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Steelseries Siberia V2 Full Size Headset Review

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AkG

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SteelSeries is best known for their innovative and all round great gaming peripherals, but when most serious gaming enthusiasts think “SteelSeries” they think “keyboards” or “mice”. It is only as an afterthought that some may remember this storied company is firmly entrenched in the headset market as well. This is a shame as SteelSeries has been producing some well reviewed headsets which combine great comfort with reasonably consistent sound reproduction all at a sensible price. A classic example of this combination is their original Siberia headset (also known as the “Icemat Siberia” headset) which was a good performer and was actually SteelSeries’ first headset. Today we are going to look at their redesigned Siberia V2 to see if it can live up to the standards set by its forbearers.

The Siberia V2 is not just some minor cosmetic upgrade like its name may suggest; this is a near complete overhaul and rebuild of the classic Siberia. The new version boasts redesigned 50mm drivers while using a slightly upgraded design to increase the comfort characteristics which made the Siberia a favorite amongst headset wearing game enthusiasts.

Since this is a SteelSeries product and has been out for a while now, finding it at retailers across North America is actually quite easy. In fact, nearly any serious computer store that caters to the enthusiast gaming niche most likely will have these in stock and have them priced at about $90 US. This certainly is a very reasonable price tag, assuming that they can live up to their predecessors’ high standards.

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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



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AkG

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Initial Impressions

Initial Impressions


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The SteelSeries Siberia V2 headset comes in a brash and bold box that takes no time in making sure you know this is a serious product aimed squarely at gaming enthusiasts. The front of this box is divided nearly down the middle with the left half being taken up almost entirely by a large plastic film window which allows you to get a very good look at the Siberia V2s. The other half is taken up in market blurbs and bullet point style highlights.

The rear of the box consists of two large photos, various graphic boxes that highlight and describe the main features the SteelSeries Siberia V2’s have as well as lots of descriptive details listed in marketing speech.

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Even on just a cursory glance the first thing that pops out is that the Siberia V2 is a downright gorgeous looking headset regardless of the colour our sample came in. The over-ear pieces are quite sleek for a gaming headset while the microphone is cleverly hidden yet can be pulled out if a better soundstage is needed for conversations. Unlike many headsets which use merely a flexible mic with fairly limited arm movement, the Siberia V2’s microphone quite flexible as well.

This arm is made from flexible thin wire rather than from cheap plastic. Not only does this make it extremely flexible but when you don’t need the microphone (say during travel) the microphone arm retracts into the left ear cup with only the tip sticking out. Compared the to the original Siberia’s detachable mic arm setup, this is simply a more elegant way of doing things.

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The top of SteelSeries’ Siberia V2 is not a band of plastic at all, nor even a solid piece design. Rather, it consists of two main components just like the orginal. The first component is a head strap that is self tensioning and will snugly fit against the head to help stabilize the Siberia V2’s ear cups. Using this self tensioning mechanism, it will automatically adjust itself to fit a wide variety head sizes.

The other part is the actual support beams which make the whole thing a cohesive whole. Unlike the leather headstrap, these two separate wire bands do not come in contact with your head, nor do they even come in contact with the headband. Their only job is to keep the earcups together and to provide enough tension to keep the them firmly – yet gently - on your ears.

To be perfectly honest, this combination works amazingly well and we are glad to see this carried over from the original Siberia. Even though I wear glasses, the amount of tension the earcups put on my ears was not enough to cause discomfort, but was still more than enough to keep the Siberia V2 firmly in place.

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Unfortunately, there are a few things which kept this headset from being perfect from an ergonomics point of view. The fist issue is the earcups themselves are a touch on the small side. This means most ears will not fit inside completely inside the closed cups and instead they will have to rest gently up against the ear’s cartilage. We have a strong dislike for small earcups as usually this gentle pressure on the cartilage becomes annoying after awhile. Luckily, the amount of pressure the Siberia V2 places on your ears is minor, making this a minor annoyance instead of a full blown issue.

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The inner portion of the earcups is made of leather with thick dense foam which is great from an ascetic point of view and also works well in helping reduce ambient noise levels. However, is not good at keeping you from sweating over extended periods. To be blunt, leather is hot and leather does not breathe. This is something you do not want in a headset when you are gaming for extended periods of time. Nonetheless, the V2s are easily one of the most comfortable headsets we have used, regardless of price.

From an audiophile point of view there is one other thing which is less than optimal about the Siberia V2s: they use a closed headset design which introduces resonance into some situations. Very few good “audiophile grade” headphones are closed because it is so hard to get them to be neutral and of the ones that are, very few manage to do this without costing a lot more than the MSRP of the Siberia V2s. In other words, this inherent limitation can be overcome but it takes a lot of money to do so. We’ll see in upcoming sections whether SteelSeries has managed to work around this inherent limitation.

On the flip side of the coin, closed style headphones have some tangible benefits for gaming enthusiasts in the form of noise dampening abilities. In theory, this closed design should help passively block a lot of ambient noise and allow you to game in a room you share with others without disturbing them.

As for the drivers themselves, SteelSeries has opted to use 50mm units instead of 40mm. While bigger is not always better in this case, a 50mm based design usually features a more accurate sound reproduction at higher levels than smaller 40mm designs can. In the case of the Siberia V2s they have an above average SPL rating of 112DBa, which is up from 104DBa of the originals.

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Most headphones and headsets come with one standard length cord, be it 6 feet, 8 feet, 10 feet, etc. SteelSeries has taken a difference approach by making the Siberia V2’s cord 1 meter long and then included a separate 2 meter extension cord for both the mic and headphones. This is certainly a nice little feature that will make many gaming enthusiasts happy.

The other noteworthy features we feel we need to point out before moving on is the inline volume level and microphone mute controller. We really like seeing this on our gaming peripherals as it allows users to tweak the sound level in each game without having to go to the desktop and adjusting the master volume levels. Unfortunately, the toggle switch for the mute feature should have been finished in a different material since it is far too slick.
 
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AkG

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Sound and Tonal Properties

Sound and Tonal Properties


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/audio/SiberiaV2/tonal.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

For this round of testing we used a combination lossless flac, 320kb/s mp3 and even some lower quality recordings in a variety of genres with a total of over 24 hours of listening enjoyment. A wide variety of genres was used in order to ensure that we encompassed most people’s listening choices.

Before we begin it should be noted that acoustically, the SteelSeries Siberia V2s are an vast improvement over the originals. The original model was widely known amongst the audiophile community as being as “cold” and as “remote” as their namesake. While the Siberia V2 headset still doesn’t display a warm or overly inviting audio stage, performance was actually quite good in certain genres. All in all, this headset can be considered well above average for its asking price.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/audio/SiberiaV2/bass.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

While the Siberia V2 is quite good, we never experienced the “crystal clear sound in high, low, and mid-range” talked about on the marketing materials. Let’s start with the bass and its tonal properties. If you like rich, vibrant and multi-leveled bass response, this headset is going to disappoint due to a lack of low range definition. In most genres, the low level response boiled down to a series of booms which was great for rap music and many games but the intricacies within classical, rock and other music genres will be completely overwhelmed.

Luckily, compared to most headsets in its price range the Siberia V2s do a very decent job and provide one of the better sound stages among one hundred dollar gaming headsets. Bass response may not be perfect but you’ll have to pay a heck of a lot more to get any better than this.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/audio/SiberiaV2/highs.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

When it came to highs, the V2 headset is a bit too bright and exhibited a touch of some high end sibilance but once again SteelSeries’ performance here was par for the course when price is taken into account.

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This leaves the mid range, which is the real strong point of the Siberia headset. The raspy, smoke scarred vocal cords of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope's voices came through surprisingly well in songs from the “Bang! Pow! Boom!”, “The Wraith”, “Wizard of the Hood” and “The Tempest” albums. Much like any set of good headphones, the Siberia V2 faithfully reproduced the mid range tones and allowed for near complete immersion into the music.

It is important to remember that the Siberia V2 headset isn’t marketed as or priced anywhere close to the HD595s and Beyerdynamic 880s of this world so audiophile-like performance just can’t be expected. With that being said, SteelSeries did listen to feedback when designing the V2 and acoustically it’s an improvement over the previous version in every single way. Even when compared to similarly priced products in their intended market niche, these new Siberias really do stand above the competition.

This goes doubly so when you are listening to lower bit rate encoded mp3s as this headset can partially “mask” a poorly encoded music file better than many high end cans. As with most things, “garbage in, garbage out” is in effect with high quality headphones, but this not really the case with lower encodes and the V2. Due to its tonal properties, it is able to pass on the “good” and mask any issues. After talking to the lead designer of the Siberia V2’s this was done on purpose as a lot of the intended customers do not use FLACC so this headset was “tuned” to make the most out of piss poor encodings. The result is a better listening experience for the types of music files most people listen to and we can do nothing but applaud this decision by SteelSeries.
 
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AkG

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Gaming Results

Gaming Results


For these games we use the Sennheiser 595 and Sennheiser PC350 headsets along with the SteelSeries Siberia V2.

Games Used:
Left 4 Dead 2
BattleField: Bad Company 2
Medal Of Honour
Borderlands
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2



While we walked away moderately impressed – considering the V2’s asking price – in the music phase the same cannot be said of the gaming results. To be blunt, the Siberia was able to flex some serious muscles in these tests.

Their soundstage may be a bit small for music (or at least some music genres), they do an absolutely wonderful job at reproducing in-game sounds. Footsteps, voices and even expended ammo hitting the floor come through crisp and clear.

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Remember, the gaming market is SteelSeries’ primary focus for the V2 so any slip ups here would have been devastating. As mentioned above, they delivered on every one of their marketing claims and then some.

The vast majority of games out there don’t have the detailed and multi-layered audio that’s found in higher bit rate audio tracks. However, the first instrument in a good gaming headset is the ability to reproduce accurate directionality. It is imperative that a gamer hears where bullets are coming from in a first person shooter or the distant explosions of your units coming under fire in an RTS. In this respect, the Siberia V2s perform above and beyond the call of duty.

Treble and bass response is also perfectly tuned for games with every deep rumble and high pitched RPG wail being faithfully recreated. Gun battles in games like BF: Bad Company 2 and CoD: MW2 had an almost visceral feel to them while in Left 4 Dead 2, every scream and zombie grunt was clearly defined.

In a price segment that’s better known for somewhat low quality in-game audio, the faithful recreation of everything from enemy footsteps to bullet hits came as a welcome surprise. While the V2s were didn’t create a soundstage as rich and vibrant as the Sennheiser HD595s they were damn impressive considering their asking price.

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When great audio is added to the Siberia V2’s high level of comfort, the end result is one potent gaming peripheral that’s comfortable enough to use for long periods of time. Granted, the leather can and does induce sweat more than some headsets, but their lightweight design makes up for this minor shortcoming.

We can also see why SteelSeries took the controversial approach of designing the Siberia V2 with closed ear cups. The sound isolation provided by this design allows very little background noise to seep through. This means periphery noises won’t detract from the listening experience while blasting music or in-game sound won’t disturb anyone in close proximity.

This really did make getting fully immersed into a game much easier.

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The other feature worth pointing out is the integrated microphone which is very, very good. Its retraction mechanism is second to none and allowed it to be hidden away when not needed while the flexible boom allowed it to pick up our voice rather than background noise. Indeed, very little -if any- background noise “leaked” through the mic which made communicating with teammates extremely easy.

As with most of the Siberia V2’s parts, the microphone is above average for a headset in this price range and didn’t feature and crackling or vocal distortion.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


In the past there always seemed to be a tradeoff in the sub-$100 gaming headset maket: either buy a product that faithfully reproduces in-game audio and ditch the need for a built-in microphone or look for an all in one headset but be prepared for lackluster audio and mic reception. SteelSeries’ Siberia V2 changes this equation in a big way by offering the best of both worlds without skimping on quality.

It is always nice to see a product not only live up to exceed the benchmarks set by the previous model and that’s exactly what the V2 does. From sound quality to comfort to flexibility, the V2 surpasses the original Siberia in every way possible.

This headset was built from the ground up to play with some of the big boys in the gaming audio market. Unfortunately this means it displays some resonance and sibilance in high bit rate audio recordings and the bass response just can’t keep up in certain tracks. Nonetheless the Siberia V2’s performance in games was good enough to vastly outstrip its $75-$95 price.

Adaptability is another one of this headset’s strong points. It features a mic which featured excellent, distortion-free communications alongside the ability to be stored inconspicuously within the ear cup. As such, the Siberia V2 is able to act as both portable headphones without attracting too much attention and a gaming headset. The closed cup design also cuts down on incoming and outgoing noise so it is perfectly suited for any environment from a crowded subway to a LAN party.

SteelSeries’ Siberia V2 is targeted towards gamers and this is exactly where it excels. The audio quality may not be up to the standards of the expensive Sennheiser HD 595s but for this niche, it really doesn’t have to be. What we get is good acoustical performance and high levels of comfort at a phenomenal price. What more is there to ask for?


Pros:

-Extremely Comfortable
-2 meter extension cable
-Retractable microphone
-Good passive noise reduction
-In-game sound is quite good
-Price is highly appealing
-Improvement upon the original Siberia headset
-Comes in a wide variety of colors


Cons:

-Slightly muddy bass
-Leather ear pads can make you sweat
-Small ear cups so not really “full sized”
-Smaller sound stage than what we would like to hear


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