SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless Review: Master of All?
SteelSeries’ flagship packs in features and performance
When the Arctis Pro lineup was first announced, I was pretty frustrated. The marketing campaign pushed hi-res audio, a gimmick at best that’s totally unnecessary for game audio.
Fortunately, when I tried out the Arctis Pro + GameDAC the following week, it proved itself a worthy contender for reasons other than hi-res support. It delivered beautifully crafted sound in a nicely-designed headset with a robust features package, let down only a little by its proprietary one-headset-for-everything design.
In the back of my mind, I always wondered if the Arctis Pro Wireless, a combination of new components and the DNA of the highly-regarded SteelSeries Siberia 800, could live up to that same standard and its own lofty price tag.
It absolutely does.
Retailing for $330 normally, and often on sale, the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless is one of the most expensive gaming headsets ever sold. But it also delivers a gargantuan features package.
Available in black or white, the Arctis Pro Wireless contains the same high- quality speaker drivers as the rest of the Arctis Pro lineup.
Tuned in part by Indy Acoustic Research, they offer exceptional performance either wired or wirelessly, but you’ll have to wire them up to your own DAC/amp to get a full hi-res audio chain, unlike on the GameDAC model.
That’s not an insult to the included 2.4ghz wireless base station. It’s small and packed with connection options, featuring USB, optical, and analog inputs. And it sounds great, with no noticeable latency.
It also has optical out and an analog line out…though I’ll get to one of my complaints about that feature in a moment.
The receiver has a monochrome OLED screen and a dial and button you can use to set up most of the headset’s functions without opening the software.
However, unlike on the GameDAC model, you will need to download and open SteelSeries Engine to activate DTS Headphone: X 2.0 and adjust its options, so make sure to do that if you want to use the virtual surround.
SteelSeries includes a ton of cables in the box, including a small extra USB-to-DC power cable that you can use to always keep power going to the receiver. This is great for using the unit with a game console and for powering the included spare battery charger at all times.
Although I’ll mention a few more little quirks below, I only have three thoughts about this headset I’d rank as true bummers, and they’re not huge.
All of these could be fixed in a future revision.
Line Out is Limited
The Line Out function spits audio out of the base station into a connected pair of speakers, or other audio device of your choice. However, it’ll only accept input from the PC/USB port.
So, if you’ve got a game console hooked up to the optical port like I do, you can’t send that audio through to your speakers.
It’s a small complaint, but it would be a nice function to have. My SoundBlasterX G5 can do this, so it’d be nice for a headset billing itself as an all-in-one audio solution to support this as well.
I totally love the swappable battery system on the Arctis Pro Wireless. It’s really easy to pop a battery out and swap it with the one charging in the side of the wireless base station. I weirdly hate having to plug in USB cables to charge wireless headsets, and even though that’s also an option here, I love the swap system.
However, each battery only lasts around 10 hours. That was amazing when this system first debuted in the Siberia 800, but today it’s a little short of even cheaper wireless headphones.
It’s not a huge deal because the swapping capability is so cool, but overall use time does fall short of many of today’s budget wireless models.
Slight Creaking in Build
Just like my wired Arctis Pro, my Arctis Pro Wireless developed a very slight creak near the mic mute button after a few days of use.
It’s not a dealbreaker, it’s not apparent when I’m wearing the headset, and the general build and materials used are great.
But I wish the plastic used near the buttons and around the rotation hinges was a little thicker.
Everything else about this headset is top tier and worth the price, if you need/want these features.
In a word: neutral.
Flat. Accurate. Well-tuned.
The Arctis Pro Wireless hangs in there with audiophile headphones like Sennheiser’s 600 series and doesn’t even break a sweat.
It’s good enough to serve as a reference pair, or as a great comparison model for those of you who do crazy things like review headphones.
If you want to hear your audio the way it was recorded, and you want a gaming headset, this is the best choice.
The standard Arctis lineup has a sound that’s about 80 percent as good. Those non-pro models have a slight warmth and hump to the midbass response and some raggedness in the treble that the outside research firm helped SteelSeries eliminate.
The result is clean, flat, accurate bass all the way down to the subbass frequencies. A smooth midrange that sounds tonally accurate to the source. And a treble that’s only slightly uneven, but never fatiguing or sibilant.
Honestly, to even make that comment about the treble is nitpicking.
Wearing these for a week and then popping on the M50XBT revealed the gentle v-shaped boost of Audio-Technica’s famous pair immediately. Comparing them to most other gaming headphones reveals the reason that the Arctis Pro costs so much, at least if you’re after accurate sound.
A flat tuning is not going to be for everyone, and sound quality is often subjective. If you want pounding bass, or footsteps enhancement, you’ll either have to dip into the receiver’s included EQ system, or seek out a different product.
But if you want a gaming headset that can truly compete with some of the more expensive headphones in raw objective audio reproduction, the Arctis Pro series will do the trick.
It’s easily the most accurately-tuned gaming headset currently available, and the wireless model does nothing to diminish that.
I still wish SteelSeries had downplayed hi-res support in the initial marketing and instead said “Sounds as good as high-end professional headphones” or something like that.
You could buy these and then run far away from the gaping maw of headphone purchase addiction and be totally happy.
The suspension headband and the cushy ear pads make the Arctis Pro Wireless a pleasant all-day wear.
Although, I actually think the cheaper Arctis 2019 models are a tiny bit more comfortable.
The ear pads on the Arctis Pro Wireless are stiffer and more isolating than the standard Arctis pads, and the fabric on them is a tiny bit more coarse.
This approach to ear pads was more comfy than the original Arctis series…but late last year, those cheaper models got a 2019 update with new ear cushions.
The 2019 cushions are softer, puffier, and a little more pleasant on the skin than the Arctis Pro cushions. They have an extra layer of cushion on top and a more obviously slow rebound to their memory foam.
I don’t doubt that the Arctis Pro’s cushions are part of their careful acoustic design, and they’re not at all uncomfortable. But the standard models, all the way down to the Arctis 1, are just a little easier on the ears and the sides of your head.
The more intimate fit of the Arctis Pro Wireless does help with isolation, which is great for a cloth-pad model. And the tapered edges to the pads mean that even though the hole looks smaller, there’s just as much room inside for my ears.
The Arctis Pro’s subtle headband curve doesn’t quite have the big-head-compatibility that the original Arctis 7 or the cheaper Arctis models have, but it still fits well on my massive dome. And I love that I can adjust the clamping force quickly by adjusting the headband strap.
I’m not at all displeased with the fit of the Arctis Pro. It’s still plenty soft and wearable for hours, but the lower-end models do a better job of vanishing on the head.
A metal headband and metal joints, mixed with plastic cups and a ski goggle strap. This classic Arctis design was quite disruptive when it launched a couple of years ago, and even today in 2019 it’s still rather unlike anything else on the headset market.
It manages to be more subtle than most gaming headphones, and more premium-feeling as well. The Pro models were initially based on the original Arctis 7, which had a flatter headband on top that’s thankfully more curved here.
Unlike the wired versions of the Pro, the wireless model sacrifices RGB lighting to help with battery life. That’s probably fine, although I do think SteelSeries has some of the best-looking RGB in the headset space.
I know that you can’t see RGB on a headset when you’re wearing it, but you can see it when it’s on your desk. I think the clean ovals of bright light on SteelSeries headsets look better than everyone else’s.
The curve of the headband is such that when the cups are folded flat, the extruded portion of the microphone has a tendency to knock into the side of the other cup.
That problem eases over time as the clamp loosens from wear. I usually just leave the cups rotated to their standard orientation for storage.
I’ve seen a few scattered reports of the thin plastic I mentioned in my negatives above cracking after long-term use, but SteelSeries also seems to handle this in warranty claims. I’m not worried about it, and I’ve never personally experienced this issue on any of my Arctis models.
It’s here where SteelSeries nails it again, after already outperforming everyone on the audio front.
The wireless receiver offers quick controls through its OLED screen, and the amount of input flexibility is great. I use my PC through the USB port and consoles through the optical port.
The control wheel is responsive, and it’s easy to quickly click through the many different options menus.
DTS Headphone: X 2.0 is still a great object-based surround system that competes well with Atmos. Unfortunately, unlike the GameDAC, the wireless Arctis Pro receiver shows up as a stereo device in Windows.
This means that older games, and games that explicitly check your Windows speaker settings instead of using a software toggle or interfacing with the new Windows Sonic surround system, may have trouble outputting true surround information.
In spite of that hiccup, it has a more natural sound to it than the slightly echoing implementation on the GameDAC, and the SteelSeries software has a variety of fun virtual room presets to choose from.
The stereo upmixing is also really great, presenting a natural “monitors on a desk” feeling that doesn’t mess up the source audio.
The Arctis Pro Wireless also has Bluetooth.
Just like the Arctis 3 Bluetooth, it’s a basic implementation with SBC support. But it sounds great. Also, you can connect to Bluetooth and the wireless receiver simultaneously, allowing you to seamlessly mix in music from your phone or take calls or whatever.
This is a great touch, and I like that I can take these on the go for mobile laptop or phone listening without carrying a cable or the base station.
It’s all rounded out with the same ClearCast mic that every other Arctis model has. It’s a bi-directional capsule that prioritizes background noise cancellation above all other things, and it’s a little bit compressed and digital-sounding when you use it in wireless mode.
But it’s still a solid microphone.
It’d be awesome if Steelseries introduced a ClearCast Mic 2.0 some day. It’d be awesome if the line out worked in optical input mode. It’d be awesome if the receiver had an amplified headphone jack for wired use(and that hi-res support they were so fond of marketing). It’d be awesome if the Bluetooth volume toggle weren’t a little buried in the menus.
But it’s such a good package overall that I can’t whine too much. It just really expects you to always be wearing the headset in wireless mode, first and foremost, every single time you sit down to do anything, which might not be the use case you’re always wanting.
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless has exceptional audio reproduction, a great base station packed with features, a unique and essential swappable battery system, and Bluetooth as the icing on the cake.
A newer revision could iron out a couple small issues and then SteelSeries would basically be unstoppable at the high end of the market.
Still, even as it stands, no one else really offers this level of performance and features for the price. The price seems high at first until you look at everything this does.
The Astro A50 doesn’t have Bluetooth, and the sound is more aggressive. The new Sennheiser GSP 670 relies on a USB dongle and doesn’t support wired connections. The Turtle Beach Stealth 700 once again relies on a dongle-based connection, and it’s not built nearly as well.
If you’re in the mood to drop a pile of money on a truly high-end gaming audio experience, you’re a multi-platform gamer, and you need wireless, the Arctis Pro Wireless is the best choice you can make right now.
It’s an all-in-one-box complete package just like the GameDAC version, and you can rest easy knowing you won’t need something else down the road.
Other companies would be hard-pressed to do better unless they tried to copy this feature-for-feature. So far, no one has.
The Arctis Pro Wireless crams in a ton of extras on top of high-grade audio for a price that’s only a little higher than similar-performing standard headphones. It’s a relatively great value even though the price is up there.