The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is designed to be the one headset to rule them all. It’s trying to simultaneously replace the one you jack into your console, the workhorse headset for your PC, and the fancy Bluetooth cans you carry on your commute. That’s how SteelSeries justifies its $349.99 price tag, which makes it one of the pricier wireless gaming headsets ever made.
That, and the fact it’s packed with tech.
You can listen to three things simultaneously with its screen-and-dial-equipped 2.4GHz wireless base station plus Bluetooth. It has four extra microphones to power its active noise cancellation or its hear-through transparency mode. You get two swappable batteries that can each last a full 24-hour day of nonstop audio, while the other sits in the base station to charge. That base station lets you switch between two USB-C audio devices while simultaneously offering 3.5mm line-in and line-out for a pair of speakers as well. You can even plug a 3.5mm cable directly between the headphones and a DAC for higher-quality audio.
Most importantly, it’s the best-sounding wireless gaming headset we’ve used — and the first good enough that we might consider buying it instead of pricey Bluetooth headphones, too.
The Nova Pro Wireless and its wired $249.99 Nova Pro counterpart are the rare no-devices-left-behind headsets that help you get even more enjoyment out of PC gaming and console use. There are some weird design decisions, some flaws, and even a few bugs, but it’s tough to ignore that these products bend over backward to neatly integrate themselves into your gaming repertoire.
The ultimate wireless gaming headset — maybe
By Sean Hollister
“It’s a nearly perfect gadget, but a couple of times a week, that ‘nearly’ part makes me want to scream.” That’s me, last August, writing about the predecessor to the headset we’re reviewing here. For the past two years, the $330 SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless has been my daily driver, and it’s packed with many of the same features as the new Nova Pro — like the base station, the swappable batteries, the ability to mix multiple audio sources, and the ability to double as a Bluetooth headset on the go.
And for the most part, the new Nova blows it out of the water. It sounds so much better, with the pumping bass that the original infamously lacked and audio that just seems more… present. There’s depth where the original feels thinner and flatter by comparison (and that’s with the Nova’s equalizer set completely flat, to boot). It made me want to re-listen to an entire album to hear the extra definition instead of just a song or two. And of course that bass punch is important for games and movies as well.
While the mic doesn’t seem to have been improved, that’s absolutely not a knock — it’s one of the clearer, richer mics we’ve tried. As long as it’s extended, anyhow: the richness goes away when fully retracted, sounding more like a Polycom in a drafty conference room, which wasn’t a thing with the original.
The entire design’s been somewhat refined with that completely vanishing mic, and SteelSeries has ditched its trademark Arctis ski-goggle-style headband for a four-position elastic strap and retracting arms that finally let you adjust the height up and down for taller heads. The new leatherette ear cushions are far more plush than the old fabric earcups, too, though I do wonder if they’ll peel as they age.
The new base station also seems to have the same excellent wireless range as its predecessor — chatting with my Discord gaming group while down the hall, through two walls, to the kitchen to get a snack. That’s a bar many wireless gaming headsets I’ve tried don’t manage to clear. I’m also happy the base station ditches the optical jacks I never used for USB-C inputs, with an easy toggle to switch between them. You also no longer need a proprietary cable to get analog 3.5mm audio directly to the headset. A standard 3-pole TRS cable works fine, even though SteelSeries includes a 5- to 4-pole cable as well. Plugging one in turns the Nova Pro Wireless into a totally passive analog headset, with sound that’s a little less grainy than in wireless mode.
Here’s the weird part: aside from those softer earcups, I… don’t actually like how the headset feels! It’s not actually any more comfortable than the last-gen Arctis Pro for my fairly large head, and I couldn’t find a single position where it didn’t feel like it was putting pressure on my skull or jaw over the course of the day. Cam says he didn’t experience that but agrees it doesn’t have the effortlessly floaty feel of SteelSeries’ previous Arctis headphones.
And I find it bizarre that SteelSeries ditched the wonderfully clicky, tactile, rubber-coated dials of the Arctis Pro Wireless for the smooth, unresponsive ones here, which make my fingers slide right off. The base station still doesn’t feel weighty enough, sometimes skitting across the table when I try to push the button, and the swappable batteries are slightly harder to swap in and out now with one hand — both the headset plate and the base station have smaller indents for your fingernail to grab.
But I can’t complain too much about that battery — because, in almost every other way, it’s the most impressive battery system I’ve used on a wireless gaming headset. I measured nearly 28 hours on a single charge at 50 percent volume with ANC and Bluetooth turned off and 23.5 hours with ANC turned on — that’s an around-the-clock charge per battery at the volume I actually use to listen to music.
With both batteries together, that’s more life than we’ve ever seen from a wireless gaming headset and far more than the 15.5 hours I got with the original Arctis Pro Wireless in the same test. And if you want even more, SteelSeries will sell you a two-pack of extra batteries for $19.99.
What’s more, the headset finally makes it impossible to miss when those batteries are going to die, a big complaint I had with the original. Now, you get a low battery beep every 30 seconds for at least the last 20 minutes of life, and the base station’s screen is better about notifying you, too — not only does the battery indicator blink when it’s low, but you can also now see partial bars worth of battery instead of just full ones. And while you can’t exactly hot-swap the battery if you do let it die (audio cuts out the moment you pull the pack), it does turn itself back on if you plug a fresh pack quickly — no need to press power again.
You can even technically plug in the headset to charge instead of swapping a pack, but the port placement is weird; it’s underneath the magnetic plate on the outer face of the left earcup, so it’d look like it’s sticking out the side of your head if you game with it that way.
The base station’s interface has been changed in other ways, too — there are still too many pages of menus and too little information on the main screen (who needs left- and right-channel audio levels in this day and age?), but I love how much control you get: a full equalizer, loud sidetone so you can hear yourself speaking, adjustable mic volume and gain that you can control from the unit itself or wirelessly with the dial on your headset.
Unfortunately, my favorite feature is now locked behind SteelSeries’ GG PC app: the chatmix that lets you have two distinct audio devices on PC and pick the balance between them, quickly quieting a too-loud game in favor of your teammates on Discord or vice versa. The Nova only activates that feature if you’re using its new Sonar program, which gives you individual equalizers for each of those channels (and even your microphone), but Cam and I both ran into weird bugs, including one that broke audio devices after a reboot and one that occasionally creates phantom presses on my keyboard. I preferred having the chatmix baked into the hardware.
The last remarkable thing about the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is that the new active noise cancellation and transparency modes — which my colleague Cam will tell you more about in a sec — work when you’re plugged into a PC or console, too. Want to wash out some washing machine noise while you’re playing PS5? Totally works, as does keeping an ear open for my kids while I’m sucked deep into Returnal using the transparency mode, and both are a tap or two of the power button away.
You will need to navigate the fact that the Nova Pro Wireless’ generous amount of configurable sidetone (designed to let you hear yourself speaking) acts as a form of isolation and transparency, though. I had to mute the mic to truly drown out everything, and you can set sidetone high to get more transparency than the Transparency mode alone.
That’s the Nova Pro Wireless in a nutshell: so many options and so much flexibility once you get used to the controls.
Not quite a Sony or Bose killer, but great for a gaming headset
By Cameron Faulkner
I need a set of headphones to save me from all my headphones. On my desk, I juggle between my AirPods for jumping on the phone and my Sony WH-1000XM3s to concentrate with ANC and have really good audio quality. Oh, and there’s usually a gaming headset or two or three.
Without a trace of hyperbole, I’d recommend the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless to anyone in a similar position as me. They cover all of my gaming needs, and since I can connect wirelessly to a PC or console, plus my phone via Bluetooth, I’m way more likely to just keep using these than I am to frantically grab another set and hope they pair before I need to answer the phone or jet out the door.
It’s not just a matter of convenience. They sound excellent, enough so that if I wasn’t already spoiled by Sony’s rich sound and unparalleled ANC, I’d think that SteelSeries’ latest headset was probably close to the pinnacle of audio performance — for a headset masquerading as headphones, at least. Even the sound quality over Bluetooth isn’t noticeably worse than what the Nova Pro Wireless’ base station can deliver over 2.4GHz and USB-C.
The Nova Pro Wireless is capable of many of the same things (plus some) that you’ll find in high-end headphones from the likes of Sony and Bose. I already mentioned active noise cancellation, but there’s also a transparency mode that lets the microphones funnel sound from the outside world into the earcups to listen for audible cues that might be important. It has a robust build quality that I wish was more present in my plasticky XM3s (plus, physical controls trump touch). Your mileage may vary, but I think these look pretty slick, to boot. The fact that you can swap the batteries is another trick that’s very rare to find in other wireless headphones.
It’s easy for me to tell that SteelSeries actually wants me to use the Nova Pro Wireless as Bluetooth headphones. Brilliantly, it designed the headset to be able to power on and off without interrupting a Bluetooth connection. In real life, that looks a little something like this:
- I’m listening to a podcast on my phone and gaming on my PC but suddenly need to leave before I have a chance to pause or quit the game
- Powering off the headset with its dedicated power button cuts the connection to the PC / console, but Bluetooth audio continues without any interruption
- Coming back to the PC / console and powering on the headset loops in that audio seamlessly, again, without any interruption to Bluetooth audio
As sleek and relatively understated the design of the Nova Pro Wireless is, it’s still clear — to me, at least — that I’m using a gaming headset wherever I go. But I’m not embarrassed to be seen wearing them, and I’m definitely not upset to bring them on my commutes.
That said, there’s a bit of a learning curve for becoming fluent in using the Nova as a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Activating Bluetooth requires long-pressing the Bluetooth-meets-multifunction button located on the rear side of the right ear cup until you hear an audible chime. If you haven’t paired a device to them yet, keep holding a little longer to enter pairing mode. That’s it.
If you’re connected to the base station, the headset’s volume dial controls the PC / console’s volume only, not your Bluetooth device. But if you turn off the headset’s connection to the base station, the dial will control your Bluetooth device’s volume. Sean ran into a weird bug where he couldn’t control his Pixel phone’s volume because he disconnected while the base station was still set to the game / chat mix mode. Otherwise, it worked great for me.
When connected to my Pixel 6, pressing the Bluetooth button once can play or pause media or pick up calls. Double-pressing it will skip tracks (or jump ahead in chapters if you use something like Pocket Casts for podcasts), and triple-pressing it will jump backward. No button on this headset can summon a voice assistant.
The mute button on the Nova Pro Wireless works as intended to mute calls (indicated by a red LED on the tip of the extendable boom microphone. On the topic of microphones, my call recipient told me that my voice sounded no different than how I typically sound through a set of Bluetooth headphones. Not particularly great, but not bad. But they did report that my voice sounded better at one point during the call, which was when I activated gamer mode and fully extended the boom mic. I can’t see myself wanting to do this in public for casual calls, but it’s cool that it actually makes a difference to audio quality. I might use it in an important work call if I need my voice to be crystal clear.
I’d be lying if I said that the Nova Pro Wireless were better than my Sony headphones overall. They fall short in active noise cancellation (ANC), which isn’t as effective. Instead of making me feel like my ears are in a vacuum-sealed chamber with ANC on, the Nova Pro Wireless didn’t provide as much of a night-and-day difference. They were capable of hushing all but the loudest noises on the NYC subway, but in my not-so-loud home environment, some distracting sounds still found their way to my ears. However, the transparency mode here is good enough to rely on for, say, hearing when it’s your stop on the subway or pulling in chatter from people on the sidewalk. Sean walked outdoors while it was a little windy and was pleasantly surprised to find the wind noise didn’t turn into a microphone screech in either ANC or transparency modes.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment of using the Nova Pro Wireless as Bluetooth headphones is that they don’t offer much customization at all while in Bluetooth mode, which could perhaps be solved with a companion app (a la Sony and Bose). All of the tweaks, including equalizer mode, sidetone intensity, and the level of transparency you desire, need you to be connected to your base station at home. But really, that’s more of a nitpick than a deal-breaking flaw.
I also spent time testing out the wired Nova Pro headset, which, at $249.99, is $100 less than the wireless version. While it’s easy to point out the obvious omission of any wireless capabilities — and there’s no ANC — the Nova Pro stands out more to me for what it can do than what it can’t.
It’s almost identical in terms of design to the wireless model but with fewer buttons (just a volume wheel that doesn’t click and a mute button), and it’s a few grams lighter since it doesn’t run on battery or have wireless radios. But internally, SteelSeries told The Verge that its driver system is identical to that of the wireless version.
The big draw of the wired Nova Pro is the second-generation USB-powered GameDAC station that’s included. It has the same big knob and user interface as the base station included with the wireless model, but inside, it contains an ESS Sabre quad DAC that’s capable of outputting Hi-Res 96KHz / 24-bit audio on PC (you’ll need to go into device properties in Windows to boost it from 48KHz to 96KHz). In short, it’s a gaming headset that’s primed for audiophiles.
Given how much I enjoyed the sound quality of the Nova Pro Wireless, I wasn’t expecting a noticeable improvement with the wired model. But the GameDAC actually did make a difference. Music sounds fuller, with more warmth and a closer-sounding proximity to my ears. Swapping between both models to compare performance, the wired headphones have a more powerful sound with more detail.
This was true of my experience with games, too. I plugged the GameDAC into my PS5 for some Gran Turismo 7, and on a rainy time trial, I could hear individual raindrops hitting my car’s windshield. Back on the wireless model, it still sounded like rain, but like I was hearing it from afar. You can still get this performance from the wireless model by plugging it into a DAC since it’s got the same drivers, and SteelSeries even tends to sell its GameDACs separately if you want.
Despite lacking wireless functionality, the GameDAC included with the cheaper Nova Pro lets you easily connect to just as many types of audio sources, including PlayStation, PC, macOS, the Nintendo Switch’s dock, mobile, and Xbox. Though, you’ll need the Xbox-specific model that SteelSeries makes to work with Xbox’s audio protocol.
Since Sean and I are reviewing both the wireless and wired versions of the Arctis Nova Pro, I naturally have to choose one that I’d actually want to own. Tempting as it is to throw out all of my headphones for a single unit, I’d put my money behind the wired Nova Pro since its high-end audio performance makes it a unique addition to my tech collection. If I didn’t already own a set of good noise-canceling headphones, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend more to get the Nova Pro Wireless.
Source: The Verge