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  • About the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3

  • Should you buy the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3?

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Considering the Arctis 1 Wireless was $100 at launch in 2019, the Arctis Nova 3 really stumbles.

About the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3

  • Cost: $99
  • Style: Over-ear, closed-back
  • Colors: Black
  • Drivers: Custom high fidelity 40mm drivers
  • Wired connections: 3.5mm in, USB-C
  • Device compatibility: PC, Mac, PS5/PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Meta Quest 2, Android, iOS
  • Microphone: Retractable, bidirectional noise canceling
  • Virtual surround sound: Supported
  • Weight: 8.9 ounces

The Arctis Nova 3 is the next step up from the base-level Arctis Nova 1. It doesn’t change the ClearCast Gen 2 mic or speaker drivers, but its use of an optional USB connection allows it to interface with software for AI-power microphone noise canceling, programmable RGB lighting, a parametric EQ, and software-based surround sound modes.

The first generation of SteelSeries Arctis headsets had a bit more flair until the company introduced the more subdued Arctis 1. The new Arctis Nova line retools some of the features of the original Arctis headsets, but the aesthetic changes are more subtle on the Arctis Nova 3. This model includes RGB rings around each ear cup. The ski goggle-style headband fits just underneath the actual plastic of the headband and comfortably supports the headphones, though the elastic band can start to sag after a year or so of use.

The Arctis Nova 3 features the same bland semi-circle yolks on the ear cups as the Arctis Nova 1 instead of the interesting quarter-circle yolks on most of the original Arctis headsets and the Arctis Nova Pro. The AirWeave fabric ear cushions are used again on these headphones, providing a comfortable seal around the ears, though not much sound isolation. The pads are also a little shallow, which can annoy sensitive ears.

Two shots showing the bottom of the microphone tucked inside the earpiece while the next shot shows the microphone fully drawn.
Credit: Reviewed / Mike Knapp

The mic is fully retractable when not in use.

The headset includes a volume dial and microphone mute switch on the left side. The mic can fully retract into the headset when not in use, an improvement over the original ClearCast microphones which stuck out a little. Even the switch to a USB-C connection is a plus (instead of SteelSeries’ prior proprietary connector), though vibrations can travel up the cable into the left ear cup.

The mic on the Arctis Nova 3 gets some handy features when connected over USB, such as a red indicator light on the tip to show when it’s muted and mic sidetone—a tool that lets you hear your own voice coming through the mic in real time. The mic is as crisp as ever, picking up my voice clearly with a respectable fullness. With the bidirectional noise canceling, it subdues background noises but doesn’t eliminate them. The SteelSeries software enables AI noise-canceling, which far more effectively erases background noise but introduces some small audio artifacts.

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 puts out crisp sound and even carries the bass through the mix effectively. Sometimes audio is almost too crisp, with high treble notes like cymbal hits having a painful bite to them. Dialing the volume back takes the sting out without draining the sound of its energy. Both Of Montreal’s False Priest album and Bleachers’ Strange Desire benefited from the fullness the headset provides and the precision it’s able to achieve while keeping up with such busy music.

The soundstage is lacking, which sucks some of the fullness out of the sound, but doesn’t feel claustrophobic. In Overwatch, I’m able to pick up on where enemies are trying to push through the line with sound cues, and even in frantic battles, I can hear ultimate callouts to maintain situational awareness.

To make the most of the Arctis Nova 3, you need to connect it through the company’s SteelSeries GG software, where you can control some of its basic settings, and then also enable Sonar (a sub-app) to access some of the enhanced features, like AI noise canceling and virtual surround. This sort of compartmentalization is precisely what makes other software, like Razer Synapse, a comparative pain to use.

Should you buy the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3?

No, it doesn’t distinguish itself enough from cheaper options

Two shots of the detailing around the headset's earpads.
Credit: Reviewed / Mark Knapp

It's not the biggest improvement over its predecessor, but the earpads are quite comfortable.

Ultimately, the Arctis Nova 3 headset doesn’t stand out. At $100, it’s certainly not a value headset. Considering the Arctis 1 Wireless was $100 at launch in 2019, the wholly wired Arctis Nova 3 stumbles.

All the Nova 3 brings to the table is a revamped design that’s also available in the cheaper Arctis Nova 1 (with comparable audio quality) and drab RGB light rings. They only have three effects–one of which is just a static color–and aren’t brightly illuminated.

This middle of the pack situation makes the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 a pass. Even with app integration that sets it apart from the Arctis Nova 1, other SteelSeries headsets will serve most people better. The Arctis 3 Bluetooth provided the convenience of a Bluetooth connection for $100 when it debuted in 2018. Meanwhile, headsets like the wired HyperX Cloud Alpha S or wireless Logitech G435 Lightspeed are competitive contemporary alternatives for less money.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

Meet the tester

Mark Knapp

Mark Knapp

Contributor

Mark Knapp has covered tech for most of the past decade, keeping readers up to speed on the latest developments and going hands-on with everything from phones and computers to e-bikes and drones to separate the marketing from the reality. Catch him on Twitter at @Techn0Mark or on Reviewed, IGN, TechRadar, T3, PCMag, and Business Insider.

See all of Mark Knapp's reviews

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