April 16, 2015 2 Comments
And it’s actually also my first one. I wanted to replace my older headset and I chose SteelSeries Siberia Elite Prism – the white one, but that doesn’t really matter. It costed me 160 EUR and first I felt excited. Ok, so you actually buy headset and pay also for fancy led lights on them. Reportedly up to 16M colour, which obviously is b/s, because the fact that you can control something with 24 bits doesn’t mean there are really 16M colours. But you don’t see them when you play, do you?
Then you pay also for funny led light on the mic, that tells you when it’s muted. Some say it should be the other way around, but as I expect mic normally on, I think it makes more sense to indicate muted state. But both these led thingies work only when you drive the headset through their USB audio card – that, conveniently, is provided. And here we come to my problems.
Their software sucks
It’s called SteelSeries Engine 3 and it caused crashes related to audio playback on my Lenovo notebook. Actually the whole system went completely dead, except I could have send it to sleep with a power button and then it awoke in locked screen running for 10 more minutes or so if you listened to the audio through their card. On the desktop there was no problem – again luckily, because I disabled the power button and I’d just have to hard-reset it. It seems that without Engine started it worked better. Or maybe it had to start as administrator (why software that requires it doesn’t say so? I don’t know then!)… or maybe it was the driver.
After some time I managed to listen to the music without interruptions but I don’t know how and why. And because I didn’t use it that much on the notebook, I can’t elaborate on the problem. Let’s go to my desktop then.
I want to plug both headset and speakers
And you can! Their audio card offers the special connector for the headset. This – obviously – makes the headset kinda useless if the cable breaks after the warranty. I can solder new jack on an audio cable, but here you’re out of luck. In this price level removable and replaceable cable may be expected.
But their audio card also contains audio jacks for microphone and speakers. Great! So I thought. My setup is plain silly simple – I use my headphones and my speakers! Yes, sometimes even both. When I have a Skype call I leave the speakers on a bit for the kids to listen what grandma is saying and I use the headset. But to my shock, grandma can’t hear me! What-the… we tried this particular headset already! Microphone is detected, it just doesn’t pick any sound.
After some messing around I disconnected the speakers and voila – microphone works…
The really designed it this way?!
If it was common jack for speakers and mic (TRRS), I’d be inclined to understand. But how hard can it be to split the sound? Not at all – and they do it! Except they turn off the microphone that is completely unrelated to the output path.
I thought it silly, so I contacted their support. They responded within two days, they can reproduce the issue (half the solution, right? :-)) and they will ask the technical team. I expressed my patience and waited.
We solve tickets, not problems
After seven days my ticket got closed. I’m just a customer and not expert on their Zendesk setup, so I was rather surprised. “Hey, c’mon, you didn’t resolve my problem! I want to know what is happening!” I opened a follow-up expressing my dissatisfaction being treated this way. These support people, or anyone who sets up the workflow, absolutely ignores how things really work. They want to get rid of the problem, get rid of your ticket (and maybe even you…). For them, ticket is the problem, not the real cause of the problem.
I know this mentality because I got familiar with it in one of my previous employments. KPIs are set around how long you have the problem (read “ticket”) open, you get rid of the problem (read “ticket”) and the customer (even the one from the same company) has a couple of days to express their satisfaction. But how this solves the problems that occur when I do something I do once a month? My previous ticket is closed, I didn’t express my satisfaction, I open the new one, they can’t reproduce it, ticket gets closed and the cycle repeats.
Actually it’s not only about the things I alone discovered and felt I need to report them whatever the cost (although my one of my mottos is “if you don’t tell, nobody can care”). There were notorious problems everybody knew abound and the company was searching for ways, heck – processes even! – how to deal with them. “We’re good in resolving incidents, but we should get better at solving the problems.”
Like, really? Isn’t starting to do something about the problems good enough? Why we are creating meta-problem (that is a new process for it) instead of trying some involved hard work. Maybe the problem would be resolved within hours. But I know, I know… first we have to think through all the KPIs. How to measure the productivity of this problem solving. Oh, c’mon…
It really is designed that way
SteelSeries support came back to me within two days after I opened the follow-up ticket. And I learned that they are sorry for the automatic ticket closing (maybe other people don’t care I guess) and that the hardware of their USB audio is designed this way. Yes, even if it doesn’t make any sense.
So the problem is simple – if I’m receiving Skype call, I have to crawl under the desk quickly, disconnect the speaker jack, and get back up – and I can chat. Easy. What are the alternatives? Let’s say I’ll put the USB sound card on the desk, so I can easily pull out the jack within seconds. Actually – that’s how I have it now, so I can share the experiences. You may expect some inconvenience, “yeah, the guy needs to lead the cables the way he didn’t plan to”, but there’s more than that.
Putting USB audio card on the extension
You need to USB extension cable. And that may be problem. I don’t have any ultra high quality shielded USB extension cable. And I don’t know how much it would help. The cable I used brought me back to my student’s times when any mouse movement created buzz in the speakers whose cable went around mouse’s USB cable. Here I use much better cable for the speaker, but the buzz somehow gets stronger as I add more USB length between the USB audio and the computer. Funny enough, it does not translate to the headset.
Another problem is with the jack in the USB card. It doesn’t feel very robust really. You touch the cable and it cracks and creates noise. When you don’t move the card and just bend the cable, it’s alright (it’s a new cable and I will not bend it any more, at last not on purpose :-)), so it really is inside the USB card. Jacks on cards are susceptible to this and if I could, I’d not touch it. But here I have to plug/unplug it regularly. I’ll see how long the audio card will last.
But in any case the noise in the speakers is my biggest trouble now. I have to turn the volume all the way down and live with funny noises between the songs. And yes, it really is that annoying and that audible.
Or just use jacks and soundcard in the computer!
And that is actually my last backup option. I can use provided jack converter, I’ll split the sound into headset and speakers with hardware Y splitter and I’m done. That renders the USB card useless, it will be another fancy thing in the box I didn’t need. With this solution you may miss: 1) colours on the headphones (probably not), 2) muted led indication on the mic (that one is handy but not a show stopper), 3) noise cancelling for the mic that works in tandem with the card. And this last thing sounds useful although I don’t know how well it actually works.
Reportedly mic muting and volume control rings on the headset both work even without USB sound card. And both are actually not just cool, but also practical things.
It’s really hard to say something positive now. I don’t know how much is the headset and its sound quality worth for me. If Windows could route the sounds through two soundcards, my speaker setup would be saved. But Windows and sound routing is incredibly inflexible – I found out when I wanted something so primitive like stereo reversing, because my cable setup forces me to switch my active monitors. Now I switch left to right using cable with jack on one side and RCA connectors on the other – and these I can just switch easily. But back to the headset.
Sound is definitely better than any headphones I had home until now – but then, none of them costed more than 40 EUR or so.
It’s not like the whole headset is completely useless, but I’m frustrated when someone creates something fancy with such an incredibly stupid design flaw. Am I the only one who want’s to drive both speakers and headphones from one sound card? The additional jack absolutely begs me to do it this way – and it works! Just… it disables the microphone.
I’d say 1/5 stars would be harsh and unfair rating (although I feel like that), but 2/5 is just spot on when I consider the software quality, useless fancy things and this design bug. If you check for other people’s problems with SteelSeries, the pattern is very similar. Sometimes it just doesn’t work for you (I mean altogether, not like my case) and support can’t help you. I know it just happens, PCs vary, etc. But the more they complicate their products (and 16M colours of your ears are waste of effort really) the more problems one can expect.
I don’t know yet what my next headset will be, but it will not be SteelSeries for sure. Though I hope this one will last reasonably long. And I hope I’ll find no more design problems.