SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 Review But, the real secret sauce is its Sonar software enhancements which take the audio quality to another level
The latest trend in gaming headsets seems to be simultaneous Bluetooth audio, allowing you to listen to your game audio while also streaming audio from your phone at the same time. SteelSeries has not only added this feature to its latest Arctis Nova 7 headset, but also reimagined what was already one of our favorite gaming headsets by improving the battery life, simplifying the design, and pairing it with a comprehensive audio software suite on PC that truly unlocks a new level of sound you’ve never heard before.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 – Photos
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 – Design and Features
Aside from its tried-and-true sound quality and design overhaul, the marquee feature of the Arctis Nova 7 is undoubtedly the simultaneous Bluetooth audio. Pairing wireless 2.4GHz game audio with a low-power Bluetooth 5.0 radio is the feature I never knew I needed – and it seriously is a game-changer. Not only can you consolidate all of your audio needs into a single headset, it allows for much-needed cross-platform party chat through services like Discord across PlayStation, Xbox, and PC with relative ease.
In addition to the Bluetooth capabilities, as seen with the recent Arctis Nova Pro Wireless, the entire Arctis line of headsets have been redesigned to feature a slightly smaller form factor and decrease the overall weight by 14% when compared to last year’s Arctis 7+ line.
The build quality is still fantastic – from the sturdy steel headband to the stretchy band that lets the headset literally float on top of your head during use. This time around, though, SteelSeries has also made the entire headset height-adjustable to ensure a more universal fit for just about everyone. I do miss the Ski Goggle headband that was used in the previous generation headsets, as the updated band isn’t quite as comfortable or bouncy. That being said, the headset is still incredibly lightweight, and the memory foam AirWeave ear cushions still provide comfort and breathability for long gaming sessions.
SteelSeries also increased the battery life even further to 38 hours of playtime (up from 30 hours in the Arctis 7+), allowing you to game for a day and a half without worrying about a charge. Even while utilizing simultaneous Bluetooth audio, you’ll still get a whopping 26 hours of combined audio playback. And, when you finally do need to charge, plugging it in for 15 minutes will get you six hours of playback thanks to the USB-C quick charging capabilities.
The external controls have been streamlined a bit. On the outside of the left earcup you’ll find the volume dial, mute button, 3.5mm auxiliary port, and the fully retractable ClearCast Gen 2 noise-canceling microphone. On the opposite side of the headset is the power button, Bluetooth button for pairing and playback control, ChatMix dial, and the USB-C charging port on the bottom. The exterior of the earcups also feature interchangeable magnetic speaker plates for added customization.
As far as compatibility goes, the 2.4GHz wireless connection of the Arctis Nova 7 uses a USB-C dongle to connect with PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Android, and USB-C iPads with up to a 40-foot range. The Bluetooth side of things works with any Bluetooth-enabled device, of course.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 – Software
While the Arctis Nova 7 works just fine out of the box with PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and others, you can really customize the audio with the SteelSeries GG app on PC. The standout feature of this app is Sonar, a Parametric EQ dashboard that enables 360-degree spatial audio and allows you to dial-in your preferred audio settings on a game-by-game basis. If this all sounds too overwhelming, you can easily take advantage of more than 20 presets for specific games that automatically tailor the soundstage with the push of a button.
I was pleased to find that many games actually had the audio settings customized by the developers, meaning you’re actually hearing the game audio as intended. One such example was the Destiny 2 preset which was created by Bungie’s sound designers to highlight the unique sounds heard throughout the solar system. This delivered an unparalleled audio experience that allowed me to hear things I had not heard in my more than 1,000 hours spent in the game. I was seriously impressed.
Sonar also allows you to adjust your microphone settings from a similarly granular level, as well as enable vocal presets that help to ensure you sound great while chatting with your teammates. Additionally, you can tailor the incoming chat settings from your friends while using apps such as Discord. One interesting feature I discovered was an AI noise reduction toggle which – as if by magic – eliminated distracting background audio like fans and clicky keyboards from my friends’ chat audio in an instant.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 – Gaming
I tested the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 with both my PS5 and PC, and was pleased with the results from both. The updated Nova Acoustic System really shines out of the box with PS5 as it supports PlayStation’s Tempest 3D audio for many popular games such as Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls, and more. While I’m bummed that the list doesn’t include many recent games, I did sit down and take Returnal for a spin, as it’s one of my favorite games for testing audio thanks to the incredible ambient sounds and killer soundtrack.
Stepping back out of the ship onto the surface of Atropos feels a bit like coming home, with the calming sound of the rain enveloping me and instantly putting me at ease. Well, until I step through that first door and get attacked by aliens. That being said, the spatial audio featured in Returnal sounds nothing short of amazing when wearing the Arctis Nova 7. The highs came through loud and clear, while the rumbling bass from the soundtrack swept across the rear of the headset without even a smidge of distortion. All the while, I could easily locate enemies rustling through the bushes nearby with pinpoint accuracy, and hear the faint ambient sounds of the planet in the distance at the same time.
I took the opportunity to test out the simultaneous Bluetooth audio while playing on PS5, as well. The Bluetooth pairing process was a breeze, and within moments I had a podcast playing while I weaved my way through alien attacks. My only gripe is that there’s no easy way to adjust the mix between the two simultaneous audio streams. I could either go into the PS5 quick settings to turn down the game audio, or turn down my phone’s audio, but both felt a bit clunky. It would’ve been nice to repurpose the ChatMix dial when two audio sources were playing to easily control the audio mix in the moment, instead of only having it tied to the console.
At one point I did get a phone call, and to my surprise, the game audio automatically lowered when I picked up and began speaking. This was also the case when popping into a Discord call, so it’s nice to see some consideration was given for chatting, but the lack of some sort of hardware dial feels like a miss. Hopefully this gets addressed in a future firmware update, or possibly on the next revision of the headset, as it would make the simultaneous audio experience significantly better.
That being said, the ability to take phone calls while still enjoying game audio, chat with friends on Discord across multiple systems, or even just listening to music, a podcast, or an audiobook while gaming is something that can’t be understated. This is especially prevalent on systems like Nintendo Switch that don’t have any built-in support for music apps like Spotify or Apple Music.
No headset review is complete in my eyes until I play through a bit of Destiny 2 on PC. While the Arctis Nova 7 supports both Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic spatial audio, I opted to test it out with SteelSeries Sonar, as it seemed the most appropriate. And let me tell you, enabling the 360-degree spatial audio features and messing with the Parametric EQ settings in Sonar took my experience to a whole new level. I felt as though I was experiencing something akin to the moment I laid my eyes on a DVD after growing up watching VHS tapes. I spent my time wandering the Jovian moon of Europa, complete with snowy winds howling and the sounds of distant enemy fire. Even with so many layers of audio coming through, I was able to discern exactly where everything was happening, and pick up on the smallest of details. If you’re using this headset with a PC, you owe it to yourself to utilize Sonar – or you’re simply just missing out.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Matthew Adler