The Arctis 3 is SteelSeries’ new gaming headset with virtual 7.1 surround sound. The Arctis is designed to look subtle and classy compared to other gaming headsets. It’s a reasonable headset but if your budget will stretch then we’d recommend buying the Arctis 5 instead.
The first thing you’ll notice about these headphones is their grown-up look; the design is pleasingly understated. Made predominantly out of matte-black plastic, they feature some gloss-black highlights.
A ski goggle-style strap rests on top of your head, taking the weight of the headset in the softest way possible. Add this to the sumptuous construction of the earpieces, and the Arctis 3 is one of the most comfortable headsets I’ve ever worn. If you’re planning a long gaming session then you’ll really appreciate it. They don’t become too warm on your ears either – unlike most over-ear headsets.
The microphone is well-designed: it retracts when not in use, hiding inside the left hand can. You can adjust the arm of the microphone to achieve the perfect position, but a slightly longer arm would have been welcome. There’s a volume control on the headset as well as a microphone mute button.
To get the “virtual 7.1 surround” and noise-cancelling software for the microphone, it’s necessary to set up an account – with a secure password – and enter a product key. It’s a pain, especially if you don’t want to give away personal details just to use a headset that you paid for. But at least SteelSeries benefits, by getting my email address – something it celebrated by immediately sending me emails.
The sound from the Arctis 3 is surprisingly rich. There’s ample bass without being overbearing, as it can be in some Corsair gaming headsets. The range across the entire spectrum is clear. In FPS games you’ll be able to hear every footstep and shell-casing hitting the floor, while still experiencing the booms and explosions. Not much will leak out, either. However, they aren’t as isolating as other headsets. If other people in the room are watching TV, you’ll know about it.
The microphone picks up sounds clearly, and is bi-directional on the PC (with the software installed). SteelSeries claims it will strip out background noise so only your voice is transmitted. This is clever, but note that it won’t work on the Xbox and PS4.
In my experience, the noise reduction didn’t have any noticeable effect, and the software crashed a few times too. I’m not completely sold on the “Virtual Surround” sound either. For only a little more money SteelSeries could have included a USB connector for real surround sound, like the Arctis 5.
Those who like the design and comfort of these headphones should note that Arctis 5 costs only slightly more and includes a USB connection – so "real" 7.1 surround sound – and a few other nice features, too, effectively making the Arctis 3 appear redundant. As soon as Trusted gets an Artctis 5 in for review, we'll update this review with our findings.
Another option is the Corsair Void RGB. These headphones are cheaper, have a clearer microphone and – more importantly, you don’t have to give away your email address to get them working.
The Arctis 3 look great, are comfortable to wear and benefit from decent sound quality - but they just don’t offer enough to rival other headsets in the same price range.