Hi-Res audio is quickly becoming a trend in premium gaming headsets and nothing could make us happier. Today, we’re looking at the SteelSeries Arctis Pro with GameDAC. It packs a premium price tag at $250 but may be one of the best gaming headsets you can buy. Let’s find out exactly what makes this headset so impressive and whether it’s worth that high-end price tag for you.
- MSRP: $249.99
- Neodymium Drivers: 40mm
- Headphone Frequency Response: 10-40,000 Hz
- Headphone Sensitivity: 102 dBSPL
- Headphone Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Headphone Total Harmonic Distortion: <1%
- GameDAC Frequency Response: 5-40,000 Hz
- GameDAC Audio Formats: Up to 96 kHz, 24 bit
- GameDAC THD + N: <0.0032%
- Microphone Type: Retractable Boom
- Microphone Polar Pattern: Bidirectional Noise-Canceling
- Microphone Frequency Response: 100 - 10,000 Hz
- Microphone Sensitivity: -38 dBV/Pa
- Microphone Noise Cancellation: Yes
The Limits of “Normal” Headsets
When it comes to gaming headsets, there’s a huge variety and choosing the right one can be confusing. One of the most important factors to consider is frequency range. If you’re new to the world of audio, this term refers to the drivers’ ability to produce sound across a spectrum. In general, the average person can hear between of 20 - 20000 Hz, which matches the majority of headphones and headsets out there. But just because a headset says it can produce sound in that range doesn’t mean it’s going to do it well, which is where headsets like the Arctis Pro come in.
The problem with 20-20000 Hz headsets is that they’re not created equally. Some will sound fantastic while others will distort and sound terrible when levels get too high. Those big, head rattling explosions can sound like a garbled mess in a poorly design “20-to-20” headset and the carefully orchestrated details in the soundscape may go completely unheard. This is as much tied to the overall build and design of the headset as the rating of the speaker drivers but, to the point of diminishing returns, you get what you pay for.
Why is Hi-Res Important and Do the Arctis Pros Deliver?
The Arctis Pro + GameDAC, on the other hand, has a vastly expanded range of 10-40000 Hz. Now wait a minute, I hear you say, what good is that when you just said the average person can only hear 20 - 20000 Hz? That expanded range, in a well designed headset like the Arctis Pro, means that everything you do hear will be crystal clear and able to articulate those tiny little details you may not even know you’re missing.
In MMOs, soundtracks come to center stage. Entering Stormwind City in World of Warcraft and having that big orchestral score swell up has never sounded so good. You can make out more detail in the lines of the vocalists and the minute details of the violinists’ notes resonating from their strings. The same is true in any game but is clearest when you have expansive, layered tracks like those in epic MMORPGs.
In other games, like Battlefield 1 or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, I’ve found the range that I’m able to hear sounds is improved, so if there’s an engine or gunfire in the distance, I don’t need to pause to decide exactly what it is I’m hearing. In intense moments, there’s no distortion at all, just clear sound allowing you to pinpoint exactly what the audio engineers intended.
The Arctis Pros also come with DTS Headphone: X, the latest generation of DTS’ virtual 7.1 surround sound. In the Arctis 7 I reviewed last year, I wasn’t a fan of DTS’ implementation and actually found it harmed my positional awareness. I’m not sure if something has changed (other that the frequency range), but that problem seems to be solved as positionality is much more spot on. It also dramatically widens the soundstage.
When listening to music, I’ve found that the Arctis Pros bring out the mids and highs more than most gaming headsets, which provides exceptional detail to instrumentation. Listening to Rihanna’s Love the Way You Lie, I was struck by how much better I could hear the oscillation in the backing synth and the individual notes of rhythm guitar played inside a chord. The picked notes of Claudio Sanchez’s acoustic in Coheed and Cambria’s Pearl of the Stars ring out almost as if you could see the coils on each string.
I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that their natural sound signature even draws out the details in compressed music, like you’d find on YouTube. SteelSeries has opted for a more neutral sound signature in the default EQ profile, with a greater emphasis on treble. This can easily be swapped to one of the many included presets or even setting your own custom EQ curve on either the GameDAC or the SteelSeries Engine software.
On the microphone front, we see the return of the ClearCast mic, which does a good job of isolating your voice without applying too much compression. It’s non-detachable, but hides pretty well in the earcup if you'd like to take your headphones on the go. Have a listen here:
A Much Improved Build
When it comes to the physical build of the Arctis Pro + GameDAC over the prior series, SteelSeries has made a number of improvements to justify the expense. Number one, the hangars holding the earcups have now been upgraded to aluminum to accompany the gunmetal steel headband. These things are ready to take more than a few falls (not that I’d recommend that).
The headset brings back the popular ski-goggle style adjustment band, which is quite comfortable, if not as adjustable as a normal snap-type band. The breathable foam ear cushions are also back, but the rear plates are now coated in a soft touch material. I said it in my Arctis 7 review and the same applies here: this headset is easily the most comfortable that I own. I can wear it for hours without getting fatigued or needing to vent extra heat. The Pro is just a pleasure to actually use.
I’m also a fan of the understated RGB on the earcups. Underneath each soft-touch plate is a larger LED diffuser, but when fully assembled, you get a tasteful and fully customizable ring.
The real star of the show is the GameDAC itself. This little box allows you to control every parameter of the headset without ever installing a piece of software. On the rear, it features both a line in (mobile) and line out, as well as an optical input. In the menu, you can also control your game and chat mix, as well as your stream output (just to name a few settings). It’s also here where you can set whether you’re connecting to the PC or PlayStation 4.
Inside the DAC is the ESS Sabre DAC, which is held in high regard in the PC audiophile world. It’s fully capable of delivering audiophile-grade sound, up to 96kHz 24-bit resolution, and certainly works to push the Arctis Pros to the next level. To take full advantage of its capabilities, though, you’ll need to set the DAC to Hi-Res mode, which is its own separate mode and disabled by default.
The only thing that really puzzles me about this whole setup is that SteelSeries has opted for a proprietary connection leading out from the headset, which forces you to use a 3.5mm dongle to connect it to a smartphone. It works but is an awkward solution and also means that you won’t be using the GameDAC with any other headsets until SteelSeries releases an adapter (if they release an adapter).
Connectivity aside, the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is a fantastic headset. It is now my go-to headset, completely trumping most of my gaming collection of earphones. As crazy as it might sound, with Hi-Res mode enabled, this gaming headset is competes against some of the best audiophile headphones in my collection and is easily the most comfortable of the bunch.
But… that price. At $250, it’s not cheap and a hard recommendation to make for the average gamer. It’s a great gaming headset, easily one of the best on the market today, but unless you’re already an audio enthusiast, you may be left wondering exactly where all that money went. If you want the best of the best, or love high grade audio, you shouldn’t miss out on the Arctis Pro + GameDAC. For everyone else, I’d strongly recommend trying before buying.
- Exceptionally comfortable
- Tasteful RGB
- Very good microphone with great sidetone
- Lots of options through both DAC and SteelSeries Engine
- Excellent sound
- Very expensive
- Connecting to a 3.5mm device requires a dongle
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.