SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 review

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 sounds good and offers a variety of useful features

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 on desk
(Image: © SteelSeries)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 is another satisfying entry in a celebrated line of gaming headsets. Bluetooth connectivity is a welcome addition, and makes the peripheral a versatile one — especially if you get the Xbox version. However, the fit is a little tight, and the sound quality is good, not great.

Pros

  • +

    Versatile connectivity options

  • +

    Sonar makes everything sound a bit better

  • +

    Smart physical redesign

  • +

    Convenient mic

Cons

  • -

    Sound quality doesn’t match the price

  • -

    Tight fit

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SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7: Specs

Compatibility: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One*, Xbox Series X/S*, mobile
Drivers: 40 mm
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 22 kHz
Wireless: Yes
Weight: 11.5 ounces
*Xbox version only

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 is the successor to one of the best gaming headsets we’ve ever reviewed, the SteelSeries Arctis 7. When the Arctis 7 debuted, it set a new standard in convenience, combining a versatile USB-C adapter with a comfortable fit and robust customization features.

In some ways, the Arctis Nova 7 is the perfect upgrade. SteelSeries has made a few smart improvements to the Arctis 7’s design, including a larger volume dial, a better-concealed mic, a more durable headband and a handy Bluetooth mode. At $180, the Nova 7 is a bit more expensive than its $150 predecessor, but the new features are arguably worth the premium.

On the other hand, the biggest issue with the Arctis 7 was that the sound quality was good, not great — and that’s still the case for the Arctis Nova 7. While a software protocol called SteelSeries Sonar can improve performance on PCs to some degree, there’s a definite sense that a $180 headset should be able to provide a richer, more nuanced soundscape.

Still, unless you’re a hardcore gaming audiophile, the Arctis Nova 7 should serve well, particularly if you have a lot of different systems and need to connect to all of them with a minimum of fuss. Read on for our full SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 review.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 review: Design

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 should look pretty familiar to anyone who's encountered the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro. Like its Pro counterpart, the Arctis Nova 7 has a black plastic-and-metal chassis with an adjustable elastic headband underneath. The foam earcups are large and plush, and there's a tasteful SteelSeries logo on either side.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 laying flat on table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In terms of controls, the Arctis Nova 7 is quite complex. On the right side, there's a power button, a separate Bluetooth button (you can activate them together or independently), a chatmix button (which doubles as a Bluetooth volume dial) and a USB-C charging port. On the right, there's a mic mute button, a volume dial (which, confusingly, goes back and forth rather than up and down), a retractable microphone and a 3.5 mm audio port. I appreciate that SteelSeries divvied up the functionality between both earcups, but there's just a lot going on here.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 review: Comfort

Like its predecessor, the Arctis Nova 7 feels comfortable to wear, even during long play sessions. I kept it on for hours at a time, and it never felt painful, even on top of glasses and long hair. However, I'm not convinced that it's more comfortable than the older Arctis 7 models overall. The Arctis 7 had a looser headband, which resulted in a looser fit overall. The Arctis Nova 7 feels tight, even though it's not exactly uncomfortable. I imagine this will maintain the integrity of the headband better over the course of a few years, but it's just not quite as effortless as the Arctis 7 was.

Side view of SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

Similarly, you can now adjust the height of the earcups. While this gives users finer control over how the Arctis Nova 7 feels, it takes away the effortless fit that the earlier Arctis 7s offered. I don't hate the Arctis Nova 7's redesign, but I'm also not convinced that it's strictly better than what it replaced.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 review: Performance

The Arctis Nova 7 sounds pretty good — and it can almost sound great, depending on your platform. If you use the Nova 7 primarily as a PC accessory, you should be in pretty good shape. The SteelSeries GG software offers a feature called SteelSeries Sonar, a proprietary surround sound protocol, which fine-tunes soundscapes for competitive games. While SteelSeries suggests that Sonar works best with first-person shooters, emphasizing footsteps and gunshots, I found that it enhanced game sound across the board, from voicework, to sound effects to music.

Side view of SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

I tested the Arctis Nova 7 with Age of Empires IV, Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal and Final Fantasy XIV on PC, and was torn between "this sounds good" and "this could sound better." Without Sonar activated, each game's soundscape had a distant, slightly metallic feel to it, as though I were listening on a $50 headset rather than one that costs $180. With Sonar, the sound had a warmer, more immediate feel, particularly in FFXIV, which relies on an intricate interplay of spirited voice performances, varied sound effects and sweeping orchestral music.

Since you can't activate Sonar on consoles, my experience with the PS5 and Switch was a little more mixed. While games such as Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Bayonetta 3 didn't sound bad, they were treble-heavy and straightforward. Similarly, the Bluetooth connection for games on my phone was workmanlike — although it's arguably better than a pair of wireless earbuds.

The Arctis Nova 7's lack of strong bass hurt music performance more than it did games. I listened to tracks from Old Crow Medicine Show, Flogging Molly, The Rolling Stones and G.F. Handel, and found the soundscape flat and uninteresting. While it's good enough for everyday listening, it's not going to win over any audiophiles.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 review: Features

One area where the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 excels is in its connectivity. The default version connects with the PC, PS4, PS5, Switch (handheld and docked) and mobile phones. The Xbox version does all of those, plus Xbox consoles, which use an idiosyncratic Microsoft protocol. If you have an Xbox console, or plan to get one, the Xbox version of the Arctis Nova 7 is perhaps the best gaming headset you can buy, simply because it's so effortless to switch among multiple systems. Bluetooth connectivity is also a smart addition over the older Arctis 7 models, since it makes connecting with phones, tablets and smart TVs much simpler.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 USB-C adapter

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

Beyond that, you can tweak equalization and mic options with the SteelSeries Engine software. While I wish there were more EQ presets available, the software does what it's supposed to do. Similarly, the microphone provides clear sound, and the battery life — between 26 and 38 hours, depending on your Bluetooth settings — is considerably better than older Arctis models.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 review: Verdict

The Xbox edition of the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7 is incredibly easy to recommend if you want a headset that can connect wirelessly to every gaming system in your house at the push of a button. If you're in the market for a PS5/PC accessory, the situation is much less straightforward.

With Bluetooth connectivity and a comfortable elastic headband, the Arctis Nova 7 has a lot to offer. But with just-good-enough sound quality and a tight fit around the ears, the Arctis Nova 7 has stiff competition from the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless, the Razer BlackShark V2 Pro, the Corsair Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT or any number of mid-to-high-end wireless gaming headsets. The good news is, you can't really go wrong with any of these models.

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.