Let's not bury the lede: the Steelseries Arena 9 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker kit is, simply put, magnificent. It's got the clarity of sound I expect from a system that is tuned by the audio wizards at Steelseries, and it brings a level of clarity and detail to even the most muddled scenes, whether I'm gaming or simply watching a movie.
But, let's be real: the Steelseries Arena 9 setup isn't cheap. At $550, it's as expensive as many at-home theater kits, whether it be soundbar setups for your TV, or even a full surround sound set up for your gaming room. Is it worth the price to go from emulated surround via your headphones to full 3D spatial sound?
- Full Range Response: 35-20,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 89dB
- Max SPL: 100cB
- Driver Material: Organic Fiber and Silk
- 2 x Front Speakers (2-way Drivers; RGB-lit)
- 1 x Center Channel Speaker (2 Woofers and 1 Tweeter)
- 2 x Wireless Rear Speakers (2-way Drivers; Wall Mountable)
- 1 x Down-firing 6.5" Subwoofer
- USB to Mac/PC/PS5 (Upmix up to 5.1 on PS5)
- Mobile Connections: Aux; Bluetooth
- Optical In/Passthrough (2.1/Upmix up to 5.1)
- Auxiliary Connection: 3.5mm
- OLED Control Pod to toggle Mute, LED, Bluetooth Pairing, and more
- Price: $549.99 on Steelseries Website
Steelseries Arena 9 Speakers First Thoughts
The Arena 9 speakers are big. This is a full, physical 5.1 speaker setup with two front-facing speakers, a center channel speaker, down-firing subwoofer, and two rear speakers to complete the surround sound setup. The box they all come in is massive and really should be carried by two people, but the way it's laid out and packaged once you have it open is so well done that there weren't any issues figuring out what was what.
The two rear speakers are "wireless" in the sense that they don't need to be wired to the rest of the speakers to work, but they are tethered together with a power supply between them. This does limit where exactly you can put these speakers, especially since the tethering wire might not stretch across most living rooms. However, in my small office area of my house, it was the perfect length to just prop up on the desk behind me, directly behind my main PC setup, with me sitting squarely in between the two sets of speakers.
One thing you should know, though: the Arena 9s will take up a lot of space. The speakers that sit in front of you aren't small, and while the center speaker set up isn't as long as many soundbars, such as the Razer Leviathan V2, it's also a fair bit thicker than some.
However, all that space gives rise to some powerful drivers to push out the sound, and the two Left and Right front facing speakers sport RGB on the back of the housing to illuminate the wall or whatever you might have them up against, though I would have loved to have seen RGB across all the speakers instead of just these two.
The down-firing subwoofer isn't large compared to some subwoofers, but it doesn't lack for power. Compared to the subwoofer on the Leviathan V2, the Arena 9 puts it to bed, sending out some incredibly robust and crisp bass notes while the music is pumping. The new Coheed and Cambria album sounds epic on this setup thanks in large part to the incredible power of the driving bass the subwoofer can really help shine.
To round everything out is a small, circular pod equipped with an OLED screen that lets you easily adjust the volume of the system, set up preset EQ mixes, and turn on the Uplink feature, which simulates 5.1 on content that isn't naturally a 5.1 signal. This comes into play the most when playing on the PS5, as much of the content on that system isn't even really set up for a proper 2.1 channel.
Steelseries Arena 9 5.1 Speakers Performance
The first time I stepped into a game with the Arena 9s hooked up, I was blown away by how good everything sounded. Mostly, I was blown away by how different it all sounded. I'm not a stranger to simulated surround or emulated spatial sound. Dolby Atmos is usually turned on when on my PC or Xbox, and my Leviathan V2 does a decent job of simulating this, depending on the space in the room.
However, the first time I heard a wave crest the beach behind me while I was traveling through ARK: Survival Evolved, or I heard the individual engines fire up in my Machariel as I hit a warp into Jita 4-4's airspace, it was like hearing these two games for the first time all over again.
One aspect of these speakers I didn't like early on, however, was how center-heavy the sound felt out of the box. The center channel is obviously front and center if you've got your speakers set up on your computer desk like I do, so it is hard to avoid it, but messing with the EQ settings in the Steelseries Sonar application helped clear this up some. Additionally, being able to individually turn down one of the speakers in the app helped to balance it out as well.
The Sonar app comes with individual premade EQs, but you can also set up custom profiles should you choose to do so. I found myself jumping into games like Cyberpunk 2077 or Spider-man Remastered and tweaking the EQ to fit that game perfectly, giving me a level of control that, while annoying to swap to over and over again, really tailored the sound experience. It's annoying too that you can't just save custom EQ profiles as standard, instead you have to create whole new config profiles for everything, but hopefully that's something that can be worked out with software updates later on.
However, this really only helps if you're on your PC, and I wish I could adjust the individual EQ on the attached pod controller. This means that on my PlayStation, I was pretty much unable to do any of this, relying on the preset ones to give me what I needed. And even then, it felt more hit or miss. Additionally, the Uplink doesn't always sound the greatest as it's simulating surround by, at least from what my ears take in, mirroring the sound in the rear speakers.
Music and other media on the Arena 9 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers really shine as well, and it's especially convenient you can hook up your phone via the Aux cable or Bluetooth and play whatever you want there. Coheed's "A Window of the Waking Mind" sounds incredible on the Arena 9s, as does John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." The sound these speakers produce at even a fraction of their volume is big as well. It really fills the space around me with sound, to the point where I would feel enveloped by sound and get fully immersed in what I was listening to or playing.
Let's be real, though: do you need a set of $550 speakers for your PC? It really depends. While the audio is top-notch for gaming speakers, it's not perfect. Every once and a while when I had no sound pumping through the speakers, one of the rear speakers would pop suddenly, almost as if it lost connection and quickly regained it with the rest of the system. While the surround sound is incredible, you can get good 5.1 surround sound for less money as well, such as Logitech's Z906.
It also takes up quite a lot of space, so if your setup is already cluttered, you might run the risk of covering up your drivers, making the audio muddled by comparison.
On the flip side, I'm not sure I've used a better set of speakers on my PC, ever. The Arena 9 5.1 Speakers are a delight to use, and they fill my office up with a wall of sonic goodness I never want to escape from. I've found myself spending more time just listening to music on my PC just for an excuse to use the speakers, and I'm loathed to put my headset back on whenever I hop onto a call with friends for a game or for work.
Additionally, the sheer amount of I/O and connectivity makes it incredibly versatile, giving me a ton more use cases, such as the speaker system to power a party when friends are over, or to help set the mood in a game of tabletop D&D. Being able to use it with my PS5 helps to upgrade that experience as well, letting me ditch the awful TV speakers that I've dealt with for way too long.
$550 is a lot of money, no question. The speaker quality and the robust sound speak for themselves, but if you're looking for a more affordable option, Steelseries has other tiers of the Arena line that can be worth a look, including the Arena 7 which includes the two front speakers and the subwoofer for $299. Additionally, the Arena 3 is a set up with just the front facing speakers for just $129.
Obviously, too, a soundbar is always a good alternative, such as the Katana V2 by Creative or the aforementioned Razer Leviathan V2. However, for me personally, I can't see myself going back to my old Razer soundbar, such is the power and clarity of the Steelseries Arena 9 by comparison. Just having more speakers in more physical space breaks the illusion that simulated surround sound has had hold over me for years.
If you're looking for a set of speakers that will definitely fill your gaming sessions with high-quality, theater-style sound, allowing you to be fully immersed in the game world you're exploring, you can't go wrong with the Arena 9s.
Full Disclosure: The product reviewed was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of this review.