PCWorld Australia Editor, PCWorldNov 7, 2022 2:45 am PST
Image: Dominic Bayley / IDG
At a glance
The audio sounds warm and punchy
It’s very lightweight and portable
The retractable microphone is a treat
Supports wired connectivity only
It lets in quite a lot of ambient noise
The headset is quite small so won’t suit larger heads
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 has all the hallmarks of a top-quality gaming headset, featuring excellent sound and a comfortable and stylish design. While it only supports wired connectivity, the Nova 3’s generous cabling options allow you to connect to just about any device you might own.
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If the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is the high-performance sportscar of SteelSeries’ headset lineup, then the budget Nova 3 is more of a sports sedan, in that it has tons more pizzazz than a bog-standard device but does without some of the luxurious extras you get in the Nova Pro Wireless.
Accordingly, it’s mostly made of plastic and only sports wired connectivity, but does share some of its premium sibling’s better features, like fully swiveling earcups and a stretchy inner headband that floats atop your head. In the audio department, too, it hits all the right notes, delivering fantastic sound whatever media type you’re listening to. Plus, its flashy RGB lighting is dazzling anytime of the day or night.
Note: This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best gaming headsets. Go there to learn about competing products, what to look for in a gaming headset, and buying recommendations.
When it comes to comfort, the Arctis Nova 3 actually outdoes the Nova Pro Wireless. The upper adjustable headband feels super snug without a hint of clamp pressure, and the Nova 3’s AirWeave earcups are some of the softest I’ve used. They’re covered in a light mesh fabric, which is cooler than the Nova Pro’s ritzy, but sometimes stuffy, leatherette ones on hot days.
SteelSeries has done a great job making the Nova 3 super light and portable too. At 8.9 ounces (253 grams), it’s a good deal lighter than the Nova Pro Wireless whose metal earcup covers, among other features, add on an additional 2.9 ounces. In fact, only the Asus ROG Strix Go Moonlight White comes up lighter in our field of reviews. That miniscule weight means you can wear it all day long and not even feel it.
Admittedly, some weight appears to be traded for a small size. I measured my review unit to be just 8 inches from top to bottom, and the cups were just 4 inches at their longest part. That’s not ideal if you have a large head or ears—otherwise the device should fit square on.
As to styling, the Nova 3 is undoubtedly made to impress gamers—the middle of the outer earcups contain a soft scratch-proof material that prevents nicks and grazes, while simultaneously showing off SteelSeries’ iconic logos. Additionally, dazzling RGB lighting rings circle the outer cans. They’re programmable with up to 16.8 million colors and a range of cool lighting effects via the SteelSeries GG software app.
Admittedly, these features aren’t unique in budget headsets, but the Nova 3 does have a few small design touches that elevate it above rivals. Features like its fully retractable ClearCast Gen 2 noise-cancelling microphone and its detachable cords are two that come to mind. The former slides effortlessly back into the earcup, so that you never have to worry about losing your mic, while the latter prevents you having to buy a new set if you break your cords—so credit to SteelSeries for going the extra mile.
Dominic Bayley / IDG
For connectivity, the Nova 3 sports just simple wired connectivity, but you still get excellent multiplatform access with three useful cords supplied in the box. That includes a USB-C to USB-C cable, 3.5mm analog cable and USB-C to USB-A adapter cable, which extends connectivity to the Xbox One and Xbox X/S.
Other than those devices, you can connect to pretty much everything else—including a PC, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, or an Android smartphone. Mind you, you will be tethered at a distance of between approximately 4 to 5 feet (depending on the cord you use), so be prepared to have to take your headset off if you need to wander about.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3: Audio performance
SteelSeries has talked up the Nova 3’s Acoustic System, which includes custom-made 40mm drivers, as being a big improvement on previous generations and while we didn’t have any predecessors on hand to test out that claim, we’re thinking it’s likely to be true, judging by how good the Nova 3 sounded in games, music, and movies.
The Nova 3 is also a cinch to control, with just a volume wheel, mute microphone button, and simple switch to turn the RGB lighting on or off, so you won’t need to worry about reading complicated instructions.
Playtesting a bunch of games from my Steam library revealed the headset’s strength to be the upper bass and mid tones, which give it a warm and punchy audio profile. This really hits home in games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Elden Ring, which tend to champion audio in that part of the spectrum.
Regrettably, the Nova 3 lets in just about every ambient sound in your environment, having no Active Noise Cancellation to speak of, and only the slightest passive barrier to unwanted sound.
Still, this blip is partially made up for by a highly sensitive bidirectional microphone that relayed my voice with gusto in Discord chats. It’s noise cancellation, which uses an AI algorithm to block ambient noise, was also very effective, keeping my recordings distortion-free at normal volume levels, and only picking up some slight disturbance when I pushed the mic volume to max.
Dominic Bayley / IDG
One of the highlights of using the Nova 3 was being able to personalize my sound settings to a ridiculous level—and I mean that in the most complimentary way. The Nova 3 utilizes the SteelSeries GG app on PC, which if not best-in-class, is at least equal to the very best that rivals have to offer. In the top-level of the app, I was delighted to see that I could apply up to four audio presets and change the Nova 3’s RGB lighting colors and effects.
But the real hero is definitely Sonar where any sane gamer should go to personalize their audio. In Sonar, as well as customizing your spatial audio, you can dig down deeper to modify things like volume and EQ, but not just for your games, for any of your audio sources—chat and other apps included.
Modifying the EQ for games is especially awesome, since this can be done on a parametric chart. The sky’s the limit for what you can achieve with this tool. While most players simply have to accept whatever sound settings their game dishes up, with a Parametric EQ chart you can emphasize any sounds you like, or effectively silence those you don’t—and nothing’s off the table; whether it’s your character clicking armor into place, your enemies’ footsteps, or your character’s voice, if you know roughly what the frequency of the sound is, you can change it.
Dominic Bayley / IDG
Sonar also provides you with ready-made presets for popular games like Dota 2, Call of Duty: Warzone, and CounterStrike: Global Offensive, if you don’t want to spend time tinkering yourself to create your own.
These presets seem to be well engineered for their respective titles too. But just to make sure, I tried out the Dota 2 preset and compared it against a default one. By raising the bass, upper mids, and high tones and scooping out the mids, this preset really emphasized explosions and the crackle of thunder, when compared to the plain-old default setting.
Suffice to say, this brought a whole new dimension to what would have been a relatively normal game of Dota 2 for me, further qualifying the Nova 3 as an excellent headset for gaming, in my opinion.
Should you buy the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3?
The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3 is extremely lightweight and feels super snug and comfortable on your head. It also sounds great in games, movies, and music, producing a warm and punchy sound that you never get tired of, although it’s not that great at blocking ambient noise. While it’s mostly made of plastic, the Nova 3’s stylish cans and flashy RGB lighting never fail to impress every time you put it on.