SteelSeries has gone through a lot of re-branding this year. Gone are the model names that accompanied their Siberia line as they’ve been replaced by a numbering system similar to graphics cards. I suppose it makes sense, from a marketing perspective, to have all PC peripherals share similar naming solutions. The SteelSeries Siberia 650 is the new version of the Siberia Elite Prism from 2014. Name changes aside, the headset remains identical to its predecessor, save for a few minor aesthetic tweaks. Having said that, the Siberia 650 is still one of the finest gaming headsets on the market. It’s a beautifully designed piece of tech that boasts incredible sound, and comes packed with a plethora of neat features for audio enthusiasts.
The headset has “premium” written all over it. Unboxing the headphones is the equivalent to opening a treasure-filled chest. Kudos to the packaging designers. The beautiful presentation extends to the product design. These are the kind of headphones that draw everyone’s attention. They’re artfully crafted with beautiful illuminations around each ear cup and sleek lines accentuating the masterful construction.
But, good looks don’t equal to quality headphones. It’s the auditory quality that matters. After a week of thorough testing, I’m happy to report that the Siberia 650 excels in every way. The audio is fantastic right out of the box, but a little tweaking is necessary to truly appreciate everything this set has to offer. In fact, playing through titles like Alien: Isolation with Dolby 7.1 surround sound is incomparable. Being able to hear the creature’s precise location when crawling through vents can significantly impact one's gameplay strategy.
"The Siberia 650 is one of the finest gaming headsets on the market. It’s a beautifully designed piece of tech that boasts incredible sound, and comes packed with a plethora of neat features for audio enthusiasts."
The Siberia 650 headset comes with its own USB sound card and a bunch of cables that connect to the PC, Mac, Playstation 4 and mobile devices. As with most SteelSeries products, the SteelSeries Engine 3 software is required to fully take advantage of the headphones’ premium features. The setup is quick, although activating proper 7.1 surround requires users to go into the Control Panel and change the headphones’ properties via advanced settings. It’s also important to note that none of the special features, like Dolby surround sound and equalizer settings, work without the USB sound card.
I tested both 7.1 and 5.1 surround via Realtek’s HD Audio manager since our sound card already supports Dolby 7.1, but we couldn’t get the levels to perform as accurately as with Siberia’s included USB peripheral. On the down side, using the sound card muffles audio significantly. Music becomes too muted, and Dolby muffles the volume significantly. As a result, I ended up using the audio jack, which ironically delivered richer, deeper and more detailed sound across most media (7.1 content excluded).
The software equalizer boasts a number of helpful presets, but I found that none of them work particularly well for games or music except the performance setting. Using the FPS setting when playing FPS games doesn't necessarily yield the best results. The weapons sound too sharp and echoey with background noises lacking depth and detail. Same goes for music and watching films. The music preset exhibits muffled voices, even when Dolby is turned off, and both movie and entertainment presets produce inconsistent results when watching Blu-rays. As a matter of fact, switching to the custom setting and turning each dial to its maximum provides the most balanced results.
"The audio quality is exceptional and gives both PC and console games a new layer of depth and immersion."
The one thing I’ve always liked about the SteelSeries Engine 3 software is the ability to save presets and change illumination colors. Since most games require individual settings for best results, being able to save unique configuration profiles that activate every time a game launches is undeniably helpful. However, it would be nice if the equalizer settings were switchable externally, like with the Turtle Beach Ear Force Z60, so that presets don’t require launching when experimenting with settings. The 16.8 million illumination options are a nice touch too, even if users can’t see the lights while headphones are in use. But hey, nothing wrong with a little bit of extra style.
The Siberia 650 aren’t exactly small, but they’re incredibly comfortable even after several hours of use. They fit snugly and adjust to any head size with ease. SteelSeries has also included a volume control knob on the right ear cup, allowing for easy adjustments while gaming. This is handy when using the headphones via Playstation 4, as accessing the volume control through the PS home menu is no longer necessary. Connecting the Siberia 650 to a PS4 only works via the audio jack, however. While the USB sound card recognizes the headphones, the audio remains low and is only present in the right ear cup. But that’s not really an issue since the included audio jack delivers incredible quality, and connecting the headphones to Playstation’s controller directly is easier anyway.
The Siberia 650 come with a rather impressive mic that performs beyond expectations. I tested the set by talking on the phone, via Skype and during intense gaming sessions, and the results were impressive. In fact, players on the other line could pick up my keystrokes and mouse clicks while playing Battlefield. The mic may not be professional studio-grade quality, but it’s better than most headphone mics I’ve used in the past.
At $199, the Siberia 650 headphones are quite pricey, but they’re unquestionably worth every penny. The audio quality is exceptional and gives both PC and console games a new layer of depth and immersion. The rich bass and environmental details when playing FPS titles like Crysis or Battlefield are difficult to translate into words, and need to be experienced firsthand. SteelSeries has improved an already strong line of gaming headphones with better build quality, improved features and, most importantly, superior sound.
Review by: Tin Salamunic