Playing games on your PC or PS5 just got easier with the SteelSeries Arctis 9. For $199, the Arctis 9 Wireless offers a comfortable fit, long battery life, and the ability to easily configure the audio through SteelSeries’ software so the sound suits your ears.
However, it takes some work to get the best sound out of these cans, which might turn some people off, and this headset is built only for PC, PS5 and Nintendo Switch, so Xbox fans are out of luck. Despite these quirks, the SteelSeries Arctis 9 delivers stunning sound quality (after some tinkering), making it one of the best gaming headsets around.
SteelSeries Arctis 9 design
They are back at it again with another SteelSeries Arctis 9, and yes, the Steel in SteelSeries is there for a reason. The Arctis 9 sports a steel band hidden behind a thick elastic black strap, and though that may sound uncomfortable, a black rubber cushion on the underside helps protect your head. Similar to the SteelSeries Arctis 7X, the band features a white geometric design, as well as the black-and-white rubbery SteelSeries logo located above the right earcup. That logo is the placemark for where you can adjust the band to make it tighter or looser.
Keeping with the typical design, the ear cups are matte-black and have a black glossy SteelSeries logo on the bottom-center of the right cup; it’s a nice touch against the matte finish. Each cup is cushioned with black hexagonal stitching.
The location of some buttons and ports is different on the Arctis 9 than on past models. Located on the right ear cup are the retractable and flexible microphone and the game/chat volume wheel. On the left cup is the volume dial, mute button, Bluetooth connection button, power button, a micro-USB charging port and a 3.5mm audio jack.
SteelSeries Arctis 9 comfort
The Arctis 9 fits snugly on my ears, cushioning them in all of the right places. The padded ear cups are the right size for my ears — they don't rub on them or crush my ears like a typical cheap headset.
The elastic band makes the wearing experience with the Arctis 9 even more comfortable, as the headset feels like it's barely there. Rather than having an annoying band wrapped around the top of your head, the elastic makes it so the metal never makes contact with the top of your head. How? The elastic band is looped around the band so the metal doesn’t come near your head. And, if for some reason it does, the rubber cushion makes it more bearable so you never make direct contact with the metal bar.
Additionally, with the 2.4Ghz adapter that comes with the Arctis 9, you won’t have to worry about getting tangled in an annoying wire.
SteelSeries Arctis 9 gaming performance
The SteelSeries Arctis 9 is outfitted with 40-millimeter neodymium drivers. The first game I played with the Arctis 9 headset was a Tabletop Simulator during a fun Dungeons & Dragons session. With D&D, it’s important to have a good balance between the game and voice volume so you can enjoy a little of both. The volume wheel for adjusting game chat to game volume was extremely helpful, especially when the dungeon master bounces between songs that vary in volume. However, I noticed that the voices of my friends sounded robotic.
Playing AER: Memories of Old was a nice experience, as the sound was clear and balanced. AER is a calm game with soothing background music, which got loud at times and nearly threw off the balance of the gameplay sound effects, such as the soft pats while walking around, but overall the Arctis 9 delivered bright acoustics.
Kicking it up a gear, I tried a more action-packed game -- Apex Legends. The audio was clear and the left-to-right surround sound was astonishing. After playing a couple of rounds, I noticed a significant change compared to the Arctis 7X, where it was easier to decipher where certain sounds were coming from, like gunshots and footsteps.
SteelSeries Arctis 9 music performance
I love a deep bass and nice beat, but I enjoy it moreso when I have headphones that can pick up every aspect of the song with balanced tones and instruments. Thankfully, with the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, you can alter certain aspects of the equalizer to get the best sound for you, although it takes some work.
By customizing the equalizer to the Bass preset, my music experience greatly improved. While listening to a cover of “Elastic Heart” by Written by Wolves, I noticed the cymbals on the drums were high pitched and took away from my experience because of the deafening sound. However, after changing the equalizer settings, the issue dissipated, as the music put more emphasis on the bass and less emphasis on the piercing treble.
I listened to the cover of “Zombies” by Missio, which has a lot of treble vocals, to test how the sound compared with the original settings versus the preferred equalizer setting. The default settings weren’t terrible, but the Bass option brings the music to life and makes the experience much more enjoyable. With the Bass setting added, the low beats and vibrations were more powerful, and the vocals harmonize perfectly and evenly without overlapping sounds.
However, when listening to Sub Urban’s song “Patchwerk,” I didn’t prefer the Bass setting because this particular song has more high-frequency noises; there aren’t lows to be picked up. Rather, I preferred the Reference setting, where it evened out the highs with the rest of the sound, making it a bit more bearable to listen to.
SteelSeries Arctis 9 microphone
The Arctis 9’s retractable ClearCast bidirectional microphone picked up my voice nicely. Having a soft-spoken voice, I got a little nervous that the mic wouldn’t capture my voice, but that proved to be no problem.
What's better is for those who may have an even softer voice than my own, there is an option in the Software configuration called mic sidetone, which lets you hear your own voice. You can utilize this feature to get a grasp of how loud or soft you sound while gaming.
SteelSeries Arctis 9 features
Unlike the SteelSeries Arctis 7X, the Arctis 9 is only for the PC and PS5. Using the 2.4 Ghz USB Type-C wireless receiver, you can listen to music or your game wirelessly at up to 40 feet away.
The battery life is never something to joke about when it comes to the Arctis headsets, as this one is advertised to last up to 20 hours. It lasted me a few sessions of D&D, which normally run 4 hours per session, and it made a beeping noise to indicate when the battery was getting low.
Another thing to love about this headset is that it has an onboard mute button located on the right cup, just under the volume dial. When the mic is muted, the LED light on the tip of the microphone will turn red. You also don’t have to worry about a stiff microphone being stuck in your mouth or up your nose because the Arctis 9 has a retractable and flexible mic, making it so much easier to game comfortably.
The cherry on top is the free SteelSeries software. With the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, you can customize the equalization profiles, inactivity timeouts and configure the mic options.
For $199, the SteelSeries Arctis 9 delivers a wealth of features. Between the customizable software, the comfortable design, and the amazing battery life, it’s hard not to fall in love with this headset. And as bonus, it’s wireless, so there is no need to worry about getting tangled.
The only downsides are that you need to put some work into the software to get the best sound for your preferences, and this headset can only be used for the PC and Playstation, not on Xbox. If you’re looking for an Xbox headset, check out the SteelSeries Arctis 7X.
But if you’re working on PC and PS5, the SteelSeries Arctis 9 is one of the best gaming headsets you can buy right now.