A gaming headset doesn't have to look pretty to succeed, but good aesthetics don't hurt. The SteelSeries Raw Prism ($60) delivers mediocre quality at a low price, though its lights make it more colorful than the standard gaming headset. The Raw Prism won't ravage your wallet, but don't expect impressive audio performance, either in music or in games.
The Raw Prism is a very unassuming gadget. With a plain white color scheme, gray padding and a 5-foot USB cable, plain and functional is the best way to describe the overall look and feel of this peripheral. The foam padding on the over-the-ear earcups and headband is both comfortable and pliable, and the headset extends to suit a wide variety of noggins.
At 8.1 x 6.7 x 4.1 inches and 8.5 ounces, the Raw Prism is more or less on par with its closest competitors in terms of size. By comparison, the Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma measures 8.1 x 6.9 x 3.8 inches and weighs 12 ounces. The Raw Prism is not easily portable, but doesn't demand much desk space.
In terms of physical design, the Raw Prism has only one major shortcoming and one interesting innovation: a nonextendable mic and colored lighting. The two don't exactly balance each other out, but they do both serve to differentiate the Raw Prism from its competition.
The mic is nothing but a small white nub that protrudes from the left earcup. Unlike most gaming headsets, which offer extendable/retractable mics, this microphone stays firmly in place. Leaving aside how well it works, it's a strange decision, since it's not especially close to a user's mouth. Modulating your volume for a distant mic, especially when the earcups block some outside noise, is not always easy.
The Raw Prism is tight (but not in the positive, slang sense of the word). These earcups just feel a tad constrictive, at least they did to this large-headed reviewer. Even though I was able to adjust the gadget to fit my head size, the earcups pressed down fairly hard on my temples, especially while I was wearing glasses. (My overabundance of hair did not help, either, but not everyone will have this problem.)
Even so, tight didn't translate to uncomfortable. I never felt any pain, even when using the Raw Prism for a few hours at a time; I only felt mild pressure. The bespectacled among you may want to try on a pair before buying, but if the headset doesn't interfere with your glasses, it isn't likely to distract you while you're listening to music, watching movies or playing games.
The Raw Prism's colored lighting is a cool feature. You can set small LED rings in the earcups to display a whole rainbow of colors, either one at a time or in a cycle. The colors might be entertaining for someone else in the room or a streaming audience.
I tested the Raw Prism with both Titanfall and Assassin's Creed Unity to see how it handles sound in both an intense multiplayer firefight and a more cinematic game with poignant musical cues. In both cases, the Raw Prism sounded just OK.
While playing Titanfall, it was easy to tell where enemy pilots were coming from, as the headset has fairly good directionality. The sound effects and music themselves were nothing special, though. I ended up playing very well during my test match, although I am hesitant to chalk this up exclusively to the headset. It does the job, but the sound is more functional than immersive.
The Raw Prism didn't handle Assassin's Creed Unity as well. Once I had a chance to sit back and listen to the ambient music and noises of Revolution-era Paris, they sounded far away and a little indistinct.
Based on my testing, the mic quality is not very good. Since the mic is in a fixed position, you can't adjust it to suit your speaking style, and background noise is a big concern. When using the Engine 3's built-in audio-optimization option, a co-worker told me that my voice sounded audible, but a bit wobbly. Without that option, she could barely hear me at all.
No one expects a $60 headset to keep up with top-of-the-line headphones, but the Prism's sound quality was middling, even for casual listeners.
Overall, the Raw Prism delivered a muddy and dark soundscape. When I was listening to music, vocals didn't sound crystal clear (unless you activate the Voice preset, which tends to drown out instruments), and anything aside from the melody tended to get lost. The headset favors treble to a considerable degree; while bass was audible, you'll never "feel" it as you would on a very high-quality headset.
I spent a few workdays listening to music on the Raw Prism, and it didn't handle any particular genre very well. When I listened to Handel's Messiah, not only did the whole recording sound somewhat dull and lifeless, but it actually started getting overblown at high volumes. From Old Crow Medicine Show's "Carry Me Back" to Kanye West and Jay-Z's "No Church in the Wild," every track sounded distant and somewhat flat (sometimes literally; the pitches aren't super accurate).
As a gaming suite, SteelSeries Engine 3 is not quite as robust as the Razer Synapse 2.0 or Logitech Gaming Software, but it's definitely coming into its own. SteelSeries' surprisingly lightweight software offers plenty of features in an easily digestible form.
The Engine 3 software will automatically recognize the Raw Prism, at which point you have a number of options. You can tweak the default profile, or create any number of new ones and link them to specific programs. This process is about as painless as it gets, and you can even link multiple programs to one profile.
You can control two parameters on the Raw Prism: sound equalization and LED color. The LED color is simple enough: Just choose a color cycle or a single hue. Toying around with five different equalizer settings for hertz and decibel levels, on the other hand, is not as easy, since the interface is very small.
However, the preset options are sufficiently varied, and sound distinct. There are six settings, ranging from Music to Performance (best for games) to Voice, and each one definitely highlighted the aspect it promised.
For gamers on a budget, the SteelSeries Raw Prism has some things going for it. At a reasonable $60, you get great software, a passable mic and colorful lighting. However, the overall audio quality didn't impress, especially once we started playing music.
Because it functions pretty well for competitive multiplayer shooters, the mic alone might make the Raw Prism worth the price of admission. Otherwise, it's worth saving your pennies and investing in something a little more expensive and a lot more sonorous, like the Razer Kraken Chroma ($100).
Size: 8.1 x 6.7 x 4.1 inches
Weight: 8.5 ounces
Connection: Wired USB
Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 20,000 Hz
Volume: 100 dB-A
Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @marshallhonorof and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.