The SteelSeries Arctis Headset Family is Too Big
It’s nice to have choice as a gaming headset consumer. However, sometimes a company’s pursuit of new technology combines with a reluctance to retire old models, and suddenly they have far too many options on the market.
That’s exactly the messy position Steelseries is in right now, with twenty-seven different models of the Arctis headset in active production. The sound in these many different models is provided by one of only two different unique speaker drivers. The first is the S1 driver originally developed for the classic SteelSeries Siberia 800, and the second is the newer hi-res driver that was specially crafted and tuned for the Arctis Pro models.
As a result, most of the headsets on the left side of this daunting nightmare chart sound nigh-identical, with only minor differences depending on what you’re connected to and how well the headset seals against your individual head. I’ve listened to numerous S1-based Arctis products over the years, and they all have the same nice, gently accentuated sound that’s among the best affordable gaming headsets can provide. The Pro models step things up into audiophile territory, with accurate and beautiful sound and high-end features that many gamers honestly won’t need.
Here are the three models that I think stand out the most in their lineup, alongside some of my hopes for the future of the Arctis brand.
Arctis 1 — The Value Leader
The Arctis 1 essentially negates the need for the Arctis 3 or 5 to exist at all. At $49 wired and $99 wireless, it packs excellent sound performance into a traditional frame shape that’s adjustable enough for most heads. The suspension strap became synonymous early on with the Arctis series, but this model proved SteelSeries could provide just as much wearing comfort in a standard headset look. The Xbox version of the wireless model includes support for every major platform on the market today thanks to a simple toggle, and its small USB-C dongle works perfectly on the go with android phones or Nintendo Switch consoles.
I don’t really understand why this model deserved to have the lowest number designation amongst the entire series, as it packs in the same sound and mic performance as its “bigger” brothers. It would have been the perfect chance to retire the largely-plastic designs of the Arctis 3 and 5, as much as I enjoyed them at launch years ago. The only thing missing from the Arctis 1 wireless is the Bluetooth support of the Arctis 3 Bluetooth model. I’d love to see that incorporated in the future around a $129 price point.
Arctis 7 — The middle ground
The Arctis 7 has received two updates in the last year or so. First, they refined the design of its metal headband to more closely match the shape of the expensive pro models. More recently, alongside the new console launches, they replaced its bulky wireless dongle with the sleek USB-C dongle also used on the Arctis 1 Wireless.
In spite of these upgrades, it still retains its launch price of $149, and still packs in a good bit of value for that price. If you’re looking for the midrange star in this pile, look no further. Like with the Arctis 1 Wireless, the Xbox “7X” model is best bet if you’re a multi-platform gamer.
Arctis Pro Wireless — The flagship icon
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless is one of the best flagship headsets ever released, and I still use the one I bought for this review regularly. It has a steep asking price of $329, but packs in wired, wireless, and Bluetooth connection options alongside a swappable battery system and a breathtaking accurate sound signature.
However, the Pro lineup will soon need an update. Both the Pro + GameDAC and Pro Wireless models rely in part on optical audio connections to get surround sound data from consoles. Neither the Xbox Series X|S nor the PS5 support optical audio connections, requiring users to resort to external adapters or rely on their TV or monitor for optical audio, which is a clumsy solution.
Further, the Pro Wireless doesn’t offer the same level of DAC (digital to analog converter) or amp performance as the GameDAC model. I’d love to see the features of these two models integrated, perhaps alongside increased connection options for the modern gaming environment, and a battery size increase.
When the Arctis Pro first launched in 2018, SteelSeries really played up its support for hi-res audio. It was weird, because at that time no games supported the format, and now three years later…no games support the format. A refresh of the headset alongside a game with hi-res audio would be cool to see.
SteelSeries didn’t pay me to write this, and none of the links in this piece are affiliate links as I don’t believe in the practice. I understand the temptation that draws tech companies into providing so many different headset choices for their customers. The longer it takes you to pick a headset model, the more invested in the process you’ll feel, and more choices seems like a good thing on the surface.
However, it’s completely ridiculous that SteelSeries went from making three Arctis models in 2016 to making almost thirty a scant four years later. They’re not the only company that fell victim to this, but most other companies also better differentiate their large lineups, and they aren’t afraid to retire models from time to time. SteelSeries has two excellent audio driver platforms underpinning their Arctis headsets, and they could cut two thirds of these models from the market without sacrificing anything but production and marketing costs.