One of the biggest problems I have with gaming headsets is just how expensive they can be. A quality headset can easily run you over a hundred bucks – money that’s better spent on new games or saving up for a new GPU. Enter the Arctis 1, SteelSeries’ “budget” option in their popular, well-received Arctis line. How does it fair against pricier headsets? It’s available for $50.99 on Newegg.

Design and Comfort

To be blunt – there are a lot flashier gaming headsets out there than the Arctis 1. There’s no RGB lighting, and the all-black plastic frame and steel-reinforced headband look about as plain as a pair of headphones can look. But while the Arctis 1 isn’t going to win first prize in a beauty contest, its bare-bones design means you can wear it on the train or at work. Unlike most other gaming headsets, you could plug the Arctis 1 into your phone and walk around outside without anyone batting an eye.

Regardless of what you think of its aesthetics, SteelSeries didn’t skimp on the build quality. The Arctis 1 doesn’t feel like a budget headset – the frame is pliable, bending effortlessly around the shape of your head. Yet it doesn’t feel cheap or like it could fall apart at any moment. Is it the most durable headset in the world?  Not by a long shot. But it’s about what you’d expect at this entry level price point, and I think that’s commendable.

Comfort-wise, the Arctics 1 really impressed me. It’s super light, at just 9.6 oz. You can wear this thing for hours and almost forget you have it on. The headband has a tiny strip of foam padding that is surprisingly effective at keeping the plastic headband from digging into your skull. Normally, I despise these thin pieces of headband padding, but this one actually does its job.

Moving on to the earcups, they’re incredibly roomy, large enough to fit even the biggest ears comfortably. They completely envelop your ears with a snug fit that stops just short of being oppressively tight. The earcups have a generous amount of cloth padding. It feels great, but it’s not the most breathable padding in the world. After a few hours, my ears began to feel hot, and I needed a break.

Performance and Features

The Arctis 1 is fully compatible with your PC and all major consoles, such as the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch. It connects directly to your computer via a traditional 3.5mm jack, and there’s a splitter included to use the microphone on a PC.

As a budget headset, there’s not a lot of extra features on the Arctis 1. The left earcup has a volume wheel and a microphone mute switch, and that’s all. You get what you pay for, but I suppose it’s also true that a mute switch and a volume wheel are really all you need.

SteelSeries uses a similar ClearCast noise cancelling microphone on the Arctis 1 as they do on their higher-end Arctis headsets. It’s a shockingly good microphone, capturing way more of my voice’s natural bass tones than I expected with very minimal hissing on the high end. This is not to say that you’d want to record a podcast with the Arctis 1, but for online games, you’ll be coming in loud and clear, with (most) background noise eliminated. The mic itself is detachable. I would have preferred to see a completely retractable mic, to eliminate the potential for losing pieces of the headset, but I understand this decision was probably done to keep the headset at the $50 price point.

I wish I could leave my review here, and give the Arctis 1 a sterling review. However, I have to mention the disappointing sound quality. Both in-game and when listening to music, the Arctis 1 sounded damp and weak. There’s not a lot of oompf in the bass frequencies, and the midrange frequencies are pumped way up, making things sound tinny and artificial. While this soundstage is good for multiplayer games where hearing your voice chat is more important than getting lost in an immersive world, it’s less than ideal for big firefights where you want to feel every gunshot and explosion.

Music fared considerably worse than games. Anything that demands a strong low end, like hip-hop, EDM, or rock, ends up feeling thin and powerless. It’s not a bad sounding pair of headphones by any means – I liked how thick and punchy the midrange frequencies sounded, and the treble was bright and clear. Still, I can’t recommend using this headset for music if you’re someone who’s serious about audio. I understand this is a budget headset, but the audio quality pales in comparison to other Arctis headsets and non-gaming headsets in this price range.

Conclusion

I’m torn on recommending the Arctis 1. I love how comfortable it is, and the microphone is one of the best sounding mics I’ve seen on a headset in this, or frankly any, price range. However, the sound quality is just so inferior to other SteelSeries headsets, making the Arctis 1 feel like a raw deal. If comfort and price are your two biggest concerns, this is the headset for you. Audiophiles will want to save up instead for another SteelSeries headset, like the Arctis Pro.