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The most immersive speaker system I've ever tested isn't from Bose or Sonos

With the ability to connect to three devices simultaneously and the robust EQ settings, the SteelSeries Arena 9 is an excellent choice for multi-use media spaces.
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer
A pair of Arena 9 speakers on a table that is between two chairs. An orange dinosaur decor piece is between the speakers, and a cat sits above them in a window seat, looking at the camera.
Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

ZDNET takeaway

  • The SteelSeries Arena 9 5.1CH speaker system is available at Amazon, Best Buy, and SteelSeries for $550.
  • It allows you to connect three devices simultaneously via Bluetooth, USB, and optical cable. And it offers robust EQ customization via the OLED dial and Sonar desktop app.
  • Note that the OLED dial doesn't give you as much control as the Sonar app for non-PC devices.

I have to admit: when I first saw the SteelSeries Arena 9 speaker system, I thought it was complete overkill. Five speakers and a subwoofer (plus the OLED controller and the many, many cables) felt like an absurd amount of audio equipment for most gamers who may only have one platform they prefer: PC, Xbox, Switch, or PS5. And it is. 

But if you frequently switch between console and PC gaming, or your home office doubles as your gaming room, the Arena 9 transforms into a home theater powerhouse that's a more affordable option than a traditional 5.1CH system from brands like LG or Samsung. I've been testing the Arena 9 for the past several weeks, and here's everything you need to know about it.

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Setting up the Arena 9 is a lot less intimidating than the included quick-start guide makes it seem. The main left, right, and center speakers connect directly to the subwoofer, while the rear speakers connect wirelessly (and have their own AC power cable). The system also comes with an OLED control dial for quick and easy adjustments to volume and EQ presets, as well as for connecting via Bluetooth and viewing essential product information like the serial and model numbers for warranty claims. 

Close-up of the OLED dial controller for the SteelSeries Arena 9 on a table with a PlayStation 5
Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

The subwoofer also acts as the main connection point for audio output via USB, Bluetooth, or optical cable; you can use the subwoofer as an optical passthrough for theoretically connecting third-party sound bars or speakers if you already have something you're using to boost dialogue or ambient sound. While you can set up all three connection types at once, you can only use one physical connection at a time, along with the Bluetooth-connected device. And the Bluetooth source will mix with the physical one, allowing you to catch PC or console notifications while using another device or stream music, movies, and shows.

I connected the Arena 9 to my PS5 via USB and used Bluetooth to connect to my iPhone 13 and desktop PC. While you'll get an excellent dialogue and hi-tone boost straight out of the box, you do have to take some time to tweak settings either via the OLED controller or Sonar desktop app to get the best tones and volume levels for each set of speakers. The rear speakers like to be very quiet and flat-sounding at first, but switching to the Excite or Bass Boost EQ preset on the OLED controller immediately improved the surround sound effect and overall quality. 

Also: These wireless speakers deliver rich lows and crisp highs for just about any style of music

The OLED dial gives you a good amount of flexibility and control when selecting EQ presets or making manual adjustments, especially if you're connected to a non-PC device like a cell phone. You can toggle the 5.1CH Upmix on and off, which disables the rear speakers for more focused audio, though it does sound much more flat and uninteresting than when enabled. SteelSeries has introduced a brand-new streamer mode for the app, which allows you to separate your programs into different output streams for unprecedented control over your audio. 

Close-up of a speaker for the SteelSeries Arena 9. It is on a shelf next to an in-box Skeleton Gerard Way Funko Pop
Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

You can set programs to be recognized as games, media, or chat and customize the output mix to favor one or another. This was a godsend when organizing Discord movie nights with friends, allowing me to boost the film's audio over the voice chat, so I didn't miss any important plot or dialogue. And if you want even more in-depth customization options, each media type has its own EQ tab within the app, letting you choose different presets than what you find on the OLED controller or tweak frequencies to suit your space and preferences. You can even toggle spatial audio on and off, which is great for switching between games where you need to be able to pinpoint audio cues and movies where you may not want the audio to feel like it's coming from different places.

Also: This portable Bluetooth speaker from Anker is so good, I forgot how affordable it was

I spent several days working my way through a New Game+ run of Gotham Knights' Heroic Assault mode on my PS5 while also bingeing The Real Housewives of Orange County on my dual-purpose work/gaming desktop. Not only did the Arena 9 handle both connections beautifully, but it was also easy enough to tweak settings within the Sonar app to balance the two, so I didn't get overwhelmed with arguments about not getting invited to a party while I was trying to escort a laser cannon through a mob.

The speaker system is also excellent for streaming music; I played the Old Gods of Asgard album Rebirth while doing photography for upcoming reviews, and the original 13-minute cut of "Herald of Darkness" is a borderline religious experience with the right EQ tweaks. 

My one big complaint against the SteelSeries Arena 9 is that you really do feel that drop in control when dealing with a device that's been connected via USB or optical cable. The OLED dial allows you to choose between a few different presets, but only offers a single option for a custom sound profile. Whereas, the Sonar app lets you create a custom soundscape for every media type and connected device.  

ZDNET's buying advice

There is a lot that comes with the SteelSeries Arena 9, between the speakers and subwoofer, controller, and cables. It's easily one of the best-sounding systems I've tested, and the ability to tweak specific audio settings is game-changing. That said, if you mainly use a single platform like the PC or a console for gaming, you may want to opt for the smaller but still capable Arena 7 instead, since it comes with a single pair of speakers and a subwoofer. It doesn't include a control dial like the Arena 9, but you can quickly adjust basic volume and bass boost levels with the on-device knobs for watching shows and movies. 

And if you're simply looking for a reliable set of PC speakers, the Arena 3 is an excellent choice; and they don't have the RGB lighting features like the Arena 7 and 9, making them a better choice for shared work spaces or home offices that double as gaming rooms.  

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