How a SteelSeries gaming headset kept me sane during the pandemic

How a SteelSeries gaming headset kept me sane during the pandemic
(Image credit: SteelSeries)

Back in March, the Tom’s Guide crew settled in to start working from home, assuming that the COVID pandemic would blow over in a few months. Well, it’s September, and we’re still waiting. During that time, an awful lot of gadgets have kept my sanity intact, including (in no particular order) my gaming PC, my kitchen scale, my e-reader, my clock radio and my Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. But perhaps no gadget has earned as many accolades around my house as the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox: a gaming headset whose “it just works” principle has turned a potentially chaotic small apartment into a quiet and peaceful one.

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox is a gaming headset that, despite its name, is decidedly not an Xbox-exclusive accessory. In fact, it’s the only gaming headset I’ve ever reviewed that works with almost every single platform, from PC, to Xbox One, to mobile phones. The device’s versatility and ease-of-use are invaluable, particularly if you have to share a relatively constrained space with a loved one on a daily basis.

Living arrangements

To set the stage: I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my domestic partner. By New York City standards, it’s not small — but both rooms are very much shared space, especially since my computer desk is right next to the living room couch, and across from the TV. I’ve been working from home since March; my partner’s whole industry has essentially been shut down since then. As such, we spend a lot of time in close proximity, even when we both have to focus on our own activities.

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When the pandemic first started, we did what we could to keep our activities separate, but it required a lot of hardware. I had a Corsair Virtuoso RGB SE headset that I would use for work, except that sometimes my partner wanted it to stream shows on the PS4. She couldn’t use it for the Switch or the Xbox, however, meaning she’d sometimes have to borrow my old 3.5 mm audio headphones instead — or I’d have to use the audio headphones and give her the gaming set. Or she’d have to pair some Bluetooth earbuds with her mobile phone, because headphone jacks are a thing of the past.

Sometimes, the headphone shuffle got too complicated, particularly if one of the devices needed charging, as the Corsair did frequently. In cases like that, one or the other of us would have to simply listen to music, watch TV or take meetings without any headphones at all. Anyone who’s been in this situation knows that you can stomach about 30 minutes of whatever your partner is listening to before you yearn for the sweet temporary deafness that you feel after a particularly lively punk concert.

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

Something had to give. Clearly, I needed a “work” headset, just for my PC, and a “console” headset, just for playing games and streaming media. But which one to get? After all, we have a PS4, an Xbox One and a Switch, and either one of us could need any device at any time, depending on what we wanted to watch or play. The calculus gets even more confusing when you remember that the Switch requires different audio inputs depending on whether you want to play it in handheld or docked mode.

That was when SteelSeries sent a SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox headset my way. It’s been a fixture in my living room ever since.

A versatile headset

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox is the third headset to bear the “Arctis 1” name, and the headset has gotten consistently better with each iteration. The first Arctis 1 was a wired model, which worked fine, but mainly had the benefit of being cheap. Then, there was the Arctis 1 Wireless, which broke new ground in terms of compatibility. The headset’s wireless receiver was a USB-C dongle rather than the standard USB-A adapter. As such, it worked with everything from Android phones to Switches in handheld mode. A simple adapter meant you could use it with PS4s, PCs and docked Switches as well.

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

The only issue was that if you wanted to use the Arctis 1 Wireless with an Xbox One, you still had to connect it to the controller via 3.5 mm audio jack, which is somewhere between “cumbersome” and “intolerable” depending on how quickly you just want to watch your darned show. However, most wireless headsets simply don’t work with Xbox One, because Xbox consoles use a different wireless protocol than PCs, PS4s and the like.

The Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox solves this problem in the simplest and most elegant way possible: On the USB-C dongle, you simply flip a switch from “USB to “Xbox.” That’s all you have to do. If you want to use the Arctis 1 wirelessly with an Xbox One, you flip a switch; if you want to use it with any other system, you flip the switch back. And if you do have older systems that require 3.5 mm audio connections, the Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox still has an old-school audio jack.

Bottom line

It’s hard to describe how much simpler life becomes when one headset works with everything, rather than having to juggle two or three different peripherals. (It’s not compatible with iOS, but according to a SteelSeries rep, that was Apple’s decision.) The Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox also lasts about 20 hours on a single charge — not a gaming headset record, by any means, but considerably better the 10- or 15-hour battery life that some models offer.

Granted, there are things I don’t love about the Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox. The sound quality is fine, but it’s not nearly on the same level as some of the more premium SteelSeries headsets, such as the Arctis 5 or the Arctis 7. I wish the Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox imitated the physical design of the higher-end Arctis headsets, too, since its steel headband and unnumbered notches are much harder to manipulate than the “ski goggles” elastic headbands in the Arctis 5 and 7.

On the other hand, at $100, the Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox never promised to be a high-end peripheral; it promised to be a versatile one, and in that, it succeeded. Now, my partner and I can occupy the same space without getting in each other’s way, and that’s worth at least the price of a gaming headset.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.