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- The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Headset and GameDAC come together beautifully to provide premium wired audio and chat support on the PS4 and PC.
- The included GameDAC even offers hi-res music playback on PC with support for 24-bit FLAC files from music services like Tidal.
- DTS Headphone:X surround sound technology is featured as well, enabling an immersive soundstage.
- Though not officially supported, the GameDAC can also work with an Xbox One via an extra 3.5mm cable running from the controller.
- The use of a proprietary cable to connect the headset and GameDAC is not ideal, but for a wired gaming headset and DAC in this price range, the $249.99 Arctis Pro Headset + GameDAC delivers on all fronts.
Getting the best online gaming experience through the PlayStation 4 or a PC requires the use of one very important peripheral: a headset. With the PS4 there are many different headset models available, and on PC the headset options can feel endless.
Ultimately, what buyers should look for in a headset boils down to a few key attributes: audio performance, chat performance, comfort, durability, and ease of use. You also need to decide whether you want to go with a wired or wireless model.
As convenient as wireless headsets have become in recent years, wired headset models, like the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC, are still better options for buyers who prioritize sound quality. The Arctis Pro + GameDAC package takes things even further by including a dedicated digital-to-analog converter (DAC) for superior audio processing and control. This model also adds some audio elements that are often elusive on the PS4, including the ability to control both the game audio and the chat audio, and a surround sound feature via DTS Headphone:X.
But, while the Arctis Pro + GameDAC can appear as a very straightforward package, it’s the opposite of no-frills. Both the headset and GameDAC are teeming with features and customization options. The GameDAC is officially compatible with the PS4 and PC (and unofficially with the Xbox One), and indeed those products are the focus. But thanks to an included 3.5mm adapter for the headset and a 3.5mm mobile jack, phones, tablets, and even the Nintendo Switch are not beyond compatibility.
As someone with a background in game development, I’m a big fan of sound design and I know how critical headset performance can be during gameplay. Having now spent some serious time with the SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC, I’ve come away very impressed. The headset and GameDAC are great on their own, but put together, they form an outstanding audio, chat, and surround sound solution.
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC is available in two colors, black and white, and the black unit I used for this review bears all of the company’s best signature design elements. Black and dark gray steel and aluminum flow well together with black fabric, rubber, and plastic elements on other areas of the headset, giving the device a defined look. It’s a stylish design that is very professional looking without being too gamer or audiophile focused.
What’s more, the headset’s earcups are ringed with an RGB light which, along with the mute light on the mic, can be customized via the SteelSeries Engine app on PC. The earcups feature removable speaker tags and even the unique ski band suspension that wraps around the head can be completely changed.
But beyond the headset itself, the very first thing that struck me about the Arctis Pro + GameDAC package was the OLED screen on the compact GameDAC unit. The OLED display is key to the device’s functionality, making it pleasing to read, use, and navigate the GameDAC’s settings. The rubberized texture on the control wheel is pleasant, and the GameDAC’s minor heft is handled well by the rubberized ring that circles the bottom.
The GameDAC (also available separately for $129.99) is powered by an ESS Sabre 9018 DAC contained within the unit. This enables superior audio processing compared to the integrated DACs found on many controllers and sound cards. The look, feel, and size of the GameDAC all present a sense of striking design wrapped in a smart package.
- Headset color options: black or white
- Headset drivers: 40mm neodymium drivers
- Headset frequency response: 10–40,000 Hz
- Microphone type: retractable boom
- Microphone polar pattern: bidirectional noise-cancelling
- GameDAC frequency response: 5–40,000 Hz
- GameDAC audio formats: up to 96 kHz, 24-bit
Setup and interface
The packaging for the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is pretty standard for SteelSeries. It’s nice and effective, but not overly elaborate. Before using the headset, I recommend connecting the GameDAC to a PC via Micro USB and then running the SteelSeries Engine app. This way, you can update the firmware, and tweak several of the GameDAC settings and even the Arctis Pro’s RGB ring.
The Arctis Pro headset connects to the GameDAC via a proprietary cable, and this connection is one of my least favorite aspects of the package (more on that below). The cable does, however, do a great job of working and staying connected. On the PC, the GameDAC just needs a Micro USB connection, but on the PS4 or PS4 Pro, both a Micro USB and an optical cable need to be connected.
The included documentation does a nice job of specifying which sound settings to change on the PS4 and how to change the GameDAC to one of its three input modes: PS4 mode, PC mode, and Hi-Res mode. The GameDAC’s menu is very simple to navigate, and between the control wheel and the two buttons, it’s easy to set the chat balance, adjust volume, apply basic RGB, set mic volume, and toggle the surround sound option on or off.
There is also a powerful custom equalizer (EQ) with presets for more soundstage adjustments, but I wish that the GameDAC also allowed you to further adjust the surround sound feature beyond just on or off. In the PC app, the surround sound playback can be further adjusted between different presets, like Studio, Game, and Cinema. Another aspect missing from the GameDAC is a microphone mute option. To mute the mic, one must use the button on the headset itself.
To get a comfortable fit on the Arctis Pro headset, you’ll need to adjust the ski-goggle suspension headband. The ski-goggle band wraps around the unit’s metal headband and connects to itself with one Velcro connection. I changed it a few times during my testing as I had others try it on and such, and it’s actually much easier to adjust than it first appears. I just let the connection out a little bit and, happily, it then stays right where I want it.
Thankfully, the mic on the Arctis Pro is retractable, and it’s easy to have it safe and out of the way during an offline cinematic playthrough. There is an included windscreen as well, which I favor using. When playing online I take the mic out and leave it in place. The mic stays put well, and there is a nice thumb-sized microphone mute button behind the left earcup.
The button pops out when the mic is muted and lays flat when the mic is live. This, along with the mic mute RGB option, helps keep me from ever accidentally having a live mic on or forgetting to unmute. The headset has its own volume wheel, but since I use it mostly with the GameDAC or connected directly to my phone, I generally keep the volume wheel on the headset all the way up and use these other devices to adjust output levels.
Performance and features
As someone who regularly tests gaming products, I’m often asked about surround sound and headsets. Is the feature worth it? Will you use it? And honestly, over the past generation of gaming, my answer has routinely become “no”. While wonderful in a home theater, surround sound in headsets can often be a muddy mess. Whether it’s a software solution on PC or Xbox One, or a headset specific feature on PS4, the execution often reflects a bad gimmick. So, it is with no small significance that I declare the surround sound on the Arctis Pro + GameDAC to actually be worth using.
I first tried the DTS Headphone:X surround sound feature by watching “Extraction” on Netflix through my PC while fiddling with the settings in the app, and the results are immediately impressive. Sitting down, fully immersed in a movie or 3D game via an effective soundstage is my happy place, and most headsets that promise surround sound can’t get there at all. My point here is not to overly praise the surround sound, but to make clear that both the GameDAC and the Arctis Pro headset can supply a soundstage that is significantly nuanced and clear.
I played a lot of “Nioh 2” with the Arctis Pro + GameDAC, and when playing this title, I’m less concerned with the surround sound, and more concerned with being able to communicate with my co-op friends. Anyone who has ever had to play serious co-op while also having to hear a teammate’s ceiling fan will appreciate how good the Arctis Pro + GameDAC are at delivering clear communication without having to quash the game’s audio. When playing offline, however, the GameDAC does expose some of the game’s less than stellar audio cues.
But in “The Last of Us Part II,” the quality of the production and the painstaking detail of every game environment comes through to stunning effect. It makes for a heightened experience, and I never feel headset fatigue. Using the the GameDAC and Arctis Pro with the in-game home theater setting is my preferred way of hearing the game. Clickers, snow, dripping water, chatter — it’s all so satisfying to hear and so enveloping. It’s hard to believe that for such a small footprint compared with what a 5.1 home theater takes, the Arctis Pro + GameDAC deliver such a sublime playing and listening experience.
There is so much to like about the GameDAC and its audio performance, it can be easy to overlook the Arctis Pro headset itself. While I don’t love the proprietary cable, the headset fits well, feels balanced in weight and materials, and strikes a similarly good balance in terms of allowing some air and sound to leak while staying put and keeping me comfortable. My ears and head never hurt after hours of use.
From quiet lurking gameplay to bombastic action and even phone calls, the Arctis Pro headset keeps the audio clear, allowing for details to flourish.
The Arctis Pro headset can be plugged directly into an Xbox One controller, including launch era models with a chat adapter, but the GameDAC accessory does not officially support the Xbox One. With that in mind, I was keen to see if I could get the GameDAC to work with the console.
Connecting optical and Micro USB is good enough to get game audio, but as is often the case, not sufficient to enable chat. Fortunately, I found a workaround that I like. The GameDAC has a mobile-in port which, like its name suggests, can be used to connect a smartphone via a 3.5mm cable. I used this connection for pumping music, podcasts, and audiobooks from my phone into the GameDAC while playing games. It also works for calls.
So, with the Xbox One, I just connect the mobile-in port of the GameDAC to the Xbox One controller using a 3.5mm 4 pole cable. On the GameDAC, I set the mode to PS4, and on the Xbox One, I set the optical to bitstream Dolby Digital out and I set the chat mix on the controller all the way to chat.
The GameDAC supports Hi-Res audio mode on PC, and the Arctis Pro headset is certified as well. Hi-Res mode enables full 96kHz/24-bit audio support for the best quality playback of hi-res music files. For me, this means being able to play my FLAC albums from Tidal and other places in 24-bit quality.
Since the GameDAC actually has a speaker/stream out port, I can see someone picking up this set and connecting a pair of powered speakers to that port and being very happy with it. For me, however, I think of Hi-Res mode as more of a bonus feature. It’s not supported on the PS4 or anything but PC. Hi-Res mode naturally doesn’t support surround sound, so when I want to watch a show or play a game, I need to change back to PC mode on the GameDAC in order to use surround sound.
The main issues I have with the SteelSeries Arctis Pro are related to its cables. The proprietary cable used to connect the headset to the GameDAC is not easy to plug in on either side, and it’s not something to try fiddling with in the dark while jumping into a team lobby. It necessitates two extra adapters — a mobile adapter which is included and allows the headset to be plugged straight into a 3.5mm connection, and a 3.5mm GameDAC adapter which lets you use the GameDAC with other headsets. The 3.5mm GameDAC adapter is not included, but is sold directly by SteelSeries for $7.99.
The proprietary headset cable is five feet long, which I find to be the right distance between me and the GameDAC. Unfortunately, both the 5-foot Micro USB cable and the 6-foot optical cable are far too short to use with the PS4 or PS4 Pro in any kind of couch situation. My office setup has a dedicated mini USB cable and optical cable for use with PS4, but in my living room I used the SteelSeries cables and had to extend both of them. Optical cable couplers are easy enough to obtain if not as ubiquitous as USB extension cables, but I think SteelSeries could do better with its included cables.
In addition to the 3.5mm GameDAC adapter, there are some nice style accessories available for the Arctis Pro headset. There is a whole line of Arctis Pro Booster Packs that are themed around the upcoming game “Cyberpunk 2077.” These packs are sold separately and include two speaker plates and a ski-goggle headband.
It takes about a minute to take the included black speaker plates and black headband off and put on the Booster Pack accessories. The pack that I have for the review is designed by an artist in Chicago, and the transformative effect it has on the Arctis Pro headset is impressive to say the least.
There is very little to complain about with the Arctis Pro + GameDAC as the performance, control, fit, and finish are all stellar. It’s an amazing bundle that does all the heavy lifting for wired audio and chat needs on the PS4 and PC, and with a little help it can even be used on the Xbox One. With these features in mind, it’s easy to see why the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is our current pick for the best wired gaming headset in our full gaming headset guide.
On the downside, some of the included cables are too short to be really useful, and the proprietary cable that runs between the headset and GameDAC can be irksome. Nevertheless, both the Arctis Pro headset and the GameDAC perform exceptionally well on their own and together.
Which model should you get?
In addition to the bundle reviewed here, the Arctis Pro headset is available by itself without the GameDAC for $179.99, and the GameDAC can also be purchased separately for use with another headset for $129.99. I think the two devices work so well together that I recommend sticking with the bundle, though both are worthy products on their own. Buying the $249.99 bundle saves you about $60 compared to buying both products separately.
If, however, you happen to already have a quality headset that you like, such as a Sennheiser Game One or a Beyerdynamic MMX 300, then buying the GameDAC on its own could provide a very worthwhile upgrade.
What are your alternatives?
When it comes to headsets with included DACs, the main alternative to the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is the Astro A40 TR MixAamp Pro TR, though Turtle Beach has its own take in the Elite Pro 2 Headset + SuperAmp.
Though the two models feature a similar design, I think Arctis Pro + GameDAC is superior to the Astro MixAmp and A40 headset. The GameDAC’s usability and feature set are top-notch. I liked the first generation Turtle Beach Elite Pro TAC, but in contrast, the SuperAmp is very Bluetooth dependent in terms of functionality. As for the Elite Pro headset, it puts a premium on noise isolation (likely for tournament settings) that I don’t find comfortable.
Ultimately, for wired performance on the PS4, the combination of the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is hard to beat. For more gaming headset recommendations suitable for a variety of needs and budgets, be sure to check out our guide to the best gaming headsets.
Pros: All-in-one wired solution for excellent chat and audio on PS4, controls on headset and GameDAC, PC support, Hi-Res mode, comfortable, customization options, GameDAC mobile in and line out connections, unofficially works on Xbox One
Cons: Included optical cable and Micro USB cable are short, headset cable uses a proprietary connection, GameDAC 3.5mm adapter not included, PC app required for adjusting some settings, no mobile cable included