Introduction & Specification Details and Close-up
Today we will be taking a look at the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC. This addition to the Arctis series of headsets falls into the category of people who want to listen to music at high quality, and also enjoy gaming with pristine audio.
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC allows users to do exactly that, and while that might sound like quite a niche category for a headset to be placed in, there are most definitely a few people out that that fall into it. The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC is fairly expensive, coming in at the cost of $279.99. Throughout this review, we are going to see whether or not it's worth the cost, or if you should move towards another headset in a similar category.
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC is going to be run through all of the normal headset testing paces. We are going to be looking at the design choices that SteelSeries decided to go with, explore in-game audio quality, music audio quality, delve into what the GameDAC is capable of, and finally see if it packs a microphone that you friends wouldn't mind listening to you through. So, let's jump right into it, and to kick things right off, we have a close up unboxing.
First off, we have an image of the front of the box that shows off a nice image of the headset, as well as an image of the GameDAC powered on.
Here we have an image of the back of the box. This side of the box shows that the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC comes with Hi-Res Audio support, which I will get into more later on in this review. It also gives a quick description of the ESS Sabre DAC, speakers, and body design.
This side of the box showcases everything that is included in the box, as well as showing off the specifications for both the GameDAC and the headphones.
This final side of the box shows a paragraph that reads that gamers push the limits of gaming, and so does SteelSeries hardware. An example of that is the high fidelity audio that comes with the Arctis Pro + GameDAC.
Here's an image of how the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC being opened. The packaging is quite simple, and everything fits in extremely nicely and is easy to remove - nothing abnormal from SteelSeries here.
Here we have an image of the headset taken out of the box, and we can see that SteelSeries has opted for an aluminum frame.
Here we have a close up image of the microphone slot on the left earcup. We can see that the end of the microphone is plastic, and also the microphone features a clear piece of plastic that can glow red when the headsets microphones muted.
In this image, you can see the clear piece of plastic much better, and how long the microphone can be pulled out from its microphone slot in the left earcup. The microphone can be pulled out 11.5cm before its maximum extension is reached.
Moving onto the left earcup, we can see the mute microphone button at the top, the volume scroll wheel, the main headset cable port, and the 3.5mm audio jack.
This image concentrates on the SteelSeries design choice to go with the ski-goggle headband. This headband is extremely comfortable and can be adjusted, as seen in the image below.
This image showcases a Velcro strap that is used to adjust the tightness of the headset on the user's head. I had no problems adjusting the headset's tightness and found that it was very comfortable even after long periods of use.
Moving onto what else is included in the box, we have an image of the mobile adapter, optical audio cable, main headset cable, and USB audio cable.
Now, onto the GameDAC. In this image, we are looking at the back of the GameDAC, and we can see the following ports; optical port, micro-USB port, line out, and mobile port.
Here we have a front-on view of the GameDAC. While you can't see it in the image, the GameDAC features an OLED screen that is crisp and quite easy to use. The image also shows the main control wheel and the secondary button. Both of these buttons are used to navigate the GameDAC; I will get into more of this later on in the review.
Lastly, we have an image of the headset connection jack. This is where users will plug their headset into.
Jak's Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero X570 (Wi-Fi) (buy from Amazon)
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X @ 4.4GHz (buy from Amazon)
- GPU: EVGA GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER XC GAMING (buy from Amazon)
- Cooler: be quiet! Silent Wings 3
- RAM: 16GB (2x8GB) Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB 3200MHz (buy from Amazon)
- SSD: GALAX HOF Pro SSD PCI-E M.2 2TB
- Power Supply: Corsair CX Series 750 Watt (buy from Amazon)
- Case: be quiet! Silent Base 600 (buy from Amazon)
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (buy from Amazon)
Design & Software
When I first picked up the SteelSeries Arctis Pro headset, I was surprised at just how lightweight it was. Since this headset is targeting an audience that is willing to pay a bit more for a quality headset, I was expecting the Arctis Pro to come with some weight - this isn't the case. SteelSeries has chosen to equip the Arctis Pro with an aluminum frame; this gives the headset a premium feel while also maintaining a certain level of weightlessness.
The Arctis Pro features what SteelSeries calls the "Ski Goggle Headband." At first glance, I was skeptical about whether or not this would be comfortable throughout prolonged use, but it turned out to be quite impressive. The headband can be adjusted for almost any size head, and after long gaming sessions, I barely even noticed it was there. In fact, I appreciated that there wasn't any weight on the top of my head that a typical headset would provide.
The earcups can be swiveled backward and forwards, meaning that you can wear the headset around your neck and still look left to right with the earcups facing towards your chest. When having the headset in this position, I also noticed there was very minimal, if any, at all tension around my neck. Some headsets, when placed around your neck, tend to choke you, as they are designed to fit tightly around your head, this wasn't the case for the Arctis Pro.
The earcups also feature removable magnetic panels, and under those panels are some soft LED's that can be programmed in both the provided DAC and SteelSeries' software. On the left-hand side earcup are all of the headset's controls, we have the microphone mute button, volume control, main cable jack, and headphone share jack. I love how easy it is to mute the microphone with this button, it has a nice satisfying click to it, has a rough surface that makes it easy to find and also causes an LED at the end of the microphone to shine red. This indicates that the headset is muted.
As for the volume wheel, while I do appreciate the option to be able to control the volume of the headset on the earcup, what I don't appreciate is how the volume wheel has no tension whatsoever. This means that when I take the Arctis Pro off my head, I sometimes accidentally knock the volume wheel, decreasing volume, which confuses me when I put the headset back on my head. The volume wheel is far to easy to change, and this can simply be fixed by SteelSeries adding some nice satisfying tension to it. I found the headphone share port completely pointless, why you ask? Because why would you want to share someone else's music when you can just listen to your own. I just feel like this feature is never going to be used, or at least the number of people that are using it are tiny in comparison to how many are using the headset for gaming.
SteelSeries decided to go with the USB Mini B 8-pin cable, and on purpose as well. Why did they do this? Well, that's quite simple, to lock buyers into only using the provided DAC with SteelSeries headsets. As for the DAC itself, it has a really nice design that features one larger control wheel and a secondary button for going 'back' through options. Unfortunately, SteelSeries decided to place the main headset cable on the left-hand side of the DAC, meaning that users who have this DAC on their desk will most likely be forced into having the DAC on the left-hand side of their setup, as having it on the right will provide some difficulties with cables crossing over your mouse pad or keyboard. I will get into the DAC more in the performance side of this review.
Right off the bat, I'm not the biggest fan of SteelSeries' software - SteelSeries Engine 3. It seems sloppy and half complete. While that might seem rough, do try it out for yourself to form your own opinion. How could SteelSeries improve its software? First, don't make it so the software opens up multiple windows when you click on the product that is plugged in. Instead, when a user clicks on their product, have the software change the window they are viewing, and add a 'back' option. It would also be more aesthetically pleasing if SteelSeries made it so the software scaled with the size of the window.
Other than these small problems, SteelSeries has added everything a user would need in the software. You have EQ, live-microphone preview (amazing touch), mic sidetone, mic volume, presets, bass enhancement, surround profiles, and stereo profiles.
The software also features an 'illumination' setting that allows users to change the color of their headset. As seen in the below image, users can select what part of the headset they want to change the color of. Examples include the microphone color, microphone mute color, right side earcup, left side earcup, and multizone that shifts colors between both the left and the right earcups.
Lastly, the software features a settings tab for the DAC. Here users can change the OLED screen brightness and how long the DAC has to sit idle before the screen times out.
Performance, Microphone, DAC
As with all of the headsets that I review, I used the Arctis Pro for over 30 hours. Within these 30 hours, I played games such as Apex Legends, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Call of Duty Warzone. I also listened to music extensively and watched a couple of movies. Was I impressed with what the Arctis Pro delivered? In short, yes, I was extremely impressed.
The first game I jumped into once I connected the Arctis Pro + DAC to my PC was Apex Legends. The reason I tested Apex Legends first is to get a good benchmark for how the headset should sound in one of the most popular games on the market. Apex Legends has great directional audio, even when not enabling the 7.1 surround sound feature. Not only is directional audio great, but so is the sound effects of the guns, grenades, footsteps, and bullets.
Playing Apex Legends with the Arctis Pro + DAC was like jumping into a dream, and that isn't an overestimation in the slightest. The Arctis Pro combined with the DAC provided some of the most clean-cut audio I've heard in Apex, the gun sounds had a lovely pop to them, the grenades had a deep rumble, the dialogue of the champions was great, and finally, the sounds of your enemies dying was unmatched. The DAC really kicked things up a notch and shows a noticeable difference in overall audio quality when compared to the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless.
After thoroughly enjoying my experience with Apex Legends, I decided to move onto Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, and while you might consider this type of game to be a peculiar choice to review a headset with, here's why I decided to do it. Gamers aren't just looking to play multiplayer titles when purchasing an expensive headset such as the Arctis Pro + DAC, they will most likely be playing a range of different games, and some of those include RPG titles, MMO's and even strategy games. So, with that in mind, I decided to take 2019's Game Of The Year (Sekiro Shadows Die Twice) and see how the audio holds up with the Arctis Pro + DAC, this test will give you an idea of how the headset does in an RPG environment.
Immediately I was impressed with Sekiro Shadows Die Twice; each of the sword clashes, parries, and dodges sounded intense and immersive. The highs sounded great, and the lows had a nice deep bass rumble to it. I would have liked the lows to have been even deeper bass, but this could be a limitation of the game, a no fault of the headset. I did tweak the bass in the EQ settings, which achieved some noticeably deeper bass.
Moving onto Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Warzone. Directional audio in this game is all kinds of screwed up, but this is no fault of the headset, it's the game itself. When in multistory buildings, I couldn't tell if the enemy player was above or on the same level as me, even when playing with the Arctis Pro + DAC. Other than the directional audio, everything else sounded great. Gunfire sounded crisp, and killstreaks were hauntingly loud and immersive.
I listened to a few hours of music with the Arctis Pro through both the DAC on my PC and on my phone through the provided adapter. On my PC, music sounded great, and it sounded even better when enabling the Hi-Res Audio setting. Enabling this opened up the sound stage a whole lot more and allowed me to clearly distinguish between specific instruments on the tracks.
The microphone on the Arctis Pro sounds fairly good; it's about what you would expect from a headset microphone. The DAC allows users to control the gain as well as the microphone volume; both are a nice touch for users. Users can also preview how the microphone sounds in the SteelSeries software. I tested the microphone over Discord, as well as in the preview in the SteelSeries software, and found it's a more than a passable microphone. It's not better than a desktop microphone, but teammates won't be upset listening to your voice over chatting services or in-game (depending on the game).
As I previously mentioned, the DAC has a fantastic design, I love the big control wheel, and the tension it has behind it when I cycle through options. I also love the OLED display and the overall compactness of the unit. As for the performance side of things, I found the DAC to be really easy to use, and I even believe that users who aren't audiophiles will have a great time navigating its settings. I also love that can toggle between DTS surround sound at the push of a button.
Holding down the large control wheel brings up the DAC's settings, which allow users to change things such as the microphone sidetone, microphone gain, equalizer, input, output, display settings for the DAC, and the DAC's illumination. Basically, all of the settings that you can find in the SteelSeries Engine 3 software can be accessed by using the DAC.
So what are the problems with the DAC? Well, firstly all the cables are far too short. SteelSeries says this headset is aimed at PS4 users as well as PC users; I find that hard to believe, considering the cables are extremely short and most console gamers are sitting decently fair away from their TV/console. In my experience with the Arctis Pro + DAC, I believe this headset is aimed more specifically at PC gamers who are sitting close to their rig and have a desk to place the DAC on. I also previously mentioned that the main headset port is located on the left-hand side of the DAC, I believe many users would prefer it if SteelSeries relocated this port to the back of the DAC for maximum desk placement customization.
Other than those small things I mentioned, SteelSeries has done a fantastic job with the DAC.
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + DAC combination is a slick headset that comes with a great looking DAC that backs up all of its aesthetic features with more than adequate performance.
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + DAC comes with very little downside, but if I had to mention some of the aspects I didn't like or would change it would be this; main headset port be relocated to the back of the DAC, longer cables for PS4 users, deeper base, and the adoption of micro-USB instead of the USB Mini B 8-pin cable. I'd also like to see the volume wheel on the left earcup have some added tension.
All in all, SteelSeries has done a fantastic job with the Arctis Pro + DAC. I truly believe that the company's goal of bringing out a headset that is capable of playing audiophile-level music, while also being good in-game has definitely been achieved.
So, is the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + DAC worth the $279.99? Yes, and no. I would say 'yes' if you are after a gaming headset that has kick-ass in-game audio, and also doesn't drop off at all once you chuck on some high-quality music. This headset is multi-use case, meaning that is versatility comes with a significant price hike. That price hike is only worth it if you are going to be using all of its features.
So, that means if you are after just a gaming headset and nothing else, then there are other options out there that can provide a similar experience in-game and be more bang for your buck. Ultimately, SteelSeries has released a product that buyers won't be disappointed with if they buy it, and I can personally say that the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + DAC is that good it's now become my daily driver headset. Lovely work here, SteelSeries.
The Bottom Line
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC stands as a perfect example that gaming headsets can also be used for listening to music at higher qualities.