SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC Review: Audiophile-Grade Gaming

Gaming consoles and PCs are always pushing for higher fidelity, so why shouldn't gaming headsets? That's the idea behind the $249 SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC, a premium pair of cans built for gamers with discerning ears.

The Arctis Pro + GameDAC takes the best-in-class design of the original Arctis and pairs it with a digital-to-analog converter, which allows you to enjoy Hi-Res audio files and tweak EQ settings to your heart's content. The Arctis Pro appeals to a somewhat niche crowd — audiophiles who don't mind being tethered to their desks — but if you fall under that niche, you'll be treated to the best-sounding version of one of the finest gaming headsets around.

Design

The SteelSeries Arctis Pro doesn't fix what isn't broken. Like previous Arctis headsets, the Pro sports a sleek, understated, all-black look, and it's the rare gaming headset that you'll actually feel good about wearing outside of your gaming den.

The Arctis Pro ditches the plastic of older models for an aluminum frame, giving it a decidedly premium feel. The headset features magnetic, easily removable ear-cup covers that you can swap out for different styles, as well as customizable RGB lighting on both the ear cups and the microphone.

I find ear-cup lighting in general to be a bit superficial (though it makes the headset look nice when sitting idly, or when you're rocking it for your Twitch viewers), but the microphone light is a nice touch that lets you know for certain when you're muted. The headset's lighting also syncs up to SteelSeries' GameSense technology (more on that later), so you could, say, have the mic light up whenever you have a Discord notification.

Extra goodies aside, the Arctis Pro sports the same on-ear controls as other models. A volume knob, retractable microphone, mute button, and 3.5mm and proprietary audio jacks all rest on the left cup, and all are pretty painless to reach. The mute button is bigger and more textured this time around, making it easier to find in the middle of a heated play session.

Comfort

Like previous Arctis iterations, the Arctis Pro is a delight to wear. The headset once again features SteelSeries' signature ski-goggle headband design, which automatically conforms to your dome for a snug but cozy fit.

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And if the headband doesn't feel right out of the box, you can easily make it looser or tighter via a Velcro strap at the top of the headset. I wore the Arctis Pro for hours on end both at work and while gaming at home and never got the urge to take it off.

GameDAC

At the heart of the SteelSeries Arctis Pro is the GameDAC, a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that allows SteelSeries' headset to pump out 96-kHz/24-bit audio. In layman's terms, that means higher-resolution, less-compressed audio than what you'd get from a typical USB or analog connection. The DAC offers a staggering number of features for gamers and audiophiles alike, but it also holds the Arctis Pro back in one key area.

The GameDAC itself is smartly designed, and incredibly versatile. SteelSeries' small, curvy transmitter box sports a big volume knob and action button, with micro USB and optical ports as well as two 3.5mm analog jacks — one for connecting to your mobile device, and a line-out port for connecting to your speaker setup.

With its big OLED screen and intuitive menus, the GameDAC is a breeze to navigate with the volume knob. The DAC's display provides a quick glance at your volume, and you can balance game and chat levels, as well as toggle DTS surround sound, with just a tap.

A simple long-press of the knob opens up the accessory's main menu, which lets you do things such as fine-tune audio settings, choose your input and output sources, adjust the brightness of the display and set the Arctis Pro to glow myriad different colors. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of things, you can dig into the GameDAC's equalizer and switch among various presets that emphasize bass or treble, or even tweak all 10 frequency bands yourself.

For all of its great functionality, however, the GameDAC has one big flaw: The cables are way too short. The Arctis Pro + GameDAC is designed to be used at a desk, which is great if you're a PC gamer or keep your PS4 in your command center, but a bummer for everyone else.

You can dig into the GameDAC's equalizer and switch between various presets that emphasize bass or treble, or even tweak all 10 frequency bands yourself.

You could, theoretically, fix this if you have superlong optical and micro-USB cables sitting around, but using the cables that came in the box, I had to sit very close to my TV in a chair. I understand why the GameDAC is built the way it is, but if I'm buying a $249 headset for my PS4, I'd like to be able to use it from my couch.

Gaming Performance

The standard SteelSeries Arctis headsets sound very good. The Arctis Pro sounds superb. SteelSeries' high-end headset pumped out rich, engulfing sound for a variety of genres and offered a notable step up in volume and separation compared with the Arctis 3 Bluetooth I use at home.

When playing Injustice 2 on the Arctis Pro, I could hear every punch, kick and background noise with exceptional clarity. Sword slices and gut punches landed with satisfying impact, and even faint noises, such as the sound of background debris scattering around during battle, were easy to pick out.

The Arctis Pro proved even more impressive for Call of Duty: WWII. SteelSeries' headset sufficiently immersed me in the game's tense online death matches, allowing me to hear where every enemy bullet and footstep was coming from. Rifle shots had an immense kick to them, as did the thunderous grenade explosions that went off all around me.

Hi-Res Audio Performance

Naturally, a Hi-Res-certified gaming headset is no good without any Hi-Res audio to enjoy on it. As such, I put the Arctis Pro through its paces on a variety of high-resolution tracks on Tidal, and came away very impressed.

When I listened to Wilco's "Impossible Germany," I felt like I was in the room with the band. The song's guitars sounded bright and full in a way that most headsets simply aren't capable of producing, and Jeff Tweedy's smoky vocals came through clearly above the solid bass and breezy drums.

The upbeat pop-punk of Dashboard Confessional's "We Fight" sounded similarly lively. I could hear every crack in Chris Carrabba's strained vocal yelps, and the song's crackling snare drums hit with a nice satisfying pop. When I switched to the electronic pop of Lights' "Skydiving," I enjoyed solid bass, soaring strings and tons of vocal detail.

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More importantly, the Arctis Pro + GameDAC got the seal of approval from our resident high-end-audio expert, Sherri Smith. She noted being able to pick out the smallest details in songs from everyone to Beyonce and Kanye West to Coldplay and Diana Krall, and she was a big fan of the headset's bass and how intuitive the DAC was overall. She did note, however, that the Pro's overall volume is a bit lower than what she's used to from high-end headphones. (For what it's worth, I found that the Pro can get pretty loud.)

Microphone and Compatibility

SteelSeries' ClearCast microphone continues to be one of the best gaming headset mics around. The Arctis Pro's retractable, bendable mic is so clear and crisp, I wouldn't just use it for gaming; I'd be confident relying on it for a Twitch stream or podcast as well. And as I noted above, the mic's mute illumination is a nice way to make sure it's 100-percent safe to talk smack about your teammates.

On top of the myriad included cables for connecting to the GameDAC, the Arctis Pro also includes a standard 3.5mm wire for use with your smartphone, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One controller or any other gadget with an analog jack. While you won't get chat functionality or sound customization outside of PS4 and PC, it's a nice bonus that allows the Arctis Pro to serve as your day-to-day travel headphones.

Software

If you prefer to tweak settings right from your PC, you can use the Arctis Pro with SteelSeries' Engine 3 software. While SteelSeries says that all of the Arctis Pro's key sound settings are available right through the GameDAC, you can use Engine 3 to more finely adjust the headset's RGB lighting or activate GameSense to sync the lighting to specific apps and games.

Arctis Pro + GameDAC vs. Arctis Pro Wireless

The Arctis Pro line consists of two models: the $249 Arctis Pro + GameDAC that I tested, and the $329 Arctis Pro Wireless.

As its name suggests, the more expensive Arctis Pro Wireless lets you go cord-free. It includes a wireless transmitter box, which, like the GameDAC, lets you tweak audio settings without any software. The Pro Wireless doesn't have the RGB lighting of the GameDAC model, but it does offer removable ear plates and swappable batteries — a popular feature brought back from the SteelSeries Siberia 840.

The Pro Wireless offers surround sound, but Hi-Res audio is exclusive to the GameDAC variation. Otherwise, both the Arctis Pro + GameDAC and the Arctis Pro Wireless sport the same attractive, cozy design and premium speaker drivers.

Bottom Line

The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC is a superb high-end gaming headset, offering a more premium version of the tried-and-true Arctis design and a plethora of useful customization options. The Hi-Res audio quality unlocked by the GameDAC makes a big difference for music, and the headset offers booming, directionally accurate sound for games.

My biggest knock against the Arctis Pro is that it's simply a niche product. The GameDAC's short cables limit it to deskbound gamers, and the robust EQ options will likely appeal only to true audiophiles. There's also the fact that games simply haven't embraced Hi-Res audio the same way that music services have, making the Arctis Pro future-proof, but not exactly solving a major problem.

If you want the same great comfort, microphone and design and can live without all of the high-end audio options, check out the $149 SteelSeries Arctis 7. If you want to enjoy high-quality SteelSeries sound from your couch, the $329 Arctis Pro Wireless is probably worth splurging for. But if you game from your desk, can appreciate the value of a digital-to-analog converter and want stellar all-around sound, the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is worth the premium.

Credit: SteelSeries

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  • vasras
    How can you say it is "superb" for directional accuracy, when the DAC is basically a stereo DAC with DTS Headphone processing added on top.

    There is NO way the GameDAC can have any idea if the sound in a game is coming from front or back , up or down. Only left or right, when the soundcard (GameDAC) is stereo only.

    No amount of echo , reverb or phase manipulation on top of the Stereo signal will recreate that positional info.

    Now, if the GameDAC was actually a 5.1 or 7.1 soundcard, that took discrete multichannel input from Windows (and from games), it could actually process/virtualize that multichannel positional information into a stereo headphone properly.

    But as it is not, it's just a glorified stereo effects engine.

    Not up there with the best of Creative, Sennheiser or even Asus sound cards in true 3D positional headphone cues.