Needless to say, Nintendo’s answer to speaking with friends online with the Nintendo Switch has made things quite difficult. Especially when it comes to choosing the right headset that caters for both game audio and chat in one unit. Granted, there’s the stylish HORI Splatoon 2 Splat and Chat effort that requires you to connect a squid-shaped splitter to do the job, but in all fairness, it’s a little messy and not exactly the most desirable method to comfortably lounge with.
SteelSeries has come up with a solution to reduce the traffic of multiple wires and clunky adapters. By combining both Bluetooth and single wire connectivity, they aim to fulfil that complete audio gaming experience. We had the chance to take a look at the SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset, and see if the £129.99 premium price tag is worth shelling out for.
While the Arctis 3 Bluetooth predominantly has the gamer in mind, this little versatile accessory can also be used for everyday life. The wired 3.5mm jack that hooks up to your Switch is completely removable, while the Bluetooth connects swiftly to your phone, so you can chat using Discord or the infamous Nintendo Switch Online App. The Bluetooth element in place does have an impressive battery life too, donning at nearly 30 hours of use before needing a good charge.
The ear cushions are large enough to ride snugly around your full ear, while the actual ear cups are a decent enough size to feel comfortable when busting around in public. The ear cushions themselves are made out of a breathable moisture-wicking material which feels luxuriously soft when pressed up against the side of your skull. Due to the nature of the bouncy texture, you would expect them to be susceptible to sound leakage. Surprisingly, they are actually very good at containing noise pollution even at a high volume and it’s hardly noticeable unless you’re invading the space of the person wearing them. The adjustable headband strapped under the arching plastic is made out of same elastic stuff used in ski goggles. It moulds nicely to the top of your head, supplying a fine balance in weight so they don’t begin to feel heavy during longer gaming sessions.
In regards to the overall design, they do look and feel like a premium product. The panels on the outside of the cups have a soft velvety rubber feel to them and the cups themselves can rotate to lay flat to the collarbone. Bear in mind that when you do rest them in this way, it does seem to shut down the Bluetooth connectivity. Personally, I would have preferred that they didn’t, or at least have the option not to disconnect when rested in this position.
The controls laid out underneath the cups are conveniently kept to a minimum so they don’t look like the face of a calculator strapped to the side of your head. You use the Bluetooth sync button to answer calls, pause or play media, and disconnect your device with an extended press of the button. There’s also another button to mute or unmute your mic, while the volume itself is controlled using a wheel. The volume wheel was the only physical design choice that I really wasn’t too fond of. Despite being big enough to easily find with your thumb, it’s easily knocked when wearing a heavy coat or a hoodie because of how loose it is. I couldn’t help but feel a volume rocker would have been a far better choice for a more discreet and practical option in general use.
What I did find practical though, was how the mic can be pulled out of the body of the cup. When retracted, the nub sticks out just enough to easily pull out towards the corner of your mouth. It’s flat in design, giving you a clear understanding of how to position it without taking them off. Thankfully, it’s not necessary to pull the mic out when receiving a call, so you don’t have to worry about looking like a helicopter pilot when shopping in Tesco.
The clarity of the mic seems to be decent enough according to the feedback of friends of whom I played with. The mix between game audio and chat blends adequately enough without tripping over each other. This, bearing in mind of course, if you find the right balance between your Switch and your phone as there is only one volume wheel on the headset. I do intend to give them a whirl on a future Nintendo Insider Podcast episode, so be sure to keep your ear out for that in the future.
Of course, the most important thing is how they actually sound. Well, this is where it does get a bit tricky. Straight out of the box, they do amplify quite well, if a little flat around the edges. However, to actually get the most out of them you must unlock the 7.1 surround sound by downloading a program from the SteelSeries website. You are then forced to register them in order to open up the customisable options where you can finally adjust a gang of settings to your liking. It all seemed a bit long-winded for something that could have been easily available straight out of the box.
I did find this whole process the most concerning because once I had jumped through the hoops it seemed to have completely bricked the headphone’s Bluetooth features. It was like being told that the princess is in another castle as I tried everything to get some sort of life back out of them. Luckily, I soon realised that all I had to do was turn the “Live Preview” option back off in the settings before disconnecting them from the PC. It’s something that I could imagine many customers getting stuck on, especially considering the lack of instructions. The way the SteelSeries customer services has been implemented with their “Ticket” method also seems a lot more complicated than necessary.
Once all sorted though, they are undeniably a stellar piece of kit. There’s a lot more depth to the sound once unlocked, and the surround sound features do bring with them a satisfying and immersive experience. While I’m not going to dig too deep into the technical side of things, you can find the full rundown of all the specs of the product on the SteelSeries website.
I did decide to run them through a few tests to see how they handled in each situation. First off, I ran a few YouTube videos that supported 7.1 surround sound which worked satisfyingly well. Sinking the jack into the Switch itself really does drop you into the otherworldly experience, especially when playing games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and DOOM. I even watched Deadpool on Netflix with them on using a Bluetooth connection to my bedroom television, which happened to give off very little lag as I enjoyed the sound of bullets and speeding cars zipping past my ears.
There are two wires that come packaged with the product that can interconnect with each other to extend the lead to just over three meters. I really could have done with a bit more length, to be honest, but I did manage to sit on my couch to playtest using both the TV jack and the port on the docked Switch. While both worked well enough, the lack of a jack port in the actual controller does make the task much more difficult – especially if you have a wandering dog or child crossing your path. This is, of course, more down to Nintendo’s design choice with the system than anything else.
Despite the rather clunky setup procedure, the SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth may very well be the pair of headphones to accompany your Nintendo Switch. Having them tailored for both gaming and lifestyle has pretty much made this particular device an extension of my anatomy. Of course, if you are only using it for a single purpose, you may very well be better off with a cheaper option to do the job. However, if you are willing to get the most out of its flexibility, then honestly, you really can’t go wrong here.