If you are more than an occasional multiplayer gamer, you need a headset. Why? Because you then have the edge over opponents who do not have a headset! Imagine not only hearing the approach of an enemy but being able to tell from which direction they are coming. Where are the shots in game coming from? Zero in on snipers more easily! Plus, if you wish to communicate with other players in-game, how much easier is it to speak than to type?! Essential for team games, too.
So, how does the Steelseries Siberia V2 headset with USB soundcard measure up? Packaging is robust but leaves the product accessible - you won't be wrestling with sealed plastic bubbles that cut your fingers - open the box, undo the cable ties and you are in business. There are two things you won't find in the box: instructions and a driver for the soundcard. The first is a minus - surely a leaflet could have been inserted, saving much experimentation to get the headset working optimally (but read on and you should bypass any headaches). A sound driver for your particular operating system has to be downloaded from the Steelseries website (so best check the OS is supported before you purchase). Installation of the driver (before plugging anything in) was problem-free and, when connected, the soundcard was recognised and installed under Windows 7 32-bit Home Premium without any problems.
Now came the "interesting" bit. The soundcard has four buttons on it, labelled MUTE, MIC, + and -. Plus and minus are pretty self-explanatory, providing an element of volume control. MUTE mutes the headphones. MIC MUTES the microphone! The LED on the MIC button should be OFF when the mic is live and illuminated when it is muted. When the soundcard is in use, you'll see the green LED on the MUTE button flashing. Don't press it unless you wish to turn your phones off.
The headset is equipped with a very stylish and adaptable extending microphone that pulls out of the left speaker. It's made from a coil of steel and coated in plastic so you can position it exactly as you want. The headset sits comfortably over the head (wide skulls don't appear to be a problem) and one can play for several hours without suffering discomfort. The weight is distributed very well using a leather strap that goes over your head. The phones are well padded and block out external distractions without one having to turn up the volume excessively. The volume control is sited on the cable that runs from the left speaker and is a simple dial. The supplied extension cable is a must for most users, I'd say. It tends to tangle over time but any long cable does with use. Sound quality is excellent both in games and when listening to music. The microphone required some fine tuning. Output was too weak and it was necessary to both turn the volume up within Windows audio settings and enable microphone boost to achieve an acceptable output level. Once done, the problem was solved and I have not had to tinker with anything since (though this is a Windows issue rather than a hardware issue, one would expect a manufacturer to include some form of troubleshooting guide with their product which was not the case with this soundcard. Similarly I could find no useful information on the Steelseries website to help me through this. I have let them know my feelings on the subject so, by the time you read this, this documentation deficiency might have been looked after.)
At a penny under eighty quid, you may think this a little expensive. In this case, you do get what you pay for. Steelseries products are in use by pro gamers and one can see why. Build quality is excellent, comfort is excellent and, most importantly, audio is excellent. After a couple of hundred hours of play with these beauties installed, I couldn't do without them.
If you don't expect true plug-and-play straight out of the box, I'd recommend this product. If Steelseries fixed the instructions/help deficit, it'd be worthy of five stars indeed!