Before we even get to the Arctis Nova 1, it really does feel like Steelseries has been standing atop the best gaming headset crowd forever now, stockpiling awards since the days when Fortnite and PUBG were merely baffling typos.
But truthfully, the Arctis line has earned its reputation chiefly for the quality of its pricier models – the Arctis 7 and the Arctis Pro, in their many variants and revamps. The cheaper 5, 3, and 1 models have certainly benefited from inheriting some of the same design principles, but they haven’t necessarily been the same slam dunk proposition.
This year’s ‘Nova’ refresh of the whole Arctis line is a chance to change that. We love the new SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro and the Arctic Nova 7s, but how much of that quality can the Nova 1s retain and still hit the $60 mark? It’s time to get forensic.
Design & features
Visually, there’s a big difference in this cheaper model’s design when compared to the Nova 7s and Pros. The earcup hinge is attached to the headband on two sides rather than just one, which you might see as a structural advantage – it’s much less likely to weaken or snap over time, and it retains pretty much silent movement and adjustment.
The revamped headband design is almost identical to pricier models in the Nova range. An elasticated inner headband attaches below the plastic outer band, suspending it above your head to keep the weight off it, just like other models. The only difference is in the amount of detailing on the elasticated band – there’s no textured pattern here, just a simple length of elastic. That feels like an agreeable compromise in order to hit a cheaper MSRP.
The mic’s been updated to the same shape as higher spec models, too, sitting flush with the earcup when retracted, and although there’s no chat mix control on this model, the volume and mic mute controls sit where you’d expect them, at the back of the left earcup.
Aesthetically, they’re definitely not able to capture that same luxurious, audiophile-style look that the Nova Pros and Nova 7s summon, but they’re certainly on par with the Corsair HS60s. It’s a simple and functional array of lightweight plastics and grey fabric, but it’s wisely avoided the ‘gamer’ look in favour of something more neutral. We’re onboard.
The earcup cushions have a slightly less plush grade of memory foam within them, but we found these pretty comfortable over long sessions primarily because they’re so light. Noticeably lighter than the Nova 7s, in fact.
However, it does get warm in those earcups over time, despite the fabric finish. Maybe it’s the combination of construction materials, but it seems to get toasty quite quickly with these on.
Not so long ago, you wouldn’t have to really strain your ears to hear the difference between $60 and $180 headsets. The fact that the differences are comparatively subtle between this and the Nova 7 really speaks to how much work has gone into tuning those drivers over the years, and that means the Nova 1s can count audio quality as their strongest asset.
What’s made the Arctis range great over the years is that they’ve always prioritised clarity over surface-level bombast. The low end has always been tamed, and useable in multiple settings – even though it’s gradually crept up in prominence with each product refresh since 2016.
And that’s what makes these Arctis Nova 1s sound so good for the money. It’s a clear, well-balanced sound that lets you pick out useful cues in games, makes a human voice sound rich when you pop a podcast on, and doesn’t totally blow out the mix of your favourite albums.
With that said, let’s be realistic here: it does sound like a budget headset. The low mids and lows ring out in that artificial, digital-sounding way that virtual surround headsets often also produce, although these are stereo output, not surround.
These features of the audio reproduction only make themselves clearly known when you’re A-B testing the Nova 1s with the Nova 7s, though. The key takeaway for anyone looking to make a thrifty headset purchase is that these offer the balanced sound you need.
Being a budget-end, no-frills model with a 3.5mm wired connection, they’re easy to use across all platforms: PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and mobile. Well, smartphones with 3.5mm inputs, anyway. That lends something to the value proposition here – you can easily unplug them from your gaming PC and plug them into a console with no need to install software or get extra cables or adapters involved.
Should you buy the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 headset?
This is a very well-considered headset that represents a careful paring down of the higher-spec Arctis Nova models, and sound quality has been wisely prioritised. We can live without the tactile and aesthetic luxuries of the pricier models, because fundamentally these Nova 1s are still comfortable to wear over long sessions, if a bit warm.
What makes the whole proposition worth it is a well-balanced EQ response and easy multiplatform compatibility via a simple 3.5mm connection that you can deploy as a PC headset for gaming as much as a PS5 headset or Xbox Series X headset, for example, in an instant.
How we tested the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1
Every headset that crosses our threshold has hours of not just game audio but music of various genres and levels of obnoxiousness pumped through it. It’s by listening to these different production techniques and stereo mixes that we can really pick out the character of an audio driver, and what the EQ response curve looks like.
Spoken word audio is also a great indicator – podcasts let you know whether a headset’s capable of retaining the low-end in a human voice without making it artificially bassy, and whether soft consonants and breaths are reproduced in detail.
Headset mics take the Discord test – can everyone hear us? Can they hear the keyboard clacking? Is there a loud pop when we mute? And how do we sound next to our usual mics?
Finally, for multiplatform units, we go about the process of setting up on each platform. How many cables, adapters, or firmware updates are involved?