I own more than 15 pairs of headphones and gaming headsets that I use for various tasks. Some are designed for gaming, some are made for monitoring sound during a video edit, and some are for listening to music. It’s very rare for me to find a set of cans that I think can do two of those things well and downright mythical to find a pair that can do all three.
I may have found that unicorn. Ever since the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro headphones came across my desk, I haven’t felt the need to pick up any of my other headphones. While I have others that are just a little bit better for specific tasks, this headset gets me more than 90% of the way there more than 95% of the time. Their versatility is unmatched.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro – Photos
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro – Design and Build Quality
SteelSeries balanced the materials of the Arctis Nova Pro extremely well. The top of the headset features a lightweight metal plate above a plastic bottom that sits above the flexible fabric band that actually rests on the crown of your head. The two earpieces are also plastic except for the interchangeable metal speaker plates that allow you to customize the look of the cans.
The earcups that ship with the Nova Pros are a leatherette material around a soft, plush padding that fits my ears really, really well. They are removable and changeable if they are not to your tastes, however.
The result of these design decisions is a headset that feels robust in the hand but doesn’t weigh very much and in hours of gaming I never felt any kind of fatigue. These are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever tested.
All of the connections and on-headset controls are located on the left earcup. There you’ll find a mute button, volume dial, retractable boom microphone, and the 3.5mm headphone input port. The mute button is easy to find as is the volume dial, but you probably won’t be using that very much – more on that later.
One of my favorite design decisions of the Nova Pro is the retracting boom microphone. Most headphone manufacturers will give you the option to remove the boom mic if you’re not using it, but SteelSeries decided to let you just push it in and hide it inside the left earcup. I love this choice, because it doesn’t feel like these are a gaming headset as an afterthought, but made with the idea that someone will sit at their desk and use these for gaming, listening to music, or even working. It just feels like a tighter design and I really appreciate that.
The microphone pulls out and retracts with a smooth and easy motion. I would expect it to get misshapen or be a bit hard to put in sometimes, but it never is. On top of that, it’s very responsive to positioning when it is pulled out. It just works really well.
I mentioned that you probably won’t use the volume dial on the headset, and that’s because the Nova Pro ships with what the company calls a GameDAC. This command deck features a large dial that also has button functionality. Just to the left of the dial is a small touch-sensitive button that is used as a “back” command.
When you first fire up the GameDAC, it guides you through a quick tutorial that teaches you how to change settings and navigate the menu. Turning the dial from the standby position changes the volume, pressing the dial takes you into the menu where turning the dial right and left moves you through various options. The back button pulls you back one stage. These three total input options are all you need to change the various settings in the GameDAC.
There are a lot of options that are contained in the GameDAC. You can change the mic volume, headphone volume, how much of your own voice you hear through the microphone (called sidetone), and other audio options. While the SteelSeries software allows you to fully customize the equalizer (EQ), you also have that ability directly from the GameDAC for use on a Mac or a console where the software isn’t supported (at the time of publication, that software was only available for PC). While that does mean you have limited usability on Mac, that’s kind of par for the course for SteelSeries and the fact the EQ can be set from the GameDAC does a lot to remove some of that sting.
Perhaps the best feature of the GameDAC is that it allows you to connect to two audio sources at once and toggle between them. I’ve had it connected to a PC and my Playstation 5 as well as a Mac and the PS5 at the same time, and the ability to jump back and forth between them without having to fuss with any cables is an outstanding design decision. It means I’ll actually use this one set of cans for everything I do at my desk, which has gone a long way to making me feel like I can leave the rest of my headphones on their stands.
I should mention that you can use the Nova Pro without the GameDAC, but they definitely work better when paired with it. You can also use any other pair of 3.5mm wired headphones with the GameDAC should you choose.
The user interface, design, and functionality of the Nova Pro are above and beyond what I’ve expected out of a gaming headset to this point, but that wouldn’t mean much if they didn’t sound great. Fortunately, they sound fantastic.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro – Audio Quality
I demand a lot from a pair of headphones, which is why I own so many. Sometimes I want to have the option to get clear details, sometimes I need a great microphone, sometimes I need one to be very comfortable for long gaming sessions, and sometimes I want some quality “boom” when I’m listening to music.
Somehow, SteelSeries managed to pack all of those functions into one pair of headphones that may not be the best at any one thing, but is so darn good at everything that I don’t feel the need to use any other headphones anymore.
The Nova Pro is so good because of how much detail is retained in sound reproduction. You aren’t necessarily going to hear anything new in music or video game scenes, but everything is just a lot more discernible. Regardless of how you customize your EQ, that detail is never lost. These headphones are able to become what you want them to be without sacrificing anything.
Detail is really important for both music and video games, and in both cases the Nova Pros shine. Walking around The Tower in Destiny 2, I heard details in my footsteps and in the ambient sound that I recognized, but were given new life and importance because of how well they were reproduced. Shifting to the Trials of Osiris PvP mode, I never felt like I was surprised by an enemy’s actions and I could always hear exactly where something was happening on screen with beautifully reproduced audio queues. The world of Horizon Forbidden West is already incredibly immersive, but I was even more drawn in through the Nova Pros, giving me the feelike like I was standing right there next to Aloy as her feet padded over dust and sand or as her bow drew back and an arrow made contact with metal.
In music, that detail allows voices to be heard distinct from accompanying musical instruments and makes for a really enjoyable listening experience. Pop music, such as Taylor Swift or Dua Lipa, comes through clear yet robust, while the vocals, drums, guitar, and bass of the Foo Fighters can all be enjoyed individually as much as together.
It doesn’t matter where you set your volume, either. These are capable of getting very loud to whisper quiet, but the quality of the sound isn’t tied to the volume. If you want a nice quiet gaming session, you can have it without missing detail. If you wanna crank the dial up and jam out to some music, you won’t hear the headphones crack or the audio become muddy even at the highest volumes.
Out of the box, the Nova Pro is set to what SteelSeries calls a “flat” profile. That is to say, it doesn’t lean too hard on the lows, mids, and highs but rather has them all in alignment. This can all be changed to your personal tastes either through the GameDAC or the SteelSeries PC software.
The SteelSeries flat profile is good, and I would say it’s absolutely adequate for most use cases. It worked great for me in video editing, which is where I tend to use flat profiles the most. When I wanted to rock out, I pumped the bass up to really enjoy a nice deep boom. For gaming, I was somewhere in between.
I think other headphones that are designed to specifically be a flat profile will be overall better and more neutral, and a set of cans designed to deliver more bass will be boomier. But we are talking minimal improvement in both cases. Few people are trained to actually hear the difference and would care that there is one. The fact these can even be talked about in the same sentence as the V-Moda M-200, Audeze LCD-1, or the Ultrasone 880 – and they can and absolutely should – is a striking achievement for what are advertised and designed as gaming cans.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro – Software
The SteelSeries PC software is called Sonar, and it’s an audio suite that allows the headphones to support spatial audio and 360-degree surround sound in addition to access to other pre-set, game specific, EQ profiles. While the EQ options inside the GameDAC are great, the options in Sonar are far more powerful. EQ options can be fine-tuned, chat audio can be adjusted with precision, and options to make the microphone custom tailored to your needs can be accessed through Sonar’s audio mixing options.
Sonar comes pre-loaded with optimized profiles for specific games and they do sound distinctly different. Valorant, Counter Strike, Fortnite, and Destiny 2 are just a few of the options.
Sonar is also the only way to get access to the fine-tine controls of the Nova Pro’s ability to project spatial and 360-degree audio, so if you don’t plan to use these with a PC you will lose out on that functionality.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro – Microphone Quality
My expectations for a gaming headset microphone are pretty low. Basically, as long as my voice is clear, I’m happy. SteelSeries didn’t seem satisfied with that, because the microphone on the Nova Pro is so good, in testing I thought I forgot to switch inputs from my podcasting microphone to the mic on the headset.
Sure, side by side I can definitely hear the difference between my podcasting microphone and the Nova Pro, but the fact I even for a second wasn’t sure which input I was using should give you an idea of quality, and I think that it’s an incredible achievement to include a mic this good in a $250 gaming headset that already earns that price in sound quality alone.
A lot of boom microphones are too sensitive and pick up too much of the ambient environment. Not the Nova Pros. They are very directional and will lock into your voice and generally only capture that. You can adjust the sensitivity of the microphone digitally through the GameDAC (I have been hovering around seven out of 10 on the scale with my teammates) or you can move the boom microphone a bit; a little goes a long way with these.
While gaming, I also like being able to hear myself so I’m not unintentionally shouting in my office. The Nova Pro considers this as well, and during gaming it will pipe my voice back into the headphones (this is called sidetone) at a level of my choosing that can be set in the GameDAC. Not all headphones offer this and those that do rarely give you the ability to adjust how much of your voice you hear. The Nova Pro does both.
One of the few complaints I have with the Nova Pro is how it works with a PlayStation 5. Between sessions, even if I don’t change the input, the microphone volume seems to reset to something much quieter than what I’ve programmed. My friends will always complain that I sound like I’m whispering when I initially join a chat. Going into the GameDAC and just toggling the microphone volume up and back down seems to fix it, which is a bit annoying but at least there is a way to get around the issue. I imagine SteelSeries can provide a more permanent solution via a firmware update.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro – Versatility
I’ve already mentioned that these headphones can work for gaming, for listening to music, and for video editing, but they don’t stop there. The versatility of these headphones is based on the GameDAC, and SteelSeries also considered more usability options beyond just the ability to swap between two connected devices at the same time.
On the back of the GameDAC are two additional ports: one that lets you connect another audio input device via Line In, and another that lets you send audio sources somewhere else via Line Out.
Line Out has two options: speakers and stream. If you prefer to chat through the microphone but want to hear game audio through external speakers, you can do that. The stream option allows you to mix your main, aux, and mic audio together to send to a PC for streaming.