Steelseries Arctis Pro review: The best headset just got better, at a cost

Steelseries Arctis Pro

Ever since the Steelseries Arctis 7 rocked my eardrums at the end of last year to claim the top spot in my best gaming headset rankings, no other gaming headset has even come close to matching its supreme comfort or exceptional sound quality – until now. Enter its brand-new shiny upmarket sibling, the Arctis Pro.

Borrowing the same understated design and ski goggle headband as the rest of the Arctis line, the Pro takes everything up a notch, introducing Hi Res audio support, a dash of RGB lighting around the ear cups and some primo build quality to make it extra feel durable and luxurious.

There are three Arctis Pros altogether: the entry-level USB headset, the top-end 2.4GHz wireless and Bluetooth version, and the middle one I’ve got here, the Arctis Pro and GameDAC. Starting from £179 / $179 for the regular USB headset (or £249 / $249 for the GameDAC model and £299 / $329 for the wireless one), the Arctis Pro is a proper nice bit of kit.

Underneath its stretchy black ski goggle material, its steel headband feels lovely to the touch, and the soft, plush ear cups are like two puffy clouds gently caressing your cheeks. Against my better judgment, I’m also quite partial to the subtle ring of RGB lighting round the ear cups’ soft touch casing as well, even though I know RGB lighting on a headset is completely and utterly pointless when you can’t actually see it. The wireless version, meanwhile, is more sensible, as this comes sans RGB to help you save battery life.

Steelseries Arctis Pro microphone

Still, it’s that ski goggle headband that really seals the deal for me, as the way it suspends its steel frame above your head means there’s very little risk of it ever pressing down on your skull and giving you a headache – which is something I find a lot of headsets tend to do because, apparently, my head simply can’t abide your standard headset headband. With the Arctis Pro, however, I can carry on wearing it for hours at a time without the slightest bit of discomfort. Thumbs. Up.

The Arctis Pro also brings a swathe of smaller changes that make using the headset much easier day-to-day. The microphone mute button on the back of the left ear cup, for instance, is now much larger and easier to find, and its textured grip makes it just as prominent as the volume dial below it. The extendable microphone also turns a handy shade of red when you press it, too, so you know exactly when its muted and exactly when your friends can hear you slurping a large cup of tea.

Steelseries Arctis Pro ports

What makes this particular version of the Arctis Pro stand out, of course, is the USB GameDAC. PCs haven’t always played nice with standalone DACs (or digital to analogue converters, which convert digital music files into analogue signals to be played by your speakers or headphones), what with sound cards all but being null and void these days and your motherboard typically having one of its own to deal with, but the DAC on the Arctis Pro has been built for gaming from the ground up, elevating the quality of the sound coming out of your PC while also providing a one-stop control centre for the entire headset.

Press that big lovely volume knob (I love a good volume knob, me), for instance, and you’ll instantly switch over the headset’s chatmix settings, which lets you fade out all background music to focus solely on your multiplayer chat, or vice-versa when you want to silence screaming eleven-year-olds from slinging curses at you). Hold it down, however, and you’ll bring up the rest of its onboard menu, giving you access to its equalizer settings, sidetone and microphone volume adjustments, source inputs, RGB controls and various different playback options. The smaller button beside it, meanwhile, is for navigating backwards to the previous menu screen.

It’s a highly intuitive system, and one that puts Steelseries’ convoluted transmitter on the Siberia 800 to shame. The DAC’s OLED screen also means everything’s visible at all times, regardless of viewing angle, and the long USB cables you’ll need to connect it to your PC and headset also make setting up and slotting it into your existing PC setup incredibly easy. Another thumbs up.

Steelseries Arctis Pro with DAC

I realise I’ve now run out of thumbs to illustrate my approval, but you’ll be pleased to hear that both of them remain resolutely in the upward direction when it comes to the Arctis Pro’s overall sound quality. Of course, without the regular USB headset on hand to test as well, it’s difficult to know exactly how much of a difference the DAC is making overall.

Still, bass-heavy shooter Doom pulsed and zipped along without ever sounding too overbearing, and I was always able to hear where every last demon rasp was coming from, allowing me to pump them full of satisfying super shotgun blasts with expert precision.

Likewise, the Arctis Pro gave Hellblade’s 3D binaural audio and the voices inside Senua’s head a real sense of depth and distance, making me break out in goosebumps every time one of them whispered in my ear behind the nape of my neck before they whisked themselves away again to the outer edges of my hearing. Whereas some headsets end up undermining Hellblade’s voice performances, here the headset reinforced them, helping to create a vivid picture of Senua’s mental state alongside what was happening onscreen.

Steelseries Arctis Pro DAC

The Arctis Pro also piled on the stress when I gave The Evil Within a run as well, creating a tense, fraught atmosphere while I dealt with molotov-wielding zombies up close and dodged incoming air bolts from afar. Indeed, I’ve never been quite so glad to hear its Clair de Lune save room music spill through its dripping corridors, even when there’s a shrieking lift grinding away in the background as it struggles to make its way down to us.

Admittedly, switching the Arctis Pro over to its Hi Res Audio input didn’t seem to make a huge amount of difference when playing games, even though this is meant to focus the headset’s entire bandwidth (thereby disabling its DTS HeadphoneX V2 surround sound and chatmix support) into delivering a superior audio experience. Instead, you’re more likely to benefit from its Hi Res support if you have something like a Tidal music subscription or own proper Hi Res audio tracks.

The good news, though, is that the Arctis Pro is fantastic for general music listening as well. Even on its regular PC input mode, the Arctis Pro handled everything from Final Fantasy XV’s delicate piano themes to thumping battles tunes with ease, creating a spacious soundscape that gave everything room to breathe and the chance to be heard. None of this strained highs and overblown bass nonsense; just great sounding music.

Steelseries Arctis Pro DAC ports

The same goes for ‘proper’ music with lyrics and people playing guitars and such. Whether it’s your favourite rock band, indie folk duo or the opening theme from anime Attack on Titan, the Arctis Pro offered plenty of balance and crisp detail.

Speaking of detail, its bendy, retractable microphone is also excellent. It’s quite short compared to other headset mics I’ve tested in the past, but chat was still crystal clear when I recorded myself talking, and I didn’t hear an ounce of pop or blow-out wind effects either. If I had five thumbs, they’d all be pointing skywards.

The big question, though, is whether all this lovely headset goodness is worth paying for over the Arctis 7? The GameDAC is certainly a nice touch that beats having to deal with Steelseries’ Engine software when it comes to making settings adjustments, but I wouldn’t have said its audio quality showed £90/$90+ worth of significant, noticeable improvement – at least not using its regular PC input.

You’ll probably get more out of it if you regularly listen to Hi Res audio tracks, although it’s worth noting that while the Arctis Pro + GameDAC is Hi Res audio certified, its entry-level sibling is not, despite being ‘capable’ (according to Steelseries) of high resolution playback. As a gaming headset, though, I’m not convinced you can really hear that much of a difference between this and the Arctis 7. Or perhaps I’m just a half-deaf heathen who simply can’t tell the difference between regular audio and all this Hi Res gubbins. If you love your audio and want the very best, then by all means go for it. For me, however, the Arctis 7 remains better value for money.

32 Comments

  1. aircool says:

    If you’re going to listen to lossless audio (or any audio for that matter), you really ought to get open backed headphones. Any closed backed headphones are going to warp the sound, especially bass due to the confined nature of the airspace between ear and source.

    If anything, the quality and gain of the microphone is perhaps one of the most important parts of a good gaming headset. Getting ‘decent’ sound isn’t hard, but I’d rather the extra money went into a solid, high gain microphone.

    • Martel says:

      I have open backed Sennheisers with a clip on mic. The mic sounds good enough, and the headphones are awesome. I find open backed headphones to be much more comfortable than closed. Generally also means you can either save money, as you’re not paying for the gimmick of them being gaming headphones. Or get nicer than you originally planned for the same money.

      • aircool says:

        You also don’t get super-hot sweaty ears like you do in closed back headphones.

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      john_silence says:

      That’s bollocks, though. I’d introduce you to the Final Audio Sonorous range, or any of the vast quantity of killer closed-back headphones out there.

      Steelseries seems to have gone to great lengths to produce a proper set of cans – with a lot of silly marketing and RGB lighting on top. Par for the course.
      I had their Siberia Elite a few years ago, it was pretty nice, nicely musical for a gaming headset; it already had its own DAC.

      Support for high-res audio as in this instance is a good thing, not so much because we need high-res itself but because it could mean higher standards for audio gear aimed at gamers. Once you’ve tasted good sound, you can’t unhear it. There’s a lot of progress to be made in that regard. With audio we are at the stage we were at ten years ago with 720p 17-inch screens.

    • hfm says:

      I would get open-backed, but I’m near my wife too often so I need closed back to get the isolation to go both ways. Don’t want to bother her with my games and metal.

      I use Beyerdynamic MMX300’s. Fantastic cardioid mic, that consistent Beyerdynamic sound quality. It isn’t a good as some of the better Beyerdynamic monitors, but it’s still damn good.

    • Carra says:

      If you’re sitting next to other people, a closed pair is better.

      I have a pair of closed Sennheiser Momentums for work and a pair of open Sennheiser 650 HD combined with a dragonfly DAC for home use. The 650’s do sound better but the sound quality of the momentums is already pretty damn good.

  2. BooleanBob says:

    Be wary if you have a large noggin. I bought the Arctis 7 on the strength of a review on here and it was painfully pinchy within a few minutes of putting it on. I also found the sound quality terrible for the asking price, and the surround sound useless for gaming.

    In the end I sent it back and got a pair of g533s. They’re not the best headset I’ve ever owned but are miles better than Steelseries’ offering and cost me about £40 less.

    Hopefully they’ve fixed a few of these issues with this new model.

    • Stromko says:

      I second this. I bought an Arctis 7 since TomsHardware said it was the best gaming headset out there, and it’s the worst experience I’ve ever had with a headset bar none. It is bad sound for the price, I had to manually switch between modes to have adequate sound in different kinds of applications and even then it wasn’t good.

      The material of the headset had no structure so it pressed directly on my ears which was uncomfortable in the first place, and over time it caused more and more agony. The first time I tried stretching the headband to get some kind of relief, it broke without any effort or resistance. A wire must have been yanked out by the pulling because absolutely no sound came out of the device after this.

      I find it strange how much press and love this headset gets when it’s so awful and quite pricy to boot.

  3. tellingporkies says:

    Hi-res audio has got to be a ‘gaming’ term right? What the max FPS recorded through the mic pls

    • Alien says:

      No, the term is usually used for “audiophil” equipment…

      • Twisted89 says:

        Who’s audio Phil?

        Unless you meant Audiophile? But even so ‘hi-res’ audio isn’t a term they would use. It’s a stupid gaming/PR buzz word that has no real meaning just like ‘the cloud’. Anyone who appreciates audio wants to know the frequency range, not whether its ‘hi-res’ which means literally nothing.

        • aircool says:

          Hi-res just means a lossless format such as .wav or the original CD, so I have no idea why something has to actually support hi-res audio, unless there’s a special codec needed for decoding some of the compressed lossless formats.

          Next thing you know there’ll be gaming headsets that support vinyl and have a turntable mounted on the headstrap…

        • blur says:

          I suspect that in this case though, “resolution” has more to do with bit rate. Anyone who appreciates audio wants to know the bitrate, not whether its ‘hi-res’ which isn’t terribly specific.

          • Fitzmogwai says:

            There’s no such thing as ‘bitrate’ with regard to digital audio. There’s bit *depth* (usually 16 or 24bit) and sample rate (44.1kHz for example.)

            Bit depth defines the maximum signal amplitude that a digital system can process before clipping occurs. So a single 16bit audio sample would have a bit depth value between 0 and 65,535 while a 24bit sample could be anything from 0 up to 16,777,215.

            The problem with listening to 24bit audio is that if you had a music file that used the whole amplitude range that 24bit offers, and a magic stereo capable of outputting the sound, you’d permanently destroy your hearing a long, long time before you got anywhere close to full volume.

            24bit audio *is* useful for recording and production, because the extra headroom available permits the use of multiple layers of effects and signal processing without clipping the waveform and introducing unwanted noise and distortion. But once that’s all been done, the final mix will be rendered out as a 16bit file, and you as a listener won’t be able to tell the difference.

          • Guvornatwo says:

            What’s your definition of digital audio? Because Bit rate is definitely a thing in regard to, off the top of my head, MP3 and AAC. I imagine this goes for all lossy audio codecs.

  4. Alien says:

    I have got good “real” headphones (two from Beyerdynamic and the Fidelio X2) and I am always very skeptic when it comes to gaming headsets. Especially when they have got “RGB lighting around the ear cups”… :)

    What I am really interested in is the “GameDAC”, can normal headphones be connected to this DAC (or just USB gaming headsets)?

    If not, does anyone know a good external HP DAC (with some kind of surround processing)? The MixAmp and DSS2 have bad sound quality and the Smyth Realizer is too expensive (2000€ for just the DAC)…

    • vorador says:

      One that gets great reviews is the Schiit Modi 2. I can’t personally vouch for it since i don’t have it yet, but i’m planning to buy it soon.

      • Alien says:

        Yes, thanks, I have read a lot of positive things about the Schiit AMPs/DACs. But I thought that they don’t have any kind of “virtual surround” that get’s the sound “out of the head”…

        I need something like Dolby Headphone for Games and Movies…

    • Menthalion says:

      Creative Soundblaster X5 has been pretty well received as an external soundcard with the best virtual surround implementation, a great dac and good value for money (comparable to dedicated) preamp.

      It’s next on my list now I have both a modded Fisher FA-011 / Fidelio X2HR and Vmoda Boompro mic.

      My current onboard Creative has a preamp as well, but too much interference.

    • hfm says:

      I use Beyerdynamic MMX300’s for gaming. The cardioid pattern mic is fantastic and picks up zilch from ambient (people on hangouts from work have commented on how great they sound) and the cans themselves are damn good. Not as good as some of BD’s super high end stuff, but better than I have found in any other dedicated gaming cans so far.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Yeah, me too, especially with comments like:

      “Still, it’s that ski goggle headband that really seals the deal for me”

      given that a band like that is pretty standard for a decent pair of hifi headphones.

    • Ghostwise says:

      I use an Audiophonics USB DAC. These are very reasonably priced since they’re bare-bones equipment, originally meant for electronics enthusiasts. No RGB lighting on these…

      (€70 for a U-Sabre K2M).

    • Carra says:

      I’m using a €100 Dragonfly black combined with my Sennheiser 650 HD. The sound quality is significantly better when using it.

  5. Fitzmogwai says:

    “High Res Audio” as a listening medium is snake oil, pure and simple. You can’t distinguish the difference between the same track rendered at 16bit 44.1kHz or 24bit 192kHz. Why? Because science. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to sell you something expensive or is trying to justify having bought something expensive.

    Don’t confuse that with the use of high bit depths and sample rates during audio recording and production though, where they are invaluable.

    The biggest reason why most recently-released music sounds so shitty is entirely down to being massively compressed when it’s mastered, which has the effect of making it sound ‘louder’ – the same thing they do with adverts on the TV.

    Sorry to get ranty but it’s a particular bugbear of mine!

    • aircool says:

      I’m with you here. By all means, record, edit, mix and master at a higher bitrate and bandwidth as that maintains the integrity of the signal through any digital processing, but when it comes to playback, human ears are only so good.

      I also totally agree about the massive amounts of compression. It really pisses me off.

      On top of that, I dislike the way everything seems to be coded for 5.1, which means that using good old fashioned stereo for playback leaves you with LOUD music and quiet speech.

  6. Osi says:

    My wife and I use Audio Technica (ATH-ADG1X)’s and we love them- they’re not cheap but we’ve never regretted them. They are essentially open backed monitors with a built in microphone. No bells and whistles- just a really nice eq balanced set of drivers and a really clear microphone.
    Due to being open backed we can hear each other when we speak which we couldn’t do with closed back sennheisers we used to have.

  7. Stromko says:

    The love affair the press seems to have with the Arctis 7, and my absolutely abysmal experience with it, really stinks to me.

    • Stromko says:

      As in the exact things its lauded for are often the worst features of the product itself, which is Marketing 101. The comfort-level is a brutal pogrom against ear cartilage, the sound quality is the peak of mediocrity compared to regular, cheaper gaming headsets.

      Only good thing about it was battery life and how quickly the signal would pickup again when it dropped out.

    • MrCalyx says:

      I bought some Arctis 7s during the Amazon Black Friday sales, sold them to a friend a few weeks later for half the value I paid.

      Wanted to try some virtual surround, but Windows only saw them as stereo, so activating the DTS made them sound like I was sitting in a large empty metal room, not that the non-DTS audio was amazing to begin with.
      I assume this is because they were only receiving 2 channels from the PC and guessing the rest, they worked okay if the program I was using had the option to set the output channels to surround, but not every program has that option.

      I was left with the options of:
      – Don’t use the surround sound (The reason I bought them)
      – Use DTS and ignore the awful sound quality on desktop and games without output channel options
      – Install Razer Surround or other such 3rd party virtual surround software

      Since I’d bought them for the surround, and the only viable surround option was Razer (which works with any headphones…), I sold them to a friend that needed a headset and went back to using some VMODAs for games.

      In summary, the stereo audio is okay, the DTS audio is awful, the ski mask headband was a good idea, and I don’t know why the press likes them so much.

  8. Don Reba says:

    This is a life saver! I sometimes have trouble seeing my own ears in the dark. The RGB lights will definitely help with that!

  9. ActionFlash says:

    I’ve got the SteelSeries Arctis 5 and they are great cans. SUPER comfy with the ski band and soft ear cups. They’re ok for a gaming set, but won’t hold up against higher end headphones (even some the same price like my M50x’s) in audio quality. Even though the M50x’s sound better I still prefer the Arctis for long gaming sessions just for their comfort. The surround sound mode is complete and utter junk though and makes everything sound a lot worse.