SteelSeries Arctis 9X Review — Comme ci, Comme ça

As long as I can remember, I’ve been looking at SteelSeries line of headphones and just lusting after them. Not only do they look good(by gaming headsets’ low standards) they have garnered so many awards as some of the best headphones you could possibly buy. But one thing that always held me back from taking the plunge was the lack of a dedicated pair that worked wirelessly with the Xbox.

Yes, I’m a team green main and I hate wired headphones, so I was very happy when the SteelSeries Arctis 9X was released. It takes all that was good with the phenomenal SteelSeries Arctis 7 but adds integrated wireless Xbox connectivity — no dongles needed. 

All you need to do is turn it on, press and hold the power button for six seconds and the headset will go to pairing mode. Do the same with the pairing button on your Xbox and voila,  you’re connected. And that’s not all. You also get Bluetooth connectivity which actually works while you are connected to your Xbox — meaning you can have your phone connected while you also slay hundreds of demons in Doom.  Pair that with some truly comfortable earcups, some good battery life and you’ve got one of the best headsets for the Xbox.

Steelseries Arctis 9X Review

The design of the Arctis 9x is practically identical to almost every other Arctis headphone. The signature Ski goggle headband holds two large oblong swivelling earcups. It’s a design that works very well with great ear coverage and almost no pressure on the top of your head. It feels like the headset is floating on your head and it is one of the best implementations ever. It’s also incredibly easy to adjust thanks to the velcro tie. Simply tighten or loosen the velcro strap to get your perfect fit. Easy peasy. 

The Aireweave ear cushions are also some of the most comfortable I’ve experienced on a gaming headset. I love how soft and light on my ears. The cups have great coverage over most ear sizes and for people who wear glasses, don’t you worry. I’m happy to report there isn’t any pressure on the temples at all. 

Additionally, they have great isolation — keeping enough noise out so you can enjoy the crisp sound. The ear cups can swivel 90 degrees flat, so you can easily lay this on your chest when you take the headphones off which is a handy thing to have. And thanks to the ultralight frame, you can easily wear the Arctis 9X for the whole day with no fatigue. 

Assuming control

Since the Arctis 9X is a wireless headset, all the controls are on the ear cups with the majority living on the right ear cup; sorry left-handers. We start from the top of the ear cup with the main volume dial, followed by a mic mute button. Then lower down is the power and Bluetooth buttons with an LED that shows you different statuses.

To turn on the headset, you need to hold the power button for about 4 seconds. One thing I like is that powering on the Arctis 9X also powers on your connected Xbox. Also, quick pressing the power button cycles through the EQ profiles which I’ll touch on later. 

Underneath that is the Micro-USB port for charging. It’s disappointing that SteelSeries hasn’t gone with the increasingly ubiquitous USB-C. Then you could use your smartphone or laptop charger which is more convenient especially removing the need to carry multiple cables and chargers around. Finally, there is a 3.5mm connection port which ironically isn’t for audio input to the headset but rather audio sharing with another device or person. The left ear cup only has a game chat dial which adjusts how much of your voice you can hear in-game versus the game audio. 

Don’t drop the mic

The SteelSeries Engine is simple and straightforward

Speaking of the mic, it’s a retractable design and it lives inside the left ear cup, stowing away neatly when you don’t need it. I love this implementation on gaming headsets because I don’t use the microphone all that much as a single-player gamer. In saying that, it’s a decent mic which is flexible so you can position it as needed. When you hit the mic mute button, a red light on the end of the mic lights up for your convenience.

Here’s a sample of the mic quality:

SteelSeries Arctis 9X Mic Sample

The mic is also noise cancelling and it sounds pretty great overall with a very subtle hiss in the background though thats probably the noise cancelling. PC user will need to use SteelSeries Engine software to manually increase the microphone volume. I was initially confused when I first tried to use the headset for Zoom calls over Bluetooth to my MacBook because the volume was so faint, almost silent. It’s only when I used a Windows PC and discovered that you can adjust the mic volume and after that, everything was fine.    

Not for audiophiles

The sound signature of the Arctis 9X is fine. And by that I mean it sounds good but not as mind-blowing as a $350 headset should sound. The much, much cheaper, $60 EKSA E900 Pro sound fuller, bassier and richer while costing less than a fifth of the price of the Arctis 9X. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad by any means, just fine. 

What I mean is the sound profile is very neutral — almost clinical with crisp mids and highs and very subtle bass. Details in the audio are very well articulated and when combined with Windows Sonic, games sound amazing with great separation, clarity and directional accuracy. I’ve really enjoyed using the Arctis 9X in my first-ever playthrough of Red Dead Redemption 2 which has such a rich and living game world. You can hear tweeting birds, mooing cows, and hungry wild bears. You can clearly hear all the townsfolk chatting or the shattering glass as a brawler is tossed out of the local Salon or the neck of an outlaw snapping as he’s hanged in the town square. 

Now while the Arctis 9X excels in gaming audio, it falls short when listening to music or other non-game media. The audio is just too flat, with neither the highs or the lows shining which just leads to a very sterile listening experience. It won’t get you bouncing in your seat. I thought changing the EQ settings would improve things but unfortunately not. The EQ profiles can be adjusted in the Steelseries Engine which has four presets, Flat, Bass, Smiley and Focus. Surprisingly, the flat profile sounds richer and beefier than the Bass Boost. But that’s not saying much. The bass leaves a lot to be desired and trying to tweak it in the EQ only led to worse results so I just left the headsets on the Flat profile. 

I should also note that while this is an Xbox headset, there isn’t an Xbox app to adjust settings on the Arctis 9X. You will have to do that only on PC but good enough, the settings are saved onto the headset and will therefore carry over to the Xbox.

Look ma, no hands

The thing that makes the Arctis 9X is its dongle free wireless connection to the Xbox and it works as advertised. Pairing is so easy and after its set, the Arctis 9X will also wake up your Xbox when you turn the headset on. The signal is very clear but the range is a little short, possibly about 10 meters or so. Beyond which it starts clicking and drops out. The Bluetooth connection seems to fair much better; it stays connected much longer than the Xbox. I did a test where I walked out of my house with the Arctis 9X connected to my laptop and Xbox. The Xbox cut out a lot sooner than the Bluetooth. This isn’t a problem since you likely will never be that far from your console whereas you just might be from your phone or laptop. 

Speaking of Bluetooth, the Arctis 9X can connect to Bluetooth devices while simultaneously connected to your Xbox. This might not seem like a big deal until you realise what you can do with it. For me, I could play RDR2 while watching YouTube guides or listen to podcasts on my laptop. Alternatively, connect to your phone so you can keep chatting with your Nan while you violently dismember virtual demons. And can I just say how nice it is to be able to use one headset for gaming and for your smartphone? I’m now on the hunt for a single headset to use across all my devices because of the convenience. 

Just enough battery

SteelSeries claims that the Arctis 9X will last you 20-hours on a single charge and I’ve found that to be accurate. In my own use case, they would last me on average five days between charges with about 3 to 4 hours of gaming with Bluetooth active. I have the Micro-USB cable permanently plugged into my Xbox so when the headphones give me that very odd audio cue that my battery is low, I simply leave them charging overnight. 

Oh, and by the way, you can still use them while they are charging which is really nice if they are your only pair of headsets. The LED light on the left cup will turn red when your battery is low and pulse green while you charge. I’m not sure how long it takes to charge from empty to full but I do wish it had quick-charge which gives you say, two hours from 10 minutes of charging.  All in all, I have no complaints about battery life here. 

Verdict

At almost $350, the SteelSeries Arctis 9X is one of the more expensive Xbox headsets. It competes with the LucidSound 50X and Razer Nari Ultimate which are both excellent headsets with much better bass response. I have to say I was not as enamoured with 9X as I thought I would. It’s one of the most comfortable headsets I’ve used and I love how the cushions feel on my head — not to mention that Ski goggle headband. And it looks non-gamery enough to wear outside of your cave. 

The audio reproduction in gaming is excellent and the ability to dual connect via both Xbox wireless and Bluetooth make this a fantastic headset. But I just can’t get around how weak the audio performance is outside of gaming. I spend most of my day listening to Spotify or watching YouTube videos in picture-in-picture so that all sounds very flat and dull with the Arctis 9X. So while I do really like some things about the Arctis 9X, I just don’t love them. They lack the sophisticated style of the LucidSounds and the clubhead shaking of the Razer. But if you only use your headset for gaming, it’s hard to do better than this for the price.  

The SteelSeries Arctis 9X Gaming headsets was provided to PowerUp! by SteelSeries ANZ for the purpose of this review.

SteelSeries Arctis 9X Review
Pros
Exceptional comfort
Fantastic game audio
Dual connectivity
Clear microphone
Cons
Weak music/ media audio
Dated design
8.5
One of the best Xbox headsets todate

Related articles

Kizito Katawongahttp://www.medium.com/@katawonga
Kizzy is our Tech Editor. He's a total nerd with design sensibilities who's always on the hunt for the latest, greatest and sexiest tech that enhances our work and play. When he's not testing the latest gadgets or trying to listen to his three whirlwind daughters, Kizzy likes to sink deep into a good story-driven single player game.

Share article