There is no doubt about SteelSeries' ability to kick in doors with steel-plated rocket boots when it comes to wireless sound, so it came as somewhat of a surprise that the company went down a slightly different path when attempting to design and build a dedicated Xbox product.
The core of the headset is the well known Arctis design; sleek, simple, and, in this case, fully based on the already wireless Arctis 7 headset that comes with Bluetooth, minijack and a wireless transmitter.
A steel headband is utilised, making it both rigid and stable. The elastic ski goggle headband makes everything a universal fit, but for the 9X, it is equipped with Xbox green markings.
The microphone is a retractable ClearCast microphone, and although it does have a hint of compression, the sound itself is clean, the noise floor is low, even compared with wired headsets, and we honestly can't remember testing a better microphone on a wireless headset.
The earcups are classic mesh material, more tightly weaved than with most others, and very comfortable during even extended gaming sessions. It doesn't ventilate as much as some others, but the passive noise reduction is at the same level as leatherette based fabrics.
Sound quality is still the SteelSeries hallmark. Clean, linear, dynamic and transparent. However, it can also play damn loud despite being wireless, so be careful. This headset is one of a few that can actually marry up the sound quality with the £180 price mark.
Battery life depends heavily on the sound pressure level. And while we still really, really want wireless charging headsets, we can't help but be impressed with the Arctis 9X. Even with both Bluetooth and wireless engaged at the same time - and yes you can do that, and yes you can answer phone calls while playing - we went two days, roughly 18 hours, between charges. We also play way too loud, and people should have no problems reaching the advertised 20 hours of play time.
The battery indicator on the Xbox is sadly useless, and we couldn't find an alternate way to read the battery level when using the wireless dongle through the SteelEngine software on PC either. This is most likely due to the way the dongle works. A small LED indicator is something we would strongly suggest for future iterations.
Comfort is clearly a priority, and the suspension design has been refined; it acts and looks modern, and is basically self-adjusting. The earcups are slightly tighter than the Arctics Pro series, but we think that's a small but convenient upgrade. As mentioned before, the mesh ventilates less than other mesh-based ear cups, but you can still go for hours without problems.
The headset looks like it has been made by removing the mini-jack cable and the transmitter, then cramming in a genuine Xbox wireless emitter into the headset alongside a Bluetooth Chip. The headset is therefore fully integrated into the Xbox ecosystem, and you can even turn on the console via your headset. Neat. The pairing works just like a controller, which works despite being slightly cumbersome, and you can hardly blame SteelSeries for that.
There is no mini-jack cable in the package, so analogue use requires that you go buy a cable yourself. We were also a bit baffled about the lack of a wireless transmitter in the box - that would have opened things up for PC users to be able to take advantage of the headset's brilliant ability to be connected simultaneously to Bluetooth and wireless at the same time. We really wish SteelSeries had included a cable and a dongle in the package so that's ready, out of the box, to do battle on all available platforms.
The Bluetooth part works extremely well. We remember having tested cabled headsets that offered the simultaneous use of Bluetooth, but never wireless and Bluetooth at the same time - it's brilliant, and we hope that it will become the industry standard within a reasonable time.
As stated before, it's a neutral-sounding gaming headset - which in itself sets it apart, with an open and airy reproduction with a high resolution of the audio for the price range. It may not be a Sennheiser HE1, but we have a hard time remembering a better sounding wireless headset.
So the conclusion is pretty simple. Its annoying that someone decided to not include a dongle or an analogue cable in the package when we're talking about a £180 headset, but it doesn't change the fact that it provides an impressive wireless microphone performance, brilliant sound and comfort, combined with a long battery life, which is probably the only thing that'll remind you that this isn't a top-tier wired headset for PC.