SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro wireless gaming headset review: Jack AND master of all trades
Quick verdict: This is truly the first gaming headset that can do it all, but it costs a pretty penny.
- Swappable batteries
- Dual wireless and Bluetooth
- Amazing audio quality
- Good sized ear cups
- Seems durable
- Good microphone
- Wireless base station is easy to use
- Could be more comfortable (it’s a bit heavy)
- Costs $650
The quest to find a gaming headset you would actually wear in public as a regular pair of headphones has been a long and arduous one. The drawbacks in the past have always been that headsets were too ugly, boom mics looked too lame or they just didn't sound as good as normal, music-focussed headphones. With the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless, SteelSeries has done the impossible, but at what cost?
That's a lot of money. For that much, you could pick up a pair of the Sony XM4 wireless headphones on sale and have enough change left over to buy a really good dedicated gaming headset. I've always been a "horses for courses" sort of person when it comes to headphones, which is why I have so much space dedicated to my collection of fancy-listening, running, weights, cycling, short-haul travelling, medium-haul travelling, long-haul travelling, general walking around, pensive, angry and "matches my outfit today" headphones. But there is a lot of appeal to just having the one pair of headphones taking up less space, especially since there will always be at least one fully charged battery available (more on that soon).
At this price, the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless really is on its own. Probably the closest comparison is the Astro A50 Wireless + Base Station, but it doesn't do anywhere near as much as it is purely for gaming. I don't think there's ever truly been a headset quite like the Arctis Pro Wireless, as much as other brands have made vague attempts towards the premium "jack of all trades" market, and that's frankly quite exciting.
The Arctis Nova Pro range comes in 4 flavours: Arctis Nova Pro Wired Gaming Headset (all consoles except Xbox), Arctis Nova Pro X Wired Gaming Headset (all consoles including Xbox), Arctis Nova Pro Wireless (Bluetooth and all consoles except Xbox), Arctis Nova Pro X Wireless (Bluetooth and all consoles including Xbox).
For this review, I used the Arctis Nova Pro X Wireless.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless: Design
I've written before about how much I love the SteelSeries comfort-first design philosophy. The ski goggle headband on the Arctis 9X headset continues to be the most comfortable headset I've ever used. The company has taken a slightly different tack this time, to my mild disappointment, valuing premium looks over pure comfort. This makes it far more attractive and a more viable option for wearing in public, so I understand it, but the new headband doesn't quite live up to the ComfortMAX name.
The stainless steel band certainly looks premium and seems extremely durable (I came off worse than it did when I accidentally sat on it), but the comfort band (which appears to be made out of some kind of synthetic material) looks sleeker than it feels.
After a couple of hours, I felt the need to give my head a 5-minute break, which isn't an issue on the Arctis 9X or a regular pair of Bose headphones. Since SteelSeries is encouraging people to wear these on long-haul flights, that's a little disappointing. Then again, few people wear headphones for more than 2 uninterrupted hours, and after a 5-minute break, I can comfortably wear them again for another 2 hours, so it's not too bad.
The reason why the headphones are so heavy, though, is that SteelSeries really chucked in the kitchen sink on these. I can't think of anything important the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless can't do. Though, given how much tech resides within, perhaps swapping out the metal for a lighter material might have been a safer bet.
The ear cups themselves are soft and plush. They didn't crush my glasses into my skull, my earrings felt undisturbed and my ears didn't get sweaty. Truly living the dream. The ear cups are larger than usual to accommodate bigger ears and their accoutrements, but when my tiny-eared wife tried them, she said they were comfortable and she didn't even notice their larger size.
In terms of aesthetics, these look exactly like the kind of headphones I would expect business travellers to wear. All the brushed dark metal and black pleather look very sophisticated.
There are many buttons and dials on the ear cups, which I appreciate greatly. The microphone mute is easy to toggle on and off. There's also a wireless audio volume dial (though, there isn't one for Bluetooth audio) as well as power buttons for both wireless and Bluetooth audio – one on each ear.
My only gripe with these controls is that the power button is doing a bit too much heavy lifting. You have to hold it down to turn it on or off and quick presses toggle between noise-cancelling modes. I would have preferred a toggle switch or (and I can't believe I'm saying this) an app for better noise-cancelling customisation on the go.
Also on the ear cups are removable metal caps that attach using magnets. On the left side, there's the USB-C charging port and on the right is the removable battery. That removable battery is the absolute star of the show and you can read more about it further down.
I really like how these features are hidden, but I do feel like the ear caps could have been improved by adding notches to remove them on both ends instead of just one. If you're not paying attention, it's very easy to put it in upside down and then have to spend 5 minutes scrabbling to remove it again. This is not ideal.
Rounding out the stuff hidden on the ear cups is the retractable boom mic. You can use it recessed to be aware of your surroundings or pull it out to take calls and participate in chat. There is even a little wind cover for it included in the box.
Along with the headphones, you get the wireless base station (a DAC), which is adorably small and easy to use. It has 2 USB ports, a 3.5mm line in and line out, a dial with a big button and a spot to charge the included second battery.
Having that second battery is the key feature of this whole headset, it means you'll never run out of battery and can get more than 40 hours of use out of it even when you're away from a power source, which is great for long-distance travel. Batteries also have expiration dates – any product with a built-in battery has only a few years to live at full strength.
By making the batteries easily replaceable, SteelSeries has made a product you can use for many, many years, so long as they keep selling the batteries. That alone is enough to make me want to recommend them over almost all other Bluetooth and wireless headsets.
As well as easily (and surprisingly inexpensively) being able to buy spare batteries from the website, you can also get different colours of ear caps and headbands. I really like that there's just one colour that goes in the box to reduce waste, but that it's also easy to change them out or get replacements if you wear through the original headband or lose an ear cap. It's a small thing, but it's a great thing to see when a right to repair isn't guaranteed. On a related note, I will be ordering the red accessory pack as soon as it becomes available.
The last thing in the box is a little cloth bag, which is surprising. I don't normally like headphone cases and rarely use them. But for something like the Arctis Pro Wireless, I would really like a proper headphone case to store the DAC in while travelling and the headphone caps while charging so I don't lose them – the kind of case where everything has its place. It's not essential, but it would be nice at this high price to at least have such a beast available.
Overall, the design is extremely functional and aesthetically pleasing, even if I have some personal niggles that I would change were I Ruler Of All That Is Headphones.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless: Performance
Normally, this is the part where I go into very great detail about every aspect of the headphones' performance. The problem is that the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless does too much, and it does all of it extremely well. Were I to detail all of it and critique every element, this review would be thousands of words longer.
Let's start with using them as normal Bluetooth headphones. They sound fantastic, a little better than what I would expect for headphones in the $500-$800 segment. Everything just sounds so rich and detailed. The active noise cancelling is nowhere near the ferocity of the Sony XM4, but it's enough to block out a tram full of people at 5:30pm on a Friday. That's enough for me most of the time, even though I wish it could go a little further at times.
When used for its primary purpose – gaming – it's even better. Over the 2.4 wireless, the audio is even clearer.
The Sonar software is what takes the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless from just "brilliant" to "sweet Zeus" for PC users. It's not 3D audio like paid subscriptions with DTS or Dolby, but it's also much more customisable, and 7.1 surround is more than enough most of the time.
Using the Sonar software, it was easy to tell where cars were behind me in Forza Horizon 5, so I could better manoeuvre to stay in front. The bass really shines through on the Arctis Nova, better than the vast majority of other headphones I've tried. Deep rumblings are felt without getting muddy, keeping details clear and not crowding out the higher and mid-tones.
Sonar is only available on PC, and I'm not much of a PC gamer these days and mostly use Macs for work. But Sonar's EQ boosting and ability to block out the typing sounds on my microphone when I'm in conference calls might be enough to have me using my PC more.
With Sonar, there are EQ profiles set up for different games, where you can prioritise specific sounds to gain advantages based on your play style. It has the power to be a real game changer for PC players.
On console, it's compatible with Microsoft Spatial Sound and Tempest 3D audio for PS5. I'm really going to run out of synonyms for "fantastic" because everything sounds crisp, clear and as though it's coming from the direction I expect, far better than the rest of my current collection of headsets.
When used wired with the DAC, it's Hi-Res Audio certified, which means it can play audio at a higher quality than your ears can perceive, which is nice and puts them into the realm of "audiophile on a budget", suddenly making $650 a bargain. That's something I haven't really seen from mainstream brand gaming headsets before.
The main thing that separates traditional headphones from gaming headsets is the boom mic, and I'm pleased to report that the quality is good, even though it's not great. It's better than almost all other headphones I have that aren't professional communications headsets (including the $899 Apple AirPods Max), but it still doesn't sound as good as just holding your phone to your ear or using a proper, separate mic. You wouldn't want to use it for a podcast or radio, but it's still pretty good for a conference call, chatting to teammates or just normal phone calls. Because the mic is so easy to pull out to use, I regret to inform you that I have become that dickhead who answers the phone with a boom mic while walking down the street.
As always, it's better to talk about the details I can hear in music than in a game because you can more easily replicate the song than some exact gaming scenario to see how your current headphones stack up.
While the hi-res audio will obviously be better, I did this test on wireless because most people are more likely to use their wireless headphones wirelessly.
"Dead Weight" by Pvris is one of my favourite songs because of the off-beat drums. I'm about 95% sure these drums were played on a Roland TD-17 electric drum module, which is the same module I have. Hilariously, this is the most detail I have heard on the hi-hat sound, except when being plugged directly into the module with my Beyer Dynamic headphones. The hi-hats sound fuller with a bit more last, and some harsher brightness at the start of the sample than I get on my usual Sony XM4s. The guitar, and I think it's a synthy bass, also shines a bit more and sounds clearer. I'm able to pick out some more details in the background than I'm used to as well.
On a more cacophonous song, like "A Real Man" by Sleater-Kinney, it's usually hard to be able to pick out the difference between the 2 guitar lines, because in their early work, it always sounds like all the instruments are battling. This is a 1995 recording made for cheap, but I heard brand new little runs and a couple of misplaced drum hits that I'd never really noticed before.
With something more delicate and higher pitched, like "Dawn" by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, I expected them to fall over a bit. While it's true there did seem to be a bit more space than on songs filled with more bass, all the notes shone clear and it was easy to get lost in the movement of the keys and be transported by the music. Gaming headsets are tuned for bass, they shouldn't be good at delicate classical music. And yet…
All up, while there are still some little things I would want to change to make it perfect for my own preferences, I am astonished by how good these headphones are.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want one headset to do everything, or if you want a pair of headphones with a battery you can swap out.
- Don't buy it if you don't play games very often and just need a pair of light travelling headphones.
This is, without a doubt, the most full-featured, premium gaming headset I have ever seen. It is the only gaming headset I would even consider using on a long plane trip and wearing in public. While the price tag is very high, I think it's justified for all that you get. I would go so far as to say this is the best multi-platform headset I've ever used.
If money is no limit and you don't mind buying a bunch of different headsets, there are still other headsets and headphones I prefer for different uses (the Arctis 9X, for example, would be my preferred Xbox headset for play sessions of 8+ hours and the Sony XM4 headphones are still my pick for long-haul travel).
But, if you have a budget of $650 and don't want to worry about storing and switching between the 3 or 4 headsets this set replaces, then the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is your best bet.
It makes switching between consoles and PC easy, is perfect for business Zoom calls and looks great out in the wild. When you add in the repairability and the swappable batteries, and absolutely superb audio quality, I can't think of any one wireless headset or pair of headphones that's come close to having a feature list this comprehensive. I wholeheartedly recommend them if you find them comfortable.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless: Pricing and availability
How we test
I spent roughly 3 weeks playing Forza Horizon 5, Roller Champions, Fall Guys and a bunch of other games as well as going on trams and listening to a wide range of music. I was given the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless by SteelSeries.
Images: Alice Clarke
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