SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless Review: comfy and now with added app

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless is pretty impressive indeed.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless

Depending on the game you’re playing, a good headset is almost as important as a controller you’re comfortable with. Everything from the audio quality, surround sound quality and comfort determines how well you’re able to assess the position and level of potential threats, and how long you can comfortably play.

Unfortunately, accessories companies have noticed this, and headset prices have massively shot up in recent years, with many headsets now costing more than a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones for travel.

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless is a solid, mid-range headset from a brand I think is making the best premium headsets on the market at the moment. One of the things I really like about SteelSeries headsets is the Sonar PC software that allows you to better customise the sound and use game specific EQs tuned by various esports pros and game companies.

What I’ve hated about that is that it’s for PC only, so we dirty console players don’t get the full benefit of our expensive accessory purchase. With the 5X Wireless (and its PC and PS5-only cousin, the 5 Wireless), SteelSeries has finally released a mobile app that brings some of that functionality to wherever you play.

I’ve spent almost a month playing with the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless, and I’m pretty impressed so far.


Functionality

WirelessQuick-switch 2.4 GHz + Bluetooth 5.3
Battery lifeUp to 60 hours
Fast charge15 min fast charge for 6 hours use
MicrophoneClearCast Gen 2.x (32KHz/16Bit)Bidirectional noise cancelling
Companion softwareNova APP – Pro Parametric Preset / Live EQ Switching
DriversNeodymium magnetic
CompatibilityXbox, PlayStation, PC, Switch, Android, iOS, Meta Quest
DongleUSB-C dongle
Nominal Impedance36 Ω
Frequency Response20—22,000 Hz

At $299.99 AUD, SteelSeries says that this is inventing a new gaming headset category of “affordable luxury”. The price of a premium headset used to be $300, and now that’s not even half the price of the top SteelSeries headset. Wild.

What makes this headset affordable luxury is the combination of the ability to connect via both 2.4GHz and Bluetooth, the app, and the neodymium magnetic drivers. They’re a step down from the graphene drivers you’d now expect on a premium headset, but neodymium magnets are the strongest type of permanent magnet and move the sound a bit better, hence cropping up in a more premium headset.

Unfortunately, this headset doesn’t have dual connections – you can’t be playing Xbox with music from your phone, for example. But you can press a button to switch between the two. It’s not the ideal, however it’s good enough.

The more exciting part here for most people, aside from the app, is the 60-hour battery life – a truly wild quantity of battery. It’s not the longest battery life in a headset (there’s a HyperX headset with 300 hours with a relatively similar level of audio quality), but it’s still enough that you’ll be surprised when you remember you have to charge it.

There are three models of the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless: 5, 5P and 5X. The 5 and 5P works with Switch, VR, PC and PS5, while the X has Xbox functionality as well. Other than that, they’re the same level of price and quality, so if you have an Xbox – or there’s a possibility of you obtaining an Xbox (or you think you might want to sell it later and increase your market) – you may as well grab the X model.

Read: SteelSeries Arctis Nova 4X Wireless Headset – Review

Design and comfort

I would describe the aesthetic of the more “affordable” SteelSeries gaming headsets as “gaming headsets in disguise”. They’re just very gaming headset-shaped, with one notable difference – the mic can be recessed. So, if you only want to have one pair of headphones and use them for everything, including music and commuting, you can do that without looking like you just wandered outside in the middle of cosplaying as an airline pilot with the little boom mic.

My favourite thing about SteelSeries headsets is the little ski-goggle bungee headband. It’s so soft. I wish the more premium SteelSeries headsets had it, because the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless is more comfortable than the $735 SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless by a long way, purely because of this little head cradle from the gods.

The best way to imagine it is: what if your headset gently cradled your head as a lover would, instead of just plomping some metal on there with a thin foam covering? Many premium headsets have the same comfort approach as a chair in the waiting room at a mid-level dentist’s office, because they’re more about the metallic, minimalist aesthetic. The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless looks a bit daggy, but it also loves both you and your skull.

The ear cups are also super soft, made of foam and fabric. They didn’t interact at all with my many earrings and felt comfortable even with my glasses. However, my earrings are all just sleeper rings, so it’s worth being aware that the fabric may catch on pointier earrings. 

>SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless
Image: Alice Clarke

The app

For the most part, I roll my eyes any time a pair of headphones beg me to download their proprietary app. Then again, most people probably don’t cycle through a few dozen pairs of headphones in their daily life, nor do they set up new pairs of headphones multiple times a month, so my issue with headphones app may be a niche one.

That said, the app for the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless is one of the few that I think really nail their stated purpose. There aren’t too many menus, the app isn’t overly cluttered, and it’s obvious how you change things and why you would.

This is set up so that, if you find you want to tweak something mid game, you can just pick up your phone, open the app, and then either tweak a custom Eq or use one of the 100 or so presets made for a wide variety of games. I found that the Fortnite and Forza Horizon 5 presets made a noticeable difference to how the games sounded, and improved my experience.

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless are the first SteelSeries headphones to work with this app, and sadly it doesn’t look like it’ll be backwards compatible. But hopefully future headphones utilise it (especially an updated Arctis Nova Pro Wireless), because the app is so good I now want this level of functionality from all headphones at this level and higher (also lower, but I’ll take what I can get).

Read: SteelSeries Arena 7 Speakers review – Enter the sound orb

Yeah, but does it sound good?

For their primary purpose, absolutely. They sound exactly how you’d expect a mid-range pair of headphones to sound: They’re not going to change your life, but they will get the job done admirably.

Game sound relies heavily on bass: the lower frequencies are where you’ll find things like footsteps, gunfire, car engines, and shovels digging. So, all gaming headsets should have a decent bass performance. And the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless does have that – a bit better than I’d expect from standard music headphones in this price range.

When you go up the line in gaming headset quality, you’ll start getting more higher range frequencies as well, because that’ll give you ricochets, birds, the little kind of halo around certain sounds that make them sound brighter and more realistic.

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless has that enough that things sound pretty good. To give you a musical example (because games are too difficult to replicate things on), Full Heart Fancy by Lucky Chops is a song in Forza Horizon 5, and it’s a brassy instrumental song. The details on the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless aren’t as clear as they are on a more premium pair of headphones for obvious reasons.

But I still can hear a sizzle on the snare drum, the jingle of the hi-hats, and the rich bass of the sousaphone. On a more music-based pair of headphones this song soars, but even on the music EQ it sounds very grounded and rooted in the bass. Still with higher details, but bass is, rightly, the focus of these headphones, even if the edges of the sounds aren’t as well defined as you’d expect from more expensive headphones.

What’s missing here are the mid-tones. They’re not as key to games, and it’s harder to tune headphones to have all three sides of the triangle without more expensive components, so they’re not required, but it does mean you’re always aware you’re listening to headphones. Great technology is invisible, and you lose yourself in the music or game completely, whereas when you move into the mid-range you become more aware of the technology and what it’s doing.

For games, I’ve spent a few dozen hours in Fortnite wearing these, and the details of the object-based audio are reproduced really well. The sound isn’t quite as clean as on the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless, but that’s to be expected. My friends’ voices come through clearly, the subtle sounds of the game audio are there easily, and the placement of footsteps and other sounds are accurate.

All up, the audio quality is better than other headsets in this price range, and anyone who isn’t a pro-player or full-on audio snob will absolutely love them. If I only had a $300 total budget for a gaming headset and everyday headphones, these are probably the ones I would go for, despite their limitations.

Read: SteelSeries’ Arctis Nova 7 Dragon Edition is a snazzy beast

Microphone

I’ve been using four sets of gaming headsets recently: Logitech Astro A50X, SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless, Arctis Nova 7X and these 5Xs. When I switched back from the Astro A50X to the Arctis Nova 5Xs, my friends were pleased, because the 5X sounds better than the headset that costs nearly three times as much. Now, it’s not quite as good as the 7X, and you can definitely tell it’s a more budget microphone than the Pro Wireless’, but the gain on it is better, and it’s clear.

The Arctis Nova 5X’s microphone is also good for phone calls. I’ve been taking calls at my desk all day today, and none of the people I spoke to had realised I was talking on a headset. That sounds like a low bar, but it’s high praise. Most headsets sound significantly worse than a phone microphone.

Verdict

In the last few years, I have reviewed and assessed well over 50 pairs of gaming headsets, so I feel fairly confident when I say that the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless are better than the majority of other headsets out there. They sound a bit better than their price range, they sound on par with what I would expect for $319, instead of $300 (which isn’t much, but it’s something), and with the added features I think makes this a good bang for your buck headset.

In theory, if you only had a $300 budget and wanted a pair of headphones that could do everything, including music out and about, these headphones would do the job well. The functionality of the app really adds to the value proposition, and is something that I’d like to see more companies step up and make.

Really, this is a great headset for the price, and it has all the features most players would actually use, as well as some extra features they might intend to use. The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless finds the right balance between throwing the kitchen sink at a headset, while maintaining a bit of affordability.

Four stars: ★★★★

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5X Wireless Headphones
Release Year: 2024
Price: AUD $299.99 RRP

Alice Clarke is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter. When not writing about games and tech, you can find her playing Fortnite, exploring the wilds of Mexico in Forza Horizon 5, or outside riding her bike. She also co-writes a weekly video game and tabletop Substack newsletter named Press Any Button which you should subscribe to.