steelseries arctis nova 5 review

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 Wireless Review – One Mid-Range Headset To Rule Them All

"Do you guys not have phones?"

We’ve covered SteelSeries’ gaming headsets (and other gear) extensively here at Press Start, and for good reason. The company has made a name for itself over the past twenty years of making headsets, a journey which started with the very first gaming headset, the Siberia. In the time since, it’s continued to push fidelity and features further and further, resulting in sets like the current Arctis Pro Wireless being easily the best high-end gaming headset money can buy. But where has that left the more affordable end of the spectrum, or more specifically, the Arctis line’s mid-range gap? That’s where the Arctis Nova 5 Wireless comes in.

At an RRP of $299, the Nova 5 Wireless sits firmly in the centre of SteelSeries’ current gaming headset range, filling in the blanks between the Arctis Nova’s 1, 3 and 4, and the Arctis Nova 7 and Arctis Nova Pro. It is, for all intents and purposes, a slightly trimmed-down version of the Nova 7 Wireless with only minor concessions, and a couple of genuine advantages, at a saving of $100.

steelseries arctis nova 5 review

Taking the Nova 5 Wireless headset out of the box for the first time, it’s clear that the construction and overall design are closer to the Arctis Nova 1 and 3, though that’s far from a bad thing. The streamlined design of the cups and they way they attach to the band makes for a very understated and – dare I say – publicly-wearable look, and you’re still getting the same great comfort from the easily-adjustable arms and SteelSeries’ patented ski band to keep everything snug and secure without adding too much pressure. The band is made from ABS plastic with a heap of stretch to it, and the headset comes in at an overall weight of just 260g.

This means the whole thing is light without feeling flimsy, and the breathable fabric used for the cups is wonderful for anyone who wears glasses or heats up quickly. You’d be hard-pressed to find a headset better suited to long gaming sessions and I’m forever grateful it’s an area that SteelSeries doesn’t skimp on even as you go down the line in price point.

steelseries arctis nova 5 review

The Arctis Nova 5 is a breeze out of the box with everything you need for easy wireless connection. The version I reviewed is the Arctis Nova 5P which is marketed towards PlayStation users, including matching blue pattern in the band, but will work across PC, Switch and mobile as well. You’re supplied with the USB-C wireless dongle, of course, along with a charging cable and USB-C to USB-A dongle extender. It’s all completely plug-and-play so bunging the wireless adapter into the front of my PS5 had me up and running in an instant. And while you don’t get simultaneous 2.4Ghz and Bluetooth connectivity like you do in the Nova 7, you still get both connection types.

That’s just the beginning though, because the Arctis Nova 5 has a secret weapon that really sets it apart from every other current SteelSeries headset – a dedicated companion app with easy controls and over 100 equaliser presets designed for individual games or experiences, whether you want the most exciting mix for a massive single-player RPG like The Witcher 3 or you want fine-tuned audio in the most competitive multiplayer shooters tuned by actual esports pros.

steelseries arctis nova 5 review

The Arctis Nova 5 companion app is a first for SteelSeries and its console offerings, and although the company has long offered its headset users a huge amount of flexibility and control with the GG/Sonar app on PC, I’m ecstatic that it’s gone with such a simple and reliable user experience for this app. You get a quick look at connection and battery status along with the ability to select and save a preset to both the 2.4Ghz and Bluetooth connections individually, microphone gain and sidetone controls, an audio limiter, LED mute indicator brightness control and that’s it, all in one screen. It makes it super easy to just open the app when you boot a game, switch to a more appropriate preset on the fly and play on. You can absolutely still use Sonar when connected to a PC, but for the simplicity of the console experience the app is perfect.

And while some folks might miss the ability to listen to music or use a separate app for chat on their phone while also having game audio come through the headset, like you’re able to do with the Nova 7 and its dual simultaneous connectivity, for doing things like quickly pausing to taking a call via Bluetooth or just having a preset all ready to go for gaming on a separate device it’s still super handy. It’s also way smaller of a deal now that native Discord support is more prevalent on consoles and the old method of getting your mates in your ear via a separate device is much less necessary.

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steelseries arctis nova 5 review

Of course one of the most crucial things to consider about the Arctis Nova 5 Wireless is how it sounds, being a headset and all. Luckily, as expected from a set of SteelSeries cans, it sounds great. The Nova 5 has fantastic audio performance that handles a wide range of sounds quite well, which is bolstered by the fact that there are all of those specific game presets at your fingertips.

The first game I booted up to test them out on was Hi-Fi RUSH, which sounded pretty good by default but really came alive when using its dedicated preset with a richness that wasn’t muddled by too much low end or a soft centre like some other gaming sets tend to suffer from. Games like Immortals of Aveum and a few, more traditional, shooters sounded similarly good with their presets enabled, though it can get pretty crunchy when the mix becomes more complex, like during particularly hectic shootouts or large-scale battle scenes. Alan Wake 2’s preset wasn’t particularly to my liking, but you’re able to save new ones out of the SteelSeries GG software on PC so I quickly tweaked that and made my own.

steelseries arctis nova 5 review

Music sounds quite a bit better than I’d normally expect from a gaming headset, with the Nova 5 bringing out a lot of detail and nuance that’s often missing, but that crunchier tendency does rear its head again here and makes any song or genre with a busier mix feel a bit distorted. It’s great for artists like Cosmo Sheldrake who make wonderful use of negative space and inventive mixes, or the almost-sensual precision of Childish Gambino’s Atavista, but it really struggled with the cymbals in a lot of early Foxy Shazam tracks. If you’re looking for a headset that works well for gaming and as a set for listening on your morning commute via Bluetooth, this will still be a very decent choice.

While I will always opt for a dedicated, external mic when gaming or doing anything else if presented with the opportunity, that’s not overly realistic with console gaming and so I’ve always been a fan of the microphones on SteelSeries’ headsets, especially the Nova range. For starters, the fully-retractable design that has it nestled flush within the left cup when not in use helps it keep the sleek look, and actual quality has always been great.

The “ClearCast Gen 2.X” mic on the Nova 5 Wireless ups the ante with a new chipset supporting higher-bandwidth audio, and it’s a far sight better than just about anything in this category with shockingly crips and clear communication for a headset mic. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of the noise canceling provided by things like Discord or the Sonar software on PC as it picks up quite a bit otherwise, but it’s great overall.

Another nice advantage the Nova 5 Wireless has over similarly-priced wireless headsets, and even its big brothers the Nova 7 and Nova Pro Wireless, is a huge battery life rated at up to 50 hours on 2.4Ghz or up to 60 hours on Bluetooth. While I’m yet to rack up 50 hours of gaming with it, based on my usage so far (draining it about halfway) those numbers definitely seem accurate. Plus, you’ll get a whole 5-6 hours of gaming out of a 15-minute charge, so you’re never lost for long even if you do manage to suck it dry.

steelseries arctis nova 5 review
Conclusion
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5 Wireless is a killer mid-range headset that takes the best bits of the Arctis range and distills them into a more affordable bit of gear with its own distinct advantages, like an incredibly-handy companion app for console users and a stacked battery life. While the features it's missing but might mean the Nova 7 Wireless is still a better choice for some gamers, you'd struggle to find anything in this price point that comes close to the comfort, quality and simplicity of the Nova 5.
Positives
The same fantastic Arctis Nova design and comfort
Dedicated companion app elevates the experience across devices
Decent audio for all kinds of gaming and other media
Microphone is incredibly crisp
Huge battery life
Negatives
No simultaneous connectivity
Slightly crunchy sound in some situations