Gadgets

SteelSeries Spotlight: Rival Mouse, 9H Headset, H-Wireless Headset

 
It’s that time again for a new batch of SteelSeries product reviews! This time around, we bring you a look at the Rival mouse, the 9H headset, and the H-Wireless headset.
 
We’ll start with the Rival Mouse, which is a brilliantly simplistic gaming mouse. I’ve reviewed quite a few mice in my day, and while I enjoy something heavier (like the Gila GX), I found myself really liking the way the Rival felt in my hands. It has an attractive black matte design with a grippy, textured siding for your thumb and ring/pinky fingers to rest. It’s featherlight and glides along smoothly, providing incredible accuracy thanks to the advanced optical sensor.
 
The sensor in question is the Avago ADNS 3310, which promises no hardware acceleration with true 1:1 tracking. According to SteelSeries, theoretically there should be no latency…even down to the millisecond. Now seeing as how there’s really no way for me to test that, the only thing I could do was play a bunch of games and how the mouse performs.
 
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To be completely honest, out of all the mice I have tested, it’s not like one sticks out so far above the rest that I can clearly proclaim “This! This one is the best!” But damned if the Rival wasn’t incredibly comfortable and quick. The shape of the mouse itself molds wonderfully to my hand (PSA: it’s a right handed mouse) and the switches are quick and responsive. You get your standard scroll wheel, left/right click buttons, an extra button underneath the wheel to toggle between two different CPI settings, and two extra buttons along the left side where your thumbs rest.
 
Of course all of this is supported by SteelSeries’ excellent customization software, SteelSeries Engine, which is presented here as SteelSeries Engine 3. In practice, SSE3 and the older iterations all accomplish the same thing, but SSE3 is much less intrusive in terms of UI and a snappier experience overall.
 
With SSE3, you can customize the 2 illuminated areas with up to 16.8 million different colors, makes the buttons anything you like (including macros), and adjust the sensitivity of the CPI, speed of hand acceleration/deceleration, angle snapping, and polling rate. All this is wrapped up in a nice, minimalistic interface that features cloud syncing so you’ll always have your settings where you happen to be.
 
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One issue I have is with the fact that SSE3 only works with a handful of newer products. I use an Apex keyboard and still regularly use my Siberia v2 headset, yet none of those are being recognized by SSE3. For those products, I still need to have the older version of SSE, which means if I’m using my Apex keyboard and Rival mouse (like I’m currently doing), I need to have two versions of SSE running at the same time. While this doesn’t necessarily affect the Rival mouse directly, I just thought it would be a nice PSA for those that have older SS products and newer ones like what we’re bringing you today (SS has informed me that a future update to SSE3 will allow older products to be used with one version).
 
Regardless of any SSE compatibility issues, the Rival mouse is a very attractive, functional, and comfortable gaming mouse. I’ve been using the Gila GX pretty regularly, but I don’t see myself packing away the Rival anytime soon. As of right now, this is my daily driver, and that’s saying something considering how much I loved the Gila GX. And at $60, it’s priced surprisingly well.
 
SteelSeries Rival Mouse $59.99
SCORE: 9.0

 
The next product we’re going to look at is the 9H headset, part of the new H line of tournament grade headsets. The 9H was designed for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices and provides an exceptionally high quality experience with one huge flaw in my experience. Let’s talk about the good first.
 
The 9H is incredibly comfortable to use. The head frame has comfy pads along the top, and the ear cups feature soft leather design with extra padding. It’s like sticking your ears into a giant marshmallow. The 9H is lightweight, yet not cheaply made. Overall, it is a very comfortable headset and even though it’s not as comfortable as the floating frame design of my Siberia v2, it comes in at a very close second.
 
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Setting up the 9H with your various devices might end up being a bit more work than you’d like, but take into consideration that it can be used between your mobile devices and a computer. With a computer, you have the option to plug directly into your soundcard (with the standard 3.5mm audio and mic jacks), or use the provide SteelSeries USB soundcard. With the USB soundcard, you also get the added functionality of the SSE3 customization options, and it’s as simple as plugging the audio/mic jacks directly into the USB soundcard, then plugging the USB soundcard into an available USB port. With SSE3 you can customize different profiles, equalizer settings, mic noise cancellation, Dolby, etc.
 
With the 9H comes a variety of swappable cable ends (including the audio/mic, one specific 3.5mm for mobile devices, and the USB soundcard), in-line controls (volume and mic mute), a braided cable to prevent tangling, and a retractable mic in the left earcup. If you plan on interchanging between your computer and a mobile device, then you’re going to experience some clutter in the way of the swappable cable ends, but in the overall scheme of things, that’s not too big a deal.
 
Remember that “one huge flaw” I mentioned earlier? Let’s talk about that for a second. The 9H’s audio quality is very good. While it’s not “audiophile-good,” it certainly provides pretty much everything you’ll need to have an immersive experience when firing up a game of Battlefield 4 or something. With the USB soundcard, you have two Dolby technologies at your disposal; Dolby Headphone, which allows up to 7.1 channels of surround sound, and Dolby IIx, which can convert a stereo signal into surround sound. The 9H also has a wide dynamic range which can deliver a balanced range of your highs, mids, and lows. This is all very good stuff.
 
However, what happens to all these great features when the overall volume is less than desirable? I don’t need my headphones to be so loud that they hurt (though I sometimes like it that way, especially when I listen to Van Halen), but from what I experienced with the 9H, the highest volume was still really low…low enough to where it became an annoyance. If you turn the Dolby features off and simply use a 2 channel stereo, then it helps a bit, but then what’s the point? Why have this expensive headset that offers nothing more than a set of cheap earbuds?
 
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If you plug the 9H directly into your soundcard, then the volume issues are a bit better, but you lose the SSE3 functionality, and you better hope your soundcard can also allow you to fiddle with most of the customization features otherwise, again, you’re left a just a normal, generic headset.
 
I think mostly I’m simply confused at the overall performance of the 9H, which is very good, in relation to the volume quality of the 9H, which is somewhat poor, and the overall price, which is pretty pricey at $119.99. Its existence is somewhat schizophrenic; almost like it has all these great sound features, but it doesn’t really want you to hear all of it. When reviewing products, I never like to end with a “what could have been” feeling, but that’s what I am getting here.
 
SteelSeries 9H Headphones $119.99
SCORE: 7.0

 
If the 9H garnered a “Meh” reaction from me, then H-Wireless resulted in a “SCHWING!!!!!!!” reaction from me. I’ve reviewed a lot of headsets from SteelSeries to Turtle Beach, and even some lesser known brands in between. The H-Wireless is easily my favorite. No, it doesn’t have best-in-class audio quality (though it’s no slouch), but a combination of what it offers in terms of quality, customization, and convenience make this one fo the top headsets I’ve reviewed all year. Simply put, I love it and I have been (and am going to be) using it everyday.
 
Like the 9H, the H-Wireless is an incredibly comfortable headset. It uses the same padded frame and big, plush, leather-bound ear cups. Again…marshmallow on ear. Also the H-Wireless (more so than the 9H) seems to be shaped to accommodate people who wear glasses a lot better than many other headsets I have used. It’s not so tight that it presses my glasses against my temples, warping my field of vision. It’s a pleasant experience, and one that can actually allow me to play hours of games (with two kids? Yeah right…) without developing a huge headache.
 
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Most importantly, the H-Wireless has excellent sound quality and a ton of customization options. While the 9H had a volume that was too low for my tastes, the H-Wireless provide big, booming Dolby 7.1 sound. I watched Man of Steel while sporting this headset and when the Smallville fight scene started, my ears were pounding. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the headset is that there seems to be a nice balance between the highs and lows; never once during the fight scene did the bass become so overpowering that it felt like I had a car blasting loud rap music behind me.
 
The sounds are crystal clear with no distortion even at the loudest volumes. Between games, movies, tv shows, and music, I was astounded by how clean everything sounded. The H-Wireless will continuously scan frequencies to avoid interference, resulting in a low latency, lag free experience. With Dolby 7.1, you get an incredible surround sound experience that’s enhance by not only Dolby Headphone tech, but also Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic IIx (which converts stereo into surround). Obviously it’s not going to provide the exact same effect as having 7 speakers set up around your living room, but this is one of the closest things you’re going to be able to get with a set of headphones.
 
While the sound quality is top notch, the true appeal of the H-Wireless lies in the transmitter box, and the almost obscene simplicity in its set up. Like I mentioned earlier in the review, I’ve had the good fortune to test out many types of headsets across different brands, and usually with wireless sets, I have to deal with a bunch of wires and a fairly complicated hook up process. The H-Wireless eliminates the complexity, and even though it comes with nearly every audio connection known to man on the back of the transmitter, don’t let that scare you. Setting it up is a breeze; it honestly took me no longer than 5 minutes…if that.
 
The H-Wireless comes with connections for optical, USB, analog, mobile, and an additional chat cord for the Xbox 360 controller (kind of a pain, but apparently that’s the only way chatting on a Xbox 360 can work). With these cables, you have a ton of options. You can plug the headset directly into the 3.5mm audio port in your computer. You can connect the transmitted box via USB cord to the same computer and connect wirelessly. You can pop the headset into a PS Vita, 3DS, or phone/tablet. You can do what I am currently doing; hook the transmitter box to the TV via optical cable so I never have to hook anything else up to the headset (this is not recommended if you want to use the chat microphone. It’s a good thing I don’t like people). With this configuration, it instantly works with all my devices plugged into the TV. Or, if you’re a heavy multiplayer gamer and want to use the chat functions, you can hook the transmitter directly into your console of choice, enabling the mic for chatting.
 
Seriously, every possibility you can currently be faced with has an answer here.
 
Once you have the transmitter box hooked up whichever way you like, just turn the headset and box on, and you’re ready to rock. I didn’t even need to do any pairing; the transmitter immediately paired the headset for me, no extra steps required. On the transmitter itself is a dial (which can also be pressed as a button), and a second, smaller “Back” button. On the face of the transmitter is an OLED display where you can cycle through all your options, such as equalizer settings, audio sources, putting the transmitter into standby, etc.
 
You can also control all these settings without ever getting off your couch. The volume dial on the ear cup also can be clicked as a button, giving it the same function as the dial on the transmitter itself. This is huge, since I often go from a movie, to a game, to music in one sitting. Now I can take my life into a new era of laziness as I don’t have to get up to change the equalizer settings when I switch media.
 
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With other wireless headsets that I have used in the past, charging via a cable was usually the norm, with the user needing to plug the headset in to charge, which often meant you weren’t able to use it once it died. The H-Wireless has a brilliant solution to this issue: 2 swappable batteries. The battery is housed in one of the ear cups, while the second battery charges in a charging port on the transmitter box. This ensures that a battery is always charged and ready to go. Combine that with the fact that each battery can easily last a good 20 or so hours, and you will never have to stop using the headset.
 
This is my favorite headset at the moment, and one that will be the centerpiece of my living room audio setup for years to come (at least as far as headsets are concerned). It’s incredibly easy to set up, and provides excellent sound quality. You can pre-rorder a set at the SteelSeries website for $299.99
 
SteelSeries H-Wireless Headphones $299.99
SCORE: 10.0