High-resolution audio is currently the favorite game “Next Big Thing” by PC Gaming. Just as HD displays took our eyes off the dark ages and into a new era of crystal-clear game worlds, Hi-Res audio wants to make your ears shine in new ways, making positional audio in games easier to locate and Metallica’s masters of Puppets sound exactly 3.8 times more bad than last time. And that promise that SteelSeries welcomes with its latest lineup of Arctis headsets. They were already some of the best gaming headsets on the market, and now a trio of fresh (and expensive) models are looking to outpace the competition.
There is always room for a little healthy cynicism when these new technical standards are naturally presented. However, what we have seen elsewhere on Hi-Res headsets, such as the Khan Pro AIMO from Roccat, is that even if you do not hear 24-bit sound and thus benefit from the technology, the sound quality is still wonderful. Like this Roccat headset, the Arctis Pro + GameDAC has a frequency range of 10 Hz up to 40 kHz, far beyond the usual 20-20 values that we see in non-high-resolution cans. This means that even if you do not have a Tidal subscription to bring lossless songs into your ear at the touch of a button, you will notice an improvement in sound quality thanks to this huge bandwidth.
Best of all, there’s an improvement to the GameDAC box, a digital-to-analog converter and amplifier that takes over the processing tasks from your PC and processes them in the middle of the signal path. The SteelSeries GameDAC, so small and unobtrusive that it sits on any desk, also serves as a control center. Pressing the larger black rubberized dial will bring up an OLED options menu where you can turn DTS Headphone on and off: Turn X-Surround Sound on and off, adjust Game / Chat Volume Balance, and more.
As with previous Arctis models, there is a volume control on the back of the left auricle and an easy-to-find microphone mute button above. However, with the wired version I tested, there is no scroll wheel for the game / chat balance on the right earpiece. As a seasoned Arctis 7 user, I feel this loss. It’s inherently more difficult to tune it with the GameDAC.
Another small disadvantage is that you need to connect the included 3.5mm mobile adapter, as the headset is connected to the GameDAC via micro USB if you want to use the headset (without Hi-Res support) with your smartphone , And as the latest smartphones have lifted the 3.5mm jack, this means plugging in another adapter that looks like a meme. Not really the fault of SteelSeries, but it is important to consider this as an all-in-one solution.
And it’s very tempting to see the new Pro version of the Arctis exactly like that. It is both PS4-compatible and PC, but not Xbox without jumping through some tires. Visually, the beautiful, clear design has not been compromised by the inclusion of RGB lighting – it’s a subtle ring around every earpiece that looks as good as we’ve seen in RGB products. As a gaming headset, the sometimes controversial Headphone: X software-based surround sound is rich in features and brilliantly tuned, creating a lush and expansive sound. As audiophile headphones, it really offers the warmth and depth to compete with more expensive non-gaming models, but with a chain of adapters in tow, if you want to connect it to a smartphone.