Short version: The SteelSeries Spectrum 5XB is a headset for your Xbox 360 (and PC) that lets you separate your online teammates’ voices from the sounds explosions, gunfire, and other assorted bits of mayhem. So, if your team leader is barking orders you can turn down the game’s audio and listen exclusively to the commands.
• Works with both Xbox 360 and PC
• AudioMixer that can separately control the volume of voice and other game audio. Can also be done automatically with LiveMix.
• Retractable microphone. Just want to listen to music? Tuck the mic away.
• The cans don’t kill your ears, and they’re spaced in such a way that you can actually wear glasses. As a glasses wearer, dear lord thank you.
• Easy to use once everything is set up—just a couple of plugs here and there.
• Separating voice and other audio is pretty handy if you’re someone who actually plays that type of game
• Most useful only for a specific type of gamer, the guy who plays online games so competitively that they’d benefit from the LiveMixer
• After years of wearing earbuds, wearing cans took some getting used to
• Main cable coming off the headset a little on the shortside, which could make casual use a little tricky
• Not that this is SteelSeries’ fault, but many of the people on Xbox Live are jerks, and this makes it easier to hear them
Say hello to SteelSeries’ console gaming debut. The company, best known for its professional PC gaming gear, has decided to give the console business a go, and this is the result: the Steelseries Spectrum 5XB, a headset for the Xbox 360 (don’t worry, it’ll work with your PC, too) that’s able to isolate your Xbox Live teammates’ voices from the sound of explosions, gunfire, and all other sorts of mayhem. (There’s also the Spectrum 4XB, which is basically the same headset, but the headband strap isn’t as bendy and you can’t take it apart for when you have to travel.)
I’ve pretty much exclusively worn earbuds for the past six years, so using cans for any amount of time is sorta weird to me. There’s a reason for that: prior to these, every single pair of cans I’ve ever come across have required me to take my glasses off first in order to put them on, and then I had to constantly adjust them just to keep sane. Is that the worst thing in the world? No, of course not, but it’s been enough of an annoyance that I’ve stuck with earbuds. I’m going to assume that SteelSeries has noticed that many gamers wear glasses, so they’ve designed them in such a way (there’s extra empty space where the frames of your glasses sit against your head) that they fit without having to remove your glasses. The SteelSeries people had to point this out to me when I met them a few weeks ago since I’ve been trained, like a dog, to remove my glasses when putting on cans.
The foam covering the cans and the headband are plenty soft. I sat there this past weekend for a few hours and didn’t once think, “Well, these hurt.”
And lo, the headset works!
I played several rounds of Halo 3 online over the past few weekends(within two seconds of entering my first lobby someone told me to “go fuck” myself. Sigh.) and the entire campaign of Halo: Reach last weekend (my thoughts on the game should go up this afternoon), and I was able to mute the game sounds with the flick of the dial, and yet I could still hear my teammates. Conversely, I could mute my teammates and listen to the game audio just fine.
The headset’s AudioMixer will automatically lower the game audio when your teammates speak provided you have LiveMix turned on. (Steelseries sells the AudioMixer separately if you already have a headset you’re comfortable with.) You might at well leave it on, unless you want to constantly “mix” the different audio levels on your own. Let LiveMix do its thing, I say.
The SteelSeries Spectrum 5XB certainly fits a niche: Xbox 360 gamers who are a little more serious about their online gaming. I mean, SteelSeries’ tagline is “professional gaming gear” for a reason. And clearly SteelSeries sees that more and more “hardcore” online gaming is taking place on the consoles, so they might as well get in on the action. (Just look at what id said a few weeks ago at QuakeCon, essentially that consoles are the future, and for a number of reasons.) As headsets go, the Spectrum 5XBs has everything you’d like to see in a headset. (Well, maybe you’d like to see PS3 compatibility!) They’re comfortable, the mic is clear (I actually used the headset to add narration to my Plex video), and the automatic audio level handling is particularly handy if you play teammate-heavy games.
The likes of Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Medal of Honor are either just around the corner or have just been released. So if you’ll be in the market for a headset in anticipation of the release of these games, well, she ain’t bad at all.
SteelSeries Spectrum 5XB ($89)
SteelSeries Spectrum 4XB ($59)
Spectrum Audio Mixer ($39)