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SteelSeries Arctis Prime gaming headset hands on: A bit too stripped-down

Lots of little nits to pick with this one.

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Lori Grunin/CNET

Part of SteelSeries new Prime line of esports-targeted gaming accessories, which also launches with a new trio of mice, the $100 (£100, AU$120) Arctis Prime gaming headset definitely achieves one of the company's design goals: "no bells and whistles that can get in the way." Sporting the Arctis line's design and invoking the revered "Arctis Pro sound signature," the Prime is an analog wired headset with the high-quality sound of its siblings, but feels like it needs a little more in the way of controls.

I've got no complaints about the audio or noise-cancelling mic -- the latter is the best I've tried for filtering out keyboard noise -- and stereo is fine for many traditional esports games. The headset does have a couple of atypical perks as well: an analog jack for headphone sharing and replaceable speaker plates for customization. It incorporates new leatherette ear cushions that do a good job blocking background noise. The analog connection makes it compatible with nearly every gaming platform as well.

Actually, SteelSeries says its ear cushions "crush the background noise," but I found the metal headband more crushing. And while I love SteelSeries' rotating metal mounts for the earcups, which let you lay them flat around your neck, as with the Arctis 9 I found the headband made them a little tight around my neck, too. Nor are they lightweight as claimed, though that may mean "lightweight given the amount of metal in it." I can't imagine keeping them on for hours on end, at least until they're broken in.

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The speaker plates are replaceable, just like on the Arctis Pro.

Lori Grunin/CNET

I'm not a big fan of retractable mics like the Prime's, since you usually can't push them in quickly or with one hand. And I loathe the cables. The Prime comes with a short one and a long extension that splits into the separate headphone and mic connections; they're those rubbery, tangle-prone nightmares I dread pulling out of the box. You can replace it with a braided cable, but the Prime carries on SteelSeries' annoying tradition of using a proprietary four-pole connection to the headset, which limits your choices and means you can't use a regular 3.5mm analog cable in a pinch.

There are two controls on the left earcup, a big mic mute button (which you press to unmute, contrary to convention) and a volume dial. I can understand skipping illumination, game-chat balance and other nice-to-haves, but there isn't even a mute indicator.

The Arctis Pro models have a ton of fans, and the Arctis Prime follows lightly in its footsteps. It performs well, but if you're sensitive to fit, weight and other design-related considerations, I suggest you give it a heads-on before buying.