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SteelSeries Arctis Prime Review: Pro Gaming Audio, Simplified

The Arctis Prime giveth, and the Arctis Prime taketh away.

SteelSeries Arctis Prime
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Our Verdict

The SteelSeries Arctis Prime is a stripped down, pro gaming-grade headset with a curious mix of features.

For

  • + Well-balanced and comfortable
  • + Wide frequency response
  • + Above average mic performance

Against

  • - Bass can get in the way of other frequencies
  • - 3.5mm only
  • - Hi-Res performance could be better
  • - No ChatMix, Sidetone

Landing in the middle of SteelSeries’ Arctis headset lineup with a $100 MSRP, the SteelSeries Arctis Prime is built for eSports gamers who want a finely tuned experience they don’t have to mess with. It boasts the same cozy fit and Hi-Res audio capabilities found in their higher end headset in the lineup, like the SteelSeries Arctis Pro ($180 MSRP), and please players seeking something premium, yet uncomplicated.

However, many features that are familiar to gamers who know the Arctis line well have been left on the cutting room floor in favor of a more streamlined experience. That includes bonuses like a ChatMix dial or the option to connect to your PC via USB.

SteelSeries Arctis Prime Specifications

Driver Type 40mm neodymium
Impedance32 Ohms
Frequency ResponseSpeakers: 10-40,000 Hz
 Mic: 100-10,000 Hz
Microphone TypeBidirectional noise canceling, retractable
Connectivity 3.5mm cable (single TRRS and split TRS )
Cables6 feet (2m) detachable 3.5mm cable 
Weight (with mic)0.78 pounds (348g)
Lighting None
Software None

Design and Comfort 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Arctis Prime is the latest addition to SteelSeries’ storied Arctis line and offers a simplified take on what gamers have come to expect from this family of headsets. The headset is finished in an attractive matte, stealth black with the SteelSeries logo featured prominently in grey on each earcup. Arctis line mainstays, like the retractable microphone and on-earcup mute and volume controls make their return here. Present from the higher end of the Arctis line are the steel headband, Velcro-adjustable suspension system and drivers capable of delivering Hi-Res audio. The Arctis line is known for providing gamers with a solid range of connectivity options, but the Prime opts for 3.5mm only, offering cabling with a single TRRS connector and a split adapter with dual TRS connectors.

Earcup depth is substantial, allowing for a snug over-the-ear fit during long gaming sessions that didn’t uncomfortably push the ears against the drivers. The faux leather cushioning provided ample padding while also remaining breathable. The earcups also offered excellent isolation from outside noise, bringing surrounding ambient sounds down to a whisper. 

The aluminum alloy and steel headband sported by the Arctis Prime is rugged, allowing for even weight distribution to both earcups and works well in tandem with the adjustable Velcro suspension band. For comparison to other wired headsets, the Arctis Prime is 0.8 pounds, while the Epos H3 is 0.6 pounds, and the Asus ROG Delta S, which also supports Hi-Res, is 0.7 pounds. 

During my time with the Arctis Prime, I found it quite comfortable for long play sessions, and it required little by way of adjustment, despite my oversized noggin. The headset has a solid grip but it is not uncomfortably tight. Very little slippage occurred, despite the somewhat flimsy appearance of the inner band.

The headset controls, located on the left earcup, were easy to reach mid-game. The volume wheel is on the bottom and the mic on/off button is just above the wheel. The mic button has a subtly textured feel to it, so it’s easy to find by touch alone.

Audio Performance

The Arctis Prime features the same 40mm neodymium drivers that support Hi-Res are found in the pricier Arctis Pro. Our review focus can reproduce an impressively wide frequency range (10 – 40, 000 Hz) and handle being cranked to max volume with ease. During my testing, I never noticed distortion, even at high volume levels. Audio remained crisp and clear when the Arctis Prime was pushed.

While the audio reproduction and stability of the Arctis Prime is laudable, the voicing is not ideal for all use cases. Instead of a flat EQ curve, the Arctis Prime is voiced in a manner that is much more scooped than I would like. Mid frequencies are de-emphasized in favor of a rich bottom end, and treble is pushed up to provide more bite and clarity. This is, of course, mostly fine if you’re only going to be using the Arctis Prime for gaming.

The increased audio fidelity and wide frequency gamut bring out great detail in game audio mixes, making the footfalls of opponents in competitive titles, like CS:GO, clearly audible amidst the chaos of battle. This aural clarity also proved beneficial in solo FPS titles, like Doom: Eternal, helping to make sense of the battlefield at its most frantic. Unfortunately, the bass heavy EQ can make dialogue difficult to hear over other elements of the mix in some titles, such as Bioshock Infinite.

But for $100, you’ll probably want to use the headset for listening to music too, and in that case, the headset’s Hi-Res performance was somewhat underwhelming at times. This was particularly when taking in 96kHz/32-bit .WAV mixes that utilize a wide tonal palette. Tighter, more compressed mixes, like Dr Dre’s classic “The Chronic,” sounded great, but more complex soundscapes, like Opeth’s “Blackwater Park,” seemed to have a little life zapped from them and came across more two dimensional than intended.

Movies generally fared better, with my go-to test sequences (The Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan) really coming alive through the Arctis Prime’s well-tuned drivers. At times, however, the boosted bottom end made dialogue a little difficult to make out. This is another situation where a flatter EQ curve would have made a world of difference. In more crowded aural moments, the Arctis Prime’s beefy bass response can run roughshod over subtlety. It is worth noting that the audio tracks for the BluRay movies mentioned are not Hi-Res (48kHz/16-bit, whereas Hi-Res must be a minimum of 48kHz/24-bit, while the audio files used for testing were, so this is a voicing issue that is present across audio formats.

Microphone

The Arctis Prime headset comes with the same bidirectional microphone found throughout the Arctis series. Dubbed ClearCast, the boom microphone features noise cancelling and a frequency response of 100-10,000 Hz with sensitivity of -38 dBV/Pa.

The mic is crisp and clear, capturing and reproducing a solid representation of the voice without the harsh, nasal and sibilant qualities of many competing gaming mics. Noise cancellation is a cut above average, but the mic still occasionally picked up some ambient room sounds.

The real bummer here though is the lack of SideTone, or mic monitoring that lets you control how much of your voice you can hear, and ChatMix, which lets you balance audio from your teammates and the actual game. Both are real standouts of the higher end Arctis headsets (Arctis 5 and up), so it’s disappointing neither are available here. The Arctis Prime does offer a very good gaming audio experience out of the box without making things complicated but sometimes cutting features for the sake of simplicity seems like a misguided decision.

Software

There is also no software component complimenting the Arctis Prime, so you’ll have to deal with the love the settings as is. I would personally prefer a flatter EQ curve that works more universally across use cases or, lacking that, the ability to make changes and save presets with SteelSeries Engine, the software used with some other SteelSeries peripherals.

But while having the option to use Engine to tweak audio settings would be nice, the Prime is very much an “as is” experience and for those who would rather just plug and play.

Bottom Line

SteelSeries’ Arctis Prime occupies an odd space in the Arctis lineup. It’s marketed toward competitive gaming but also has an emphasis on simplicity, noted by its lack of bonus features, like ChatMix or the ability to tweak audio via software.

On the plus side, the Arctis Prime has the comfortable fit, noise-isolating earcup padding and Hi-Res audio capabilities of the Arctis Pro, Arctis Pro + GameDAC and Arctis Pro Wireless. That means you’ll be able to get high-end gaming audio while saving money. The mic also lives up to the series’ reputation.

There are, however, some notable omissions. There’s no option to connect via USB, and perhaps the most egregious feature cuts compared to the aforementioned higher end Arctis headsets are Sidetone and ChatMix. Being able to fine tune an in-headset monitor mix is a wonderful touch and part of what makes the upper echelon Arctis headsets special.

You’ll also have to be enamored with the Arctis Prime’s out-of-box experience because that’s all you’re getting. This is meant to be purely plug-and-play, and the more bass heavy sound profile may not be what you want.

If you’re seeking more connection options in this price range, there’s the Fnatic React+. The Logitech G-Pro is available at a similar price point and offers sidetone support and a USB DAC at the expense of HiRes audio. Quality Hi-Res will cost you more, but the Asus ROG Delta S helps make investing in Hi-Res audio worth it.

Still, the Arctis Prime gives you some premium features and comfort in a simple package for a decent price, making it worthy of a serious look.