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SteelSeries gaming headset buying guide
While SteelSeries has put out some of the most reliably good gaming headsets on the market for years, its Arctis line can be rather confusing. Sure, the company doesn’t stray into the lifestyle audio or microphone markets like some of its competitors, but that doesn’t mean it’s all easy to parse. What’s the difference between the Arctis 7 and the Arctis 9? They look identical and sound a lot alike, but they’re priced very differently.
Read on, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about SteelSeries’ gaming headsets.
Editor’s note: This guide was updated on December 8, 2022 to bring it in line with new formatting standards.
What should you know before buying a SteelSeries gaming headset?
Before you go out and buy the first gaming headset that catches your eye, figure out what kind of headset you need. Are you a console gamer, or a PC gamer? Is playing with friends a big part of your gaming experience? These are the kinds of questions to think about because the answers will likely influence what you buy. If you play on an Xbox, you may find a wireless gaming headset is the right move for your living room setup. In that case, you’re going to want something built for Xbox because the vast majority of wireless gaming headsets don’t work with Xbox.
If you’re a PC gamer, having a wired or wireless connection might not matter as much, but something with a software companion app could be pretty attractive. On consoles like PlayStation, those apps don’t work, so simpler options are more enticing.
What does the SteelSeries GG app do?
If you’re a PC gamer looking at buying a SteelSeries headset, you should install SteelSeries GG. This is the company’s newest gaming software, and it’s a one-stop shop. Here, you can manage your computer’s audio inputs and outputs, update your SteelSeries peripheral firmware (the company makes more than headsets, after all), and customize your gaming headset’s audio output.
SteelSeries GG has two audio feature suites: Sonar and Engine. SteelSeries Engine is the older version of SteelSeries’ software. The company rolled SteelSeries Engine into SteelSeries GG, so older gaming headsets are still supported. It’s fairly rudimentary, with a basic EQ function and maybe some toggles for things like spatial audio and mic monitoring.
SteelSeries Sonar is much more comprehensive. The included EQ function has much more room for granular adjustments, and there are toggles for audio features like noise reduction, bass boost, treble boost, and more. There are also EQ options for the microphone, and your headset’s chat channel if you’ve bought something with game/chat mixing. You can dive deep with the built-in channel mixer to manage your different inputs and outputs. Oh, and it’s universal—if you have a SteelSeries headset and separate microphone, you can run it all through Sonar.
Basically, if you’re on PC, you’ll want something that uses Sonar. Luckily, pretty much everything SteelSeries has recently released supports the app.
Every audio product SteelSeries makes is in the Arctis line
Unlike gaming headset companies like Razer, HyperX, or Corsair which have a lot of different headset lines, and variations, SteelSeries keeps things remarkably simple. Every gaming headset it makes is an Arctis headset, most of which are numbered. Higher numbered Arctis headsets cost more and have more features, but most of them use the same basic build with the same drivers and the same suspension band—there are exceptions, and we’ll cover them too, but those are the broad strokes.
The SteelSeries Arctis 1 is the company’s most basic option
I know I just said SteelSeries headsets almost always use the same build and design, but here’s the first exception. The SteelSeries Arctis 1 line contains different models for different platforms, but the fundamentals are mostly the same. This headset features a cushioned conventional headband, a detachable 3.5mm microphone, ear pads covered in SteelSeries’ custom airweave fabric. The three wired models are functionally identical, and each costs $49 USD. They all use 3.5mm connections, so they work the same everywhere. The only real difference between the Xbox, PlayStation, and multi-platform models is the color of the webbed pattern on the inside of the ear cups.
There is also a wireless model of the Arctis 1, which brings a pretty big relative jump in price at $99 USD. This was the first wireless SteelSeries gaming headset to make the jump to using a USB-C wireless dongle. A wireless Arctis 1 works with PlayStation 4 and 5, Nintendo Switch (docked or undocked), Steam Deck, and PC. There are four models of this headset, one for Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and one default “multi-platform option.” Like with the wired version, the differences between the models are vanishingly small, except the Xbox version is the only one that will work with Microsoft’s consoles. The company keeps compatibility with wireless gaming headsets pretty locked down, so only headsets made specifically for Xbox will work.
The SteelSeries Arctis 3 features a more premium build at a low price
The SteelSeries Arctis 3 line takes a simpler approach to its releases, with white and black versions of a console model and PC model. These 3.5mm wired gaming headsets sport a ski-goggle style suspension band and an attached microphone that can retract into the left headphone. You’ll find most of these aspects in the more expensive SteelSeries gaming headsets. However, while the design is more premium than the Arctis 1, the price stays pretty reasonable at $69 USD. The only difference between the PC and console versions comes down to connection options. The PC headset comes with a detachable 3.5mm splitter, so you can plug into computers with separate microphone and headphone jacks.
There’s also a Bluetooth model for the SteelSeries Arctis 3. This headset is more expensive at $99 USD, and save for the Bluetooth connection option, it’s almost identical to the PC and console counterparts. It uses Bluetooth 4.1, but you can use the wired and wireless connections simultaneously. This gives you the option to listen to music from a phone while you game, or if you want to more elegantly integrate with Nintendo’s draconian voice chat system.
The SteelSeries Arctis 5 starts bringing the bells and whistles
There’s only one model of SteelSeries Arctis 5, but it’s the last wired-only option before things start getting really pricey. As such, it brings a decent smattering of features for PC gaming, with integration for SteelSeries Engine, RGB LEDs, and a desktop dial for managing game/chat mix. Like the Arctis 3, this headset features a ski-goggle style suspension band and a retractable microphone. You can connect it to your platform of choice via 3.5mm cable, or the USB connection of the mix dial.
The Arctis 7 is where things really start getting good
When we reviewed the SteelSeries Arctis 7, we loved its performance and comfortable build but found its battery life pretty lackluster. However, while you can still buy the SteelSeries Arctis 7, Arctis 7P (for PlayStation), and Arctis 7X (for Xbox), there is a new version for the same price that improves on everything.
The current line of Arctis 7 gaming headsets is the SteelSeries Arctis 7+, Arctis 7P+, and Arctis 7X+. These wireless gaming headsets run for $169 USD, and use USB-C dongles to connect to your platform of choice. We’ve seen various USB dongles from SteelSeries headsets before: the Arctis 1 Wireless, Arctis 7P, and Arctis 7X all use USB-C, while the Arctis 7 uses a USB-A dongle. They all sound great, bring big improvements to battery life—the Arctis 7+ lasted almost 72 hours in our testing—and they’re super comfortable over long play sessions. They feature the same build as most of the other Arctis gaming headsets, with a suspension band, breathable airweave ear pads, and a retractable mic. Basically, the Artis 7 line is the prime contender from SteelSeries that does most things very well.
Under the hood, these models are all the same, but there are a couple of differences to keep track of. PlayStation 5 aesthetes will appreciate the matching white/blue colorway of the Arctis 7P and Arctis 7P+. With Arctis 7X and Arctis 7X+, you get a black/green paint job, and wireless functionality that’s limited to Xbox consoles. When you want to use the Arctis 7X or 7X+ on Switch and PlayStation, you’ll need a wired connection.
The SteelSeries Arctis 9 pulls out all the stops
When it first came out, the SteelSeries Arctis 9X ($199.99 at Amazon) was among the first gaming headsets to support Xbox Wireless, Microsoft’s dongle-free wireless connection standard. This headset is a lot like the Arctis 7, with the notable addition of Bluetooth support. There’s also a multi-platform version of the headset, which uses a USB-A dongle and works wirelessly everywhere except Xbox consoles.
Basically, the Arctis 9 is almost identical to the Arctis 7, but you can connect this $199 USD headset to more places. The simultaneous Bluetooth connection support lets you game wirelessly without missing calls, which is nice, but Bluetooth 4.1 is getting a little long in the tooth. There’s no “+” version of this headset currently, which means battery life won’t keep up with some of the cheaper options. The Arctis 9 also lacks a USB-C dongle if you were keen to plug it into the bottom of your Nintendo Switch.
The Arctis Nova line represents the company’s way forward
After years of reliable, but visually very similar gaming headsets, SteelSeries has been gradually releasing a revised line of gaming headsets. The SteelSeries Arctis Nova gaming headsets started at the top of the line, but now there are updated options across the price spectrum. They aren’t always slam-dunk upgrades compared to their non-Nova counterparts, but this is where to look for an indication of the direction SteelSeries is headed.
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 is a wired brings a high-end build to a basic price
Whether it’s wired or wireless, the SteelSeries Arctis 1 has always been one of the outlier Arctis gaming headsets with cheaper build and simpler design. The Arctis Nova 1 remedies that, bringing a new suspension band more in line with its more expensive siblings and it’s very comfortable. This 3.5mm wired gaming headset is still pretty basic, but it sounds good, and if you’re looking for something simple and versatile, this could be the thing. It retails for $59.99 USD.
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 splits the difference between basic and premium
Where the main selling point of the original Arctis 3 was to bring a premium build to a lower price, the Arctis Nova 3 has to do a bit more—after all the Arctis Nova 1 has this point pretty well covered. The Arctis Nova 3 is a wired gaming headset with the same sort of suspension build as the other Arctis Nova headsets, but it features an LED ring around SteelSeries logo on the side.
Otherwise, there’s really not much new to this headset. There’s no pricier Bluetooth-enabled version, so for $79.99 at Amazon, you get a headset that connects over 3.5mm or USB. At least when it’s using the USB cord, you can use it with SteelSeries Sonar (you also need to use USB for it to light up).
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Wireless features some of the most meaningful changes
The SteelSeries Arctis 7 is the company’s most successful gaming headset, so any update is going to come with high expectations. The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Wireless isn’t a perfect successor, with battery life that falls considerably short of the Arctis 7+, but it’s still pretty great. This wireless gaming headset connects using a USB-C dongle, and it also supports Bluetooth connection simultaneously, which is new for an Arctis 7. It features the same updated design as the Arctis Nova Pro headsets (more on them below), but keeps the Airweave fabric ear pads.
The Arctis Nova 7 sounds better than its predecessors, and it fully supports the software features of SteelSeries Sonar. While the battery life isn’t as good as the 71 hours of Arctis 7+, it clocks in at just over 41 hours which is still nothing to sneeze at. You can get $179.99 USD, only a $10 USD markup from the 7+, which is pretty impressive—adding Bluetooth usually means a more notable increase.
The Arctis Nova Pro line is the new cream of the crop
We’ll lump the still-available SteelSeries Arctis Pro headsets into this section, because the new Arctis Nova Pro and Arctis Nova Pro Wireless are very much intended as follow-ups to SteelSeries’ previous top-of-the-line units. The older headsets are still very good, with similar features like a GameDAC unit for the wired one and removable batteries for the wireless one, but the new ones are better in almost every way for the same (admittedly very high) price.
The Arctis Nova Pro and Arctis Nova Pro Wireless represent the first substantive visual update to SteelSeries headsets in years, and they pack some serious heat. While they have fundamentals like great sound, a comfortable design, and a good mic in common, they have pretty serious differences beyond all of that.
The wired SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro comes with a next-generation GameDAC unit, which functions as a detached command console for the headset. The little console can adjust headset volume and game/chat balance, manage audio inputs (the DAC can handle two source devices at once), and even includes a built-in custom EQ. There’s also integration with SteelSeries Sonar. This is the best wired gaming headset SteelSeries has to offer, and it will run you $249 USD.
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless doesn’t have a GameDAC, but its wireless base station can connect to more than one source device and similarly switch between them. The base station also features a battery charging slot for the included spare battery. This means you can swap the battery out and always have the other charged up and good to go. With this design, you never have to wait for your headset to charge after the battery dies.
However, the base station is all that makes the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless special. This headset also supports Bluetooth and is capable of simultaneous audio playback using Bluetooth and the 2.4GHz connection to its base station. This means you can be connected to a PC, PlayStation 5, and smartphone, and get audio from any two of the three at any point. Lastly, the headset has very good active noise cancelling—an uncommon feature among gaming headsets, and a very rare one to see well executed among them. This is about as feature-rich as you could ever hope for a gaming headset, and at $349 USD, it’s priced like it too.
The SteelSeries headsets that don’t have numbers are all over the price spectrum
While SteelSeries’ audio product line is blessedly simple, there are still some outliers in the Arctis ecosystem. A handful of products don’t follow the typical numbered naming scheme, and they range from the company’s very cheapest to most expensive products.
The SteelSeries Tusq is the company’s only earbuds
Okay, this one isn’t technically an Arctis product, but so what? You expect me to make an entire section just for a $40 USD pair of earbuds? The SteelSeries Tusq is unique among the company’s products because it’s a wired pair of earbuds with a boom microphone. The microphone is detachable, so you don’t have to be too concerned about looking conspicuous while gaming on the go. Sure, It may look a little ridiculous, but if you hate the feeling of over-ear headphones and still want decent call quality, the Tusq could be just the thing.
The SteelSeries Arctis Prime is barebones but brings higher-end tuning
This is a pretty odd entry in SteelSeries’ product line. On paper, the Arctis Prime has more common with the Arctis 1 and Arctis 3, but it’s priced closer to the Arctis 5. This is a wired gaming headset that connects over 3.5mm. You get a mic and frame like the higher-end Arctis headsets, but no additional features for $99 USD. Basically, if having the exact same sound profile but none of the features of a high-end gaming headset is an attractive idea, this could be interesting.
SteelSeries audio doesn’t dabble outside of gaming headsets
That’s all there is to the SteelSeries audio line. As of publication, the company’s portfolio lacks any consumer headphones, speakers, and standalone USB/XLR mics. We’ll update this article as new products come out and new reviews get published.