For a time, it seemed there was no middle ground when it came to gaming headphones for your console: the low-end, sub-$100 sets are typically cheap for a reason (such as game audio and voice chat sharing the same channel), and the high-end stuff is simply out of the financial reach of most consumers. Thankfully, Steel Series has come to the party with the Spectrum headsets for Xbox 360. Both the black 5XB and white 4XB models share the same specs, but the 5XBs feature a sturdier and more robust headband, a single, braided cable and detachable ear cups. The large, comfortable cups of both models are fitted with 40mm SunDancer units, which make for some pretty impressive audio accuracy; you’ll have no problem pinpointing which direction you heard that footstep from, even amidst the explosions and gunfire. The mouthpiece is highly flexible, and retracts into the left ear cup when not in use. A fairly bulky AudioMixer plugs into the bottom of your Xbox 360 controller (as per the official voice-chat headset) while also plugging into one of the USB ports of your console and also the source of your audio. While it’s far from the most inconvenient setup, it is just a little bit like going back to the days of wired controllers. The AudioMixer does, however, put simple yet comprehensive level control at your fingertips, allowing you to easily adjust the game audio and voice chat channels independently. In what is a rather impressive feature, you can even switch on LiveMix, which automatically and seamlessly dips in-game audio whenever you or one of your teammates speaks, returning it to normal levels once the chatter stops. It means that you won’t find yourself trying to shout over the action, defeating half the point of using a game-audio and voice-chat enabled solution in the first place.
PROS: Comfortable and affordable. Good quality audio and voice chat. Simple to set up and use. LiveMix is a brilliant feature. RCA piggyback cables included.
CONS: Not the most attractive of headsets, with a construction that’s noticeably cheaper than some of its high-end competitors. PlayStation 3 and Wii owners limited to game audio only. You’ll need to be hardwired to both your console and your audio source.
VERDICT: There are better quality headsets out there, but who can afford them? The Spectrums bundle in some great components and considerable ease of use to represent possibly the best value-for-money headset solution available.