What’s the most you would want out of your sound on your gaming platform? Something that drops the bass? Something that reverberates the room? Something that perfectly captures the trebles and high-notes without making it sound tinny? If you’re looking for something that delivers big sound to your gaming experience outside of headphones, SteelSeries might have just been the one to crush it with the new Arena 9. This bundle of speakers is built for PC, but works on Mac and PlayStation platforms as well, and despite being a bulky setup with quite a lot of wire clutter and an equally hefty price tag, it just might be the be-all-end-all sound system you’re looking for.
What’s in the box?
The SteelSeries Arena 9 is not for the faint of heart. It’s a huge package that contains one subwoofer speaker, two front-facing speakers, two rear-facing speakers, a center speaker, a control pod (for changing the volume and settings), and the wires to connect them all. With all of that, you’re looking at a pretty bulky setup, which is one of the drawbacks of the Arena 9. Between all of the speakers, you’re going to need quite a bit of room for this system, and your wire situation is about to get quite a bit more cluttered as a result. Heck, between the back speakers and the subwoofer, you’re going to need two wall outlets for this system alone.
That said, once you’ve got the entire package out of the box, the setup is pretty clean and easy. The front speakers, center speaker, and control pod connect directly to the subwoofer (which connects to the first power supply), while the rear speakers connect to each other and then to your second power supply. It also comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable to connect to your platform of choice, but there is also a 3.5mm audio jack and optical cable port if those are your preferred methods of connection. The system also features Bluetooth capabilities if you’d like to pair it with something like a mobile device, which is an excellent addition.
How does the Arena 9 perform?
I tested the Arena 9 system with a variety of situations on my PC and PS5 In nearly all instances, it performed admirably, and with little tinkering beyond the hardware setup. No installs, updating, or anything, though you can download SteelSeries’ Sonar software on PC to get seriously minute with your sound details. Funny story, I had Guilty Gear Strive’s bass-heavy metal music playing to start off my experience with the Arena 9, and it made my spouse concerned that there was a thunderstorm brewing outside. It’s got that kind of atmosphere right out of the box.
Even then, you can fiddle with settings a lot on the Arena 9 to get your preferred level of sound and style. The sound settings come with a number of presets that you can move between, with some cranking the bass, some upping the treble, and others balancing out everything in a variety of ways. For my tastes, I was able to get a really good style that fit most of my needs. On Guilty Gear Strive, it really brought the power out of the music. For games like The Last of Us Part 2 or Hunt: Showdown, it made every noise more atmospheric and creepy and really struck me right in the feels when the tension was on. Likewise, Horizon Forbidden West felt like a truly cinematic sound experience to go with its breathtaking journey with the help of the Arena 9.
Even so, it’s worth noting that the PlayStation 5 can’t get the most directly out of the Arena 9. The PS5 doesn't fully support 2.1 stereo through optical and USB connections. There are workarounds, but it takes a little extra effort. One other thing that also bothered me is that this sound system has no remote control. That’s not a big deal when you’re hooked up to a PC, but it’s kind of annoying if you want to attach the Arena 9 to a TV or PlayStation console. Basically, you’d better have your settings fine-tuned if you don’t want to get up and walk across the living room to deal with it.
These small inconveniences aside, the Arena 9 really blows it out of the park in delivering an immersive surround sound experience. You can even bring some visual flair to the experience with RGB LED lighting on the back of the front speakers. These speakers can be set to solid colors, rotating color patterns in both slow and fast-cycling fashion, or even reactive lighting which responds to the sounds of your media source. You can also turn the lighting off entirely if that’s not your thing. It probably won’t be the thing to sell you on these speakers, but the visual effects are a nice touch to go with the quality sound the Arena 9 delivers. It’s also handy as heck that SteelSeries added Bluetooth functionality to this system. I can turn my TV or PC off and vibe with some music off my iPhone while I cook, and that’s just wonderfully convenient.
That price tag, though…
As I said earlier in this review, the Arena 9 is not for the faint of heart, and it’s not just because of the price tag. This bundle costs $549.99 USD. That’s a hefty chunk of change no matter how you look at it. Does the system deliver? Yes, I’d say absolutely. Its utility in being able to plug-and-play to a PC, Mac, and PS4/PS5, the sound it delivers, and the options such as sound adjustment and RGB lighting make it quite the dazzling display of audio and visuals. However, you’re also going over the price of an entry level sound bar and starting to get into the zesty mid-to-high price range of such equipment.
Simply put, if great sound is all you want, you might be able to get more out of a good pair of headphones or a sound bar system for less cash. That said, if you want the excellence in form and function that SteelSeries has become known for, the Arena 9 provides.
The Arena awaits…
The Arena 9 is a pretty incredible system. In many ways, it’s almost overkill for a PC, but dang if it doesn’t do just about everything it sets out to accomplish plus offering similar functionality as a living room audio setup on PlayStation and TV systems. The price tag and the bulkiness of the bundle are the big drawbacks, and I wish this thing had a remote control for volume and settings. That said, when it came to upping my sound game, the Arena 9 did just that, and did it quite well under most circumstances. If you have the cash and don’t mind the clutter, this surround sound system might just be the last audio option you’ll need in your gaming space for a good long time.
This review is based on a sample product sent to us by the manufacturer. The SteelSeries Arena 9 is available as of August 23, 2022, for the retail price of $549.99 USD at SteelSeries.com and other partnered retailers.
SteelSeries Arena 9
- Incredible sound right out of the box
- Lots of options for fine-tuning the audio
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Works with PC, Mac, or PS4/PS5 platforms
- RGB lighting adds a fun visual element
- Fairly easy setup
- Connects to SteelSeries Sonar on PC
- No remote control
- Can only bring 2.1 stereo directly out of PS5
- Bulky setup with lots of wires
- Hefty price tag