The Soundblaster Arena Gaming Headset (and linux)

Jul 20th, 2010 | By | Category: Linux / Freebsd, Technology

As any of you who are following me on twitter know I ordered the beautiful, sleek and very white Soundblaster Arena headset last week from newegg and today I moseyed my way down to Puralator to pick em up!  Happy happy joy joy.

Seeing as there are little no reviews of these kind of things specific to linux I thought I would share my thoughts on the first day with my new lover and how they react to my other lover: Ubuntu.  I’m not going to go over packaging and all the other nitty gritty details that most reviews dive into, I’ll just let you know the one thing you care about: How do they sound?

Well up until now I’ve been using  a pair of Panasonic earbuds (Best pair of ear buds I have ever owned for bass which is saying a lot as these cost me 30,000 pesos – 15$ – in Colombia and they out perform my $200.00 Bose buds sitting in my room) and the sound has been fairly impressive up until this point so it would take something pretty special to really make me say ‘wow’.  Obviously an over ear headset is going to outperform buds but the quality of those buds was so high with the music I listen to that I wasn’t sure at how much to expect.

If you want to skip the review and just get to the goods I’ll lay it out right here: If properly setup these headphones will absolutely blow your mind.  The key to remember is that the proprietary drivers that make them sound so god damn good in windows dont’ exist in linux so you have to make sure you use a program with a good equalizer and open up alsa-mixer in terminal to make sure that your levels for this USB device are cranked.  By default they will stay at 80% everytime you plug em in, leading to some disappointing results.

First Impressions

My first impressions were pure disappointment and this disappointment lasted for months and months until I went into Alsa-mixer.  For some reason I figured that it wouldn’t make a difference and avoided alsa-mixer completely, living in sadness for the lack of volume and bass I was experiencing in linux.  All that changed when I saw that by default, upon being plugged in every time, alsa-mixer set the volume levels to 80%.  You have no idea the difference that makes to deep low level bass.  I would say that the quality and depth of the bass tripled when those levels from from 80% to 100%.   So my first impressions sucked, but only because of my ignorance.  My impressions now are that these are the best god damn headphones that have ever graced my head


After levels were tweaked in Alsa mixer these things rock the house.  Combine Alsa mixer with pushing the levels over 100% in pulse manager and I think I can get more out of these in linux without proper drivers than I could in windows.  The key is to open alsa-mixer in terminal as Ubuntu wants to set these to 80% or so when they are plugged in.

The Microphone:

Truth be told one of the main reasons I’m buying this is the mic.  I haven’t done an IndustryBroadcast in months and months and month because my old usb mic kicked the bucket.  So a critical criteria was mic quality and most of the reviews had nothing but good things to say about the mic.

First thing that rocks about it is that it is detachable.  So if I’m out or whatever and don’t need it, I don’t need to have it sticking off my head.  Definitely like that.  The quality of the sound is decent.  It’s nothing amazing by any stretch, and this has nothing to do with the software as it sounds the same in windows.  My voice comes across as really damn deep, almost unnaturally so for those who are used to hearing me through my built in lappy mic, and while they claim this is a noise canceling mic, when I was in windows with the proper drivers loaded and software running I really didn’t pick up a crystal clean sound even though all windows were closed and appliances off in my surrounding area.  It was dead quiet in my apartment and i was still getting a bit of noise that I had to clean up with Audacity.  So overall the mic works decently but I wouldn’t buy these just for that.. If you’re doing podcasting you’re better off getting a proper mic and a proper pair of headphones.  If you’re gaming then these will definitely do the trick and make you sound like a manly man while you’re at it.

Size, Shape, Comfort

My ears are totally covered, I picked these up at 2pm today, and outside of a workout and dinner I’ve had them on ever since.  Totally comfortable, no pinching or anything anywhere.  Cushioning is soft and fluffy and I have lots of room inside for my ears

The Design:

See picture above, these things are badass!  I bought these because they received the best overall review of any gaming headset around and they were under $100.00 at New Egg.  I also haven’t bought a SoundBlaster product in 15 years so it felt awesome to support a company that’s done so much to change the audio landscape of the digital world.  But I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t super super stoked to have this gorgeously designed throw-back to 1980’s sci-fi on my head.  I mean if storm troopers are grooving to good tunes they are doing it with the SoundBlaster Arena on their head, and dammit so am I!  This goes for the color and general shape, but these bad boys are sleek and not bulky by any stretch.. I was actually surprised at the small size of the box when I picked them up.  I was expecting, from the pictures, that these things would be much more obtuse and large but they are the perfect size.  That and the black on a white body is brilliant.  Best looking headset on the market in my mind.

So there you have it!  If you want something that just cranks the sound out and you are using linux only I would go for a Senheisser or something else that goes into your audio jacks.

  • The sound quality is good in these,  overall decent but nothign to write home about and my ears certainly aren’t going to be bleeding(in the best way possible) anytime soon.  I’m almost considering running VMware all the time just for music because these things absolutely rock in Windows.  So if you’re a windows user put your money into these bad boys, they will rock your world like nothing else.
  • Mic is decent, good for gaming, decent enough for podcasting but nothing to write home about at all.  If you’re serious about casting go and buy a professional mic for $70.00 and use a cheaper $30.00 headset.  If you are gaming this is the way to go.  The mic detaches which is a huge plus
  • Design rocks the cock, these are wicked looking phones that set your head apart from the rest
  • Comfortable as anything else.  But phat padding around the ears with plenty of room will keep the tunes coming for hours and hours without discomfort.

Bottom Line:

Until I figured out that it was alsa-mixer limiting the levels on these things I was so against them, but now that I enjoy 100% volume levels these things deliver the best bass I have ever heard out of a headset.  I’ve traded my friend a pair of 200$ phones and they didn’t even remotely come close to touching these babies.. House music has never sounded so good
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments to “The Soundblaster Arena Gaming Headset (and linux)”

  1. DomeDan says:


    Thanks for the information!,
    I just got that kind of headset from my brother as a christmasgift and he didnt think about that it might not work on linux.
    i tried the headset on debian squeeze and i wasnt able to get any sound from it at all, but the system recognized the headset and i could find it with alsamixer.
    kernel: 2.6.32-5-686

    heres the dmesg output:

    [ 2193.172053] usb 3-1: new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 4
    [ 2193.405083] usb 3-1: New USB device found, idVendor=041e, idProduct=0403
    [ 2193.405091] usb 3-1: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=0
    [ 2193.405098] usb 3-1: Product: SB Arena Headset
    [ 2193.405103] usb 3-1: Manufacturer: Creative Technology
    [ 2193.405303] usb 3-1: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
    [ 2193.451071] 4:1:1: cannot get freq at ep 0x4
    [ 2193.461068] 4:1:2: cannot get freq at ep 0x4
    [ 2193.476075] 4:2:1: cannot get freq at ep 0x84
    [ 2193.736412] input: Creative Technology SB Arena Headset as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1d.1/usb3/3-1/3-1:1.3/input/input14
    [ 2193.737715] generic-usb 0003:041E:0403.0006: input,hiddev0,hidraw0: USB HID v1.11 Device [Creative Technology SB Arena Headset] on usb-0000:00:1d.1-1/input3

  2. admin says:

    Hmm, no sound from it at all? Now that’s weird, I mean if it works in Ubuntu it should work in Debian no problem, but that doesn’t look to be the case.. Not sure why it isn’t working, though your error messages point to something there just not sure what exactly

    This headset is now working beautifully for me now, alsa mixer now remembers the previous levels when I plug and unplug it so that is great and with the alsamixer levels cranked I get better sound out of it in linux now than I do in windows! Easily the best headset I have ever owned, and itlooks bad ass to boot.

Leave a Comment