With the Arctis Prime, Steelseries keeps it simple. As with a lot of “esports” gear design, it’s light on fancy features, but doubles down on doing the essentials very well. On the outside, the Arctis Prime seems to share a lot of DNA with Steelseries’ low-to-mid-range gaming headset, the Arctis 3. It’s a relatively simple, but well-constructed wired headset with one or two small flourishes from Steelseries’ more expensive Arctis models. On the inside, the Arctis Prime features the high-resolution drivers Steelseries uses in the Arctis Pro, which theoretically leads to bigger, more precise sound. The result is a focused package that’s light, versatile, and comfortable.
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SteelSeries Arctis Prime – Design & Features
All clad in black metal and plastic, the Arctis Prime is an unassuming headset. The large buttons and logos gives you a sense that it’s not an overcrowded, feature-heavy design. There isn’t as much stuff on it, but what’s there is important.
The first thing you’ll notice is the top band, which features a fabric “ski goggle” suspension band wrapped around a steel support. Like Steelseries’ more recent headsets, the suspension band wraps all the way around the top and bottom of the steel “core” because the band is adjustable. Suspension headbands, which we’ve been seeing more of in 2021, are already self-adjusting – the band distributes the weight of the headset across your head – but tightening or loosening the strap using the tab on the left side of the headset allows you to make the headset sit higher or lower on your head.
Between the lightweight materials in the headset – steel, plastic, and a plastic-like aluminum alloy – and the suspension headband, the Arctis Prime feels extremely light and comfortable on your head. It is the rare headset that I forget I’m wearing during long play and work sessions. Weighing in at 348 grams, it’s not exceptionally light on paper, but the well-balanced suspension band keeps the weight from wearing you down.
At the stems, it has rotating aluminum alloy forks, so it can lay flat. The ear cups – black plastic – feature easily removable magnetic plates, which you can swap out for Steelseries cosmetic speaker plates. (Most Steelseries speaker plates cost $29.99 on the Steelseries store). The earcups are padded with leatherette-coated “sound-isolating” cushions. The padding’s not exceedingly comfortable, but there’s just enough clamp force so you never feel the pads pressing too hard on your head. Given their soft touch, it’s surprising how much sound the cups passively block out.
Inside the cups, we have the moneymakers: Steelseries’ own high-fidelity 40mm drivers. While not quite as powerful as some other headphone drivers, the Prime sounds clear in and outside of gaming. Steelseries claims the speakers are “tuned for audio separation,” which should enhance the performance-related benefits of hardware-enabled virtual surround sound, such as Dolby Atmos or the PS5’s Tempest audio system.
Back out to the cups, the Arctis Prime doesn’t have a ton of inputs and ports. Everything’s stacked on the left cup: You get a volume wheel, a very large, textured mute button, a micro USB to plug in the audio cable, and a 3.5mm “headphone sharing” port, in case you want to run your audio to a second headset. Despite the digital port going into the headset, the Arctis Prime uses a 3.5mm audio jack, which means it’s compatible with basically everything.
One of my favorite things about the Arctis Prime – and most Arctis headsets – is the retractable microphone design. Rather than adding a detachable wire boom, like many manufacturers, the Arctis Prime’s ClearCast noise-cancelling mic slides back into the left ear cup housing when you don’t want to use it. This way, you get the benefits of having a permanently attached microphone – namely that there are no parts to lose – in the more adjustable wire mic format.
SteelSeries Arctis Prime – Gaming
Like its hardware design, the Arctis Prime’s sound is simple and great. It’s sound is clear and precise, without giving any strong priority to low, mid, or high tones. Playing many games across PC and PS5, including Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Hood: Outlaws and Legends, and Returnal, I found Arctis Prime delivered a wide, immersive soundscape in every situation. While you don’t get that physical “boom” in your ear when a grenade explodes, the crispness of music, dialogue and other sharp sound effects more than compensates for that. I did notice that the headset also doesn’t get quite as loud as some other headset at max volume, but that’s fine because, frankly, we shouldn’t be listening to things at max volume anyways.
It also, as promised, pairs well with surround sound. In Returnal, which uses surround sound to create an oppressive din of ambient noise, you can pick out the individual croaks and squishing sounds of the hostile alien wilderness, which runs a thread of horror into even benign gameplay moments. In Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, you can quickly and easily detect and locate footsteps and gunfire by sound, which I think of as the practical high bar for the performance side of surround sound.
Lastly, let’s talk about the mic. The retractable ClearCast mic is one of the easiest microphones to fine-tune. The wire portion of the mic simply seems a little more flexible than most. It also delivers great sound, while filtering out most ambient noise, like computer fans and gamepad button presses.
The Steelseries Arctis Prime is available now for $99.99.