The Spectrum 5XB headset fills a very important gap in the land of Xbox 360 gaming. The reference headset that Microsoft packages is a single-ear piece that does its job, but is not exactly what I’d call high quality. Still high on the SteelSeries Siberia v2, I was excited to give the Spectrum a try. However, I encountered a few more things to dislike than the other superb SteelSeries products.

First off, if you’re doing mostly PC gaming and are looking for a PC headset, pay the extra $20 for the Siberia v2. The v2 is much more comfortable and all the material feels higher quality in general. For Xbox gaming though, the 5XB is definitely a good investment, especially if you play in a noisy room or travel to local tournaments. The first thing that surprised me about the Spectrum is that the plastic feels… well, plastic. Unlike the heaviness due to gold content in the 6g keyboard and the leather on the Siberia, the 5XB features a leather veneer filled with foam along the headband, a hard plastic frame, and cloth cushions for the earpieces. The result is more comfortable than it sounds, but still not as amazing as the Siberia.

One advantage that the 5XB has in quality over the Siberia is the braided cord, thus making it much more durable if you accidentally tug your headset cord. The sound from the headphones is actually quite good and I had no problems detecting where sounds are coming from and even the distance of the sounds while playing Gears of War 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum. The microphone in the headset retracts just like the Siberia and it does a better job of it by hiding in a nice little nook. The microphone is very clear, and in trying my different headsets, Richard enjoyed hearing me on the Spectrum the most. The headset hooks up to your console in two ways: Through the PC plug which uses the provided adapter for sound output, and through USB for the voice input. The result is a rather upsetting mess of extra cords, although to SteelSeries’s credit, the cords are long enough that it should never be a problem. Still, we’re being brought back a generation and turns your wireless controller into a wired one.

One fantastic feature of the headset is that it comes with an AudioMixer device that plugs into the bottom of your Xbox 360 controller. This mixer allows you to control the incoming voice and game volume right on the controller, which is absolutely great as you can adjust to different teammates’ microphone volumes as they join the game. I found myself fiddling with it all the time to get the perfect noise level for every gaming session, even while playing solo. This is a feature that has surprisingly relevant results, so applause to the SteelSeries Research and Development team!

The LiveMix feature on the AudioMixer is similarly great. It automatically adjusts the voice and the game volume on-the-fly for you. It is hard to gauge something like this but with it on I had no problems hearing all the different people on my team and the game sounds at the same time, so that there is no need to fiddle with the AudioMixer when your hands are already occupied. It wasn’t perfect 100% of the time though so you may want to just stick with the manual adjustments, but the option to use the LiveMix or the manual mode is a great feature.

As always, SteelSeries has made their product for gamers who travel. In this respect, the Spectrum features a neat 3-piece design to the headset. It’s much easier to carry 4 small pieces than one big one, and in addition you can lay the ear pieces flat in this disassembled mode. Well designed once again.

If the Spectrum 5XB was as comfortable as the Siberia v2, I would be using the Spectrum for all my gaming needs, not just the Xbox 360. But as it is, the Spectrum is a really good choice if you’re an Xbox 360 gamer, want all your sound coming through your headset (for example, in noisy environments) or if you travel with your gaming headset. The sound quality, design, and technology are all up to the usual SteelSeries standard I’ve come to expect, but unfortunately the material feels a bit cheaper even while maintaining good durability. The Spectrum 5XB is currently priced at $100 CDN at Best Buy.