Review and giveaway: SteelSeries Siberia v2 surround-sound headset

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The Short Version: The Siberia v2 is SteelSeries’ entry into the virtual-surround headset market, and it holds its own against the excellent Logitech G35s and Razer’s Megalodon headset — at least, in sound quality. However, it doesn’t offer much to distinguish itself, and some minor but troublesome issues may have you springing for the Siberia’s competitors.

Plus: I’m giving these away! A lucky reader will be wearing these in a week or so. Details in the full review.

Features:

  • USB or 3.5mm connection
  • Retractable microphone
  • Lightweight construction
  • Leather ear cushions
  • MSRP: $110

Pros:

  • Handy to have USB and 3.5mm
  • They really are light
  • Sound is great

Cons:

  • Fit affected by lightness
  • Somewhat flimsy feel
  • USB bit looks and feels cheap as hell

Review:

I used two SteelSeries headsets before this one, and neither worked for me. I found the 5HDs tinny, and the original behind-the-neck Siberias tended to slide down your head and put all their weight on your ear (painful). So I’m happy to report that the Siberia v2 combines a traditional form factor with an improved sound driver — as well as a virtual surround sound USB connection. It works out to be a pretty decent little package.

The headphones identified themselves as “C-Media” when I plugged them in, which turns out to be a generic USB audio dealer; I’m guessing the USB component is a SteelSeries branded one of these. Not that I expect everyone to design their own Dolby Surround interface, but you should know you’re not getting anything exotic here.

Coffee, Tea, or USB?

The handy thing about these headphones is that they can be either USB or traditional. Unlike either the G35s or Megalodon, you can just pop the audio jack in like any other pair and not have to worry about changing sound devices — say, if you’re in the middle of a song or podcast and don’t want to interrupt it. That convenience, and the light weight of the headset, are probably the best reasons to choose these over another.

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Because these really are light. So much so that my first impression was one of cheapness. To be honest, that impression wasn’t at all alleviated by the USB attachment, which looks and feels like something you’d buy at a dollar store. The headphones themselves are shiny plastic, rather plain-looking but not badly put together by any means. It’s just the lightness that throws you off. One tends to expect a certain amount of weight with surround-sound headphones, but the truth is the surround part is just a way of processing the sound; the headphones themselves need not be especially heavy-duty.

steel  004The downside of this lightness is that they don’t really settle on you. The elastic part of the headband actually lifts them up a bit, which results (at least for me) in the bottom parts of the earcups tilting out and coming off your ears. Needless to say, this produces sound leakage and eliminates any isolation they might have offered. They didn’t always do this, but any movement of my head seemed to make them shimmy up just a little bit, until there’d be a small gap through which I could hear the outside world. I can’t say, of course, whether this would happen for you, but I believe the light construction and elastic head-bit are going to produce the effect to some extent no matter what. People with bigger heads might get off easier, I’m thinking.

The Sound of 0wned

When they’re on your ears, however, the sound is great. The original Siberia headset had the same well-balanced sound, and SteelSeries has embiggened the driver to produce clearer bass in the v2s. Movies don’t have the canned sound that seems to happen when surround sound is forced. Games sounded great as long as the headphones stayed on my ears. I got owned in Counter-Strike Source (guy took three bullets from my deagle and didn’t drop, come on now), but it was worth it to test out the sound; positioning was good, clarity was good, no complaints at all.

The cord is… a bit annoying. There are two inline remotes if you’re in USB mode; the first is a third of the way down the cord, then the next one is another third of the way. That’s a troublesome configuration, since there is no stretch of cord you can roll up if it’s only a short way to where you’re plugging them in. The USB cable is very stiff, which doesn’t help either (of course, the G35′s cable is like that the whole way). And there are no clips, so it’s always just kind of hanging there.

The microphone is great, though. It sounds good and retracts or pulls out easily so it doesn’t get in the way.

If it’s something you care about, the Siberia v2s are pretty cool looking. Here’s a big version of the header photo; plain, but also refined.

Final word

Headphones are a crowded field right now, and there are a lot of good products out there. Unfortunately, I can’t give the Siberia v2s a very strong recommendation; there are simply too many little issues for a >$100 headset. Although the sound is great (as it was in the previous version) and the USB/analog flexibility is nice, I just don’t see myself using them regularly due to the fit and setup issues. Guess I’ll wait for the v3.

Product Page

OOOPS.
Giveaway, right. Just comment! I’ll pick one randomly. Sorry, it’s been a long day already.

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