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SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 review

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SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 Specifications

Compatibility: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch (portable)
Drivers: 40mm
Frequency response: 20Hz – 22kHz
Wireless: No
Weight: 8.3 oz

Among the new Arctis Nova SteelSeries headsets, the Arctis Nova 1 is the least expensive. It’s not exactly “cheap” either in terms of price or functionality. But that’s a slightly tougher recommendation than the trusty SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3, the versatile SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7, or the premium SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro.

The $60 Arctis Nova 1 is essentially a replacement for the SteelSeries Arctis 3: a budget gaming headset that still uses Arctis’ premium design. Like the Arctis 3, the Arctis Nova 1 is a wired model that connects exclusively via the 3.5mm audio jack. But such a device is much harder to sell now than it was in 2017, especially when it costs $10 more than most of its closest competitors.

Nova 1 has more to like than not to like. The sound quality is pretty good, the design is solid and the controls are intuitive. On the other hand, this is not the best gaming headset in this price range. Read our full SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 review.

  • Steelseries Arctis Nova 1 on Amazon for $44.09. (will open in a new tab)

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 Review: Design

If you’ve seen the rest of the recent Arctis Nova redesigns, you should be familiar with what the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 looks like. The unit has a plain black plastic body with foam ear pads and the SteelSeries logo on each side. There is an elastic headband with two different placement options, and you can also independently adjust the height of each earcup.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 on the table

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

There aren’t many controls, but that means the Nova 1 is incredibly easy to operate. The left earcup has a mute button, volume control, 3.5mm jack, and a retractable microphone. There is nothing on the right earpiece. The headset connects to most devices with a single 3.5mm cable, but there’s also a splitter in case you want to connect audio and microphone separately.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 on the table

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

The Arctis Nova 1 is one of the most comfortable gaming headsets out there, with a discreet design and little to no extra features. It’s not very pretty, exactly, but it’s refreshingly straightforward.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 Review: Comfort

Like the Nova 3, Nova 7 and Nova Pro, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 is comfortable but a bit on the tight side. The ear pads felt soft enough and didn’t squeeze my ears even with glasses on. However, unlike older Arctis models, Arctis Nova headsets do not use elastic headbands solely for a good fit. You will also have to adjust the height of the ear cups, which is an inaccurate process due to the lack of numbers or notches.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 on the table

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

The Arctis Nova 1 is also somewhat tighter than I expected, although it never got into “painful” territory. I could wear the headset for hours on end and never felt like I had to take them off. It is possible that the device will loosen over time, but hopefully not too much as the elastic headband is an important part of the whole fitting process.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 Review: Performance

Because the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 has the same drivers as the Arctis Nova 3, the overall sound quality is similar. However, the Nova 3 benefits from a USB connection that can take full advantage of the SteelSeries Engine software to enhance PC audio quality. So the Arctis Nova 1 sounds good, but not great.

I tested the device on various consoles including PC, PS5, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch. Generally speaking, PC performance was better than consoles – which is ironic considering that a 3.5mm headset with a relatively short cord is better suited for console controllers than PCs.

When testing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Pentiment, and Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, I noticed that the headset didn’t balance volume very well between music, sound effects, and voice acting. The sound effects were often too prominent and the music too subdued. I had to fiddle with both console volume and headset volume for a while before I found the right balance, and even then the soundscape was too insistent on treble and voices.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 on the table

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

For some reason, the headset performed much better on PC, where it provided a balanced (if not exactly nuanced) soundscape for games like Doom Eternal and Final Fantasy XIV. The directional audio in Doom Eternal worked especially well, alerting me to where enemies might be even when I couldn’t see them. However, the overall experience was more working than rich.

Some of the Nova 1’s auditory shortcomings are probably due to the fact that they have almost no bass. When listening to music from Flogging Molly, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones and GF Handel, the bass lines were almost inaudible. (Honestly, the vocals and treble sounded pretty good.) If you’re not too picky about how your music sounds, the Arctis Nova 1 can work as an everyday music headset, but it’s definitely a gaming peripheral first and foremost.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 Review: Specs

Without a USB connection, the Arctis Nova 1 does not have full access to the SteelSeries Engine software. You can still use the interesting SteelSeries Sonar protocol, which optimizes soundscapes for certain games and offers surround sound options. But this obviously doesn’t work on consoles, and I found Sonar to be either helpful or distracting, depending on the title.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 on the table

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Because the Nova 1 only connects via a 3.5mm audio jack, it’s both more and less versatile than it could be. You can easily connect the device to your PS4, PS5, Xbox One or Xbox Series X/S controller and the cord should be long enough for most desktops and laptops. On the other hand, there is no way to connect it to mobile devices without a headphone jack. Similarly, you can connect it to a portable switch, but not to a docking station.

A gaming headset with just a 3.5mm jack still has a lot to offer. Just be aware that it won’t work with every gaming system – and depending on your setup, you might be better off with a USB or wireless model.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 Review: Verdict

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1 is a good gaming headset; it’s just not impressive. The sound quality is pretty good, the fit is pretty comfortable, and the connectivity options are pretty versatile. At the same time, the HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 is a better device and is $10 cheaper. The Arctis Nova 1 has no night/day advantage over the Razer Kraken X or a few other budget headsets from major manufacturers.

The design of the Arctis Nova Nova 1 has a much more premium feel than many other gaming headsets in this price range. This, along with its general competence, deserves some serious consideration if you’re a gamer in the entry-level headset market. But it has no clear advantages over a fairly wide range of competitors.

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