Gaming headsets are designed around a lot of factors — comfort, connectivity, latency, battery life, price. Audio quality is usually sidelined, if not completely overlooked, in favor of epic explosions and booming bass beats. SteelSeries’ Arctis lineup of gaming headsets is already unique in this regard, with its focus on natural-sounding, balanced audio and understated aesthetics.
The latest addition to the Arctis lineup, however, hardly looks like a gaming headset at all. The Arctis Nova Pro comes in two iterations, wired and wireless, and sports a brand-new aesthetic, hi-fi-capable custom-built 40mm speaker drivers, and debuts alongside the “official” launch of the company’s Sonar audio software. The wired Arctis Nova Pro is hi-fi ready and is packaged with SteelSeries GameDAC Gen 2. The Arctis Nova Pro Wireless doesn’t come with the GameDAC Gen 2, but is instead packed with convenient features such as a swappable battery system that allows for essentially infinite battery life, simultaneous game and mobile audio (via 2.4-GHz wireless and Bluetooth), and active noise cancelation (ANC) with an optional transparency mode.
It seems like SteelSeries is trying to do it all with the Arctis Nova Pro/Wireless: Hi-fi audio, travel-friendly comfort and convenience, multi-platform connectivity. The Arctis Nova Pro/Wireless is for gamers, audiophiles, work calls…anyone with a commute? This kind of ambitious multi-tasking usually doesn’t turn out very well, but I spent a couple of days with the $349 Arctis Nova Pro Wireless and I might just be convinced. This premium pair of cans is among the best gaming headsets you can buy.
Specs for SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
|Driver Type||40mm custom drivers|
|Frequency Response||10 - 22,000Hz (wireless); 10 - 40,000Hz (wired)|
|Design Style||Closed back|
|Microphone Type||Bidirectional noise canceling, fully retractable|
|Connectivity||(Simultaneous) Wireless 2.4 GHz and Bluetooth 5.0|
|Weight||0.75 pounds (339g)|
|Battery Life||18-22 hours per battery (2 batteries included)|
|Software||SteelSeries GG Sonar Audio Software Suite|
Design and Comfort of SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
I’ll be honest — and I realize I’m probably in the minority here — I’ve never been a big fan of the way SteelSeries’ Arctis lineup looks. The flat, uniform aesthetic of the oval earcups just isn’t my style.
Perhaps the company is just trying to make its new headset stand out, or perhaps someone on SteelSeries’ design team agrees with me, because the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless definitely deviates from the well-known Arctis silhouette. The new headset cuts a sleek, understated profile in matte black and gunmetal gray, and has plenty of luxe accents — a textured headband strap, leatherette-covered earcups, machined metal speaker plates bearing a refined, tonal SteelSeries logo. Thanks to the totally seamless design of the retractable microphone, this headset could easily be mistaken for a pair of Apple-backed luxury lifestyle headphones.
Don’t let the new look scare you, though — it’s not too different. The Nova Pro Wireless is built from the same general template as the rest of the Arctis lineup, and it retains the lightweight, comfortable form-factor and fit that makes the series so popular.
Like other Arctis headsets, the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless has a sturdy, rigid headband (steel, apropos of its high-end status) paired with an adjustable suspension strap for a customized, comfortable fit. In past headsets, the ‘ski-goggle strap’ suspension style has been both praised for comfort and criticized for its tendency to stretch out over time. In the Nova Pro Wireless, the strap is no longer elastic adjustable with velcro; instead, it’s a “flexible tension band” that attaches to fixed attachment points inside the headband. This new band seems like it will probably hold its shape better than the elastic style (if only because it’s not being stretched back on itself).
In addition to the flexible tension band, the headset has height-adjustable, rotating earcups on pivoting hangers — this rounds out the four points in what SteelSeries calls its “ComfortMAX” system. Marketing nicknames aside, the company has definitely done something right, because this is one of the most comfortable headsets I’ve ever worn.
The earcups are large with deep padding covered in premium-looking faux leather — they fit snugly around my ears and formed such a fantastic seal that, in the relative quiet of my home office, I was unable to tell whether I had ANC turned on. The left earcup houses most of the controls, including the power button, a microphone mute button, and the volume/control wheel, as well as the retractable microphone and a 3.5mm audio jack. The right earcup has the Bluetooth button.
In the box, the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless headset comes with a wireless base station, two USB-C (to USB-A) cables, a 3.5mm audio cable, a microphone pop filter, two rechargeable batteries, and a drawstring bag/carrying case.
Audio Performance of SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
The Arctis Nova Pro Wireless boasts 40mm custom drivers with a dual diaphragm design, a wireless frequency response of 10Hz to 22,000Hz, and a wired frequency response of 10Hz to 40,000Hz. Audio quality on the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is very good — spectacular for a gaming headset and excellent for a pair of lifestyle headphones. Is it on par with audiophile-grade gear, though? Not…quite, but that’s partly because of its wireless limitations.
The wired Arctis Nova Pro is just like the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless, except it’s, well, wired. It also comes with SteelSeries GameDAC Gen2 instead of a wireless base station. The GameDAC Gen2 acts as both a base station, where you can toggle between input sources and adjust EQ and other audio settings, and also as an ESS Sabre Quad-DAC, supplying the wired headset with a purer signal (with lower levels of noise/distortion), and boosting its audio resolution. In other words — the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is hi-fi capable, but you won’t get there without a wired connection and SteelSeries GameDAC Gen2. (Well, I suppose you could also use a different DAC. Still, it feels like SteelSeries could have bundled both the wired and wireless headsets with the GameDAC Gen2.)
The Arctis Nova Pro Wireless’ hi-fi capabilities aren’t overly important, especially when the headset produces excellent audio by most standards. The headset did especially well in my game testing, with detailed, multi-layered audio that quickly reminded me why I don’t play games like Alien: Isolation while wearing noise-canceling headphones. The headset's ANC has a couple of kinks to work out — it didn't perform nearly as well on the streets of DTLA as any of my headphones from Bose's QuietComfort line — but it did an excellent job of mimicking the terrifying vacuum of space in the relative quiet of my home office. In-game audio was impressively immersive, even without tweaking the EQ.
The headset also sounded very good as I played through my audio testing playlist, keeping with the more natural (and less bass-heavy) profile we’re used to seeing from SteelSeries’ Arctis line. It’s still a gaming headset and it’s not perfectly flat; the lower-mids got a little cramped in Lorde’s Royals, and the bass kick was slightly muddied in Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy. This isn’t really as much of a ding as it might sound like, though — I’m comparing these to my reference headphones, Sennheiser’s HD 800 S.
Microphone on SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
The Arctis Nova Pro Wireless has a fully-retractable bidirectional “ClearCast Gen 2” microphone, which features noise canceling and has a frequency response of 100 - 6,500Hz and a sensitivity of -38dBV/Pa.
The microphone’s performance is excellent: It picks up crisp, clear vocals and does a pretty good job of minimizing background noise. It doesn’t make you sound overly breathy, harsh, or nasal, and you also have the option of tweaking the mic’s EQ in the accompanying Sonar software. In my testing the mic was able to consistently filter out my aggressively clicky keyboard, but only managed to do the same with my erratically barking Pomeranian about 70% of the time.
The mic attaches to the headset with a thin, flexible wire that’s easy to pull out but can be a little tricky to push back in. The mic automatically mutes when it’s stowed; luckily there’s also a mute button on the left earcup so your teammates don’t have to hear you fumbling to put it away.
Features and Software of SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
The Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is made with multi-platform gamers in mind. The headset comes with a wireless base station, which can connect to two audio sources (such as a PC and a PS5) via dual USB-C ports. You can then use the base station as a “command center” to switch between sources and adjust EQ and other audio settings. The base station can be controlled from the base station (using the multi-function volume/scroll knob and touch button), or from the headset using the volume wheel.
The base station also has line-in and line-out ports, and doubles as a charging dock for the second battery — so you’ll always have a fully-charged backup battery easily accessible. The base station is not the same as the GameDAC Gen2, which comes with the wired Arctis Nova Pro.
SteelSeries’ Sonar Audio Software Suite officially supports the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless. Sonar is part of the SteelSeries GG software suite, and has been in Early Access mode since it debuted last year with the Arctis 7+ and Arctis 7P+. Sonar features a gamer-oriented parametric EQ with up to 10 frequency bands, virtual 7.1 surround sound/360-degree spatial audio, and separate EQ settings for game audio, team chat, and your microphone.
Sonar is pretty robust for gaming audio software, and I can definitely see it overwhelming the average user. The software does come loaded with presets for several popular titles — including Apex Legends, Dota 2, League of Legends, Fortnite, GTA V, Halo Infinite, Minecraft, etc. — but the list is hardly exhaustive. Given how much SteelSeries has talked this software up, I’d like to see more instruction on both the gaming side and the music/listening side.
Battery Life of SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
The Arctis Nova Pro retains the game-changing swappable battery system we’ve seen in a handful of previous SteelSeries headsets, including the Arctis Pro and the Siberia 800. The headset comes with two rechargeable batteries, each of which carries a 22-hour charge (18 hours if you’re also running Bluetooth). One battery powers the headset while the other charges in the base station — when the headset runs low, just pop off the magnetic speaker plate on the right earcup and swap the batteries.
This battery system is incredibly convenient, as it gives you essentially unlimited untethered uptime, so long as you’re near the base station. But what if you’re not near the base station? No problem — lift up the magnetic plate on the left earcup and you’ll find a convenient USB-C charging port.
SteelSeries’ Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is, according to the company, a brand-new product, built from the ground-up. But… it isn’t, not really — and that’s not a bad thing. The Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is more like the culmination of all the things that we love about the Arctis line — a commitment to high-quality audio; comfortable, customized fit; and a design that lets gamers game without blasting a rainbow of LEDs in every direction. With the addition of travel-friendly features such as ANC and a USB-C charging port, SteelSeries really does seem to be making a play for “the only headset you’ll ever need,” and… it’s working?
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless retails for $349, which is pretty steep for a gaming headset — but much more palatable if they’re also your go-to headphones. (The only situation I don’t see these faring well in is a sweaty workout, but that’s why we have Airpods.)