SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC Review
SteelSeries have forged their reputation as one of the leading manufacturers of gaming peripherals by constantly delivering innovative and exciting products; this is no more evident than with SteelSeries’ flagship wired headset, the Arctis Pro + GameDAC. This combination is the first gaming audio system to receive Hi-Res Audio certification, but does that necessarily mean that the Arctis Pro + GameDAC delivers on high-fidelity audio? Or is this nothing more than a clever marketing campaign?
Hi-Res is a term generally associated with video resolution — UHD, 4K, HDR. These terms reference the quality of the video content, but what about audio? Believe it or not, Hi-Res Audio (HRA) has been around for over a decade but has been mostly neglected, particularly regarding video games. As technology continues to evolve we are beginning to see more and more consumers adopt HRA audio as their preference and perhaps one day in the near future, we could see developers follow this trend by adopting HRA as the standard for video games.
Hi-Res Audio is defined as lossless or uncompressed audio, meaning there is no data loss as there is no compression applied. Instead, HRA focuses on sampling rate and bit depth — Sampling rate refers to the number of audio samples played per second, while bit depth is the number of bits used in each one of those audio samples. Confused? Let’s compare this with video format — Sampling rate is similar to Refresh Rate (the number of times the screen is refreshed/displayed in a second), while bit depth can be compared to pixel count (the higher pixel count, the more detail in the image). CD-quality, the industry standard for video games/music/movies, uses 44,100Hz with 16-bit depth, whereas HRA is classified as anything greater than 96,000Hz and 24-bit depth.
Does this mean HRA sounds twice as good as CD quality? No. The difference isn’t as obvious as comparing 1080p to 4K and this is perhaps the underlying reason why audio hasn’t seen the same evolution as video has… yet.
Jump on Spotify or iTunes and you will see millions of songs available to stream with bit rates including 128, 192, and 320 kbps, but what does this mean exactly? Bit rates refer to the amount of data compression that is applied to the file; The higher the bit rate, the less compression is applied and higher the quality. The problem with compression is that there is data loss, meaning you aren’t hearing the recorded exactly how the artist intended it, until now.
Hi-Res Audio is generally reserved for audiophiles who demand lossless audio, but what about gamers who share this same passion for high-quality audio? This is where SteelSeries are pioneering the audio evolution by offering a product that appeals to both audiophiles and gamers.
The GameDAC is a digital to analog (DAC) module that can provide professional quality audio by decoding digital data, converting it to an analog audio signal, and sending it to the amplifier. As we live in the age of digital media, DACs are common within audio products unless the source is already an analog signal such as vinyl, cassettes, or magnetic tapes. But not all DACs are the same, especially not when compared to SteelSeries’ GameDAC. The GameDAC has developed with high-fidelity audio in mind, allowing their DAC to convert higher sampling rates and bit depths than the majority of DACs on the market and the results speak for themselves.
As technically impressive as the GameDAC is, I was thoroughly impressed by the GameDAC’s features and interface. The GameDAC can provide three different forms of audio output- USB Mini B port for the Arctis Pro (something I will touch on later), Optical (for PlayStation 4), and your traditional 3.5mm audio jack. Its OLED display is a larger version of what you will find on SteelSeries‘ high-end Apex keyboards with the added bonus of integrated controls. Using the GameDAC’s wheel you can cycle through the menu and adjust a vast array of options such as volume control, DTS Headphone:X 2.0 on/off, equalizer settings, mic level, input/output sources, adjusting OLED display brightness and sleep timer, and of course, RGB illumination control for the Arctis Pro headset. The GameDAC’s interface is relatively easy to use and in true SteelSeries fashion, there are one or two novelties within the setting up process!
The GameDAC’s USB Mini B 8-pin port is far from the industry standard and to be honest, it is SteelSeries’ way of ensuring that the Artic Pro isn’t used on other sub-par DACs. This is understandable as it is their flagship headset, but the issue I had is in regards to the supplied cable as it is rather short, especially using the Arctis Pro + GameDAC on my PlayStation 4 — I found myself only a couple of meters away from my 65″ OLED TV instead of comfortably sitting on the couch. Of course, you can purchase an aftermarket extension cable, but for $450AUD I would expect it to include a cable longer than 1.5m or at least include an extension cable in the box.
The simple, yet elegant design of the Arctis Pro once again proves that style doesn’t go out of fashion. The Arctis Pro maintains SteelSeries’ traditional Arctis core by incorporating two large 90-degree swivelling ear cups, an adjustable ski goggle headband, and an aluminium frame that provides a premium feel along with reducing its overall weight.
The Arctis range of headsets has always provided a minimalist approach to gaming headsets, and the Arctis Pro is no different. There is however a hint of SteelSeries’ wild side with subtle RGB illumination featured around the edge of the ear cups and on the microphone. The matte gunmetal finish of the ear cups adds a touch of class and projects a premium finish. But for gamers who want to take it up a notch and personalise their Arctis headset, there is a number of Arctis Pro Booster Packs available that contain colourful ear cup covers and ski goggle headband that add a bit of flair to the Arctis Pro.
Our local console guru, Michael Wood, recently commented on how much he loved the adjustable ski goggle headband with his review of the Arctis 9X, and I can see why — It is one of the most comfortable headsets I have ever worn. I was somewhat sceptical at first as the headband looked like a 90s fashion accessory, but I must admit that it is a pleasure to have on my head — There is no clamping pressure on the side of your head and thanks to the flexible headband, there is minimal pressure across the top of your head. I have somewhat of a big head (full of insightful facts about KFC), but adjusting the ski goggle headband is as easy as releasing the Velcro band, setting the length, and reattaching the Velcro strap.
Part of the reason why the Arctis Pro is a comfortable fit is due to its weight, or lack of. The Arctis Pro comes in at a respectable 350 grams (with no cables attached), which is similar to other premium wired headsets such as the HyperX Cloud Revolver S (360 grams) and Logitech G Pro X (338 grams). The combination of a well-balanced lightweight design and innovative headband allows for hours of comfortable gaming without the headset weighing you down.
The onboard controls are simple, yet effective, compromising of only a microphone mute button and an adjustable scroll wheel for volume control. While these minimalist controls are sufficient, the GameDAC is where you will find the majority of the headset’s functionality. The GameDAC interface is able to provide the majority of features and options that the SteelSeries Engine 3 and is quite simple to use.
As you would expect from a flagship product, the Arctis Pro provides exceptional quality regarding audio thanks to its 40 mm neodymium drivers that can deliver a frequency range of 10 to 40,000Hz. In PC mode, the Arctis Pro was able to produce clear and accurate sound reproduction of every game I put it through, particularly in FPS games such as VALORANT and Overwatch — I constantly felt like I had the advantage in terms of positioning awareness as I could clearly hear my opponents before they could hear me.
This was all before even enabling DTS Headphone:X 2.0, the adopted surround sound technology featured with the Arctis Pro. DTS Headphone:X 2.0 is able to reproduce stereo format audio in virtual 7.1 Surround Sound. The problem with virtual surround sound is that it’s artificial and as a result, I tend to find it underwhelming and not to my liking; DTS Headphone:X 2.0 does little to change this despite doing a respectable job of replicating the surround sound effect.
SteelSeries Engine 3 does offer an impressive range of support for DTS Headphone:X 2.0 with three Surround Profiles (Studio, Game, and Cinema) that have been designed and optimised for surround sound gameplay. Complimenting these profiles are bass & dialogue enhancement, along with Stereo Profiles for speaker output that adjusts speaker positioning (for small or large rooms) for 2 channel audio for when you are using optical or 3.5 mm output.
Not everyone will appreciate Hi-Res Audio but trust me, once you experience lossless music I guarantee you won’t go back. Lossless audio adds a significant amount of depth, clarity, and life to the recording and simply has to be experienced to appreciated. Streaming platforms such as TIDAL and Amazon Music HD (Not available in Australia) offer lossless audio streaming that showcases the Arctis Pro + GameDAC’s true potential and it soon becomes clear why it was awarded Hi-Res Audio certification.
The Arctis Pro’s ClearCast microphone is again, of the quality of a flagship product. This Discord-certified mic provides a full and clear reproduction of your voice along with providing excellent background noise cancellation. I have had many gamers compliment me on the clarity of my voice while playing VALORANT and Dota 2. Unfortunately, Jimmy still didn’t listen to my in-game calls and advice, but he did at least have the pleasure of hearing me
abusing him provide constructive criticism at the end of the round in absolute clarity!
From a physical design point of view, the Arctis ClearCast microphone is relatively flexible and can be retracted back into the ear cup itself. I would have loved to see the microphone completely disappear in the ear cup to create a studio-like pair of headphones, but in all honestly, no one will complain about this design.
Thanks to the GameDAC, the majority of features that the SteelSeries Engine 3 software provides can actually be controlled via the external GameDAC. This means that you can plug in the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC and begin personalising your experience straight away without installing any software. But if you are like me and own multiple SteelSeries products, you will already have the software installed and want to sync the Arctis Pro with the rest of your SteelSeries products.
Exploring the Arctis Pro + GameDAC configuration options within the software is perhaps more user-friendly than using the GameDAC. Users can quickly change profiles, configure RGB illumination, set parameters, adjust equalizer settings (or change preset profiles) and even activate mic sidetone (microphone input is played through headset) to ensure their microphone has been set up perfectly before heading online — All this can be done within seconds within the software while navigating the GameDAC’s menus will take considerably longer.
- PERFORMANCE - 97%97%
- QUALITY - 94%94%
- DESIGN - 94%94%
- VALUE - 87%87%
Despite its premium price tag, the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC is the best wired gaming headset on the market and will appeal to both audiophiles and gamers alike who demand unmatched High-fidelity audio.
The only real criticism is that perhaps SteelSeries have introduced the Arctis Pro + GameDAC a generation too early in regards to gaming, but I can appreciate SteelSeries’ vision as pioneers of High-Res audio in gaming peripherals.
For more information on SteelSeries, please check out our previous coverage here.