When it comes to headsets, we are extremely fortunate to have all the options we have, in all shapes and sizes, to fit all different head types, in all different price points. But when you start rising up in price point, there's less room for forgiveness when it comes to things like comfort, sound quality, and the usefulness of included special features. That's why we were so anxious to get our hands on two top end headsets from SteelSeries and Sennheiser, just to see, how life is at the top end of the price spectrum, and how these "expensive cans" compare to one another.
SteelSeries Siberia Elite
One side, we have a headset from a company that was born in the trenches of the gaming world, and that company is SteelSeries. We've chosen their Siberia Elite headset, which is one of their most daring designs to date. It is touted as a "multi-platform" headset with not only stereo support. In fact, it also features surround sound through Dolby via a bundled USB audio card, and has the ability to display 16.8 million colors in software.
The SteelSeries Siberia Elite retails for $199.99 USD with a 1 year warranty. An all white special edition is $299.99 USD and comes with a case.
Sennheiser G4ME ZERO
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a company that is the standard in the broadcast industry, creating microphone and headphones that define the term "reference". Launched in November of 2013, the Flagship G4ME series of headsets, represents everything they've learned about the gaming culture and the needs of gamers. They came up with two very eye catching headsets, with the G4ME ZERO being the top end set, featuring closed ear cups, excellent portability with a fold flat design and case.
The Sennheiser G4ME ZERO headset retails for $279.99 USD.
Now it's time to check out our video shootout below...
The Verdict Is Clear... Or is it?
In the video, I show a pretty decisive knock out blow for the Sennheiser G4ME ZERO headset against the SteelSeries Siberia Elite. But it really isn't all that clear cut because there are some shades of gray when it comes to personal preference. And my preferences were towards a stellar stereo audio performance (first and foremost), a great quality microphone, and above all else, all day comfort. I also enjoy a more simplified approach to headset design, and the additional portability was a key for me, because I do like to take my favourite headset to LAN parties.
On the other hand, if you want a headset that really stands out from the crowd, and don't get me wrong, the Sennheiser's red and white does that too, but it can't compete with 16.8 million colors (when using the USB sound card). It also has a unique design that is unmistakably SteelSeries, and there are a lot of hardcore fans that the company has cultivated over the years, that absolutely love their products. I'm a fan of their products too. Which is why it broke my heart to see that all day comfort seemed to take a back seat. Even the usually good, spring loaded headband, seemed to be "borked" in this design. It just didn't work as well as the original Siberia.
But what I was most dismayed with, was the low volume levels, and lack of a headphone amp (inside the USB audio card) to fix it. It just didn't sound good. And if it can't do stereo sound well, then the fun stuff like the Dolby Surround, just isn't so fun. On the other hand, the Sennheiser's range was a world different in terms of responsiveness, at all sources. And most importantly, it was clear, and warm, and enjoyable to listen to with all audio sources. Even without artificially produced sound fields.
When you start to spend over $200, and that's where both headsets fit in, it's harder to find a bad headset. Everything is much better as you spend more money. But what we found out, is that when you start comparing headsets in that $200 - 300 range, against one another, that's when you start to see those differences, for better or worse.
Had I reviewed the SteelSeries Siberia Elite on its own, it might have gotten a pass on its other merits, while still failing (for me) on the comfort side. But once compared against a headset like the Sennheiser G4ME ZERO, which I might've marked down on its lack of "bells and whistles" (and maybe a gripe or two about the $279.99 US price tag), comfort and sound quality would have taken it over the top for me. And for most people, myself included, that's something I would gladly pay for, over and above "bells and whistles". And yes, the all white "Anniversary Edition" of the Siberia Elite that comes with the carry case, at $299.99 USD, is the same headset.
We're thankful for both Sennheiser and SteelSeries for sending their products. And I hope that both companies take away something to improve their products from this experience.
UPDATE: SteelSeries took all our feedback, and released the new Siber Elite Prisms, which take care of most, if not all, of the issues we had with this headset. Check out our review of right here.