Any old budget gaming headset will give you sound, but if you’re serious about the stuff that hits your ears then you’ll be looking for something more upmarket, like the new SteelSeries flagship Arctis Nova Pro.

It comes in four flavours – wired or wireless, and with or without an extra ‘X”, which denotes a connection specifically for Xbox. We got our hands – and ears – on the wired X variant, and had a ball taking it for a spin.

Neatly packaged without going too far over the top, opening the box reveals the usual suspects in a box of cables and the headset itself (within a nice fabric drawstring bag), plus something much less common in what the SteelSeries people refer to as a ‘GameDAC’. We’ll get to that…

SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro X wired gaming headset

Taking hold of the main attraction, the headset, reveals a unit with enough heft to feel bulletproof, while light enough to not compress your head into rugby player-like no-neck territory over extended gaming sessions. They’re a combination of a metal band with plastic support, soft padded headband and gloriously squishy leatherish fabric to cover the ears. Each earcup has a removable rounded panel with a SteelSeries logo that is attached magnetically (the wireless version hides things under them), and the left earcup holds all the action-inducing stuff. This includes a volume wheel, mic mute and a socket for the cable. Plus, of course, the mic.

The microphone in question is a joy of design and functionality. Unlike most such protrusions which are either stuck sticking out, or are removable, thus leaving a big hole, this one slides up into the unit when not in use, sitting flush and almost imperceptibly. Perfect for when you ‘re out listening to tunes and don’t want to look like you just left your regular gig at the call centre.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro X wired gaming headset

We’ve been all about looks so far, so should mention more about the GameDAC. For the uninitiated, it’s a solid extra amplifier unit of about 12cm across that comes as part of the Arctis Nova Pro package. It allows two devices to be plugged in at once to reap its benefits of equalizer-adjustable sound and a few other niceties delivered by its big multipurpose knob. It even has a small OLED screen built-in to guide you along your way (the initial setup runthrough is quite cutesy, but does the job).

So, everything looks the goods, but how does the Arctis Nova Pro go in use?

First comes the setting up. If you’re bypassing the DAC then it’s as simple as plugging in one end of the audio cable to the headset and the other to whichever 3.5mm equipped device you wish to listen to. Here’s where we have a bit of a grumble, as this cable is alarmingly short. Handy if you’re on the go, but not so much if you’re at home and more than about a metre from where you’re plugging in.

If you do go via DAC, in this case one USB-C cable goes to your Xbox, and the other can go anywhere else, from PC to PlayStation to Nintendo Switch. It’s worth the effort when you’re playing at home, as the ability to adjust equalization to whatever suits – heaps of bass, no bass, more treble etc – via a ten-band setup is very handy indeed. The GameDAC is Hi-Res Audio certified, and there’s all sorts of associated tech jargon like “ESS Sabre Quad” and such. Really, all you need to know is that it really elevates the sonic experience.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro X wired gaming headset

And that experience is quite wow. Premium drivers inside each ear deliver crystal clear audio, which we tested on everything from musical faves like Lumines Remastered and Tetris Effect to driving games like Forza Horizon 5, a shooter or two and on both Xbox Series X and Switch. The virtual surround sound in games that harness its power really shines, adding a whole new dimension when it sounds like aural bits and bobs are firing from several different pinpoints. When coupled with the DAC’s equalizer, you can tailor the audio from different games to highlight the frequencies that you most wish – or need – to hear. It adds a new dimension to “Behind you! Behind you!”.

The Arctis Nova Pro is easily adjustable for a perfect head-fit, and proved comfy over extended sessions. Glasses are a bit of a squeeze, but once all adjusted there’s no noticeable downside for those who need a bit of eyesight bolstering.

“The microphone in question is a joy of design and functionality.”

Another huge feature? ANC – active noise cancellation – to help further immerse you in the action by blocking out external noise. This tech carries over to the mic, too, which when in use means you’re going to be coming in louder and clearer to your playmates, with less chance of being misheard. Well, unless you’re a total mumbling type.

Other than the too-short cable, our only initial quibble was that the volume knob and mute buttons can be a bit fiddly to find with a quick swipe at your left ear. Adjustment does come in time though. Of course, if you’re going via the DAC it’s hard to miss the huge knob when you want to quickly up the audio ante a tad.

A noticeable upgrade upon the already impressive Arctis Pro, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro does what it sets out to do, which is to deliver a sonic experience that’s a noticeable cut above much of the competition, in a stylish yet functional package. It isn’t cheap, sure, but given a bit of care this headset could be your partner in gaming adventures for many, many years to come.

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro X wired gaming headset releases September 30, while the wireless version arrives July 30. Pre-order now at JB Hi-Fi.