Report Card: SteelSeries Arctis 9 Headset (Review)

Long time headset maker, SteelSeries has just released their latest gaming headset, the Arctis 9 wireless. The A9 is a direct update to the already stellar A7 headset released a few years ago. Designed for both PC and PlayStation systems (4 and 5), is SteelSeries newest offering worth the price of admission? Let’s turn ’em on and find out!

Build Quality

As the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” SteelSeries has taken that mantra to heart as the Arctis 9 headset is built identically to the A7 and A9X, the latter of which was built specifically for the Xbox family of consoles. These headsets come with SteelSeries’ high quality “ski goggle” headband wrapped around an all steel frame for incredible comfort and a lightweight, sturdy design. The air cups are a breathable “air-weave” cushion and feel as soft as a silk. Even after hours of wear, the A9s never feel uncomfortable or caused any pain in my ears like some other headsets have been known to do.

Speaking of the air cups, the volume adjustments have been separated for the A9 with the main volume adjustment knob housed on the right cup while the built-in chat-mix adjustment finds itself alone on the left cup with only the retractable mic to keep it company. Back on the right cup you’ll find the power button, the Bluetooth toggle, as well as the mute button for the mic. The right cup is also where the 3.5mm line-in jack is located for connecting the A9 to other devices such as a phone or other audio device that for some reason wouldn’t just just Bluetooth. The headset charges via an included micro-USB cable, and SteelSeries boasts a 20+ hour battery life on a single charge, and with almost two weeks of nightly gaming sessions, I can attest that these headsets run like the energizer bunny. I would have a preferred an updated USB-C connection, but since the cable is included, I can’t complain.

Audio Quality

Utilizing a combination of lossless 2.4 GHz wireless signal for game chat and Bluetooth 4.0 for calls, music, or whatever else you need Bluetooth for, the Arctis 9 headset provides crisp and clear audio for whatever you need to listen to. Like most surround sound headsets, SteelSeries has equipped the A9s with 40mm drivers to recreate an accurate and believable soundscape. The A9s uses industry leading technology from DTS called DTS Headphone:X 2.0 to recreate a game’s audio from a simple 2 channel stream and converts it into fully 3D audio. Playing games like Tetris Effect with DTS enabled is as close to a Godly experience as can be experienced on a sub-$200 headset. Horror games like Alien: Isolation, The Blair Witch, and Resident Evil 7 are truly horrifying thanks to the lifelike surround sound audio space provided by the A9s.

The built-in mic is, like I said, a retractable mic and works as well as you might expect for a headset mic. SteelSeries states that the mic is Discord certified, and if that is something you’re interested in, they have you covered. Like most gaming headset mics, it’s not going to replace a dedicated desktop mic for recording podcasts or live streaming, but for party chat and/or answering phone calls via Bluetooth, it’s a perfectly fine mic. Mine spends nearly 95% of it’s time tucked away into the left ear cup, but should my desktop mic ever fail, or I need to make a simple Skype call, I’m sure it’s the mic I would use.

DTS Headphone:X v2.0

Connectivity

Like previous iterations of SteelSeries wireless headsets, the A9 connects with a cabled USB dongle to allow for optimal placement. Why does a USB dongle need to be placed, you ask? Because SteelSeries knows that you don’t always need to game with a headset and has smartly included a 3.5mm Line Out jack on the rear of the dongle. Connect a pair of desktop speakers to the 3.5mm jack for automatic switching whenever the headset is powered off. I love this feature and think that it’s brilliant. On PS4 or Switch, this feature doesn’t work (or just simply isn’t needed) and the USB dongle can just be placed out of sight out of mind.

As with all fancy headsets and third party peripherals, SteelSeries utilizes their “Engine” software to modify and tweak certain aspects of their keyboards, mice, and of course, their headsets. SteelSeries Engine allows for all the typical tweaks and adjustments such as the enabling and disabling of DTS V2, setting surround profiles for things like games, movies, and cinema as well as an adjustable equalizer for fine-tuning audio settings to your liking. A noteworthy feature is the Engine’s automatic configuration changes when certain applications are detected. Meaning, if you want to have the bass pumped to the max for games like Call of Duty and Apex Legends, you can set a profile that will automatically adjust to that setting whenever that application is detected on your machine. Need more audio cues from spoken dialog in an adventure game, set a profile and let Engine do the rest!

Another interesting feature that SteelSeries has carried forward from the A7s is the dual device setup on PC. Unlike most headsets, the A9s show up as two distinct devices on Windows PCs. The first is labeled as a pair of headphones and shows up as game audio, and the other shows up as a headset, and can be set separately as your default communication device. When using services like Discord or Skype on PC for voice chat, this is the feature that let’s you adjust the mix between game and party chat, but it’s cool that they can be adjusted individually at the control panel for even more control.

Conclusion

The SteelSeries Arctis 9 headset is unquestionably the best wireless gaming headset that I have used to date. The lightweight design combined with their proprietary ski goggle headband and air-weave cushions are as comfortable as could possibly be expected for a headset aimed at mainstream users. The dual wireless connectivity options for both 2.4 GHz and Bluetooth help ensure that even in the middle of an intense on-line battle I never missed out on any important phone calls or texts from my loved ones or professional contacts. The integrated “ChatMix” volume control makes it easy to dial in the perfect mix of in-game audio and party audio and is a feature that I want on all future headsets. SteelSeries has a long track record of great headsets, but the A9 takes lessens learned and puts it all together for a perfect PC gaming headset.

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