Not much more than a couple of years ago, console gaming headsets were rare and generally of inferior quality and durability. Manufacturers have since realised that this is a big and largely untapped market worthy or serious attention. The latest generation of gaming headsets are wireless and itís into that climate that Steel Series have released their own wireless gaming headset offering, the Spectrum 7xb. The 7xb is the successor to the wired 5xb that proved quite successful, but it enters a market that already has a couple of big players at a similar price point, namely the Turtle Beach PX5 and the Astro A40. So how does it stack up?
On first opening the package, the headset felt solid and sturdy. All of the peripherals like base unit, cables, etc, and placed snugly behind the headset under the moulded support. Something that is noticeable from the outset is that there is no headset case as you would get with the A40ís, or even a stand as you would get with the PX5ís meaning that you need to find somewhere to keep them safe when not in use. That said you can dismantle the 7xb into several pieces for storage or transport. This is an odd feature as a headset isnít so unwieldy to warrant dismantling, but its there for those that require it. The base unit is USB powered, has a master volume control wheel for the headset and a single audio input, a 3.5Ē audio jack socket. This may seem like a drawback especially when compared to the 7xbís main competition that supports optical inputs, but you do get some cable adaptors in the box, namely a double ended 3.5Ē jack cable which can be used for a TV or AV headphones socket, and an RCA pass through splitter cable to 3.5Ē jack which is connects to the red/white audio outputs from AV receivers meaning that this headset can be used for gaming and watching TV without having to change cables. The unit is very straight forward to setup. The headset comes pre-paired with its base station meaning that everything worked out of the box with a minimal amount of connecting or tweaking. All the headset needs is the 2 AAA batteries to be place in a vertical battery compartment that is so cleverly hidden out of the way (please see the relevant photo) and you are ready to go for over 20+ hours of gaming, though you can expect this to be lessened with rechargeable batteries.
Another clever feature of the headset is the retractable microphone which works incredibly well. The microphone sits recessed into the left ear cup and can be easily located and extended without having to remove the headset. The stalk is flexible and can be moved in any direction but the microphone stops short of your mouth which means that owners of this headset will be unable to irritate other gamers online with Darth Vader type breathing resulting from poor mike placement, which is not a bad thing as the microphone is unidirectional and will easily pick up everything you have to say. The headset is connected to the controller via a durable braided cable. The end that plugs into the controller has a bulbous connector to plug into the microphone jack a large chat mute switch that has a clear indicator as to when you have your voice comms muted. The plug at the opposite end of the cable is a mini USB and it plugs into the left hand ear cup. Maybe I am nit picking here, but perhaps this should have been a standard 3.5Ē jack as mini USB ports and connecters can sometimes become lose with repeated plugging and unplugging over time. Also, a minor niggle I noticed was that with the headset on, I could hear when the braided cable rubbed on my clothes quite clearly as the sound travelled up into the ear cup. Though this is a distraction, it is easily addressed with sensible cable placement and is drowned out when there is plenty of game volume.
The headset themselves fit quite snugly and firmly. There seems to be a little more pressure in the 7xbís than its main rivals, but it isnít uncomfortable. You can switch out the ear cups to something more your taste if you wish. This headset has been wife approved to have the lowest sound seepage of any headset I have tried, which no small feat as that means external parties are happeir with the 7xb's over the Astro A40ís and the Turtle Beach PX5ís. Crank the volume up and domestic bliss is maintained. That said, you will not hear a single request being made off you by the aforementioned wife which is not necessarily a bad thing. The ear cup seals are so effective that speaking with the 7xb on is literally like talking with your fingers in your ears, and you have to make a real effort to not shout as you canít really hear what you are saying, particularly when you are experiencing game audio in all its surround sound glory. This is further compounded by the fact that you donít even hear your own voice coming through your own microphone, so you have no idea how loud you are talking resulting is deafened teammates. This is not really a problem for the gamer, though it may upset those that you share your home with, but this too is something that you do get used to.
There are 5 buttons on the right ear cup that do a variety of things. The buttons are quite large and far enough apart making them easy to locate with the headset on. You have power, volume up, volume down, LiveMix and ExactSND. Hold the power button in for a couple of seconds and you hear three ascending notes letting you know that the headset is powering up. The + and Ė buttons on the right hand ear cup allow you to increase and decrease the game volume as a refinement to the base units master volume, and then there is the Live Mix button. This is a very clever feature that has been brought over from the 5xb where game audio is dynamically adjusted in relation to voice chat, and it works very well. You can have your game audio quite loud and with Live Mix it will automatically lower it once voice chatter is detected removing the need to constantly adjust the game and voice volumes in relation to each other. Once the chat stops, the volume returns to normal. Itís a very effective system with next to no adjustment lag meaning you donít miss the start of spoken sentences. All you have to do is set the game and chat volumes at the start of a session and let Live Mix do the rest. There is also a button called ExactSND which cycles through some audio presets to get the optimal sound type for the game you are playing. Your options are:
Normal - The default setting and optimal for most games and gamers, and is a good balance of all presets.
Performance Ė Amplifies footsteps, gunfire and ammo reloads that could get lost in the background on other settings and is very effective for titles where hearing the in game audio subtleties is important.
Immersion Ė This is intended to be used in games where greater immersion in your gaming world is achieved by boosting environmental noises and in game music.
Entertainment Ė This provides a heavy dose of bass for a better cinematic experience.
These presets are not token inclusions. Itís only when using them in the game context that they were created for that you can truly appreciate the effort that clearly went in to refining these presets. These are over and above the Normal setting which works perfectly well with all game types by hitting the audio middle ground.
The sound quality with the 7xb is excellent. The 7xb supports Dolby 7.1 surround sound, though you would be hard pressed to genuinely differentiate between good quality 5.1 and 7.1 on a headset. The highs and mids were accurate and clear, and good bass sound did not occur at the expense of other game audio. Directional audio is accurate both in direction and in distance. Not only can you tell which direction the footsteps are coming from in a game like GOW3, but also how far away the baddies are. The standard of the sound from the 7xb is as good as, if not better than, anything you will hear from any wireless gaming headset on the market today. The only degradation in sound quality that was noticeable was when the chat volume was up full. This introduces a background hiss that does stand out when up full, however you wonít be playing with your chat volume up full as you will be deafened by game chat which fortunately makes it less of an issue than it otherwise could be.
The 7xb is a transformative device, in that you have to use it to fully appreciate it. All too often we see the emphasis on the bells and whistles simply to sell a feature rich product that does not always deliver at the most basic of levels. This is not so with the 7xb as itís so much more than the sum of its parts. I went back to another headset recently, and I noticed audio that didnít sound as good or as convincing as the 7xb, and this happened frequently during the game which really is a testament to the quality of the 7xb. Steel Series kept their eye on the ball in terms of delivering a solid headset with superior sound quality with exactly the right amount of features included to enhance, and not interfere with, that objective. The 7xb has set the bar for gaming headsets and it impresses on all levels. Though it may have some quirks, these will seem less like issues and more like characteristics that you adapt to, giving it a little bit more personality than that of its competitors. If you are in the market for a quality gaming headset, you would be mad to not seriously consider the Steel Series 7xb, and a fool to pass it up.
XboxZone Score: 9.3/10