Siberia Elite Prism – my last buy from SteelSeries

Note: Thanks to the comments I now have a solution to my problem. See the addendum at the end of the post.

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…

They 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 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 a USB extension cable. And that may be a 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.

Anything positive?

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.

Addendum 2016

So the solution to my problem is just plugging any jack into the microphone connector on the soundcard. I used one from their jack-to-their-connector adapter. Now my headset works fully and speakers play as well! Kinda silly why it works this way, not to mention their support did not suggest it and I found only thanks to the blog post comments. (Now tell me I should not whine anymore! No way, it helps with problems sometimes. :-))

My current rating of this product is actually 4/5, as with the frustration gone it is pretty damn good. But there are still minuses preventing better rating. Firstly it’s the build of the USB soundcard, as those jack connectors are really not solid by my standards. Then their software cannot update easily itself, it nags you quite often from the systray and you have to actually download new version from their page and reinstall the software. And finally, it’s the experience with their support. That and finding more various reviews and forums where their users expressed unresolved problems with their products (and support) I kinda lost my trust in the brand.

On the other side I have to appreciate the comfort of the headset – especially compared to more expensive Shure SRH940 I’ve bought recently. While Shure has better shaped earcups for sure, Siberia is not bothering my ears at all either. But Siberia’s flexible head bridge is much smarter design with bigger area resting on my head – hence not pushing me anywhere. Shure’s inflexible flatish bridge sits on my head with two soft but not very wide bumps – and after a while it feels like someone is pressing on my head with two fingers. I have to reposition the bridge forward or back a bit to relieve my head a bit. I don’t remember Siberia being tiresome even after many hours on without an interruption. Kudos on this front.

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About virgo47
Java Developer by profession in the first place. Gamer and amateur musician. And father too. Naive believer in brighter future. Step by step.

6 Responses to Siberia Elite Prism – my last buy from SteelSeries

  1. Robo says:

    I think your evaluation is a little bit harsh (perhaps more than little:). But still I’m sorry I showed you that headphones and started your road to acoustic hell.

    I didn’t bump into any issue you described yet. My 2007 vintage IBM notebook (with W7 installed) can handle that headphones without any apparent problem. So that my desktop. I know I’m not skilled audiophile engineer like you and I usually don’t push my gaming and working hardware to or over their limits. So some glitches, issues or quirks of that piece of hardware will be hidden for me forever. So I don’t care, they still work for me very well.

    Those headphones are pure gaming headphones. I guess that attached soundcard has been designed with this primary purpose in mind. And for a gamer there is not a need to have headphones and speakers active in the same time. So your family friendly hardware Skype setup with two playback and one recording device active at the same time in one system is a marginal case (way of use important for you, but not for a vast majority of target users). It can be an OS matter as well, I don’t know, you’re the expert:).

    Their customer service sucks, I agree. It’s a common feature of all customer services I’ve encountered to this day. Even Blizzard customer service sends an automatic reply in the first round (which usually doesn’t cover reported issue at all, not to mention their horrible and unavoidable system of selection of issue topics) and alive person responds only after ticket is manually flagged by the customer as unresolved (they apologize for the system imperfections blah blah blah…). It seems that there should be some kind of customer service bible or hidden rules followed by all CSRs all around the world:)

    But to join to your rant I have an issue with those headphones too. I’m the proud owner of two prominent ears and after four hours of raiding they are quite swelling. Only positive of this is that headphones works as a some kind of ear braces:D

  2. virgo47 says:

    Thanks for opinion, I admit that most people may have no problem. They are a bit tiresome on the ears and at work Koss Porta Pro work so much better for me in terms of comfort (sound is worse than with Siberia, no question about it).
    I don’t even need to use both headset and speakers at once, I just don’t want to mess with jacks and don’t want to use two different soundcards and switch the default output device in Windows.
    When I plug headphones into a notebook and they disable speakers, I think that’s a great default. But here there is no reason to disable any output when I plug the other one – and they don’t do that (which is OK), instead they disable the only input that is plugged at the moment. Their microphone. That is totally screwed design. I’m not saying I can’t use the thing. I can. It’s just a little bit more annoying and I had to redo my cable setup which right now also adds noise to my speakers.

  3. Kevin Ho says:

    Hi there. I got the elite prism today and have the same problem where the mic doesn’t work when other speakers are plugged into the usb sound card 3.5 mm jack. However I don’t think they purposely designed it like this. My guess is the plugging of the speakers makes the sound card think a microphone is also plugged into the 3.5 mm microphone jack, and it tries to pick up sound from that input. So I tried plugging in my other microphone to the 3.5mm jack and strange enough, both microphones are working at the same time, just like both the speakers on the headset and the 3.5mm speakers are working at the same time as well. I guess I would now just keep them all plugged and cover my other microphone so it wouldn’t pick up any sound.

    • virgo47 says:

      Whow! I’ll try this at home, I can plug there some dummy microphone or even try just some cable. While I don’t understand why without the other microphone the one in the headset doesn’t work (still doesn’t make sense), this will be a … well not life saver, but close enough. Actually when I dive in rush under the desk on incoming Skype call to unplug the external speaker, I risk my back. So maybe a life saver after all. 🙂 Thank you for this tip. Funny they didn’t offer it officially.

    • virgo47 says:

      Confirmed! I just plugged the connector into it (used the provided double-jack to headset adapter) without actually using it and the mic is back and working. Thank you very much!

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