Finding a comfortable pair of wireless headphones for those long, late-night gaming sessions can be an interesting challenge. There are so many factors to consider, and it gets even more complicated if you want to connect to multiple devices. SteelSeries, a company long known for creating solid gaming peripherals (thinking of you, SteelSeries Merc Stealth), is constantly at work refining their wireless headphone lineup.
I’ve had the opportunity to spend the last few weeks with the company’s Arctis 9 Wireless headphones. Built from the ground up for both function and fashion, the Arctis 9’s work hard to be the best in class for wireless gaming headphones. After weighing in though, are these headphones ready to take the title? Grab that coffee, kick back and check out our review of the Arctis 9 Wireless Gaming Headphones from SteelSeries.
- Neodymium Drivers: 40mm
- Headphone Frequency response: 20-20000 Hz
- Headphone Sensitivity: 98dBSPL
- Headphone Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Headphone Total Harmonic Distortion: <3%
- Controls: On The Ear Cup
- Frequency response: 100-6,500 Hz
- Microphone Pattern: bidirectional
- Microphone Sensitivity: -38 BV/Pa
- Microphone Impedance: 2200 Ohm
- Microphone Location: Retractable
- Range: 40 ft
- Battery Life: 20 Hours
- Bluetooth Version: 4.1
- Connections: USB(wireless dongle), Analog cable, Bluetooth
- Compatibility: PC, PlayStation, Mobile, Nintendo Switch, VR
Built SteelSeries Tough
The Arctis 9 pulls no punches when it comes to durable, quality engineering. Each ear cup is covered in a durable, matte black plastic. The cups are attached to a steel headband by a heavy-duty swivel hinge that allows for a 90-degree turn. Perfect for mounting the headphones on a wall hook or packing in a bag when not in use.
Each ear cup is covered with a special AirWeave cushion. These cushions allow air to more freely pass through the cushion reducing the heat buildup that results from long gaming sessions. My longest game session while wearing the Arctis 9 was just over 7 hours (thank you, Doom Eternal) and was definitely a much cooler experience than it usually was while wearing headphones. I was exceptionally impressed at how comfortable they were to wear even for long stints.
One of the big contributing factors to the comfort level is a ski goggle inspired suspension band that runs along the inner part of the steel headband. This rests comfortably on top of your head. I found that it helped better distribute the weight of the headphones and alleviated pressure points around my ears and on the top of my head that usually come from wearing headphones for extended periods of time.
The whole setup is finished in a matte black color with the exception of the aforementioned suspension band that houses a white SteelSeries logo and linked pattern. A small gloss black logo can be found on each ear cup that adds to the headphones already sleek design. The whole package looks and feels great to wear.
Speaking of function, the Arctis 9 comes packed with smart, functional design choices. Everything from controlling the headphones to connecting it with various devices is designed to make the life of a gamer easier. In regards to connections, the 9’s offer three methods of connection, USB, analog and Bluetooth. The provided USB wireless dongle can connect to PC, Playstation 4 and Switch (docked mode only) and provides a quick and painless setup process. When switching from PC to console a quick flip of a toggle switch on the bottom of the transmitter sets the headphones up for connection. The wireless dongle is the primary source for connecting game audio and is what handles the bulk of the wireless audio transmitting.
Interestingly though the Arctis also supports a simultaneous Bluetooth and 2.4 GHz wireless connection. This Bluetooth connection allows you to link your phone or tablet to the headphones while also listening to game audio. At first, I was concerned that this was a simple gimmick but after using it, I soon realized just how great this feature is.
I frequently listen to music while gaming and having the music audio separated from the PC gaming audio allowed for easier, manageable audio mixing while gaming without ever having to leave the game. Additionally, with the Arctis built-in mic, I was able to take phone calls while slaying my way through the demon hordes in Doom Eternal or watch the latest episode of Umbrella Academy while levelling my way through Wrath of the Lich King (again). It’s an incredibly convenient system that really does make audio management a much easier experience.
Speaking of the built-in mic, The Arctis 9 comes equipped with a retractable, bi-directional polar pattern mic. This sleek little microphone does a great job at keeping background audio, like the clicking of my keyboard, out of communication while gaming with friends. The pickups are crisp and clear and more than sufficient for screaming orders to teammates while you slowly bleed out during a game of Plunder. The fact that there is a quick mute button located on the right ear cup means you can jump in and out of a conversation with your wife about dinner plans while simultaneously prepping your raid party for the next boss encounter.
Placement of the mute along with power and volume is another functional feature that stands out on the Arctis. All are placed just behind the right ear; each with a distinct tactile feel making it easy to distinguish quickly. In the case of the mute button, there is both an audible click when it is pressed as well as an indicator light on the tip of the mic to let you know if you’re muted or not. It’s just one more little touch that makes these headphones stand out.
Another feature I wanted to highlight is the ChatMix control located on the left ear cup. This dial allows you to further balance chat and game audio to the point of completely silencing either depending on preference. Gone are the days of turning down game volume through menus while gaming. On PC, the two audio sources are even recognized as separate inputs allowing you to point software like Discord at one while pointing game audio at the other.
Speaking of the PC, the Arctis 9 also benefits from the SteelSeries Engine 3 software suite. This powerful little suite allows for an exceptional amount of audio fine-tuning with EQ, Bass and vocal boosts, profile saving and a host of other features to configure. The software was easy to install and linking the Arctis 9 was a simple click of a button. It even downloaded and installed a driver update for the headphones wirelessly the first time they were connected. It was a painless experience that once again speaks to SteelSeries’ commitment to making functional, powerful peripherals.
I do want to note, for the sake of transparency, that I actually tested the SteelSeries Engine 3 software on multiple computers to see if there were any issues. I did run into an issue with my editing PC where the software wouldn’t save any of the changes I made back to the headphones. I’m still working with SteelSeries to resolve this issue but after a lot of testing, I’m sure it actually has more to do with the copious amounts of editing software and conflict there more so than the SteelSeries software itself. On the three other systems I tested, the software worked without issue. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
The one area that may have been one of the most impressive to me though, was the battery life. I’ve tested several sets of headphones over the past couple of years and the Arctis 9 is, hands down, the best in class when it comes to battery life. The company’s site boasts 20+ hours of audio. Based on my tests which included recording all usage from full charge to drained using a variety of programs, the headphones lasted 17 hours. Although not quite the 20 hours stated, just over 6 of those hours included being connected to both Bluetooth and wireless simultaneously. No other headphone I’ve used comes close to achieving the length of time on a single charge. It’s a truly impressive feat.
I also ran some distance tests to see if the Arctis could maintain the reported 40ft distance. I was pleasantly surprised that I could actually move 46ft away from the transmitter and still maintain a solid connection. What was more impressive was that the 46-foot distance required me to be two rooms away from the transmitter. This essentially allowed me to move freely around most of my house on both the main and bottom floor while streaming audio from my computer.
I Can Hear Clearly Now, the Grain is Gone...
As great as all of these features are when it comes right down to it we have to ask the real question, how do the Arctis 9 sound? Honestly, great. The design of the ear cups coupled with the 40 mm neodymium drivers creates an incredibly crisp, clear sound. Lows and highs sound clean and I didn’t hear any major distortion when maxing out the headphone volume.
Having the ability to customize the EQ through the provided PC software really allows you to dial in on the sound you like. What I found interesting is that any presets I built and applied to the Headphones translated when I connected the headphones to the console. So, although I couldn’t directly EQ while playing on PS4, I could still bring over my profile save and enjoy the same crisp audio on both devices.
The Arctis also supports DTS surround Sound v2.0 on PC. This allows for a fully immersive 360 degrees sound experience. Running the surround tests further reinforced just how great these headphones sound. It became even more noticeable during online play as the sound positional cues were exceptionally accurate. Being able to temporarily mute my team chat while playing allowed me to really dial in on the game sound and pinpoint where enemy footsteps were advancing from.
The SteelSeries Arctis 9 Wireless headphones are some of the best in class for gaming. Everything from the design, functional features and audio quality help elevate these headphones above the competition. As far as I’m concerned they are the new champion. If you’re in the market for a new set of gaming headphones I cannot recommend enough the Arctis 9 Wireless. Priced at $199.99 USD, the Arctis 9 Wireless is worth every penny.
The product described in this review was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.