PC users might think of discrete digital-to-analog converters as audiophile mysticism, but SteelSeries wants to bring the concrete improvement in audio quality those converters can provide to gamers in search of better sound, as well. The company is making its GameDAC USB external sound card available separately from its Arctis Pro headset for folks who want a shot at improving the sound quality of any company's cans.
To perform the task of converting bits into beats, SteelSeries taps an ESS Sabre 9018 chip that's similar to those we've heard in some high-end motherboard audio subsystems. The company doesn't discuss the op-amps or other analog audio components it put into the GameDAC's signal path, but that ESS DAC does suggest good things are in store for those who plug their cans into this box.
If you'd like to indulge the possibilities of better-than-CD-quality sound, SteelSeries says the GameDAC is a certified Hi-Res Audio source for use with streaming services like Tidal that can deliver 96-KHz, 24-bit streams. When it's time to move from listening to music to fragging noobs, SteelSeries incorporates Dolby DTS Headphone:X 2.0 processing to allow for simulated surround sound with any headset. To control all of the possible audio streams facing the modern gamer, SteelSeries allows owners to adjust the relative volume of game and chat apps, equalization, and more from the GameDAC's built-in OLED screen.
The GameDAC can connect to PCs using any USB port or to the PlayStation 4 through USB or optical inputs. Despite its audiophile leanings, the GameDAC only has a 3.5-mm line out jack that will require users with serious cans to adapt their headphones the opposite way from the usual 1/4″ TRS to 3.5-mm hook-up. The GameDAC has a 3.5-mm line in connector, too. Since this device was originally shipped with SteelSeries' own Arctis Pro, the GameDAC maintains the proprietary connector required to send sounds to that pair of cans.
If you're disappointed with the audio quality of your PC's integrated sound or the output of your PlayStation 4, the GameDAC could be just the ticket. It's available now from SteelSeries for $130. Newegg and Amazon are gearing up to sell this dongle, too, although Newegg says shipments won't begin until September 30.