Well, first, you must have somehow missed the link I edited into this article that goes to my generally favorable review of the Arctis Pro. It’s literally the first words in the article.
I gave the Arctis Pro + GameDAC a positive review and I use mine all of the time…even though I think they’re overkill for 99 percent of users in the intended gaming headset market.
I don’t think DACs are useless. Not at all!
I don’t know where you got that idea from.
I own and have reviewed several DACs. Without a DAC none of us would be able to listen to digital audio. It would just be a series of clicking noises. And yes I know the GameDAC provides a lot of other functions…but that’s stuff that Steelseries hard-coded into the box, and not a function of the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip itself.
And I like those functions, as I mentioned in my review! And I like that they can be used without driver software.
Now, hi-res audio? That’s a much different ballgame/debate.
All of the differences you’re hearing in your sound are down to the high quality drivers inside the Arctis Pro headset, I’d wager.
Vinyl audio is analog. CD Audio caps out at 16-bit/48khz. You can’t magically add detail or resolution to either of these sources by making lossless rips of them. At best, you can create a perfect digital copy of the “Standard resolution” audio…which is totally fine and good!
The frequency width that headphones/speakers need to cover is 20hz-20khz. That’s the range of human hearing. Making them cover a wider range than this has a debatable and difficult-to-test-for difference, since you’re now adding mostly insanely high squeaky noises to the audio in the greater-than-20khz range. Have you ever tried listening to a 20khz tone? You probably can’t hear it unless you’re under the age of ten. I have great hearing for my age (34) and my hearing tops out at 16.5khz.
We all lose those top ranges as we age.
Which again, is fine for music listening, as anything above 12khz or so is an absurdly high squeaky noise. If music contained a ton of those at high volumes, they would irritate the crap out of you.
99 percent of speaker drivers can already adequately reproduce the 20hz-20khz range, it’s all a matter of tuning. Ones that can’t aren’t usually brought to market any more. While hi-res drivers generally need to be made out of better materials to vibrate at the high speeds required for certification by the eager-to-get-licensing-money hi-res audio consortium…that’s not always a guarantee.
And there’s no easy way to even do a provable blind listening test to hear the hi-res difference, at least as far as frequency ranges go. People are working on it, and maybe one day the research will nail it down.
The main advantages of 24-bit over 16-bit are an increased dynamic range and better handling of multiple tracks in a digital editing environment thanks to a lower noise floor. With 24-bit audio, in a mixing studio, you can layer in many more effects over your audio before you start to increase the noise floor and get hiss in your audio.
That’s good…but really only useful for music producers.
The dynamic range benefits are less apparent for listening. 16-bit audio still offers 96 dB of effective dynamics, meaning the difference between the loudest and quietest sounds is pretty darn massive. And with the right mixing, offers plenty of room for the pleasant peaks and valleys that well-mixed audio can provide. It’s why CD’s have remained a good audio delivery format for decades.
You mentioned Google Play music. They don’t offer hi-res files sadlyand thus, the differences you’re hearing are once again down to the nice headphones. But I think their compression on the whole sounds great. It’s still quite revealing of the flaws/benefits of different headphones.
A big part of my frustration with the marketing of the GameDAC is the focus on hi-res audio, since it’s aimed at gamers and since there are ZERO GAMES that currently use hi-res files. Even the head audio engineer at Steelseries admitted this in a blog. Hi res files would take up a massive amount of storage space and memory, both things that are at a premium in gaming hardware right now. Someday in the future? Maybe that’ll change.
What is Hi-Res Audio?
It has only been in the past couple years that the audio industry has reached any consensus on what should be…
Even though Brian is more positive on hi-res audio in that article than I generally am, he doesn’t say anything super misleading and he’s a really smart guy. He even includes links to a couple of places you can get hi-res music for your Arctis.
And he’s right that the overall system they’ve created in the Arctis Pro around that ESS chip is a very solid audio package, and that this has a great benefit to sound quality…
Thanks for coming to defend a product I enjoyed in my review that you didn’t read even though I linked it at the top of this: a by my own admission, off-the-cuff and hasty rant article pointed specifically at Steelseries’ clumsy marketing strategy.
Here are some more articles/videos about hi-res audio written by people with exceptional and lengthy production backgrounds, if you’re interested. The second link contains info from the guy that wrote the Ogg Vorbis codec, which is now the entire audio backbone of Spotify.