SteelSeries Arctis Prime: The down-to-business gaming headset

These days gaming headsets have become something like multi-tools. Many of them are wireless, many of them have RGBs or cat-ears, some have a great microphone and others come at just the right price. But it seems that we have probably lost a bit of the whole meaning. Sure, it’s all subjective, but the two main things a good gaming headset should be nailing is comfort and sound. Enter Arctis Prime: the no-bullshit, high-quality gaming headset from SteelSeries.

SteelSeries Arctis Prime packaging
The Arctis Prime packaging.

“Wait a sec. Doesn’t SteelSeries already have a high-fidelity headset? Yes, they do. And it’s definitely one of the best all-around gaming headsets you can find. Arctis Prime is the middle ground: the opportunity to have the hi-res sound of Arctis Pro at almost half price. And Prime look so much cooler, if you ask me.

Design

Design-wise, the Arctis Prime look very similar to their older siblings, the Arctis Pro. The design language is more or less what we are used to in SteelSeries headsets, and I personally have no problem with that. I generally find that SteelSeries has some of the best headset designs. They’re not trying too hard to make their headsets stand out from the competition with random features such as components that just end up looking too out of place on the headset.

The SteelSeries Arctis Prime unboxing experience
The super-minimal unboxing experience.

On the contrary, this headset looks like it means business. Its design gives me incredible Matte Black Everything vibes, and I love it. Not everything needs to have colorful lights on them. The muted aesthetic fits perfectly with the character of the whole headset. The only other color that’s on the headphones is the iconic orange of SteelSeries on the mute button.

The whole earcups have a black matte finish on them. The SteelSeries logo is moved to the center of each earcup, bringing the design to 2021. Of course, the ski strap on the headband is one of the key Arctis features that makes its return and really, we couldn’t do without it.

Matte-black earcups
SteelSeries single-handedly cured my OCD by putting their logo in the center of the earcup.

“But aren’t they a little boring being completely black?”. Certainly, black is not for everyone. And Arctis Prime don’t come in other colors. However, there is a solution. Just like with the Arctis Pro, the speaker plates are removable. This means that you can buy plates with different designs from the SteelSeries store and completely change the aesthetics of your headphones. The speaker plates come as a set with a matching ski strap headband. What I found impressive is that the speaker plates in fact do not “lock-in” somewhere. They are snap onto the headset using two fairly strong magnets that are located on the back of each earcup.

Comfort

Sure, they look cool, but what is it like to wear them? Very comfortable. The ski strap really works wonders. Going from a classic leatherette headband to the ski strap on the Prime headset you will notice a huge difference.

SteelSeries branding on the ski-strap headband
Ski-strap headband appreciation photo.

First off, the Arctis Prime is not the lightest headset out there, since it’s made mostly of aluminum. They weigh 342 grams, about the size of the average headset. Despite their metal construction, however, you do not feel their weight. This is because they rest on your head with the ski strap that balances their weight, and not with a traditional headband. The ski strap is made of very light, breathable fabric, which stretches out and distributes the weight evenly on the head. And, it looks way better.

The clamping force is not too much, I’d say it’s somewhere between tight, and comfortable out of the box. If you were used to wearing a looser headset, it might get some time to get used to the tighter Primes. Impressively, even during the biggest of rage fits, this headset didn’t move an inch. It always stays snug on your head. Like all headsets, the more you use it, the faster it will take after to the shape of your head and get more comfortable.

Arctis series headsets are usually accompanied by the usual – and incredibly comfortable – aiweave ear pads. This is not the case with the Arctis Prime though. Arctis Prime ear cushions are made of leatherette. Why? Because Prime is made primarily for use in eSports environments and leatherette blocks external noise more effectively than the airweave pads.

Arctis Prime leatherette earcups close-up
Leatherette ear cushion in all its glory.

Are they better than classic ear cushions? This is completely subjective. The fabric used in the aiweavce pads is definitely more comfortable, especially for those who get sweaty while playing. On the other hand, leatherette cushions won me over because they let you to focus on what you want to hear, not your neighbors screaming at each other.

Build quality

Make no mistake; Prime may be comfortable but it’s also a very sturdy headset. It’s actually made from the same materials as the Arctis Pro which is almost twice as expensive.

The headband that holds the headphones together is made entirely of aluminum. But it’s still quite flexible. No matter how hard you try, you will not hear the slightest whine from the build. The point where the headband joins the earcups is plastic, to give it some freedom of movement. The earcups are – obviously – also plastic. If they were made of metal the weight would be too much for the ears (we’re looking at you Apple with your Airpods Max).

The volume wheel and mute button are located on the back of the left earcup. It’s extremely easy to locate both with your hand. The mute button is very large and this makes it incredibly convenient to use. I would like it to be more clicky though. The volume wheel does not make weird sounds while adjusting the volume and the scrolling is very smooth.

Sound quality

Undoubtedly the most important part of this review and oh boy, do we have a lot to talk about.

Most Arctis series headsets come equipped with S1 Speaker Drivers. S1 drivers are generally one of the best drivers in the field and it’s great that from the cheapest to the most expensive Arctis headset, they all have the same consistently good sound quality. The only headset that had different drivers up to this point was the Arctis Pro.

The Prime comes equipped with the same high fidelity neodymium drivers that are used in Arctis Pro. Trust me, the difference between these ones and the S1s is huge. The soundstage is wider and allows greater depth in the sounds, so they are easily separated from each other. The bass is clear and boomy but never overwhelming. Bass feels just right. The mids are distinct and the treble is crystal clear. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by how detailed the sound of the Arctis Prime was.

Symbiote Spider-Man casually rocking the Arctis Prime headset
Obligatory “Symbiote Spider-Man rocking the Arctis Prime” photo.

By comparison, the S1 drivers have a slightly flatter sound signature, while hi-res drivers produce a more pleasant sound. They’ll make you go “woah, that’s really something”, because by testing the quality of music / games / movies you already have, you start hearing things you couldn’t before, thanks to the sound being clearer. If you really want to look at the numbers, the neodymium drivers are in the industry standard of 40mm, with a response frequency of 10 to 40,000 Hz. The sensitivity is at 92 dB with a resistance of 32 Ohm, while the total harmonic distortion of the sound does not exceed 1%.

In-action report

It performs great in gaming, the directional sound works wonders. Black Ops Cold War really sounds incredible with this headset. It’s clear why SteelSeries is pushing it primarily as an eSports-focused headset. In the more atmospheric games, I will just say that playing Hellblade with Arctis Prime is a particularly creepy experience. They sound really good in movies because the dialogues are separated from the background sounds and the same goes for the music; it’ll be a pain every time you have to press pause. Especially if you have access to high-quality files.

Microphone

The mic is the same as in all other Arctis headsets. It’s bidirectional and comes equipped with native noise cancellation so that your voice sounds clearer. It has the ClearCast certification issued by Discord. It’s all you need to communicate with your teammates and make quick voice calls. It is fully retractable and hides inside the left earcup when you don’t need it.

Close-up of the left ear-cup with the mic
The mic, nested up in its hidey-hole.

You can connect it to all consoles and your PC either via the 4-pole 3.5mm cable, or using the splitter included in the package.

Arctis Prime vs. Arctis Pro

So… what’s the catch? Why is SteelSeries selling headphones that are identical to its Arctis Pro flagship at almost half the price? The truth is that with Arctis Prime, you lose out on some of the features available in the Pro. These are not features that you immediately notice are missing, but they’re just some nice-to-haves you have to sacrifice in order to get the price right.

You can only use the Arctis Prime with an analog 3.5mm cable and not with USB connection like the Pros. This means that you lose out on the ability to modify the sound coming out of the headset with a native EQ, you can only do so through your sound card. Or a DAC if you have one (conveniently placed link to the SteelSeries GameDAC). Also, Prime does not support the DTS X v2.0 surround sound you find in the Pros. You can still use Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos of course.

Are those sacrifices dealbreakers? Not at all. The high-quality sound alone is really something, especially at this price point, and Prime is perfectly placed in the SteelSeries product catalogue. Basically, you can find a SteelSeries headset at every major price point, and each one has something that sets it apart from the others. Arctis Prime is the entry point into the world of high-quality audio, without all these extras you may not even need.

Verdict

The SteelSeries Arctis Prime headset gives you exactly what you need for a high-quality audio experience. Nothing more, nothing less. What you pay is what you get. It’s very comfortable on the head thanks to the ski strap. The leather cushions block out the external sounds and if you do not like them you can always just change them for the classic fabric ones. Their build quality is very robust, as they are made of aluminum in combination with plastic, without even weighing too much. The muted all-black look fits perfectly with the general sleeper approach.

What's in the box
Everything that’s in the box.

The sound quality is the real highlight, just as one would expect from a high-fidelity headset. All the different audio frequencies stand out from each other and the headset is calibrated with the main focus on the mids and highs instead of the bass, like most gaming headsets. The absence of surround, RGB, and chatmix controls is not even noticeable at €120. This is a headset for those who prefer great sound at the right price instead of blinding RGBs.

George Makridis

Posts published: 107

Editor in Chief. Studying Communication & Media. Listening to Hip-Hop. Watching advanced humor sitcoms and dumb superhero flicks. Has way too many games in his library and not that much time to actually play them.