Steelseries Arctis Nova 5 Wireless Headset Review

As one of the most high-profile gaming peripheral companies, SteelSeries gained a lot of its notoriety through an impressive lineup of audio gear, several of which have ended up in our best gaming headsets lists. My old entry-level Siberia V1 put SteelSeries on the map for me years ago, so even as the company has staked its claim in high-end headsetsI’ve been more intrigued by its more affordable options. Its recent roster of Arctis Nova headsets had been missing a true mid-range offering, however, and that’s where the new Arctis Nova 5 fits in.

It takes on a similar design ethos to provide the comfort and aesthetics the Arctis Nova lineup is known for, and the feature set gives this particular model a level of versatility rarely seen at its price range. So, it’s unfortunate that the Arctis Nova 5 comes up a bit short in a few crucial ways, especially when it comes to things like sizing/fit and overall sound quality relative to its contemporaries. It’s a case of having a few too many flaws that makes it a tough recommendation among the bevy of headphones and headsets available today.

Arctis Nova 5 – Design and Comfort

Starting with comfort, the Arctis Nova 5 has plushy padding with a mesh upholstery that lets the earcups rest softly around your ear. It’s not quite as easy on the skin as headsets that use either a velour or leather finish on the padding, but I find the extra breathability a worthy trade-off. And thanks to the headband’s flexibility and relative looseness, the headset doesn’t clamp hard on my head, which I’m thankful for when it comes to longer gaming sessions of two to three hours.

However, there’s a problem in this department for those with bigger heads or more voluminous hair (I’m not sure which is the true culprit in my case) – the Arctis Nova 5 may simply not fit around your ears since the headband itself is short in length. Like other Arctis headsets, the Nova 5’s headband does not extend and instead features a stretchy inner strap to make sure the headset fits, akin to a band for ski goggles. While this design has worked for the most part on other SteelSeries products, the Arctis Nova 5 headband was just too short for me and never quite fit correctly around my ears, as the bottom of the earcups would have to rest on my earlobe. You can adjust the inner strap with the notches inside the headset, like a snapback hat, but I had to remove the strap altogether to get a manageable fit. For other headsets, I generally extend them a little bit past the midpoint to get them to fit right, so it’s baffling that the Arctis Nova 5 is just so small.

Otherwise, this headset has a sleek, low-profile design that avoids gaudy branding (which gaming peripherals have generally shied away from in recent years). The earcups themselves don’t protrude out very much, so using it as a pair of headphones for listening to music when you’re out and about won’t be an issue, and resting them around your neck is easy since the earcups swivel inward. As previously mentioned, the Arctis Nova 5 fits fairly loosely, so take note that it’s not ideal for any semi-rigorous activity.

The Arctis Nova 5’s 2.4GHz USB-C receiver blocks the front USB-A port on the PS5.

There’s another curious design decision worth mentioning: the 2.4GHz receiver. It’s a T-shaped USB-C dongle that gets in the way of nearby ports, and in several cases this was a minor inconvenience. On PC, the dongle blocked one USB-A port and the onboard HDMI input – the former can be worked around the latter is a non-issue, but depending on how your USB-C inputs are situated, this could create problems. What’s actually egregious is that the dongle blocks the USB-A port on the front of the PlayStation 5. Given that this is where the only USB-C port on the PS5 is, it seems like a big oversight that every other manufacturer has been able to account for. A solution is to use the USB-A to USB-C extension cord packed with the Arctis Nova 5 to connect the 2.4GHz receiver, granted this adds a cable to your setup.

Arctis Nova 5 – Software, Utility, Battery Life

SteelSeries put out a new app alongside the release of the Arctis Nova 5, and it’s one of the easiest and most straightforward apps to accompany a piece of gaming hardware that I’ve used. This is based on the beta branch of the software via Testflight on iOS, and it was a smooth experience. The Nova 5 mobile app cuts out much of the fluff we’ve come to expect from companion apps and software, allowing you to conveniently monitor battery life, swap EQ presets for both 2.4GHz wireless and Bluetooth modes separately, and control microphone volume and sidetone. (Sidetone amplifies outside noise in case you need to be aware of your surroundings much like an ambient mode to offset the fact that headsets like these have tight sound isolation – this also gives you feedback of your own voice which is a great perk if you want to hear your own voice through the headset.)

A look at the various options available in the Arctis Nova 5 mobile app.

Battery life is rated to be up to 60 hours from a full charge (depending on conditions and features used), and I’d say that’s largely accurate. I used my unit for roughly 25+ hours over the course of two days, swapping between 2.4GHz for gaming and Bluetooth for music on my phone and the headset was at 57% capacity at the end of testing. This is remarkably better than the Arctis Nova 5’s contemporaries, making it a clear winner in this specific department.

In order to use the app, the headset must be connected to your mobile device through Bluetooth, but thankfully, you do not need the headset to stay in Bluetooth mode in order to control its in-app settings. You can swap between that and 2.4GHz wireless easily with the button on the back of the right earcup. Despite being able to connect to both modes simultaneously, the Arctis Nova 5 is only able to receive audio from one source at a time – this means you won’t be able to use Discord on your phone while receiving audio from your gaming platform at the same time, for example. It’s not as big of a deal as it used to be with the improved integration of Discord on consoles, though.

The major feature here is the extensive roster of more than 100 EQ presets, most of which are tuned for certain games. SteelSeries states that these are created by its audio engineers, sometimes incorporating developers’ feedback, in order to accurately emphasize the audio characteristics specific to the game, whether it be for clearer voices/dialogue or bolder tones for more action-oriented experiences. From RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Final Fantasy XIV to competitive shooters like Counter-Strike 2 and Call of Duty: Warzonethese presets can sometimes have a significant effect, several of which have largely improved the audio experience in the games I tested.

Arctis Nova 5 – Sound Quality and Microphone

It goes without saying that sound quality is paramount for a headset, but several things go into how that’s determined, such as how it handles different frequencies, positional audio, soundstage, and other factors. I put the Arctis Nova 5 through its paces playing competitive rounds of Counter-Strike 2, raiding in Final Fantasy XIV, a few sessions of Helldivers 2 on PS5, and listening to various genres of music in my Spotify rotation.

Hearing enemy footsteps is fundamental in Counter-Strike 2 since it lets you anticipate where they’re coming from and how close they are before even seeing them, and a good gaming headset is able to sonically distinguish the direction and distance of these sound effects. In the three competitive matches I played in CS2, the Arctis Nova 5 really shined when it came to positional audio, and had me feeling like I was at a genuine advantage. There were instances in which I was confident enough to pre-fire around corners as I was able to pinpoint when enemies would be exposed, and that’s thanks to the Nova 5’s capabilities. I may not have been top-fragging, but that’s a skill issue.

With regards to CS2 and shooters in general with loud weapons, gunfire was harsh at higher volumes and grating with rapid fire guns, which speaks to where the Nova 5 is lacking: Outputting clear audio at various frequencies and providing clarity when things get busy. This was most noticeable with my time in Final Fantasy XIV, a game notorious for grand moments and momentous battles that get sonically chaotic. Between the booming soundtrack, a bombardment of sound effects firing off from attacks and spells, and occasional voice lines in the midst of it all, raiding in FFXIV showed the limitations of the headset. Audio quality was solid at medium volumes and clean bass supported the background music well, but the crackling sound effects of my attacks, which are constantly going off, started to fatigue my ears at louder settings. There are instances in FFXIV in which you definitely want to crank up the volume, but there are other headsets that can properly sort through all those sound effects more gracefully.

It’s a case of having a few too many flaws that makes it a tough recommendation among the bevy of headphones and headsets available today.

Solely listening to music was generally better, especially with the bass-centric EQ presets that created a “fuller” sound for my favorite hip-hop, rock, and J-pop tracks. And the vocal-focused preset worked well for making podcasts not sound drowned out. These presets definitely helped balance each type of audio experience, and turned out to be very beneficial for emphasizing their more important aspects when compared to the default “Flat” preset. However, EQ tuning can only mitigate the limitations of the Arctis Nova 5’s overall sound quality as its shortcomings with mids and highs became more apparent at louder volumes.

Playing some Helldivers 2 on PS5, the sound quality reflected the aforementioned experiences I had in other games, but communicating with friends in-game highlighted the microphone quality. Communication came through loud and clear without the low-quality muffle that tends to accompany built-in microphones. I also tested overall clarity by recording a vocal track in Audacity and it showed to be one of the better mics on a gaming headset. Noise canceling on the mic is also great as Discord didn’t pick up on chewing, drinking, or ambient sounds even with the mic in my face.


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