SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 review: A great gaming headset under $100

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 gaming headset provides great sound on lots of different platforms

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 headphones on desk
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 provides rich gaming sound, a comfortable fit and a robust software suite. Console connectivity could be a little easier, but the Arctis Nova 3 is probably one of the best gaming headsets you can get for less than $100.

Pros

  • +

    Excellent sound quality

  • +

    Many different connectivity options

  • +

    Comfortable fit

  • +

    Useful software

Cons

  • -

    Short, stiff cables

  • -

    Needless RGB features

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SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3: Specs

Compatibility: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, mobile
Drivers: 40 mm
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 22 kHz
Wireless: No
Weight: 8.9 ounces

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 isn’t exactly what I expected it to be. Based on its name, I expected an upgraded version of the no-frills, 3.5 mm-only SteelSeries Arctis 3. Instead, the Nova 3 has much more DNA in common with the USB-enabled SteelSeries Arctis 5. Like the Arctis 5, the Nova 3 features USB connectivity, a robust software suite and a just-under-$100 asking price. And, like the Arctis 5, the Nova 3 accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.

The Arctis Nova 3 provides excellent gaming sound and a comfortable fit, and truthfully, that’s enough to merit a recommendation in a gaming headset. What boosts the Arctis Nova 3 even further are its versatile connectivity options, its useful software features and its reasonable price.

While the Nova 3 doesn’t play as nicely with consoles as it could, and has at least one questionable aesthetic choice, it’s still an excellent wired gaming headset, particularly for PC players. Read on for our full Arctis Nova 3 review.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 review: Design

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 bears more than a passing similarity to the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro and the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7. That’s because SteelSeries recently redesigned the whole Arctis line to give the headsets a more uniform and modern look. The Arctis Nova 3 has a plain black plastic chassis with an elastic headband, memory foam earcups and a SteelSeries logo surrounded by an LED ring on either side. It’s unobtrusive, if nothing else.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 headphones

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The right earcup is fairly barren, containing only a switch to activate or deactivate the RGB lighting. On the left, you’ll find most of the headset’s important features: a volume dial a mic mute button, a retractable microphone and a USB-C port. This USB-C port is the key to the whole enterprise, as it’s how you’ll connect the headset to a variety of different systems.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 headphones

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In addition to a USB-C-to-USB-C cable, the Nova 3 also comes with a USB-C-to-3.5-mm-jack cable, as well as a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter. In theory, this means that you could hook up the headset to a gaming PC or PS5 via USB-C, a docked Nintendo Switch via USB-A, an Xbox Series X via 3.5 mm and more.

In practice, however, the cables are a bit on the short side, and they don’t like to lie straight. Connecting the device to a living-room console is impossible, unless you buy a much longer cable. Even connecting the headset directly to a PC left me with a nearly taut cable that got in the way of my keyboard constantly. The Arctis Nova 3 is a versatile device, but you may have to augment it with your own cables and adapters.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 review: Comfort

Like the other SteelSeries Arctis Nova headsets, the Nova 3 uses a slightly different design than the previous Arctis lineup. This time around, there’s a slightly tighter elastic headband, along with adjustable height for each earcup. 

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 headphones

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Once you maneuver everything into place, the Nova 3 feels good to wear, even for hours on end.

As such, you can’t just throw the headset on your head and get a perfect fit; you’ll need to adjust the height of the arms, too. Since the arms don’t have any notches or numbers, this can be a trial-and-error process.

However, once you maneuver everything into place, the Nova 3 feels good to wear, even for hours on end. While it’s a bit tighter than the old Arctis models, the headband seems less prone to wear and tear over time, which seems like a fair tradeoff. Furthermore, “tight” never translated to “uncomfortable,” at least in my experience. Even with my glasses on, I was able to wear the Nova 3 for long stretches easily.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 review: Performance

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 excels when it comes to gaming sound. I tested the device with Age of Empires IV, Doom Eternal, Marvel’s Midnight Suns and Final Fantasy XIV on PC, and came away impressed with the performance across the board. Whether I was building a medieval village with chill string arrangements in the background or listening to the trials and tribulations of a team of squabbling superheroes, the Arctis Nova 3 did an excellent job of balancing music, sound effects and voicework.

In fact, the Arctis Nova 3 can sound especially good with different genres of games thanks to the customizable SteelSeries Engine software. You can activate SteelSeries Sonar, which emphasizes footsteps and other FPS sounds, and you can do so with or without surround sound. Sonar supports individualized profiles for games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and Elden Ring. Even if you just stick with standard stereo sound, you can boost the bass or make your own EQ profile. The Engine software can elevate the Nova 3’s sound from “good” to “great” without much effort on your part.

Whether I was building a medieval village with chill string arrangements in the background or listening to the trials and tribulations of a team of squabbling superheroes, the Arctis Nova 3 did an excellent job of balancing music, sound effects and voicework.

The headset also handles music fairly well. I listened to tracks from Flogging Molly, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones and G.F. Handel with the Nova 3. As a gaming headset, the Nova 3 admittedly goes light on the bass end of the soundscape, but aside from that, the music came through with clarity, warmth and immediacy. It won’t please audiophiles, but it’s more than good enough for everyday listening.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 review: Features

You can customize a lot about the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 via the SteelSeries Engine software. In addition to all of the sound settings, you can also adjust the device’s illumination settings, as well as the microphone volume and sidetone. (Incidentally, my coworkers described the headset’s mic as “excellent,” so it should work fine for both video chats and multiplayer matches.)

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 headphones

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The illumination is probably my least favorite feature of the Arctis Nova 3, even though it’s totally optional. Each earcup has a small LED ring surrounding a SteelSeries logo, and you can program this ring to be whatever color, or combination of colors, you like. I have never especially understood RGB lighting on headsets (you can’t see it!), and the Nova 3 is no exception. My big objection here is that the lighting has an entire button dedicated to it, and I wonder if that space might have been a better spot for the volume or mic mute buttons, reducing clutter on the left earcup. I also wonder whether the device would have been a bit cheaper without this extraneous feature.

On the other hand, the Nova 3’s best feature is how many different gaming systems it can work with — even though iOS devices seem to be out of the question, as there are no USB-C or 3.5 mm connections. Furthermore, you can connect to Xbox consoles only via the 3.5 mm jack, which limits the audio quality and customization.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 review: Verdict

While the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 makes a few small missteps, it’s hard to discern any major faults. The device fits well and sounds great. It’s easy to control, easy to customize and easy to afford. I wish the cords were a bit longer and more flexible — but if you don’t want to deal with them at all, you might be better off with the Arctis Nova 7 instead.

In fact, during my time with the Nova 3, I found myself pining for the Nova 7’s wireless efficiency and more robust feature set instead. However, at $180, the Nova 7 costs nearly twice as much as the Nova 3. And for less than $100, it really is tough to find a headset that sounds as good, feels as good, or works as well as the Nova 3.

Simply put, if you’re willing to spend $180 on a SteelSeries headset, the Arctis Nova 7 gets my recommendation. And if not, you can’t go wrong with the Arctis Nova 3.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.