Arctis Nova 5 Promo art

Gadget Review: SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5

I might the only critic on the planet that tested this by listening to Pseudo Echo for 60 hours straight to run the battery down. Send me an angel.

9 mins read

SteelSeries has nailed it with the Arctis Nova 5 wireless headset. Totally nailed it. This nominal gaming headset is really a completely versatile headset that works every bit as well for watching films or tuning out to music. It’s also priced perfectly for the mid-range (about $Aus300 in most places), light as a feather, exceptional on the battery life, and impressively fully featured.

This is the best $300 that you could spend on sound equipment, no joke.

So, to dig into this further: The Arctis Nova 5 comes equipped with both a dongle for a 2.4 GHz connection to anything that you can stick the USB 3.0 into (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, ROG Ally), and Bluetooth, for everything that you can’t (iPhone, Android consoles, ROG Ally with the power pack plugged in so it lasts for longer than 30 minutes). Naturally, you’ll want the faster and lower latency 2.4 GHz connection when you’re playing games, but for listening to music on the train, watching movies on the plane, or just generally keeping those headphones glued to your head, having the Bluetooth option is very much appreciated (and something that I insist is essential in headsets).

Arctis Nova 5 photo

But the benefits of that Bluetooth connection don’t stop there. One of the neatest features of the Nova 5 is that it comes with an app for both iOS and Android. Download this little thing and you can see at a glance what the battery life is left (and be amazed at how slowly it ticks down), and mess around with a few features. You can adjust the Sidetone with a quick slide of the finger, for example, which affects how much ambient noise the headsets let it – useful if you’re interested in tuning in and out to what’s going on around you.

More importantly, perhaps, is that you can instantly switch between 100 EQ profiles for different games, with the headset instantly adjusting to the optimal settings for that particular game. Sadly this feature hasn’t really been designed with someone like me in mind: it’s not like the folks at SteelSeries would even know that half the games I play even existed, and no there isn’t a setting for the Quintessential Quintuplets there.

However, even here there’s a far greater acknowledgement that perhaps some people do like using headsets for more than the rat-a-tat-tat of happy fun war crimes in Call of Duty. There are plenty of settings for movies, depending on whether you’re watching something from Michael Bay or something intelligent enough that you want to actually hear the dialogue. The same goes for music too, so, in a few months when you buy the limited edition of my visual novel with the CD soundtrack filled with ballroom dancing music, you’ll have the perfect headset to drop over your ears and get into the groove with.

A photo of Arctis Nova 5

The fact that all of this is just effortless to actually use is the greatest feature. No messing around with apps that look like they were designed for game developers, rather than gamers, or even normal people. It’s an accessible, minimalist, elegant app with plenty of power.

The headset is a delight to actually wear, too. It feels weightless, the ear cups are large and the foam is soft. There’s no ugly branding screaming “GAMER” if you want to dash down to the shops for some beers and chips but are also enjoying the music too much to want to stop. I assure you, there’s nothing worse than announcing to the world that you’re a gamer because you’re at the checkout with a frozen pizza and your headset is big, green, and has a microphone shoved directly in front of your mouth. The Nova 5 is discrete, low-profile, slick, and the mic tucks away when you’re not using it. You’ll look as cool as you’ll ever look, even if you’re secretly listening to Taylor Swift (and still holding that frozen pizza).

In terms of sound quality, the great irony of the Nova 5 is that for a gaming headset, it tends to perform at its weakest with games. With films and music, the customisability of the EQ settings makes it very easy to shift between tracks that are there to be felt (be that heavy bass or because you’re in the mood for a disco party), and tracks that are there to be heard (i.e. the singer is actually good at their job).

Arctis Nova 5 review photo

The same goes for film. It works just as well if you’re watching Lord of the Rings, with its breathtaking soundscape, Avengers, with its big action, and Barbarella, with its… well, you all know why I watch that film. It works for them all. The EQ settings come to the rescue here too with the profiles being well-tailored for everything from the talky to the punchy.

What the Nova 5 likes less is when it’s being fed too much information. Games have noises coming in from multiple directions in ways that aren’t carefully coordinated. There are footsteps to track, a soundtrack in the background, mates on the mic and more. Ever so slightly the headset tends to interpret all of this information as combative and the balance isn’t quite as nice into the ears as I would have liked. I found that with games it was better to turn the headset down a little.

On the other hand, rather than playing Final Fantasy XIV, you can just load the soundtrack up, close your eyes and have a snooze while that masterpiece of musical scoring wraps you in a warm blanket. That’s just as enjoyable as actually playing the thing, and the headset kicks right back into gear there.

Arctis Nova 5 reviews photo

I’m being slightly hyperbolic here – video games don’t sound bad through the Nova 5 by any means. It’s just that if you want to pull out a difference between a really high-end headset, and this one, that’s it. You’re still getting sound quality that’s better than a cheap headset. You’re still going to be able to enjoy the artistry that went into both sound design and music. You’re just not getting a $600 headset for $300. Because we live in a capitalist world and things don’t work that way.

The Arctis Nova 5 is my new favourite headset. It’s a genuinely all-day headset that works with all my devices, is easy to manage and tune to what I like watching, listening, and playing, and it’s the most comfortable and versatile way of giving myself tinnitus that I’ve come across yet.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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