SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 review
Image: Chris Button.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 review: good value gaming headset

100% human
8.1

In a world cluttered with mid-range gaming headsets, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 emerges as a good-value contender. Its wide platform support and simplicity accompany the signature SteelSeries level of quality to good effect.

Without a doubt in my mind, SteelSeries is king when it comes to gaming peripherals. I still consider the Arctis Nova Pro one of the best headsets ever made. But where does that put the Nova 5?

Sitting smack-dab in the middle of the brand’s main range of gaming headsets, the Arctis Nova 5 is a reasonably-priced option that retains a decent suite of features. It’s not as effortlessly easy to connect between devices due to a litany of dongle attachments, but – most importantly – it sounds great.

For less than $300, this headset works with pretty much any modern gaming device. It’s more than what some pricier sets of headphones can claim, which already puts it ahead of the mid-range pack.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 review

First impressions

Even though I’ve labelled the Nova 5 as simple, it’s not quite as easy as turning it on and playing. To use its 2.4GHz wireless connectivity (the higher quality format), you need to use an included dongle. Depending on the version you get (my review unit was Xbox-specific), the dongle houses a switch to toggle between “Xbox” and “PC” modes, the latter of which is an umbrella term for any non-Xbox platform.

Simple, yeah? Well, the dongle is USB-C, so you need to use a USB-A adapter to plug into the likes of an Xbox or PlayStation. Fortunately, SteelSeries includes all the adapters you need in the box – plus cable extenders – but it adds up to a messy collection of cables and plugs to keep track of.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 inner
Image: Chris Button.

I don’t blame SteelSeries for this slightly convoluted cacophony of connectivity. Different platforms, like Xbox and PlayStation, use various proprietary wireless protocols, so any multi-platform peripheral is gonna have a tough time.

I also wasn’t jazzed about the idea of downloading yet another companion app to my phone. The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 uses a standalone app to control EQ settings and audio mixing. Despite my reservations, the app is a nifty, streamlined way of managing headset settings. It sure beats fiddling around with on-device controls.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 specifications

Drivers40mm Neodymium Magnetic Drivers
20–22,000 Hz frequency
360-degree Spatial Audio
MicrophoneClearCast Gen 2.X – Fully Retractable Boom
100-10,000 Hz @ 32kHz/16bit frequency
BatteryUp to 60 hours
Size265g
CompatibilityXbox Series X|S and Xbox One
PlayStation 5 and 4
PC
Mac
Nintendo Switch
Mobile
Connectivity2.4GHz wireless (via USB-C dongle)
Bluetooth
Price (RRP)$299
WarrantyOne year
Official websiteSteelSeries

Design

As far as gaming headsets go, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 err on the side of understated. You could comfortably get away with wearing them out in public without attracting bemused stares from passersby. The Xbox version features a snazzy green design on the inner headband – the only splash of colour on an otherwise subtle finish.

I was pleasantly surprised by the breathable fabric used by the earcups. Usually, I prefer a leatherette feel, likely due to experiences with cheaper headsets using uncomfortably scratchy materials.

Finding the right fit, an integral part of using any headphones, was tricky. You can slide the connection between the headband and the ears to extend or retract as needed, but I found it quite stiff to manipulate. The inner headband is also adjustable, albeit to three specific points, changing how much tension the headset applies to the top of your head.

Dongle in laptop
Here, the dongle blocks other ports on a laptop. Image: Chris Button.

I spent longer trying to get a comfortable fit with the SteelSeries Nova 5 than what felt necessary because of the slightly inflexible process. Once I finally secured a fit I was happy with, they’re a pretty comfy and lightweight set of headphones.

The included 2.4GHz dongle warrants a closer examination. It’s not overly bulky, but it is wide. This isn’t much of an issue when connected to a game console via one of the USB cable adapters. On PC, however, is a different story.

Whether plugged directly into a laptop, a desktop PC, or a docking station, the dongle blocks access to other ports. Yes, you can work around this by using one of the included cables, but this adds yet another item you need to carry with you or find storage space. At least you can swap to Bluetooth in a pinch.

On-device controls

In better news, I really liked the on-device controls. There’s a good combination of buttons and dials that offer just enough functionality without being overwhelming. On the left ear, you’ll find a mic mute button and a master volume wheel.

On-device controls.
Image: Chris Button.

It’s a little more crowded on the right ear, with a USB-C charging port, a mixer wheel, and two small buttons for power and connectivity modes. The inclusion of the mixer wheel is a good one, giving you quick control over game audio versus chat audio. Can’t hear your friends over the in-game action? Simply nudge the wheel to make the team chat louder and game audio quieter.

These on-device buttons also double as multimedia controls when connected to a phone. Various presses and double-presses can skip tracks and answer calls as needed. Each button is easy to find while wearing the headset, too.

Audio quality

Quirky design frustrations fade from view the minute you start gaming. The audio comes through clearly and with satisfying details. Most of my time testing the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 was spent between playing Fortnite on Xbox, and Hades 2 while reviewing the Dell XPS 14.

In Fortnite, I enjoyed good-quality directional audio, picking up the booms of distant explosions and the footsteps of nearby opponents. Did it help me play better? Not in the slightest. My aim remained lacklustre (at best), although I felt I had greater situational awareness while playing.

My teammates heard me loudly and clearly, with no one reporting any complaints about microphone quality. It’s worth noting that while the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 has a retractable mic, it doesn’t automatically mute. Instead, you need to press the mute button located on the left ear. I’d sometimes extend the mic to start a session and start talking, only to realise I was on mute – getting out of the flip-to-mute habit was tough to break.

While playing Hades 2, I was most impressed by the quality of Darren Korb’s soundtrack. Some gaming headsets can make music sound a bit muddy, which was certainly not the case here. In between the hectic hack-and-slash action, the music sounded just as good, especially the game’s moody basslines during quieter moments.

Companion app

For someone who enjoys good audio but doesn’t know much about EQ settings, the companion app excelled at its singular purpose. Instead of giving you a bunch of tools to figure out, it contains a big list of presets to choose from. There are generic settings like Flat and Bass Boost, alongside game-specific mixes for games like Fortnite and Baldur’s Gate 3.

For the most part, I stuck with the default EQ settings, but cycling through some of the options really does highlight the benefit of a good audio mix. For single-player games, you can afford to enjoy a more bass-heavy EQ option, replicating a cinematic experience. However, for competitive online games, you want a less cluttered mix so you can focus on smaller details like the movements of your opponents.

SteelSeries also includes a range of music and movie-specific EQ presets on the app, so you can quickly swap to the best settings for different types of media. Unnecessary companion apps are annoying, but this one genuinely unlocks the Arctis Nova 5’s versatility. Listening to music on a gaming preset doesn’t sound great, and you can actually hear the difference in real-time when selecting a music preset.

Powering the ability to make these real-time tweaks is the headset’s Bluetooth connection. You can listen to audio via the 2.4GHz dongle while using the app via Bluetooth. However, the catch is that you can’t use both connection types to listen to two different audio sources simultaneously. In other words, you can’t chat on the phone while gaming on an Xbox – taking a call stops the game audio coming through.

Who is the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 for?

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 ensures you enjoy good-quality audio, no matter your platform preference. Its dongle is occasionally a little awkward to use, which is a minor concession to get multi-platform connectivity from a sub-$300 wireless gaming headset.

SteelSeries has even provided a strong blueprint for a no-frills companion app experience. With plenty of premade EQ settings to choose from, choosing the right settings doesn’t require in-depth expertise.

Other than that, this is just a really nice headset, plain and simple.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5
Well-priced and accompanied by an actually useful companion app, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 is a good mid-range wireless gaming headset.
Features
8.5
Value for money
8.5
Performance
8.5
Ease of use
7.5
Design
7.5
Positives
Good sound quality
Wide platform compatibility
A genuinely useful companion app
Negatives
Relies on a slightly fiddly dongle for consoles
8.1