Hands-on: SteelSeries Arctis 9 gaming headset brings dual wireless to PC and PS4

Connecting to your phone and game simultaneously is a great perk, but this otherwise great headset's not a good fit for every head.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
3 min read
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Most of the controls are on the right earcup, including power and Bluetooth, mute and volume. A scroll wheel on the left cup adjusts the volume mix between chat and game audio.

Lori Grunin/CNET

SteelSeries has dropped the "X" from its Xbox-intended Arctis 9X wireless gaming headset, simply calling its PC and PlayStation-compatible model the Arctis 9. Like the 9X, the 9 supports simultaneous Bluetooth and 2.4GHz connections, though they have to be with separate devices, like talking on the phone while gaming on a computer. You can also use it wired through USB. Its pucklike dongle has an analog 3.5mm input for game audio and a line out to the headset. It costs $200, which converts to about £160 or AU$280.

In all other respects it's the same, with a suspension and steel-reinforced headband, Discord-certified noise-cancelling retractable microphone and support for DTS Headphone:X v2.0 and Windows Spatial audio. SteelSeries also claims this new model has the same 20 hours of battery life (which is a good thing, as it seems to charge slowly). 

I never had an issue with the audio or microphone quality on the Arctis 9X. When I tested the 9, the noise-cancelling function worked well enough, blocking out the hum of my ancient air conditioner and desktop PC fans without degrading the sound too much. I do have some nitpicks with the design, though.

A lot of people find the Arctis headsets comfortable and well designed. The cushioning is great and the Airweave fabric breathes well enough to prevent the ear sweats. But I find the Arctis 9 a little too tight. The elastic headband is easy to adjust for vertical length, but (as with many headsets) there's no way to loosen it, at least without suffering while you break it in. 

Lori Grunin/CNET

That's because gaming headsets are frequently designed with larger heads in mind. The assumption is that the earcups will be extended more, which means less tension on the headband. My ears seem to be too high for that, though. It also makes it uncomfortable when I have it around my neck with the earcups folded. It's also on the heavy side, adding to my discomfort. 

A retractable mic is a great feature -- less likely to get lost than a removable one -- but it's not easy to retract the Arctis 9's single-handedly, because the stem has too much flex in it.

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On the upside, the power and Bluetooth buttons are easily differentiated by feel and the headset seems well-constructed. The big mute button is easy to find and depress, and there's a bright red light when it's muted.

I wish there was more control over the mic in the SteelSeries Engine software. There are a few equalizer presets, a volume slider and a choice of off, low, medium and high sidetone levels for hearing yourself speak. I'd at least like something between "off" and "low," and more equalizer presets. You can set how long to wait before it drops the connection to save power, and choose whether or not to automatically connect the Bluetooth when you power on.

For the right size head, the Arctis 9 has a great, if expensive, combination of features, quality and design. Sadly, my head is just not the right size.