Steelseries Arctis Prime – Comfort & Clarity
Are you a console enthusiast who dabbles in PC gaming? Perhaps you can’t commit to a single system and instead split your time between all of them, like some sort of remorseless gaming machine. I’m not here to judge – well, I am, but not you personally – instead, I want to reflect on my time spent with the Arctis Prime, the latest mid-level wired headset from Steelseries which cleverly avails itself to all major gaming platforms with minimal fuss.
Much like the Steelseries Rival 5, the vibrant orange packaging remains minimal and functional, housing the Arctis Prime alongside a detachable 4-pole 3.5mm audio cable and a dual 3.5mm jack extension cable. The detachable audio cable has a proprietary connector to the headset unit itself which can help prevent cable damage on the off-chance it gets caught on something, while the dual jack extension cable is perfect for keeping plugged into the rear of my PC leaving the headset itself free to rotate between my other devices. I was initially sceptical about the 1.2m length of the detachable cable, but after trying it across mobile devices as well as the Switch and Xbox/PS5 controllers, I’m quite happy with it as a good mid-point that in some use-cases has a bit more slack than I’d like but is infinitely preferable to the alternative, which is a cord that feels like it’s being stretched to its full length constantly.
Visually, the unit is sleek; black and smoky grey with nary a piece of colour in sight, outside of a slight orange outline circling the Mute button which sits alongside the volume control wheel at the rear of the left cup. These controls are well positioned for adjustment when using a phone or KB&M setup but less so when having to take a hand off the Switch or console controller. Two things stand out immediately upon examining the Arctis Prime headset for the first time – the ski band and retractable microphone, which pokes out slightly from the left cup when not in use but becomes much more noticeable with the optional wind filter attached. The unit feels solidly constructed, boasting a body made from “aluminium alloy and steel” on the marketing materials and it feels it – there is a heft to it that isn’t heavy but screams durability.
A ski band isn’t yet a common feature for gaming headsets within the same price range as the Arctis Prime and it’s honestly one I’d like to see more manufacturers adopt. Quite often, the extra padding needed to make the earcups themselves comfortable enough for lengthy gaming sessions ensures the fit across the top of the head is poor, awkward or at worst, plain uncomfortable. The ski band alleviates this issue, adjustable velcro ensuring that not only are the cups aligned perfectly for the individual user, but the fit across the head is snug and at no point is part of the wearer’s skull taking the bulk of the headset weight, as the band also helps distribute it evenly. While there may be a chance of the band eventually losing elasticity, I can’t imagine it’s any worse than the wear other headsets face using less sophisticated solutions to provide sizing adjustments.
Like the ski band, a retractable microphone is another feature I’ve rarely seen but very much enjoy as much for the aesthetic effect as its functionality. Extracting and positioning the retractable arm is a cinch, and I appreciate the lack of a swing arm hanging off the side of the headset. The flexi-cable used holds its shape well and is easy to position and re-position as necessary which is something the swing-arm units aren’t capable of – once down, that’s pretty much it. The mic itself is a Discord certified ClearCast unit which I’ve used to chat in-game and record podcasts. In both situations I’ve been happy with the result on both ends; I can clearly hear the people I’m talking to and they have said the same for me. I don’t suddenly have the gravitas of Morgan Freeman or Patrick Stewart, but I can’t really blame Steelseries for that now, can I? Music performance on the Arctis Prime is roughly what I’d expect at the price point and a touch above some similarly-priced headsets, unsurprisingly failing to match my regular audio headphones which retail for three times the price and don’t necessarily provide 300% of the performance. To my ears the overall sound leans towards the top end but is still capable of good lower-level delivery, handling tracks like 2Pac’s “Do For Love” and Josh Rouse’s surprisingly bass-heavy “It’s The Nighttime” with ease. If you’re a full-blown audiophile, these aren’t even in your sights so please return to reading confirmation bias reviews of whatever hand-carved wooden cans you spent an entire paycheck on before diving into the comments section.
Some might bemoan the lack of “bells and whistles” that come with the Arctis Prime – there’s no dedicated software suite, nor does it integrate with any existing Steelseries app. There’s (gasp) no RGB in sight which might confuse people who use such gaudy excess to help differentiate a ‘streamer’ from a regular schmuck who’s streaming. Having used many more expensive pieces of kit that do feature these elements, I’m happy to report that I haven’t really missed any of it. In fact, it’s actually extremely nice to plug in a piece of hardware and not have to mess around with drivers/firmware/apps and the other business that comes about when plugging in a USB dongle or cable. The only caveat will be iPhone users requiring a Lightning adaptor, but the way Apple is going with their design philosophy these days we’re probably lucky there’s even a single port remaining on those things.
The Arctis Prime is an incredibly versatile and well-priced ‘daily driver’; you’re getting what you pay for in the best sense of the phrase. While it won’t dazzle with an array of colours or promise to put you ‘in the game’ via sketchy surround sound emulation, it will plug into almost any piece of hardware you throw at it and ensure you can both speak with and be spoken to by others – although why you would want to do the latter in some online environs is beyond me. In the wise words of Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, “just coz it don’t cost a lot don’t mean it’s cheap” – and they ring even truer through a set of the Arctis Prime.
The Steelseries Arctis Prime retails in Australia for $169 and is currently available for order at a range of outlets
Neodymium Drivers – 40 mm
Headphone Frequency Response – 10–40,000 Hz
Headphone Sensitivity – 92 dB SPL
Headphone Impedance – 32 Ohm
Headphone Total Harmonic Distortion – < 1%
Microphone Type – Retractable Boom
Microphone Polar Pattern – Bidirectional Noise-Canceling
Microphone Frequency Response – 100–10,000 Hz
Microphone Sensitivity – -38 dBV/Pa
Microphone Impedance – 2200 Ohm
The Steelseries Arctis Prime hardware used in this review was kindly provided by SteelSeries Australia.
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen’s attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then he has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the now-long retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up on by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever.
Writes on Yugambeh land.