Last time I reviewed a set of headphones, I didn’t get to hang onto them for long. About a month after publication, they were stolen from me by the marauding employees of Iberia Airlines. I was furious and almost declared war on Spain, but then decided it wasn’t worth it. Those were some good headphones, and I got them for free, and well…easy come, easy go. The true problem was that I was left without a decent set of phones. Since I am very particular about my requirements, it took me 11 months to find something that I felt was reasonably close to what I wanted. Sadly, there wasn’t a way to play with the headset before buying it, but after talking to some people I decided to place my trust in the words of Bones, an Avault forums regular who speaks very highly of SteelSeries. Although he recommended the Siberia V2, I decided that I might as well go for top of the line, so I bought the 7H USB instead.
This headset is currently the most advanced that SteelSeries makes, and it comes in two different flavors. There’s the regular kind—just the headset itself. Then there’s the USB version. It’s identical to the other in all aspects, but one: it comes with a detachable USB soundcard. Additionally, there are two more takes on this design that are supposedly coming out soon. The first is geared towards Apple devices, and the second is meant for use with the Xbox 360. In contrast to most other gaming headsets, the 7H has 50mm speakers, a step up from the standard 40mm ones. A retractable microphone hides in the left ear cup. The whole thing can be disassembled into three pieces for easy storage and transportation. Connectors on all the cords are gold plated, and the ear cushions are replaceable, giving you a choice between the cloth ones, which are softer, and leather-like ones, which block more outside noise.
The headset is fairly small in comparison to many other around-the-ear or studio models, but is still reasonably large, just not overwhelming. Surprisingly, it’s very light. So light, in fact, that when I first held it in my hand, I was concerned about build quality for a split second. Of course, for something that I’m to wear on top of my head, lightness is preferable. The ear cups fit very snugly and could potentially be too small for those with larger-than-average ears. Each phone pivots on two axes and always remains at a comfortable angle. The size of the headband is adjustable, and the part that rests on top of your head has a very soft foam cushion covered by what appears to be thin and delicate synthetic leather. The durability of the materials will only become evident with use.
Speaking of durability, all of the cords are covered by woven synthetic fiber, and even though I took a risk and tried to rip one apart, all of my strength was not enough to damage it. This is both impressive and useful, since you no longer have to worry about a cord getting caught on something. In addition to the main, shorter cord, which has a built-in volume control and microphone mute switch, there is also an extension cord, which is much longer. Not only are these cords incredibly strong, they are also detachable. The left earphone has a micro USB port, which is how the wire plugs into the headset. If you yank on it with enough force, it merely disconnects. Of course, both the speaker and the microphone connectors are of the standard 3.5mm type, and can be plugged into any music player or computer.
Last but not least, there’s the external USB soundcard. It’s quite small and has nothing but the USB plug for the computer, and two 3.5mm plugs for the phones and the microphone. My Windows 7 systems at work and at home detected it instantly, and I was able to listen to music within seconds of plugging it in. If you’re not content with the default drivers, you can download SteelSeries’ own software, which comes with features such as an equalizer, and can deliver virtual 7.1 surround sound, all while bypassing your built-in soundcard and taking the load off your CPU. Should you feel inclined to tweak the settings, it retains them from computer to computer, which is great for those who travel a lot or are simply obsessive-compulsive.
The sound quality of the 7H headphones will probably not satisfy hardcore audiophiles, but for someone like me, who’s heard too many gunshots and explosions in real life, it’s more than adequate. The 7H is certainly not perfect and lacks features such as active noise cancellation or multiple speakers per ear cup, but that would make the price significantly higher. The only real complaint I have is that, after an hour of playing, my head got tired of being crushed and I had to take a break. This means marathon gaming sessions are out of the question, but to be fair, comfort is subjective; some people might enjoy a good squeeze. Although only time will tell how reliable this headset is, after having played with it for a day, I feel that I got good value for my $150. Hopefully I won’t change my mind in the future.