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Steelseries Arctis 9 Wireless review: A balanced and cross-platform wireless headset

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Steelseries Arctis 9 Wireless review: A balanced and cross-platform wireless headset
Specifications
Compatibility PC, Mac, PS4, Switch, Bluetooth (and wired)
Transducers 2×50 mm
Frequency response 20 Hz – 20kHz-
Impedance 32 Ohms
Sensitivity 98 dB SPL @ 1 mW & 1 cm
Microphone type Bi-Directional Electret
Microphone noise attenuation Material
Illuminated areas No
Render 7.1 No
Weight 376 g
Available connections Proprietary wireless via USB, Bluetooth and wired dongle (without reserve)

While the Arctis 9X model has been around for a little over a year, exclusively on Xbox One, Steelseries offers us a version designed for PlayStation consoles, Nintendo Switch, PC and many more thanks to a bluetooth connection and the most unlikely mini-jack port we have ever encountered.

Now that we're at it, let's jump right into this connectivity story and its many subtleties. Follow well, because there is material to get lost. The Arctis 9 Wireless is therefore a wireless headset coupled with a USB dongle.. This dongle can be plugged into a Windows PC or Mac, with the support of Steelseries Engine 3 software on both platforms. It can also be connected to a PlayStation 4 (or 5) in USB, or to a Nintendo Switch via the USB ports of its dock, and therefore only in TV mode. The consoles do not offer the possibility of creating a headphone management application, we lose in passing in functionality, between equalization, management of the microphone volume and surround effect.

Small detail that is not really emphasized by the manufacturer: the sound card of the USB dongle offers 1 input channel for the microphone, 2 stereo channels for the game, and finally 2 independent stereo channels for the return of the cat. What directly balance the voices of the multiplayer and the sound of the game from the headset, via the small dedicated wheel. Except that there too, this is a PC exclusive, as chat channels are not available on PlayStation or Switch. Steelseries does offer an additional analog input to its dongle, for those who would like to recover the sound from the TV to reinject it into the headphones, but this solution is neither practical nor really effective.

The arctis 9 also offers a Bluetooth 4.1 connection, the kind that you can easily connect to a smartphone, a connected TV, and other compatible devices, with really moderate latency. And this is where we arrive at the 3.5 mm mini-jack socket delicately named “Headphone Share” in the instructions in English and simply “Mini-jack plug in French”. Header that we immediately took for passive input and that we tried with a Switch and a tablet. And which, apart from a small problem with adjusting the volume which drops to the stop of the dial, worked perfectly, suddenly making the headset compatible with portable consoles, but also PlayStation and Xbox controllers. Yeh. Except that this plug actually has a different function.

Yes, it can accept the output of a device for passive use, but it has above all been designed to provide an output to a second, wired headphone. Thus, and this is the first time that we have seen such a function, it is possible to watch a movie in Bluetooth, while sharing the signal with another person, wired with their own headphones directly on the Arctis 9. And frankly, it works well. It pulls a little on the battery, which goes from 20 hours to 10 hours of operation, but in terms of volumes, it is impeccable. Between that and the line output of the dongle which allows the sound to pass automatically when the headphones are unplugged, we are therefore dealing with two good ideas, but which will hardly find their audience as they are poorly (or not) explained in the short notice.

From an aesthetic point of view, The Arctis 9 plays the card of sobriety : colorless plastics, no RGB lighting apart from the discreet connection diode, and large earplates with simply the brand inlaid in shiny black on a matte surface. In terms of design, Steelseries retains its simple and fixed hoop system, lined with an elastic band, all without any size adjustment. It's amazing, but for most skull sizes it works great. We find all the same two limits to this method: children's heads, for which the helmet is just too big, and the largest heads (or the more hairy ones) with which we find some discomfort when the headphones pull too much on the ears. For others, the support is effective and the helmet quickly finds its place to never leave it, and this even if we stay on a relaxed type, quite typical of what the usual brand offers.

In terms of the atria, Steelseries offers dense and fairly fine foams. The contact is therefore firm, which is rather pleasant, but be careful though because there a design that is perfectly incompatible with glasses. If you wear it to play, go your way. As for the material of these ear cups, we are in the presence of a soft, thin and airy fabric, perfectly suited to long sessions but offering hardly any protection against external noise. Here again, a little against the current of Steelseries communication, we find that the headset is intended mainly for use at home, away from ambient noise.

We also find this difference at the microphone level, a retractable model advertised as a champion of attenuation, but which in fact ultimately captures ambient noise very well, lack of specific tool to manage them. No gate on the software, no targeted noise reduction, no equalization either, the options for the microphone are limited to an output volume and a volume of the return in the headphones in stages. It is then necessary to count on an opening at the back of the retractable rod to create a phase inversion effect, clearly insufficient as soon as the place where you are is at a minimum noisy.

At the same time, the microphone of the Arctis 9 can claim to use as a cat without blushing, but not much more.

The timbre is respected, although slightly muffled in the treble, but the microphone suffers above all from a membrane quality unable to support the nuances of the voice. Too much mouth noise at low volume, saturation as soon as you raise your tone a little, and a little hiss that you can even hear in return in moments of silence. We have also prepared a video for you to see for yourself.

Listening with the default equalization is a bit messy, the fault of a too strong presence on the side of the low mids. It is therefore necessary to go through the Engine 3 equalizer to ventilate this “muffled” side and thus release the potential of the loudspeaker in the bass, with the added bonus of a little clarity gained in the treble. Yes we can't blame the Arctis 9 Wireless for doing badlyAs listening to music such as streaming a movie or playing games is pleasant with these headphones, it is generally inferior to a Logitech G Pro X Wireless or a Sennheiser GSP 670 in terms of dynamics or clarity. And as too often with wireless headsets that seek performance in autonomy, the limitation of the integrated amplification is quickly reached and one can find oneself short of power to go up a slightly weak source or to compensate for a slightly noisy place.

As for 7.1, with a card that only handles stereo and the invisible support of a DTS Headphone: X 2.0 only on Windows, we couldn't hope for much more thana simple non-dynamic surround. And that's what we have. Without much interest then.

In the end, the Steelseries Arctis 9 Wireless appears to us as a helmet correct in all respects but that never really shines. Perfectible but functional ergonomics, a sound to the ears which is pleasant but first needs to be corrected, a suitable microphone but which struggles as soon as one leaves a classic use, and interesting features but often reserved for the platform PC. This helmet finally manages to find its place thanks to wide compatibility in wireless or wired, and this despite a mini-jack connector that looks more like DIY than a real entry. We expected a hit, it is ultimately a little more bland as a result. Mostly seen the price charged, at $200 for its launch.

The notes

+Good points

  • A pleasant sound once corrected in the equalizer
  • A comfortable and ventilated helmet
  • Successful finish and aesthetics
  • Bluetooth which widens compatibility
  • A surprisingly usable mini-jack port
  • Bluetooth and 2.4 GHz simultaneous

-Negative points

  • The microphone is quite limited
  • It may lack power
  • A simple surround without interest
  • Basic sound a little stuffy (equalization recommended)
  • Uncomfortable with glasses)

With the Arctis 9 Wireless, Steelseries is probably aiming a little too high in terms of price. The headset has no major flaws but it does not stand either in terms of sound quality, ergonomics or finish of the tenors of the category. On the other hand, it is particularly effective in terms of its cross-platform compatibility and is really pleasant to wear on long sessions, as long as you do not wear glasses.

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