Review: SteelSeries 5Hv3
Competition resides at the heart of video games. Regardless of platform or genre, you either win by beating the game, besting an opponent, or suffer the pain of defeat. The modern landscape of video games has raised the stakes higher as professional competition has entered gaming culture. SteelSeries has capitalized on the growing market of e-sports enthusiasts and offers a catalog of peripherals that they advertise as tournament-grade. Their latest H series headset, the 5Hv3 offers a simple and understated solution for gamers on the go. Producing sound with a wide range of audio fidelity, the third headset in the 5H family delivers a balanced audio experience fine-tuned for gaming.
Custom-engineered as a tournament headset, the 5Hv3 offers a suite of features that offer both portability and versatility.
The compact 5Hv3 is easily dismantled into three parts for travel. Acting as an anchor for the earcups, the headband snaps into recesses at the top of each earcup that is cleverly bridged by a pair of electrical contact points.
SteelSeries outfitted the 5Hv3 with a swappable micro-USB cable system that is plugs into computers and mobile devices. The plug-and-play system provides a single 3-pole 3.5mm jack for mobile devices that transmits audio to the speakers and to the retractable microphone, and also includes a dual 3.5mm jack that splits these connections for computers. Though sold separately, the headset can be paired with the SteelSeries Cross-Platform Audiomixer for use with consoles as well.
The device also features an in-line controller with a volume wheel and microphone mute switch. It looks cheap and feels cheap but serves its function without a fuss. Although the wheel is small and narrow, the gear-like wheel rotates with ease and the mute switch snaps up and down effortlessly.
With little flash and flair, the SteelSeries 5Hv3 is not a headset that stands out in a crowd. The matte black finish plastic with orange trim sewn into the leather pads looks simultaneously elegant and simple. Adorned with two small logos on each side of the headband, the headset has a conventional aesthetic. The only other obvious aspects of aesthetic are the grooves near the bottom of each earcup.
Designed for travel, the 5Hv3 has little bulk. Despite featuring full-sized circumaural earcups, the earcups are large enough to fit around your ears. Since the earcups are detachable from the headband for portability, they do not fold or swivel inward for compact storage.
Although of lightweight and sound construction, the 5Hv3 may give a sense of being flimsy and fragile. However, these initial concerns are quickly forgotten : the plastic is thick where it needs to be, namely where the earcups connect to the headband and the hinges that hold the earcups together.
A snug fit by design, the headband postures the earcups at an inward angle that keeps the headset tightly secured to your head. A simple hinge holds each earcup and allows for extensive hours of use by minimizing pressure around your ears. The earcups comfortably pivot into position when you put them on and the hinges bear the brunt of pressure from the headband.
The leather padding provided comfortable cushioning around my ears, however the headband did manage to slide across the top of my head as the material is somewhat slippery.
To the credit of SteelSeries, the 5Hv3 is very comfortable and light, and after a while of use I hardly noticed I was wearing it.
Being an analog stereo headset, the 5Hv3 doesn't require any fancy installation or set up. Combined with the swappable cable system, the headset is a simple plug-and-play device regardless what you plug it into.
However, the headset did have a flaw when used for gaming. The microphone produced poor vocal quality.
Reported to me during use with Teamspeak, Ventrilo, Skype, and in-game voice-over networks, the microphone suffered from static distortion. Not long after switching from my headset to the 5Hv3, people I play with frequently began to insist that I either switch headsets or mute my microphone.
This is a native disadvantage for retractable microphones, as the copper wiring is subject to more wear and tear than a fixed microphone. Wearing and tear may likely be the culprit in my case as static usually results from a short in wiring. The microphone wire sheath is also incredibly thin and therefore flexible, with a similar width to the braided cable, leaving the copper wiring more prone to wear.
Though necessary for the compact and portable design, the microphone assembly and sound quality are suboptimal on the 5Hv3.
The audio performance also presented a mixed bag of success and failure.
Advertised as producing clear and detailed sound, the 5Hv3 performed well in that role. The fine-tuned audio engineering didn't favor any particular frequency range resulting with a balanced auditory experience. Though neither crisp nor rich, the sound production was middling and the headset simply didn't emphasize any frequency over another leading to a thin sound experience. When playing games, this translates to a variety in detail, as I could hear a lot of different sounds without having any sound drowned out. Explosions lacked amplified bass boom, which allowed me to hear the people around me during ArmA 3 play sessions, and I was able to clearly hear the cracks and zips of bullets during with greater ease. When playing Assetto Corsa, the unbiased audio provided a more vibrant auditory environment as the high-pitched engines wailed with a mild roar instead of upstaging other ambient sounds.
The only auditory shortcoming I noticed while using the SteelSeries 5Hv3 was volume threshold. While many headphones on the market offer high maximum volumes, the 5Hv3 was quiet in comparison. Although it wasn't too underpowered, the headset lacked the powerful output I'm used to, and the 40mm drivers come in slightly under what I would prefer. On the other hand, that low maximum volume did help to reduce distortion, which was minimal.
Outside of gaming, the custom-tailored audio failed to impress. For music, movies, or televised shows the listening experience was flat. The 5Hv3 is a single-function headset in the sense that it only does one job well. Though branded as a tournament-grade headset, if you want the best, the 5Hv3 isn't it. If you are in search of a budget headset under $100, there are better options on the market.
In the end the SteelSeries 5Hv3 performed well in producing clear game and vocal audio but failed to had a lackluster microphone. A comfortable and compact headset with a low maximum volume, the 5Hv3 is priced high at $80 MSRP as a simple listening device fine-tuned specifically for gaming.
Though the 5Hv3 has some good features, they are few in number. The detachable earcups are a clever feature that only serves gamers on the go.
Aesthetically the 5Hv3 lacks the flash and flair commonly found on contemporary headsets. The headset benefits from its high caliber industrial design.
Though it is not the most comfortable headset I've used, the snug fit didn't cause any discomfort and the leather pads cushioned the earcups well. Most importantly the 5Hv3 may be used comfortably for hours on end.
As a gaming headset the audio production meets expectations. However, the poor microphone quality and flat audio performance outside of gaming are detrimental to the device's quality.
Overall Score: 7.75/10
Despite the well designed construction and custom-tailored gaming audio, at $80 you’re paying a lot for little for the SteelSeries 5Hv3, especially when there is a diverse gaming headset market with many equally priced options.