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Friday, September 27, 2019

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Headset: The Swiss Army Knife of Gaming Audio

The Arctis 1 Wireless Headset sitting next to a Nintendo Switch.
The Arctis 1 Wireless works with anything that uses a USB-C port, including phones and the Switch. Michael Crider

One headset that works with all your gaming devices is a lot to promise. But, for the most part, the new Arctis 1 Wireless delivers. If you don’t need something for your iPhone or Xbox, it covers all the bases.

The build is basic, and I wish SteelSeries had included a Bluetooth wireless option for devices that don’t support its USB-C-based, 2.4 GHz connection. The choice to recharge the wireless headset via MicroUSB is, frankly, baffling. But for $100, the Arctis 1 gives you lossless wireless audio across the PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Android, and anything else with a USB-C port. At the moment, that selling point is unique. And it’s enough to get a recommendation from us.

Simple Setup, Complex Connection

There’s not too much to say about the Arctis 1 itself. It’s a pretty standard setup for a wireless headset, with materials that are a bit on the cheap side for the $100 price point. The microphone boom is removable, and the cups rotate 90 degrees for flat storage, but they don’t fold in for easy travel. A volume wheel, a microphone mute switch, and a power button are all you get for input. Wireless only extends to the USB-C dongle, but you can use a wired headphone cord for a direct connection to almost any audio source with a headphone jack.

The headset recharges via MicroUSB. That’s right—even though the wireless dongle is a USB-C connection, you have to track down a dusty MicroUSB cable (or use the one in the box) to recharge the headset’s battery. Most high-end headphones have transitioned to USB-C charging, as have the devices this headset proudly supports with its wireless connection.

So, if you’re buying this thing to use with the Switch or a modern Android phone, you can’t recharge it with the same cable. This is a very poor choice, as I’ve made clear before, and it will cost the Arctis 1 a point or two in its final score.

A USB-C dongle and MicroUSB charging cord next to one of the Arctis 1 Wireless headphones.
USB-C dongle, MicroUSB charging. Ugh. Michael Crider

But the dongle works surprisingly well. When you plug it into an Android phone or the charging port on the Nintendo Switch, you get stereo sound without any kind of pairing or setup. While I’m sure some gaming wunderkind could hear a single millisecond delay, I can’t; for multiplayer gaming, it works great. The connection supports input and output as long as you plug in the boom.

The microphone boom, USB-C dongle, MicroUSB charging cord, USB-A-to-female-C adapter, and standard headphone cable.
The package includes the microphone boom, USB-C dongle, MicroUSB charging cord, USB-A-to-female-C adapter, and a standard headphone cable. Michael Crider

If your PC doesn’t have a USB-C port, the package includes a USB-A-to-female-C adapter, so you can plug in the dongle (a USB-A dongle isn’t included). This cable is also mandatory to use the headset with a PlayStation 4 or the Switch, while it’s in docked mode, and no USB-C port is available. Again, the connection is fast and easy—even on PC, it’s plug-and-play.

The USB-C dongle also has a few extra millimeters of space added to its port. This means the dongle works with slimmer cases on your phone or Switch.

Cheap, But Comfy

The Arctis 1 is an all-plastic affair, except for the cushioning on the ear cups and the headband, both of which are synthetic fabric. That sounds cheap, and it is—I expected at least faux leather on a $100 headset. But, to give credit where it’s due, the set is surprisingly light and comfortable at only nine ounces. The generous room in the band allows it to rest lightly on top of my head, which is something other headsets haven’t done. Naturally, comfort will vary—my head’s a bit on the pointy side.

The abstract pattern on the inside of the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless headphones.
The pattern on the inside of the cups is pretty snazzy. Michael Crider

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