatly, despite extending only halfway across my cheek.
Connecting the 7XBs to your system is simple enough. Plug the USB into the console, and then run RCA cables off the audio-out on your TV to the transmitter. Perhaps knowing of my personal dislike of the flimsy wire most companies use for their microphone cables, the 7XB boasts a braided sheath covering a satisfyingly larger gauge of wire. This runs into a solidly built microphone plug with the typical on/off switch which is atypically large next to the tiny, but sensitive, volume wheel. The plug seats itself quite firmly into the controller, so no worries there. Check to make sure the volume control on the transmitter isn’t turned up to max, power up and go!
Well, not quite.
Interference is a fact of life those of us living in a wireless world have to get used to, but sadly enough my first experience with it arrived in the form of the transmitter for my 7XBs. During a day’s worth of trial and error, I had to begin manually adjusting settings on my router in order to keep it and my XBox on speaking terms while the 7XB transmitter was live. Further tweaking was necessary to achieve a static-free listening experience. Then came the realization that I had to have the headset on and in synch with the transmitter before trying to log on to XBox Live, else the transmitter would continue to jam the signal. While individual experiences may vary, it’s worth noting we at Wanderson75.net have put two separate models of Turtle Beach headsets along with a Logitech offering through the wringer with none of the interference issues experienced with the SteelSeries 7XBs. SteelSeries, for all their obvious chops with solid design and audio quality, has to take their transmitter back to the drawing board to keep up with the competition.
For a gamer either in a hardwired environment or one willing to work around its quirks, the audio quality of the 7XBs won’t disappoint. However, given the ascendance of wireless gaming and with Logitech, Turtle Beach, and Tritton also playing in this market space I’d have expected a slightly lower price and a truly plug-and-play product. Steelseries 7XB receives a 4.0/5.0.
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