Finding the best gaming headset is tough. Whether you need top-notch surround sound accuracy for first-person shooters, a great mic for team communication, or plush comfort for long gaming sessions, it’s not often that a headset will do everything you need it to. And good luck finding one you would actually want to wear out in public. Thankfully, as we discovered in our SteelSeries Arctis 7 review, this unassuming wireless headset changes all that.
Gone are the days of being forced to keep a rotation of multiple headsets around for your gaming system of choice. Thanks to an extremely comfortable and tasteful design, impressive customization software, versatile connectivity, and fantastic audio performance with scary-real DTS Headphone:X virtual surround, the Arctis 7 has put all other headsets in its class on notice that there’s a new king in town.
Out of the box
Aside from the colorful box, the packaging for the $150 Arctis 7 takes a minimalist approach. The included literature is short and sweet, written in symbols for universal access. Also included in the light package is a small compartment for the USB charging cable, USB dongle, and a 3.5mm cable.
The headset itself is similarly minimal, cast in elegant lines with muted colors. In fact, the Arctis 7 avoids all the cringe-worthy missteps that so many other gaming headsets employ, like toyish aesthetics, restrictive software, or limited connectivity. It’s simply built to look good and perform well, no matter how you connect.
Features and design
Having the Arctis 7 in your hands makes a strong first impression. Let’s start from the top and work our way down.
The Arctis 7 makes a strong first impression thanks to mature styling and an intuitive design.
The headband is unlike any other we’ve encountered in the genre. The band is a static, single strip of brushed metal that doesn’t extend or widen (though the earcups do swivel). This might sound uncomfortable, and it would be, but this isn’t what rests on your head. Instead, an elastic “ski goggle strap” attaches around the headband to rest on your head. This novel one-size-fits-all design is rather ingenious; it’s comfortable and eliminates points of pressure since the weight is evenly and gently distributed.
For those who want to inject a bit of flair or personality, SteelSeries sells a variety of band designs that can be easily swapped out. Similarly, the “AirWeave” earcup padding is removable, and different fabrics are available including leather and velour. As we’ll discuss further below, customization is a defining trait of the Arctis 7. However, we love the light-mesh AirWeave, and while we’re happy SteelSeries is committed to versatile design here, we think most people will also be just fine with the standard padding.
The retractable mic is extremely flexible and can be easily collapsed into the left earcup. This essentially transforms the headset into a pair of regular wireless headphones, and the minimalist look means they’ll be inconspicuous when wearing them in public – a design trait we wish more headsets would follow. Sure, you can technically wear a headset like the Razer ManO’War 7.1 out in public, but not without looking like an air traffic controller.
The Arctis 7 is simple, clean, and unassuming, right down to the onboard controls. Power, mic mute, mic mix, and volume keys on the underside of the earcups are easy to access, but don’t stand out visually. This aesthetic complements the comfort and flexibility nicely, making for what may just be our favorite gaming-headset design.
The Arctis 7 will work on whatever system you play on. For wired connection, you can connect directly to your device’s 3.5mm audio jack with the included cable — on PS4 and Xbox One, these are located on the controllers, while on Switch, you’ll need to be playing in handheld mode to use the system’s 3.5mm jack. PS4 and PC users can also connect the 3.5mm cable to the included USB dongle. To connect wirelessly, you’ll simply need to connect the dongle to your PC or PS4, and turn on the headset.
The SteelSeries Engine 3 software for PC can be downloaded by following the included link in the user manual. You’ll need to update your device’s firmware, but the software takes care of virtually all of this itself. Simply click on the necessary boxes when prompted, and wait for the installation to complete.
The SteelSeries Engine 3 software is the most expansive and flexible set of tools we’ve seen for a PC headset yet. The software works as a hub for all SteelSeries products, including mice, keyboards, headsets, etc. It requires creating an account and driver installation/updates before the full set of features is available, but the extra steps are worth it. Once you’ve created an account and registered your products, you can create individual profiles for each that will be saved to your account and follow you from machine to machine. It’s important to note the software only works for PC gaming, and won’t transfer to consoles.
With SteelSeries Headsets, you can toggle between multiple EQ and 7.1 surround sound presets, as well as create your own presets that will be saved online and can be carried over to other PCs simply by downloading the software and signing in.
One feature we’re surprised to see is the ability to add compression to the mix. There are four levels of compression – off, low, medium, and high — which can make quite a bit of difference for keeping mic chat audible when gaming effects are at their most bombastic. You can also adjust the mix between voice chat and game audio manually, as well as mic volume and side tone, i.e. ambient noise in the room.
The best part? All of this can be tweaked and tested live. This eliminates any guesswork while adjusting your playback and mic settings.
Not only is SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software remarkable for the customization it gives users, it’s also ridiculously simple to use, especially considering how much it lets you do. Simply put, we love the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, as it adds a whole new dimension to the performance of the headset.
Armed with 40mm drivers, the sound output on the Arctis 7 headset rivals even the most powerful headsets like the super-loud Sennheiser GSP 350. The Arctis 7 runs into some distortion at the very loudest moments, but you’re not likely to need volume at that level anyway, thanks to how clear and well-mixed the sound is. As noted above, the Arctis 7’s sound can be customized and tweaked for each listener’s needs with ease., but the default stereo mix is robust and clear, even straight out of the box.
The Arctis 7 is one of the best-sounding gaming headsets at the $150 price point, period.
Bass is slightly tame when compared to powerful headsets like Razer’s ManO’War 7.1, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Using the SteelSeries Engine 3 software to boost bass or diminish other frequencies makes that essentially a moot point — as long as you’re using a PC, of course.
For PC gaming, the Arctis 7 also supports DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround, impressive virtual software that provides excellent spatial positioning without diminishing from the richness found in stereo. There are also virtual surround presets for gaming, music, and movies that all appropriately cover their respective media.
The mic is also particularly worthy of mention. The Arctis line uses SteelSeries’ proprietary ClearCast mic technology for voice capture, with a pickup pattern that is smaller and centralized around the mouth. The mic placement requires more precision than many other mics, but this isn’t an issue thanks to the highly flexible mic arm. The upshot is that there is little-to-no ambient pickup in most listening environments. This is bolstered by noise canceling that doesn’t require software or hardware toggling, which helps result in highly accurate voice capture.
Normally, we tend to recommend against gaming headsets for those wanting to record professional-quality audio when streaming, podcasting, or uploading gameplay to YouTube, but we’re less concerned about that with the Arctis 7. A dedicated mic is still preferable in these instances, but if you had to record audio with the Arctis 7 (or really any of the Arctis models), the results will be better than you would get from most other headsets.
While more and more headsets are compatible with multiple platforms, we love the fact that the Arctis 7 works with just about everything in your gaming arsenal right out of the box, with no need to buy accessories. We do wish we could use the 7.1 virtual surround with the PS4, like you can with the Cloud Revolver S .
When it comes to wireless connection, the range and battery life are both more than adequate for our gaming needs. SteelSeries claims the Arctis 7 is effective up to 12 meters, and sitting across the living room to play on both PC and PS4 resulted in zero lag. The battery life is rated at 15 hours, and that also held up in our testing — we never had to charge the headset in the middle of a game, even after a full day of playing. Plus, the headset features an auto-shutdown mode when no media is being played that will prevent unnecessary battery drain.
SteelSeries offers a 1-year limited warranty on parts and labor for the Arctis 7 that covers manufacturing defects. SteelSeries also offers a full 30-day money back guarantee on products bought directly through its online store.Our Take
This Arctic 7 is by far the best choice for wireless PC headsets, and one of the best overall gaming headsets, period. While using it on a console narrows its functionality, it still outperforms most console headsets, while its comfort, style, and versatile connectivity offer plenty more reasons to fall in love with it.
Is there a better alternative?
While we’re focusing on the Arctis 7 here, the SteelSeries’ Arctis 3 and Arctis 5 are also worthy of consideration. There are some differences in terms of aesthetics and design, but performance-wise, they’re basically identical, with only minor variations in mic quality and surround sound format. The Arctis 3 features 7.1 surround sound and comes in both wired and Bluetooth versions, while the Arctis 5 supports DTS Headphone:X surround but is solely a wired headset.
The wired version of the Arctis 3 is the cheapest at $80 and has the most color options, but will require some extra registration to use the SteelSeries Engine 3 software and only supports 3.5mm connection. The Bluetooth version costs $130, but is also the first Bluetooth headset to be fully compatible with the Nintendo Switch’s voice chat app.
Finally, the $100 Arctis 5 seems to have the best mic performance of the trio by a hair, and feature a customizable, minimalist RGB LED ring on the earcups.
For an alternative outside the Arctis Line, you might also check out the Cloud Revolver mentioned above, which allows for virtual surround sound with a PS4.
But when it comes to wireless PC gaming headsets, the Arctis 7 is the best choice, bar none.
How long will it last?
You can expect to have driver updates to the SteelSeries Engine 3 software to maintain compatibility and performance on PC. The comfort, durability, and simplistic design should also give the Arctis 7 some real staying power.
Should you buy it?
This is one of the easiest headset recommendations we’ve ever made. The Arctis 7 is the best PC headset currently available, and one of our favorite options for gaming overall.