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SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 Review: Wired but Worth It

This budget, analog headset sounds and feels really good.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The Arctis Nova 1 is sleek, comfortable, and versatile — it’s a great buy at $60, so long as you can live with an analog headset.

Pros

  • +

    Good audio quality for price

  • +

    Lightweight, comfortable

  • +

    Slim

Cons

  • -

    Looks a little generic/boring

  • -

    Analog-only

I have a soft spot for analog headsets — especially when I’m testing headsets, and I have so many things connected to my PC (via Bluetooth/dongle/Wi-Fi/sorcery) that nothing works. Analog headsets just work; all you have to do is plug them in — and they don’t even take up a USB port. 

Maybe that’s why I’m so into the Arctis Nova 1 — SteelSeries’ fully-redesigned update to its entry-level analog headset. Among the best gaming headsets in its price range, the $60 Arctis Nova 1 is slimmer, lighter, and much, much more comfortable than its predecessor, the Arctis 1. It has the same four-point adjustment system, fully-retractable mic, and 40mm custom drivers as the rest of the lineup, packaged in a stripped-down, lightweight analog-only body. And it won’t spontaneously unpair from its wireless dongle, connect to a phantom device via Bluetooth, or run out of juice in the middle of a Twitch stream or business call. It will just work — and work well — with any device you can plug it into. 

The Arctis Nova 1 comes in three versions — PC, PlayStation, and XBox (which are mostly the same with some small tweaks for different platforms) — and two colors (black and white), and costs $60. 

Design and Comfort of the Arctis Nova 1 

The Arctis Nova 1 is the cheapest headset in the Arctis Nova lineup, and it definitely feels less premium than its pricier siblings. The Nova 1 has a plastic headband with an adjustable elastic headband strap and height-adjustable rotating earcups. The headband strap attaches to fixed points inside the headband and is stretchier than the strap found in the Nova Pro and the Nova 7 — it’s reminiscent of SteelSeries’ older “ski goggle” straps, which are comfortable but have a tendency to stretch out over time.  

The Nova 1 is the lightest headset in the series, weighing just 8.3 ounces (235g). It also has the slimmest earcups (there’s no battery, RGB, or removable speaker plates). It doesn’t feel flimsy or poorly-made, nor does it feel like a tank — it seems like it would do okay in a backpack, though the large, flat swaths of plastic might be susceptible to scratches. The Nova 1 looks a little generic, and doesn’t feel particularly inspired, design-wise. That’s probably the most criticism I have, though — it’s not like there are a ton of sexy, eye-catching budget-priced gaming headsets, and the Nova 1’s slim earcups do cut a pretty sleek profile.

The earcups have memory foam cushions covered in a breathable mesh fabric SteelSeries calls “AirWeave,” and are roomy enough to surround your ears without pressing on them. I momentarily forgot that my job involves testing headsets and got my right ear flat pierced . . . twice — and nothing exposes a headset’s pain points quicker than two-day-old cartilage piercings. But I had no problems wearing the Nova 1, which honestly weighs so little I kept forgetting I had it on.

The Nova 1’s slimmed-down, lightweight profile still allows for on-ear controls, all of which are located on the left earcup. Here, you’ll find a microphone mute button, a volume wheel, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a built-in microphone — which has the same seamlessly-integrated, fully-retractable design seen on all of the Arctis Nova headsets. In the box, the Nova 1 comes with a 4-foot (1.2m) 3.5mm audio cable, as well as a 5-foot (1.5m) dual-3.5mm extension cable (for plugging into a PC with separate 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks). The extra-long extension cable is a nice touch — my PC is under my desk, too far for any reasonable-length cable to reach; the extension cable adds plenty of extra length, and I still have a regular, 4-foot cable that can be used with other devices.

Specs

Driver Type40mm custom
Impedance36Ω
Frequency Response20 - 22,000Hz
Design StyleOver-ear (circumaural)
Microphone TypeBidirectional, noise-canceling
ConnectivityWired (3.5mm aux)
Weight8.3oz / 235g
Cord Length4 feet / 1.2 meters
Battery LifeN/A
LightingN/A
SoftwareSteelSeries GG (Sonar)

Audio Performance of the Arctis Nova 1 

The Arctis Nova 1 features “custom high fidelity drivers tuned for gaming,” which have a frequency response of 20 - 22,000 Hz, an impedance of 36Ω, and a sensitivity of 93 dBSPL. The Arctis Nova 3 and the Nova 7 have the same drivers as the Nova 1, but I still tested all three headsets individually. The Arctis Nova Pro and Arctis Nova Pro Wireless have different, higher-fidelity drivers.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Music sounds good on the Nova 1 — very good, considering the headset’s sub-$100 price point. The bass was pretty restrained (too restrained) in Kaskade’s “POW POW POW,” and was present but fuzzy in Kanye’s “Love Lockdown.” Mids and highs sounded better — and more balanced — in David Guetta’s “Titanium” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” There was some distortion in the lower mid-ranges — not a lot, but it was noticeable. The headset also struggled with separating out details and layers in Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” but I enjoyed listening to “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish. 

I wasn’t particularly impressed with audio quality on the Arctis Nova 7 Wireless — and this headset has the same custom 40mm drivers. But the Nova 1 is an analog headset — the Nova 7 also sounded better using a wired connection, but we can’t ignore its wireless performance. The Nova 1 also costs one-third of what the Nova 7 costs. 

Gaming sounds much better on the Nova 1 (as does voice chat), especially when paired with SteelSeries’ Sonar audio software suite, which has features like 360-degree spatial audio and a gaming-oriented parametric EQ. You don’t need to use Sonar (or any software) with the Nova 1 — games and voice chat still sound very good without it, but it offers a decent amount of control and customization if you spend some time playing around with it.  

Microphone on the Arctis Nova 1

The Arctis Nova 1 has a bidirectional ClearCast Gen 2 noise-canceling microphone, which has a frequency response of 100 - 10,000 Hz and a sensitivity of -38dBV/Pa. All of the new Arctis Nova headsets have the same fully-retractable microphone design — the mic is on a flexible arm for easy positioning, and blends seamlessly into the left earcup when retracted.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Audio quality is very good on the Nova 1’s mic, especially for a headset mic. It picks up your voice easily and delivers loud, clear audio. It’s a bidirectional, not cardioid, mic, and it struggles with noise isolation. SteelSeries’ Sonar audio suite has a mic section with an EQ and a handful of noise-reduction features, including AI-powered noise-cancellation, which is still in early-access but works pretty well. The Nova 1 is analog-only, though, so it can only access Sonar’s features when it’s plugged into a PC.

Software for the Arctis Nova 1

The Arctis Nova 1 works perfectly well out of the box and doesn’t come with companion software — unless you count SteelSeries GG, SteelSeries’ universal peripheral software, which includes the company’s gaming-oriented Sonar audio suite. The Nova 1 works with Sonar the same way any analog headset plugged into your PC would work with Sonar (the software isn’t brand-locked, or anything). 

Sonar offers separate EQs for gaming, chat, and microphone audio — including the “first pro-grade parametric EQ for gamers” (the gaming EQ is preloaded with presets for popular games such as Apex Legends, COD Warzone, and Minecraft, etc). Sonar also gives you access to gaming audio features, including ChatMix, 360-degree spatial audio (SteelSeries’ virtual surround-sound), as well gain adjustment and smart audio. On the microphone side, Sonar features a 10-band microphone EQ with a handful of presets, and a few features to help reduce noise, including AI-powered noise reduction (still in early-access).

Bottom Line

The Arctis Nova 1 is an excellent analog headset for gaming, chatting, streaming, getting cartilage piercings — and yes, listening to music. The Nova 1 costs $60, which puts it solidly in the budget range — though there are cheaper gaming headsets, such as the Asus TUF Gaming H3 and the Razer BlackShark V2 X

The Nova 1’s ultra-lightweight comfort, fully-retractable mic, and slim, sleek, sort of generic-looking profile also make it a good lifestyle option — this is something you can wear on the street (without looking like you’ve lost your LAN party), which is a quality you won’t find in most budget gaming headsets.  The Nova 1 is a great headset, but it is analog-only, which is not for everybody — some people just need a wireless gaming headset

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
Senior Editor, Peripherals

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware covering peripherals, software, and custom builds. You can find more of her work in PCWorld, Macworld, TechHive, CNET, Gizmodo, Tom's Guide, PC Gamer, Men's Health, Men's Fitness, SHAPE, Cosmopolitan, and just about everywhere else.