SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC

So I’m going to check out the Arctis Pro +GameDAC first. It comes in a white box with a picture of both the headset and the GameDAC across the front. The SteelSeries branding isn’t too in your face up in the corner. They mention that this is the worlds first certified hi-res gaming audio system and have PS4 and PC listed down with the Dolby logos to show what devices that it works with. The back of the box has another set of pictures of the Arctis Pro with the GameDAC, both on again showing off the lighting and the OELD screen on the GameDAC. Below that they have four features highlighted with information below in three different languages.

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The box pulls apart and the headset and GameDAC are front and center in between the formed plastic on the top and bottom to keep them from moving around at all. There is also a box filled with accessories up under the plastic. This has the documentation, a product information guide, and a warranty information card.

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For accessories you get a few different cables, each is labeled with a white sticker tag. You get an optical cable, a USB cable, a mobile adapter, and the main cable that runs between the GameDAC and the headset. There is also a microphone windscreen in the plastic bag that you can put over the microphone if you need one.

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So the Arctis Pro can be found on its own but this time around it comes with the GameDAC. A DAC is a digital audio converter and you might be wondering why they don’t call it a sound card. Well technically a sound card has a DAC as well, the DAC converts a digital signal to the analog signal that you hear. This one specifically is running an ESS Sabre 9018 reference DAC with 121 dB of dynamic range and -115 dB THD+N. the GameDAC also has an amp built in as well. In other words, a DAC and the GameDAC is just an external Sound Card but the DAC name has recently been associated with higher quality audio and that is what SteelSeries is going for here.

So the GameDAC is about 4 inches wide and oval in shape. The top is extremely glossy and has two controls on top. One is a rubber knob, similar to a volume control, but it has more functionality than that. It helps you navigate the OLED screen that takes up most of the top. The knob can be pressed in for a click and then there is a second button to the left giving you a backup and forward/confirm controls.

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Around back is where you will find most of the connections. So the optical connection can let you hook into a preexisting audio card or into the optical out on your PS4 or other home theater device. The USB connection, when paired with the included cable, is how you hook up to your PC or PS4 as well. There is a line out that you can run from the GameDAC to your streaming mixer to give you control over what everyone hears. Then the mobile in connection uses a 3.5mm headphone jack cable to bring in audio from your phone assuming you have a headphone jack anymore or you can hook it right to your Xbox controller as well or even the Switch. The odd-looking connection on the left side of the GameDAC is for the cable that runs to the headset, this is a proprietary cable. You could use the GameDAC without the headset using the line out jack on the back for a speaker out.

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The bottom of the GameDAC has a thick rubber foot that goes all the way around the outside edge to help keep it from moving around. This is important because of the controls on top. Beyond that, this is where all of the FCC and CE certification logos are along with the product name, model, and serial number.

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For some size perspective here is a shot of the Arctic Pro headset with the GameDAC.

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On initial glance, the Arctis Pro looks just like the original wired versions. Especially with the unique shape of the earcups that they went with. They have an oval shape with straight sides that are better at going around most ears than a round design without having to be as large. The earcups are mounted on the headband with an arm that changes the pivot point to about 45 degrees to the right so they can rotate but side to side and up and down slightly on the same axis. That design is similar to the Arctis 5 as well only now that arm is grey, not black.

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It’s the headband when we first see real changes. The headband design is a lot more like the wireless Arctis 7 than the wired Arctis 5. That is because the elastic strap goes up around the top on the Arctis Pro. The headband is aluminum like the Arctis 7 but this time it is black not the silver. So you have the extra long strap that had more adjustment and also adds a little style to the headband. SteelSeries does have a few options for the headband replacement available for the Arctis Pro lineup but still none of the really cool Design by Humans designs they teased a few years ago. The elastic headband allows for some adjustment and it itself is a lot more flexible than a normal headband design so even without adjustment it should fit most people.

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So only one earcup really has anything going on as far as controls or connections. That is the left earcup. This is where the microphone is located, then moving around to the bottom of the headset you have a recessed connection. The recessed connection is for the proprietary cable that goes between the headset and the GameDAC. Well technically it is a USB B Mini connection, but no one uses that so you will have to rely on SteelSeries if you need to replace that cable in the future. It's awesome that it is replaceable, but a more standard cable would have been nice. Paired up with that is also a 3.5mm jack that you can use as an input or output. I spent a bunch of time trying to confirm this and didn’t see anything about this jack mentioned on the SteelSeries website or any of the video or written reviews. So I dug out a 3.5mm to 3.5mm male to male cable. I tested the input first by hooking the headset up to my phone and played audio to the headset while the GameDAC cable was also hooked up. Then I unhooked my phone and hooked another headset up and played music through the GameDAC. It played through the Arctis Pro and also shared the signal with the second headset.

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Also on the left earcup, there is a volume control and then a microphone mute button. The mute button is large and easy to get at. The volume control has a great grip on it but it is important to note that this runs independently of the volume control on the GameDAC. They did this because when you have it hooked directly up to a game console or mobile device you still need some volume control, but if you have it turned down here you will wonder why the headset is so quiet. I will talk more about that in the performance testing though. 

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So the outside of the earcups now have removable plates. This design should make it easy to do some customization on your own or to buy customized plates from SteelSeries. In fact, they already sell them along with matching headbands. I personally might just pull them off and paint them. They attach with magnets and then around the outside edge there is RGB lighting.

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The inside of the earcups is where the magic happens so to speak. So for starters, you can better see how the oval design can help fit around ears. They paired that up with ultra thick memory foam in the padding with a microfiber cloth. SteelSeries calls the fabric their airweave fabric and they do sell replacements on their website. I was disappointed to not see the other earcup options available though like they have with the original Arctis lineup, I still to this day want the velour version. As for the drivers inside of the earcups, I was curious how they compared to the Arctis 5 so I pulled up the specifications. They are both 40mm drivers so that didn’t change but the new frequency response is much better going from 20-22000 Hz on the 5 to 10-40000 Hz now, so there is a little more range on the low end and the high end has doubled! Sensitivity went from 98 dB up to 102 dB and distortion is down from <3% to <1%.

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The microphone design is the same as previously with the pull-out design that you can hide away when not using it. The head has the same openings and the red LED light strip along the top edge to help you see when you are muted. The microphone specifications are about the same as before with a frequency response of 1000-10000 Hz but sensitivity has improved from -48 dB to -38 dB.

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