Gaming headsets are often wealthy with features: virtual surround sound, high quality wireless radios, noise-isolating designs, replaceable ear cushions. A few models even come with their own fancy stands, giving you a place to rest your headphones when you take a pizza break.
But no matter what bill of goods most headsets arrive with, none of them likely sound as good as the new SteelSeries Arctis Pro. In addition to high-end components and a comfortable fit that blocks out exterior noise, the headset utilizes a small audio-control box that the headphones plug into. The box combines a digital-to-analog converter and an amplifier, two pieces of tech that improve the sound of the headphones by adding depth, clarity, and drama. The combination of the Arctis Pro and its accompanying GameDAC box has quickly become my favorite new audio companion when playing games or just listening to tunes.
I noticed the improved audio most in shooters like Overwatch. Even my own weapon sounded clearer, and I could better discern the position and distance of footsteps and energy shields shattering around me. Mowing down other characters as Bastion has never sounded so right. It’s remarkable, and that’s thanks to the DTS Headphone:X 2.0 software running on the GameDAC; movie-theater-grade technology that presents sounds in a multi-channel mix that makes it easier for you to pick out the distance and direction of the sounds you hear.
The headphones, when connected to the GameDAC, are also capable of playing back high-resolution audio files, making them great for listening to music in addition to gaming. Music sounded stunning on my PS4, Mac, and PC, somewhat reminding me of the impressive Blue Sadie headphones I recently reviewed, which also have their own amplifier on-board.
The GameDAC box connects to your computer or console via optical cable or USB. It has an OLED screen, a volume wheel, and software controls to tinker with audio settings or fiddle with the color of the RGB lighting on the headphones. I went with a purple hue, lighting up the rims of ear cups and the microphone mute button. (It looked pretty; Prince was onto something.) Customizing the lights is completely unnecessary, but I kept doing it anyway.
A Sound Fit
The design is nearly identical to SteelSeries’ previous Arctis headsets, with a steel headband surrounded by elastic fabric that feels just like ski or snowboarding goggles—though I wouldn’t head down a Black Diamond wearing these. You can adjust the tautness of the headband assembly give to get a better fit.
The outside of the earcups are plastic, but have a soft coating that resembles metal. They’re connected to the headband by aluminum hangers that pivot 90 degrees so you can rest them on your weary shoulders when you get tired from pwning noobs, which is somehow still a phrase I say. They’re fairly glasses-friendly with plump mesh fabric (SteelSeries call it “Airweave”) that doesn’t seem to heat up as much as sweat-inducing leather headset cushions. They do have some scratchiness to them, but that hasn’t bothered me once I get them in place.
I’m mad for the retractable noise-cancelling microphone on the left earcup. It extends about four and a half inches, and you can adjust it as close to or as far away from your face as you’d like. SteelSeries also includes a foam mic cover you can slide on to temper pops and breathing sounds. To mute the mic, you use the big, easy-to-find button on back. Press it and it pops out, so you know it’s muted. The mic has a deep red glow when muted, which helped me know when I could munch on some chips or sneeze without destroying my friends’ eardrums. Though the headset has good noise isolation that tends to make you a Loud Talker, my wife didn’t complain she could hear me screaming from the other room thanks to the mic monitoring that let me hear myself talking.
The headset comes in wired and wireless variants. The only downside to the wired version is that you will need to keep that GameDAC box within reach so you can adjust your max volume or tweak the audio mix to bring up (or silence) the chattering of your friends. The wired version has a single volume dial on the left earcup, but it cannot change your chatmix. (The wireless version has a clickable wheel that does let you adjust how loudly you hear your friends.) Luckily, the cables that come in the box are a few feet long each. One goes from the GameDAC to the headphones, the other goes from the GameDAC to your console or PC. So, at least the little box doesn’t have to sit right next to your PS4. I was able to sit on my couch several feet away without much trouble, though I did have to dabble with the big volume nob now and then.
The fit and feel of every Arctis Pro is the same, but only one model has that prized GameDAC included. It comes in several varieties, most of which work on PS4 and PC, and they do have some key differences. For instance, the $330 Arctis Pro Wireless has its own larger, squarer box that transmits lossless audio over both Bluetooth and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. The wireless version sounds fantastic and as good as any other wireless headset I’ve used, but it isn’t as impressive as the wired version.
The wireless transmitter box has a volume/chatmix wheel and screen to let you muck around with basic settings (no RGB lighting options on this version, sadly). It also has a slot to charge one of the two swappable batteries, each of which lasts about 10 hours. The battery meter on the box’s display is also helpful. Being able to choose between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi or dual connect to both is useful if you’re home isn’t the best place for wireless signals. I’ve yet to have a single putter in my wireless connection. Pro-gamer features like these help justify the higher cost of the Arctis Pro series.
The standard Arctis Pro + GameDAC will set you back $250, but a cheaper $180 wired Arctis Pro without the GameDAC (PC only) is also available. The cheaper version still has a big volume wheel, but its sound also cannot match the wired version with the GameDAC. Like having more cowbell in “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”, you’re gonna want that audio boost you get with GameDAC.
Best of the Best
The Arcis Pro Wireless is a top-shelf Bluetooth and Wi-Fi headset, and the benefits of going cordless are numerous, but playing games on the Arctis Pro + GameDAC makes the wired option a whole lot more appealing. The GameDAC brings a new level of clarity and immersion to any game. If any gaming headset is worth a $250 investment, it’s this one. The Arctis Pro is comfortable, has immaculate sound, and is clearly built to put gamers’ needs first. It’s a professional headset in a sea of amateurs.