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For a long time, I was sort of forced out of being a SteelSeries user. I'd purchased its long-time flagship headset, the Arctis Pro Wireless, and immediately fell in love with the sound quality and hot-swappable battery packs that gave it nearly infinite battery life. Unfortunately, I quickly came to the sad realization that it just didn't fit me. The "ski goggle" headband, even when extended as far as possible, couldn't wrap around my ample dome without causing pain and pressure. Nearly every model used an almost identical headband, leaving me out in the cold for several years.
So, it was with some trepidation, and a glimmer of hope, that I approached the opportunity to review the Arctis Nova 7 Wireless headset. Here, finally, was a completely redesigned headband system. It still used an elastic suspension band. But, it also had additional adjustments that let the headband accommodate much larger wearers than its predecessors. The first time I nestled the Arctis Nova 7 Wireless on my head, I'm pretty sure the Hallelujah Chorus started playing. Not only did it fit, but it did so with room to spare. I have to imagine I'm not the only big-headed individual that's been waiting for this moment.
Of course, none of this mattered if the functionality and sound quality of the headset didn't also live up to the new and improved fit. So, whether you've got a tiny noggin or a giant coconut, let's take a look at what turned out to be a uniquely capable, streamlined, and surprisingly bassy entry into the gaming headset market.
|Form factor||Wireless over-ear headphones|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, 2.4GHz wireless, 3.5mm analogue|
|Microphone||"AI-based" noise-cancelling, roll-away microphone|
|Compatibility||Windows, Mac, PlayStation, Switch, Android|
|Battery life||38 hours (2.4GHz only) or 26 hours (simultaneous 2.4GHz and Bluetooth)|
|Weight||325g (11.5 oz)|
|Connectivity||3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C, Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, 5G mmWave/Sub-6|
|Chat mix controls||on-device mixing dial|
As mentioned above, the Arctis Nova 7 pulls from its ancestor's bag of tricks and brings back an internal elastic band that sits on your head. Meanwhile, a more rigid, though still somewhat flexible, outer band does the work of applying gentle clamping pressure to keep the earcups in place. This suspension system, in theory, should make sure all parts touching your scalp and ears are soft, padded, and stretchy.
In actual practice, earlier Arctis headsets could be painful if you exceeded the usable size range and had the bare metal outer headband resting on your skull. Thankfully, that issue has been completely corrected with two changes.
More: The best gaming headsets: Immersive sound for an extra edge
First, the elastic band itself has been improved. Rather than a bare elastic strap, which really did look like it came from a pair of ski goggles, SteelSeries has instead opted for stretchy, fused neoprene-type material. This provides a silky surface that won't grab your hair, and I found it to be more resistant to sweat and hair oils than the previous elastic band was. The push-on adjustment system it now uses is also superior to the previous hook-and-look adjustments, though it provides a smaller range of sizes specific.
However, that narrower adjustment to the elastic strap is more than made up for by the new adjustable earcups. Like most over-ear headsets, the Arctis Nova 7 now sports earcups that can be pulled out from the headband. Each can drop about 1.5 inches. With the elastic band's adjustment taken into account, this provides a massive range of sizing options that more than matched some of the most generous headphones I've ever worn.
This is great news because it lets the overall comfort of the headset shine. It feels lightweight when worn, thanks to the judicious use of metals and plastics to provide a great balance of sturdiness and weight reduction. The breathable fabric that SteelSeries chose for the earcups also provides cushy comfort, as does the foam padding behind it. It doesn't induce any heat or undue sweating either, despite being a closed-back headset.
More: Corsair HS65 Surround review: A lightweight, dependable gaming headset
If you were hoping this closed-back nature provided perfect sound isolation, you might be disappointed. I found some louder outside sounds did leak in with ease, and some louder internal sounds were audible to my nearby family members. That said, it is one of the better fabric-based earcups I've used for sound isolation overall.
Something like a leatherette material would provide better sound blocking, but anyone that's used earcups with material like that for an extended period can attest to the sweaty tradeoff you make for that sound blocking. In this case, I think SteelSeries made the right choice for its material in this case.
Another area where SteelSeries made wise decisions was its on-device interfaces. The headset includes a USB-C port for charging and a 3.5mm port for wired audio use with just about any device (including Xbox consoles). The latter means the Arctis Nova 7 will be usable under pretty much any circumstance, be it wired or wireless.
Controls are located adjacent to these ports and include a volume dial and both power and Bluetooth connectivity buttons on the right earcup and a chat mix dial and mic mute button on the left earcup. This dial allows you to mix the volumes of the in-game audio (music, sound effects, etc.) with voice chat to find the right balance of both. The mic mute button actuates a red light on the final occupant of the left earcup: the roll-out microphone.
The mic curls up into the earcup discretely when not in use, and extends long enough to nearly sit in front of your mouth when you need it. It does sometimes need a little assistance when rolling back up due to how flexible it is, but I found it one of the best implementations of this style of roll-up mic I've tested.
More: Best microphones for streaming: From Twitch to podcasts
There is one quirk to the microphone, however. Completely rolling it up does not mute it. Unlike many other headsets that automatically mute voice input when their mic is folded or rolled away, you'll still need to use the separate mic mute button to do that here. Since the indicator light is hidden from you when it's rolled up, and the red indicator on the button itself is obviously not visible while worn, this could lead to some unfortunate circumstances where you might think your mic is muted, but it's just rolled away, still listening in. Something to be aware of, for sure.
SteelSeries was among the first gaming headset makers to begin integrating dual 2.4GHz and Bluetooth connectivity in this same headset. In this case, that 2.4GHz connectivity is achieved via what's quickly becoming the standard for many manufacturers' wireless headsets, a USB-C dongle.
I have mixed feelings about this. I've mentioned in the past that these USB-C dongles that extend outward to the side can often interfere with other ports or with your PC case itself. Razer attempted to deal with this by making their Barracuda Pro dongle L-shaped to ensure at least one side wouldn't be blocking anything, but I found that solution to be a mixed bag in my review.
More: Razer Barracuda Pro review
There is, thankfully, an included USB-A to USB-C extender that renders this somewhat less of an issue. But, this does add more, potentially unnecessary, cable to your setup that you might not have otherwise needed. USB-C has a massive amount of potential in the right applications, but I'm just not sold on how useful it is as a wireless dongle interface, at least not yet.
In addition to the 2.4GHz connection, you can utilize the built-in Bluetooth radio to connect your Arctis Nova 7 to your smartphone, other PC, consoles, or just about anything else that uses the ubiquitous audio protocol. You can also maintain both connections at once, allowing you to listen to two audio sources simultaneously or, more practically, hear incoming mobile notifications while listening to the 2.4GHz audio stream. Both connections can be powered on and off independently as well.
If you can't use any wireless connectivity, SteelSeries' decision to include a 3.5mm connection will prove a godsend. This will also open up the possibility of using this one headset with any console, including the Xbox family, even if that console isn't supported via a wireless connection. I also appreciate that SteelSeries chose to angle the 3.5mm connector that plugs into the headset to prevent annoying interference with your shoulder. Far more expensive headset/headphone models have forgotten this simple touch.
As mentioned above, the Arctis Nova 7 headset uses USB-C for charging. This allows for 6 hours of use on a 15-minute charge to help you quickly get back to your game. Or, if you need a mid-match top-up, you can also connect the charging cable while still maintaining all of your existing wireless connections for audio.
SteelSeries estimates the headset's battery life at 38 hours when exclusively using 2.4GHz and 26 hours when using both 2.4GHz and Bluetooth connectivity. I found this to be accurate within the usual margin of error for varied volume levels, signal strength, and the like.
Of course, this battery duration pales in comparison to the 200-300 hours most reviewers, including our own Taylor Clemons, found HyperX's Cloud Alpha Wireless headset to last. But, to be fair, that headset lacks Bluetooth connectivity and has a somewhat more simplistic feature set in many ways.
More: HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless review: Solid, no-nonsense audio for gaming, music, and more
Still, there are other models that sport essentially the same set of features that managed to push their duration figures into 40 hours plus, so it's definitely something to consider if you're the kind of gamer that seriously hates needing to remember to charge things.
Anyone that knows anything about audio will tell you there's no such thing as "good" sound. There's a case to be made for the existence of "bad" sound, but when it comes to the concept of a piece of audio kit that's good for every single application… it just doesn't exist.
Instead, what you want is an audio solution that's tuned for the specific use case you intend to put it to. For gaming headsets, this means striking a balance between the crystalline sharp highs that let you pick out the precise location of enemy footsteps among constant explosions, and the deep, boomy bass that gives those same explosions their lifelike quality.
SteelSeries definitely appears to have prioritized the latter above the former, at least when using the out-of-the-box settings. This doesn't mean that footsteps and other higher-pitched sounds are muffled or veiled, but they aren't prioritized the way they are on some other headsets I've tested in the past. The Razer Blackshark V2 Pro, for instance, lands on the opposite side of the spectrum. They sometimes felt a bit anemic in bassier moments, but let you pick out footsteps and smaller sound cues with ease.
More: Razer Blackshark V2 Pro headset review: A potent weapon for the right gamer
The priority here relates to the games you play most. If you prefer single-player titles with soaring orchestral scores, or fighting games with pounding, hip-hop-heavy backing tracks, the bass provided by the Arctis Nova 7 will be your best friend. But, if you're more into ultra-competitive shooters where you'll hold a corner for 10 minutes just waiting for an approaching enemy footfall, you might just miss that footstep if a grenade goes off right at the same time.
Thankfully, this minor deficit for some players can be largely eliminated in SteelSeries GG software. While I still find the software more overly complex and bloated (as mentioned in my review of SteelSeries' Aerox 5 wireless mouse) than I'd ideally like, the controls for the Arctis Nova 7 itself were easy to use and straightforward. This includes a 10-slider equalizer to prioritize whatever frequency range you prefer, as well as some presets.
Those preset choices are a bit slim, I should note. You only have Flat, Bass Boost, Focus, Smiley, and Custom to choose from. Of course, the last option, Custom, gives you access to any sound profile the headset is physically capable of, but twiddling with individual EQ sliders can be a bit intimidating for those unfamiliar with the process.
All in all, I would say the sound quality and default profile of the Arctis Nova 7 are excellent for a middle-of-the-road gamer that dabbles in all of the genres I've mentioned above. And, if it doesn't quite suit your needs, its adjustability is enough to compensate by tweaking the in-game sound much closer to your liking.
As always, I'd advise you to watch our test video (below) to hear exactly what the included microphone sounds like. I'll keep the text version relatively short, since I'm guessing most of you will do just that.
The Arctis Nova 7's microphone sounds about how you'd expect a mid-range, wireless microphone to sound. It's clear enough to get your message across during most voice chat moments, and its "AI-powered," ClearCast Gen 2 hardware does a well above average job of blocking out background noise like furious typing. But, it does suffer from the same slightly compressed-sounding audio that most wireless headset mics do. It's far from the worst in this area, but no one will mistake it for a discrete boom mic, or even a wired microphone.
It's worth saying here that wireless headsets are, even to this day, a bit of a compromise. Of course the good ones can sound great, and far better than some wired competitors. But, the best of the best in the wired headphone and wired microphone space can still absolutely surpass the best wireless iterations of each.
What you're paying for when you choose a wireless headset is the convenience of never having to worry about a cable draping across your keyboard, or fearing that you'll forget you're plugged in and rip your whole, very expensive PC off your desk when you suddenly run to answer the door. It's a trade-off, to be sure. But, it's one that I think most gamers, even pro-level players, are more than willing to make for the safety and convenience it provides.
At its $180 price point, the Arctis Nova 7 headset has to compete with the flagships from brands like Logitech and Razer. To put it plainly, it has every right to go toe to toe in that arena. Its inclusion of simultaneous Bluetooth connectivity gives it a leg up over older options like Razer's Blackshark V2 Pro or Logitech's G Pro X Wireless headset, and even newer entries that do support Bluetooth audio, but require you to choose either it or your 2.4GHz connection, not both.
I'm not sure that the audio on the Arctis Nova 7 Wireless can 100% match either of those entries, but its extra features and vastly improved comfort more than makes up for the audio differences that I (someone who was critically listening to all of these headsets) had to concentrate intensely to notice.
That said, I still wouldn't recommend this model to those wanting a pure, out-of-the-box headset tuned for competitive gaming. But, as long as you've got the patience to tweak a few settings, the Arctis Nova 7 can serve you well for just about any gaming genre. Best of all, it can do it comfortably, even if you wear a hat size as big as I do.
A long-time main headset of mine that has been discounted significantly since its release. It remains an excellent choice for those wanting a comfortable, no-frills wireless headset that skips extras like Bluetooth connectivity in favor of providing straightforward, competitive-tuned audio.
The reigning king of battery life (200-300 hours) among wireless gaming headsets. It doesn't have all of the fancier Bluetooth and chat-mix features, and its microphone might be a bit less sleek, but many gamers will trade that for potentially not having to charge it more than once every few weeks.
A contemporary of the BlackShark model above, this entry from Logitech hasn't seen the same discounts, but it continues to be a favorite among many gamers thanks to its 50mm drivers, specific audio tuning, and Blue Vo!ce microphone. It's also a great option if you're already deep into the Logitech ecosystem and don't want to have to manage too many driver packages.