Space-age materials, rave lights, and Transformer-inspired designs aren't necessary for making a quality headset. The SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth (See it on Amazon) keeps things simple, ticking off the checklist of headphone necessities without including a high price tag. It's an interesting hybrid headset that can be connected via the traditional 3.5mm cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth, making it cross-platform, and multi-purpose. You can even hard-wire it to your Switch and wirelessly pair it to your phone for Switch Chat.
With an MSRP of $129.99, the Arctis 3 isn't necessarily cheap, but it doesn't take much effort to find gaming headphones that cost a lot more. But what the Arctis 3 Bluetooth lacks in flash, it makes up for in comfort, solid audio quality, and versatility.
Arctis 3 Bluetooth - Design and Features
Like the rest of SteelSeries' headphone lineup, the Arctis 3 sports a clean design that would look normal in any situation. The headset is held together with a wide, solid-textured headband and is bookended with inconspicuous earcups that share the same smooth texture along with rubberized backings. It doesn't have any lights, only comes in a dark gray color, and the microphone retracts into the left earcup when you don't need it.
The only characteristic that makes the Arctis 3 stand out, and it does so only to a slight degree, is its ski goggle headband that rests just under the frame. If you prefer a clean and simple look, these definitely fit the bill.
The ski google headband is exactly what it sounds like, except instead of wrapping around the back of your head when cruising down the slopes, it rests on top of the user's head for comfort and keeps the headset firmly in place.
Controls and ports are found on the bottom of the earcups, with the Power / Bluetooth button found on the right cup. The left side is busier with a mic mute button, volume dial, microUSB charging port, audio port, and an extra headphone share jack, as well as the previously-mentioned retractable microphone.
To handle the transfer of audio, the Arctis comes with an attachment for a single 3.5mm plug and another one with a splitter for use with certain PC setups. It also has the versatility of Bluetooth connectivity for easy syncing with smartphones.
Typically, this level of customization requires either a USB connection to a PC to access software or to power an amp with additional controls or, in the case of the Victrix Pro AF, a battery-powered in-line controller. By offering a standard headphone jack, those on older laptops without Bluetooth or many USB ports can still get the best out of the headset.
Arctis Bluetooth – Software
While the headset can be connected to a computer via USB, that is just for charging them up. To connect to the SteelSeries software you have to use the headphone jack, or Bluetooth. The SteelSeries Engine 3 software is essentially just an EQ program that can be used for pretty much anything that can connect to your computer. It will work with any other headphones, and even your computer speakers. The catch is you need to register the headphones with its product code in order to get the app. You use it to access the SteelSeries Engine 3 sound customization options, as well as to enable or disable 7.1 surround sound.
Overall the SteelSeries Engine 3 allows for some significant audio enhancements. There are six presets that include Custom, Flat, Performance, Immersion, Entertainment, Music, and Voice, with each intended to be utilized for their specific situations. Music increases bass and highs while dipping the mids, entertainment has a more flat sound with some emphasis on lows and highs, while performance drops the bass a bit and enhances highs, a setting that works well when trying to listening to teammates chat in the middle of a heated FPS match. You can also make custom EQs too, and tweak the presets easily.
Overall the software is easy to use, has great features, and was easy to jump into in order to make small changes as needed. I just kept the window open in the background and quickly alt-tabbed to it while playing games to make adjustments.
Arctis 3 Bluetooth – Performance
The Arctis 3 isn't about the flash—it's about doing what matters, and that's delivering balanced audio, a comfortable fit, and a solid build. As an added bonus, it connects via 3.5mm jack and Bluetooth, making it useful for computers, consoles, and smartphones.
In terms of audio quality, the Arctis 3 didn't necessarily blow me away, but I have no gripes with its quality either. Without the SteelSeries 3 software, everything was well-balanced, whether listening to music, streaming Netflix, or playing games. Bass wasn't too deep and didn't hit too hard, but it wasn't understated either. Highs were present but not ear piercing, and audio never sounded cluttered or jumbled even at higher volumes.
The 40mm Neodymium drivers aren't the largest around and, in turn, didn't produce the loudest sound...
The 40mm Neodymium drivers aren't the largest around and, in turn, didn't produce the loudest sound, but the closed-back design was designed well enough to almost entirely block out conversations and music in a packed bar while I listened to A Tribe Called Quest. In a relatively quiet house with a couple of kids making noise, the headphones sufficiently let me stay focused on gaming.
Without using the SteelSeries Engine 3 (as it's for PC only), gaming audio from my Xbox One was clear and balanced. Nothing about it was particularly mind-blowing, but after a few minutes of play I wasn't really asking for much more than what was given to me either. Having more control over bass for certain single player games would have been nice, as would adjusting the EQ to make listening to teammates easier in Battlefield 1, although neither experience was particularly negative.
When utilizing the extra audio controls via software, the Arctis 3 really shine. Suddenly, the roaring V8 of a 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 in Forza 6 created a beautiful, gasoline-powered orchestra when I switched the settings to Music mode and enabled bass boost. The sound of the Ferrari LaFerrari's high-revving engine was aggressive but fine-tuned while listening to competing racers in all directions.
With Battlefield 1, I switched over to the Performance setting and disabled bass boost—the Music mode with extra bass was overpowering with FPSs and quickly exhausted my eardrums. On Performance mode, the EQ was more fitting for a shooter and let me clearly hear gun shots, NPC chatter, and explosions without any of them being drowned out by the others.
The 7.1 surround sound feature did enhance the experience, although the results were not incredibly dramatic. When toggling the setting back and forth during play, a few seconds in one mode didn't make a huge difference.
The Arctis 3 is one of the more comfortable gaming headphones I've used...
The audio software has plenty of options for microphone settings as well. In general, the quality of the audio picked up was just a bit above average, but adjusting the settings made it slightly better depending on the environment. I was able to make changes to the Dynamic Range Compression to normalize my volume, the Noise Gate that automatically muted the mic when I wasn't speaking, and Noise Reduction so that I could drown out background noise when needed.
The Arctis 3 is one of the more comfortable gaming headphones I've used and the magic making the difference is the ski goggle headband. It isn't nearly as fancy as the materials and construction you find on more expensive headphones, but SteelSeries has the confidence to use the same type of band on its sub-$100 PC headphones as well as the Arctis Pro Wireless with its $300+ price tag.
While I wouldn't consider myself a small-headed gent, the lack of extending arms was no problem for me. The elastic material was soft and flexible and the headband was sturdy enough to keep the headphones secure even when I would quickly turn from side to side. Being able to rotate the earcups flat when taking them off is a handy feature as well.
Finally, if you're keen on using them wirelessly they are rated for 28 hours of use, which is quite a long time since most headsets typically offer a bit over 10 hours. I used them for roughly a week on and off, and never had to recharge them. As I was winding down my time with them I saw the battery indicator on the earcup was flashing green, indicating 50 to 100 percent remaining, which was impressive.
The SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth has an MSRP of $129.99 but go on sale pretty regularly for $99.99 on Amazon:
- See it on Amazon