Generally, a Mac owner is expected to have a lot of Apple peripherals, like keyboards, mice, and even displays and display adapters. I’m no exception, which isn’t very strange, because I love the way most of them look and feel. Apple doesn’t offer everything you might need, though – full-size headphones, a great love of mine, are something that could use the nice design touches of Apple, but I had to look elsewhere for a fitting solution that also has an acceptable sound quality.
I set out for an affordable and quality headset. Design may be important, but since you typically wear the things, it’s best to do a selection based on technical merits. However, I found a set of ‘cans’ that qualify quite well in both departments. Read on for the full review of the Steelseries Siberia headphones. Also, read the last bit of the post for a shot at winning a free Siberia.
There’s two models of Siberia: the traditional headband, and a slightly (dare I say it?) ‘fashion-aware’ neckband version. The headband may be traditional, but the headphones have a unique way of fitting themselves to your head thanks to their construction, which is very comfortable. No adjustment is necessary, and there’s never the risk of pushing them too tightly onto your head, resulting in headaches.
First up in the evaluation of the headphones is obviously sound quality. I’m no audiophile, so I can only deliver subjective insight into my experiences. For actual technical information, I suggest checking out other reviews. Delivering great sound in games also requires a fantastic audio card in your system, and I’ve only used it with the iPhone, PlayStation Portable, a mid-2009 Macbook Pro, and my 2008 Mac Pro. The latter has a reasonable audio card on board, but it doesn’t do some of the finer techniques that Creative cards use to translate surround sounds in games into the stereo channels of a headphone.
I’m breaking down my experiences per usage scenario. Seeing how Steelseries markets it as a gaming headset, I’ll first talk about that. The Siberias both perform very well when connected to a Mac laptop or desktop to play games. In Counter-Strike Source, Quake 3, Left 4 Dead, and several others I had a good feeling of where sounds were located, including vertically. With my previous headphones, this wasn’t as pronounced. It reproduces sounds extremely clearly, with soft footsteps still being audible amidst harsh explosions and gunfire. No noise is discernible with a large amount of concurrent loud sounds, which is great. The deep bass of explosions is a bit timid when compared to more expensive headphones, but I find this to be pleasant. The regular headband version seems to have a slightly deeper bass than the neckband, although this might be due to situational changes.
For music and speech, the headphones are fantastically clear. Jazz, ambient, rock, blues, and metal all sounded great when I threw them at the Steelseries. Again, it has no extremely pronounced deep bass like a lot of full-size headphones, which is something I’d use a big set of speakers and a subwoofer for. Both models are fantastically suitable for an evening of being seated near an open window on a warm summer night with a glass of cognac, the supple tunes of Ulrich Schnauss, Hybrid, Tycho and Zero 7 guiding you to a beautiful place behind your eyelids.
Ah, the microphone. Sadly, I’ve not been able to test this. It doesn’t work out of the box with Mac laptops or desktops, thanks to the Line In ports not being powered. This is apparently a plus to audio professionals, but nevertheless a big nuisance. A USB version of the Siberia headband supposedly works on Macs, but I haven’t got it. I’d require a pre-amp or a USB audio card to use the pin-on microphone of the headband or the built-in microphone of the neckband.
Both headphones are ‘open’: this means sounds will leak out of the cups and produce noise audible to anyone near you. This isn’t an issue to me, but on a crowded public place it might be wise to tune the volume down on your guitar riffs and drum solos.
The design is gorgeous. While I’d be reluctant to go out with the headband model, as its big ‘beams’ expand the silhouette of your head quite a bit, the neckband is something you’d almost expect Apple to design. What I found odd is that its microphone is not optional, nor is its cord, forcing you to walk around with an unused microphone plug when on the go. The headband wisely has an optional pin-on microphone that can be disconnected. Both also go unreasonably well with any white device you might have lying around.
The neckband model is clearly a unique thing: I am not liking them, but my girlfriend does appreciate them. It seems it requires remarkably average head dimensions, as it will feel a bit too small or too large otherwise. Headband-haters will probably really like it, but I feel like the regular headband is still more comfortable. The headband version also has a thick, sturdy cord compared to the rather average-girth neckband’s cord. However, the neckband does beats the headband in design. Again, I wouldn’t want to be found outdoor looking like this:
Overall verdict? I’d say they are worth getting, depending on your own preference of headphone models. I think the average user would prefer a headband, which also has the detachable microphone and sturdy cord, but isn’t as ‘fashionable’. The neckband is simply prettier, but functionally doesn’t differ from the regular model.
You can grab the Steelseries Siberia at most large computer supply outlets or online on Amazon. Steelseries also offers a number of other gaming-related peripherals.
If you’d like a Steelseries Siberia headphone, you can drop a comment or tweet about this entry to win one (including shipping!).