SteelSound 5H V2 Review

By: Jonathan Kwan
October 7, 2006

With the advancement of gaming peripherals in the PC gaming industry, there are now several products designed specifically for this kind of recreation that exists as more or less a "standard" accessory. If it's not a high-end cloth or plastic mousepad, then it is a pair of headphones that accompanies you against your opponents as the latest 3D graphics flashes across your computer monitor.

Interestingly, if you don't want to be the one yelling "BS" as loud as you can into either virtual nothingness or your mic if you have one, chances are that it's not just 'any' set of headphones that will complete the tasks you want. The SteelSound 5H V2's predecessor, the SteelSound 5H, already showed us a good definition of what 'cheating' without cheats mean. However, its comfort level is well left behind; enough for the Everglide s-500 to pull its weight and win over the SteelSound 5H in this section.

Shortly after SteelSeries announced the SteelSound 5H V2, a unit arrived at our doorstep for testing and review. After a few weeks and a lot of passing around between different local APH members and staff (Special thanks to Tysei on our forums), we've put our thought together and are ready to publish our review today.

As you look at our photos throughout this review, whether you notice it or not, I've played around with my camera settings as well as optimized my room's lighting and my camera angles to produce better and sharper shots. That's probably as good as it would get without a digital SLR camera. I want a dSLR camera, the problem is, I cannot afford one. Maybe one day...

Anyways, our SteelSound 5H V2 did not arrive in paper wrapping like last time. Instead, our review unit came in a rigid cardboard box with extra spaces filled with Styrofoam packing peanuts. Like usual, DHL was used as a carrier for the shipment.

There isn't much difference in terms of packaging between the SteelSound 5H and SteelSound 5H V2. Our retail package came in the same clear plastic box, where the clear plastic box is not a blister pack, therefore very easy to open. Instead of the blue and grey plastic scheme, however, the SteelSound 5H V2 packaging has a dark red and grey color scheme. Information, a short description as well as specifications are listed at the back of its packaging. And then there's "Frag You!" printed at the back with relatively large font size.

As its predecessor, the SteelSound 5H V2 still retains a high-class looking 'stand', depending on what you want to refer to it as. Out of the box, you will receive the SteelSound 5H V2 itself, a remote integrated into the cord (Which controls output volume and mic setting; more on this later), two-meter extension cord, advisory/warning card, and a SteelSeries product brochure. Our unit is not the USB version, therefore no USB sound module is included.

Like usual, before we move on, let's take a look at the SteelSound 5H's specifications. The following information were obtained from SteelSeries' website and modified slightly by us to clarify certain points:

Frequency response: 16 - 28.000 Hz
Impedance: 40 Ohm
SPL @ 1kHz, 1 Vrms: 110 dB
Cable length: 1 m (Headphones itself) + 2 m (Extension cord) = 3 meters (10 feet)
Connectors: 3.5 mm

Frequency response: 75 - 16.000 Hz
Pick up pattern: Uni-directional
Sensitivity: -38dB
Impedance: 2k Ohm

On the outside, there isn't much difference in regards to overall design. Even the specifications on paper is identical to the SteelSound 5H (Left in photo above).

For those who have less information on hand about the SteelSound 5H, one unique characteristic of the SteelSound series is that they have the capability to be dismantled into three different pieces for convenient transportation. However, no carrying case is included, so you'll have to somehow keep your eye out to the three pieces without losing one in the middle.

A single wire leads up to the left cup and a solid metal connector is located at the joint between the left cup and the headband. Electrical connections are made within the headband so external cords are not required or seen, therefore minimizing potential for unintentional physical damage. The right side of the headband has connectors in a similar fashion to the one connecting the left cup to accommodate the right cup, therefore no separate wire is required from the source directly to the right cup.

Another thing is the pull out microphone. It is integrated into the headphone's left cup on both versions of the SteelSound and its flexible clear plastic cord allows the microphone to be hidden out of sight when you prefer to do so.

That's about where the similarities end. Besides darker grey on the SteelSound 5H V2, the SteelSound 5H V2 does not have the 'V2' there for no apparent reason. The microphone cord is extended slightly to accommodate users with larger heads (Or those simply want it longer). The padding under the headband has been improved and spreads the weight of the headphones more evenly -- therefore I don't feel the funny feeling at the top of my head after using the SteelSound 5H.

What's more, the padding on the headphone surrounding the cups has been modified as well. It now fits more comfortably on my ears, and of course the ability to accommodate larger ears because of the smaller width. The main difference is that its thickness -- we'll talk about this in the performance section later. Noise isolation might be improved slightly due to better and more comfortable fit, but it's nothing too impressive in the sound blocking area.

The control module or remote remains nearly the same, except the color of the SteelSound 5H V2's remote is slightly darker to match the color of the new headphones. A little wheel is on the side for volume control, and a three-stage switch allows you to set your microphone to three options: Off, Low, or High.

If you look closely, headphone cord (Including the extension cord) has been improved as well. With a braided cord not too dissimilar to the Logitech G5, it should be quite a bit more durable than a plain plastic cord as it is not as subject to worning out, cracking and/or fraying. Plus, it looks and feels better.

The Tests

Let's start the test. With our rating system we've developed in our Icemat Siberia In:Ear review, we are going to implement this rating system again in this article today. In our photo above, from the left: Everglide s-500, SteelSound 5H, and the SteelSound 5H V2.

Rating by Specification
Treble: Again, boosted treble. We created two SteelSound 5H/SteelSound 5H V2 "Hybrid" for testing purposes in our lab. It seems to us that the treble isn't as good as the original SteelSound 5H on the SteelSound 5H V2; from our observation, the cushions surrounding the cup is thicker than the SteelSound 5H -- therefore effectively creating more gap between your ears and the drivers. This could be the reason that explains performance differences between the SteelSound 5H and SteelSound 5H V2.
Midrange: Slightly better than its predecessor due to the fact that the cushions on the cup spaces your ears farther away from the drivers. Most won't notice the difference though; and as what we expect from gaming headphones, we won't expect much in this area since it typically favors certain frequencies over others (Normally bass and treble).
Bass: These headphones can produce decent bass, but again due to its physical design it seems to be a bit weaker than the original SteelSound 5H. It's still decent though.
Frequency Separation: If it's in a game, then it is pretty good and distinct between the high and the low. For music purposes, everything seems to be a bit flushed together. The good news is, the primary purpose of the SteelSound 5H V2 is not designed for music, therefore this won't be counted to the rating and instead as a reference point only.

Rating by Real World Performance
Music: Like most gaming headphones we've seen in the past, it favors certain frequencies over others. As the drivers on both headphones should be identical (We created two SteelSound 5H/SteelSound 5H V2 "Hybrid" for testing purposes in our lab), there is a slight difference in music performance. This is likely due to the cushion surrounding the cup on the SteelSound 5H V2 is thicker as we said earlier, therefore creates more room between the ears and the drivers. In this case, it created a very slight difference in sound performance -- the SteelSound 5H V2 has less treble than its predecessor; but very slightly better midrange. Bass lacks a bit in than before, however. Everything else just seems a bit -- just a bit -- flushed together, so it's not as distinct as you might want it to be.
Gaming: Because the cushion around the headphones spaces the drivers away from the ears for a greater distance, it makes a more "hollow" sound environment. This creates excellent soundscapes for gaming. Directional aspects is well reproduced, footsteps are well separated from higher frequency effects such as reloads and shattering glass. Each is distinct and separated well enough for gaming purposes. Hearing through walls is another interesting thing -- if you have some good instincts plus great hearing with these headphones, it makes wallhacks obsolete. Yeah, that's right, it's what we call 'cheating' without cheats. Certain frequencies are favored over others because they are more important to the game -- so by enhancing certain frequencies and minimizing others, it creates distinct and obvious differences in different game effects of the game as well as more precisely giving you an idea not only where your enemies are -- but also what they are doing. So if you want to run up to them for a reload, it's your chance right here.

It's a good follow up improvement over the original SteelSound 5H that fills in some of the gaps the previous version missed out on. First of all, it completes what the SteelSound 5H is missing on -- comfort. With such seemingly minor changes, the difference is there, along with the padding around each cup, creates decently comfortable gaming headphones. Frequency reproduction has modified slightly (Whether intentional or accidental due to physical design, it's a good sacrifice for better comfort), but frequency separation can be improved on. Other than that, these are great headphones for gaming. There are not a lot of products that gets an APH Recommended, and we haven't handed out such an award for quite a while now. In this case, however, this product is well deserving of this award; we'll take the APH Recommended from its predecessor SteelSound 5H and hand it down to SteelSeries' SteelSound 5H V2. If you are looking for a pair of decent gaming headphones, and music is not what you are using it for, look no further than the SteelSound 5H V2.

Special thanks to Thomas over at SteelSeries for making this review possible.

Rating: 7.8/10 | APH Recommended
- The rating 8/10 means "Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that isn't likely going to matter to the end user."
- The rating 7/10 means "Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing".
- APH Recommended is an indication of a product as best of its class, therefore only very small portions of our reviewed products get such an award.
- More information in our Review Focus.

Certain changes, improvements, and relatively minor sacrifices to make it yet another great gaming headphone. Frequency separation has room for improvement, but these are a pair of headphones that allow you to 'cheat', without cheats. No price increase over the SteelSound 5H is a great bonus.