As we move into the next generation of video games, it’s worthwhile to invest in the way you experience your favourite titles. For its ticket price, the Arctis 9 — the latest in Steelseries‘ family of high-performance headsets — may just be the best bang for your buck when it comes to the auditory experience.
The Arctis 9 features a steel frame and a Ski Goggle headband for optimal fit, and Airweave ear cushions for comfort. A USB receiver connects it to your PC, PlayStation 4/5, or Switch for lossless 2.4GHz wireless DTS surround sound, or it can be used via Bluetooth. A retractable, Discord-certified boom mic rounds out the package.
After quickly adjusting the ski goggle headband to fit, I found that the Arctis 9 is probably the most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn. I have a large head (buying fitted baseball caps is almost impossible), but this one fit almost perfectly. That is, after I extended it to its maximum.
The company offers their SteelSeries Engine software as a free download, to maintain firmware and adjust equalizer settings. Having the software installed already for my mouse and keyboard, the Arctis 9 was immediately recognized and updated. I did have a little difficulty getting it to actually play audio at first; after some online troubleshooting I still had no luck, so I switched to a different device, and when I tried it again, everything clicked. Further firmware tinkering may be necessary on the company’s end, judging by some of the other firsthand accounts I saw online, but I’ve had no trouble plug-and-playing since that initial setup.
Once the sound was flowing, I was floored. I tested it with music first and heard the highs and lows of my favourite song with greater clarity than ever before. The lossless surround sound audio is truly high caliber. I plugged the adapter into my Switch and heard little crisp details I had never heard in Animal Crossing New Horizons before. I hopped over to the PlayStation 4 and felt completely immersed in the firefights of Destiny 2, appreciating the power of the weapon in my avatar’s hands and isolating where individual foes were with greater clarity.
The Arctis 9 produces, frankly, the best game audio I have encountered. I compared it in real-time to my two other headsets: Sony’s Gold PS4 headset, and an older model of the SteelSeries Siberia. Arctis’ sound surpasses the Siberia’s by a few levels, but I was shocked at how poor the Gold sounded by comparison, even with its game-tuned EQ levels. This had been my go-to headset for years but it now felt quiet and empty. I had overlooked its poor fit because of the sound quality, but that now seemed like an illusion.
By large, the Arctis 9 sounded superior to both headsets. There’s a robust quality to it, a depth and crispness that I haven’t heard before. Games are generally better with headphones, I find, but the impact with this headset was noticeably even stronger. This may owe partially to its volume range, or the fantastic noise isolation of its earcups.
Its simultaneous Bluetooth connection may be the real game-changer. The headset turns on when the power button is held for a few seconds; then, you can easily pair it to a second device with a quick press of the adjacent Bluetooth button. A ChatMix dial on the left ear allows you to balance the volume between game and Bluetooth audio. These multiple connections are handled seamlessly. It’s great to be able to chat with my teammates on Discord, answer a call, or listen to my favourite podcasts while playing a game, or even just hear when I get certain notifications when I’m otherwise focused. This is a mile beyond simply playing Spotify on your PS4 while in-game.
Like other headsets, the Arctis 9 starts to feel heavy on the scalp or ears after prolonged use; however, it remained pretty comfortable overall. The steel frame is light and less irritating than other bands, and we can all use a little reminder to take a break now and then. I wore it around the house while doing some chores, listening to music via Bluetooth, and could almost have forgotten it was there if not for the noise isolation.
Speaking of prolonged use, I did not have to recharge it once during my week of testing it in various applications. SteelSeries promises twenty hours of nonstop wireless usage, and I easily got that much out of the box, between playing games with and without dual wireless connection, streaming, using it on Zoom calls or to listen to music, or while editing podcasts.
If all else fails, you can use a male-to-male 3.5mm headphone cable (not included) to plug into a device and use the Arctis 9 without consuming battery life.
The ClearCast bidirectional microphone retracts into the left ear almost inconspicuously, if not for the red light on the mic itself. Its boom arc is sturdy, and the sound is as good as you would expect from a Discord-certified microphone.
Aside from the initial connectivity hiccup, I only encountered one other issue as I tested the Arctis 9 on various devices. There are two settings on the USB receiver: PC or PlayStation. The instructions say to use the latter for Switch, but mine would only work if it was set to PC.
I also didn’t notice much difference when tweaking EQ levels in the SteelSeries Engine, and I found it using Live Preview to play my own mic audio back to me when I’d turned that feature off. The wireless receiver is a bit bulkier than a basic dongle, making it less convenient when working from a laptop. Its right-angle USB cable is either convenient or a hindrance, depending on your devices and setup. But these were really the only complaints and complications I had — pretty small ones, at that.
At the end of the day, I highly recommend the SteelSeries Arctis 9 or, by extension, the other Arctis headsets, like its console specific counterparts, the Arctis 9P and 9X for next-gen consoles. The 9 is compatible with the PlayStation 5 and its 3D Audio, and it’s dissuaded me from buying Sony’s own Pulse headset someday.
I had questioned if this headset would justify its price tag and live up to my already high expectations for the SteelSeries brand. It do so in spades, loud and clear.