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

Rating: 7/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $70
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 / Review Geek

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 / Review Geek

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 / Review Geek

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 / Review Geek

And even though the materials are inexpensive, they look good. The matte black plastic doesn’t attract fingerprints, and the subtle quilting on the ear cups is appealing. I especially like the abstract pattern on the drivers. It doesn’t do anything functional, but it looks nice, and I prefer it to the RGB overload that’s so prevalent these days.

Controls are limited but effective. During play, you only get a mic mute switch and direct volume that’s analog for the headset only. This means when you adjust the volume, it doesn’t change the output volume for the device, as many PC and Android headsets do natively. This could be a plus or minus depending on your setup.

You can use the power button for different things, as covered in the SteelSeries desktop software. One press plays or pauses the music or answers a call. Press it twice, and it goes to the next track; press three times to go to the previous track. I’d prefer dedicated buttons here, but it works well enough.

Audio Quality Won’t Blow You Away

The headset only allows for stereo sound, but there’s no virtual surround sound in the hardware. It’s certified for Discord use, but that’s hardly unusual these days.

The volume controls on the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Headset.
The built-in volume controls work on the headset only; they won’t sync with Windows or Android software. Michael Crider / Review Geek

If you’re looking for booming bass or concert-quality audio, look somewhere else. SteelSeries claims the Arctis 1 uses the same 40mm drivers as the more expensive Arctis 7. But it doesn’t make the claim for the better-received Pro or Pro Wireless, nor does it get DTS Headphone certification. The audio is a bit flat, favors midtones over bass or treble, and often lacks “oomph” during gaming sessions.

You can adjust this (somewhat) on a PC, thanks to the SteelSeries Engine software. It includes an effective equalizer and various audio profiles that can make up for the flat audio. However, this software isn’t an option on the Switch, Android, or PS4.

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless Headset software menu.
The SteelSeries software is effective and easy to navigate. All the controls are on a single screen.

At least the more practical aspects of the headset are more laudable. I managed to get about 18 hours of gameplay out of the Arctis 1—well within the margin of the 20-hour claim. And stretching from one end of my house to the other was no problem. I don’t know why you’d want to play games from forty feet and two walls away, but if you do, this headset is happy to oblige.

It’s just too bad the dongle doesn’t come with a pass-through charger (like this Bluetooth adapter for the Switch) to allow for use while you charge a Switch or Android phone.

It Gets the Job Done

I can’t say I was wowed by any one aspect of the Arctis 1. Once again, the decision to recharge via MicroUSB is a definite low point in the design. But if you just want one gadget that allows you to communicate easily on multiple gaming platforms, this is it. You’ll have to use a wired connection on an Xbox or iOS device, but still, that’s worth some praise.

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless Headset next to a smartphone.
Michael Crider / Review Geek

The light weight and comfort are balanced out by below-average sound quality and materials. It’s not the most amazing headset, but it’s the best one that will work with different platforms without having to resort to a slower Bluetooth connection.

Pick it up on sale if you’re looking for an inexpensive wireless headset for your Switch, PC, or PS4, but go with something more portable for your phone or tablet.

Rating: 7/10
Price: $70

Here’s What We Like

  • Comfy, lightweight design
  • Connects to anything with a USB-C port
  • Removable mic boom
  • Good battery life and range

And What We Don't

  • MicroUSB charging
  • No Bluetooth wireless
  • Sound is a bit flat

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »