SteelSeries makes its GameDAC USB sound card a free agent

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.

Comments closed
    • Prestige Worldwide
    • 1 year ago

    Can’t wait to rock this with my iPhone 3G earbuds!!!!!! \m/

    • FireGryphon
    • 1 year ago

    I don’t think the community has been this united over something audio related since Creative Labs stopped being relevant.

      • DoomGuy64
      • 1 year ago

      They’re still relevant in a niche sense via old game compatibility and high end gaming sound cards. Driver support is also better than cmedia or realtek. Other than that, their relevance is minimal. You wouldn’t want to use a creative usb dac or gaming card for professional audio.

    • psuedonymous
    • 1 year ago

    If you have any even vaguely recent motherboard that isn’t a total bargain-basement job, then you will not see any actual improvements from a discrete DAC vs. the on-board audio with any normal headphones (i.e. not something exotic or having an extremely high impedance or low efficiency). And in that edge-case, you would be better-served with a discrete amplifier rather than a redundant DAC.

    The ‘audiophile’ community may like to argue over DACs or Op-Amp’s (or cables. Or [i<]power[/i<] cables) having different 'sounds'. Go ask the pro audio community (mastering, event sound engineers, etc) and you'll get words to the effect of "LOLwut? It's linear or it's broken, if you want something else put in in the EQ or FX".

      • Vhalidictes
      • 1 year ago

      I mostly use my Fulla 2 because it’s super portable and a decent amp. In fact, I have some higher-impedance headsets and I’ve actually used a phone battery to take it on a walk. The thing is tiny.

      It’s true that the sound isn’t substantially better than most newer PCs, although it definitely makes a difference compared to the cheap Dell desktops at work.

      • DancinJack
      • 1 year ago

      That’s….not true for everyone and I think you know that. Some people have better hearing than others, some have better headphones than others, but really it doesn’t even matter. Issuing a blanket statement like that is just flat out disingenuous.

      I don’t discredit your statement completely though. There are plenty of boards that plenty decent audio on them. That doesn’t mean NO ONE EVER can hear a difference with only mildly better hardware.

        • Stochastic
        • 1 year ago

        The only way I’ll believe audiophile claims is if an independent third-party shows that people can distinguish between products doing blind A/B tests. You almost never see that.

      • synthtel2
      • 1 year ago

      That’s fine in theory, but I have yet to use mobo-integrated (or phone 3.5mm-out) audio that isn’t broken in some way or another, and that’s with $100 headphones and mostly 192-256 OGG / 256-320 MP3 source material. It is at least a lot better than it used to be.

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    Could be a useful niche for the PS4 but I’m struggling to see the appeal of this for a PC or laptop.

    The OLED display is a waste of the budget for anything except the PS4 and the 96KHz and 3.5mm limitations aren’t really excusable at this price. Let’s face it, if the Sabre 9018 is on motherboards costing just $10-20 more than Realtek equivalents, we know it’s not worth $130. The rest of the money for this is going into a specific PS4-friendly mix of features.

    The Schiit has been mentioned already, but I’d be willing to bet that a FiiO or Behringer headphone amp at 1/4 the cost are objectively superior in sound quality and build quality.

    • rnalsation
    • 1 year ago

    So all the comments seem to be just dumping on this thing.
    Is it actually bad or are the current respondents just DAC snobs?
    Has anyone tried Dolby DTS Headphone:X 2.0? I can’t find much other than press releases and marketing material.

      • Chrispy_
      • 1 year ago

      DTS Headphone X is just a certification. The device has no special hardware from Dolby inside, it’s just software HRTF like we’ve had under other labels for nearly three decades now. It’s an HRTF preset with EQ, and there’s absolutely nothing unique about that. Every single PC audio manufacturer has their own spin on EQ and HRTF, whether it’s Dolby, Bose, B&O, Realtek, Asus, Creative….

      Yes, it’ll likely sound better than the flat, reference-level audio, but guess what, that’s because people *like* overexaggerated stereo separation and a bias towards bass.

      The reason people are dumping on it is not because they’re DAC snobs or hating on Dolby DTS, but because you can get a similar experience to this for $8 off Amazon and the price Steelseries are asking can get you a DAC that even DAC snobs would approve of.

        • rnalsation
        • 1 year ago

        Thanks!

    • Vhalidictes
    • 1 year ago

    A Schiit Fulla 2 does everything this does, and for $30 less? Right, nvm, no optical input.

      • qmacpoint
      • 1 year ago

      You’re looking at the wrong Schiit, it’s the Modi 2 Uber you want which is only $19 more dollars… but much more quality in that

        • Srsly_Bro
        • 1 year ago

        I have the audio engine d1 USB dac/amp. It’s a little more than the one you suggested and well received. I use it for my senn hd 660S.

          • DancinJack
          • 1 year ago

          The D1 is basically what the old Modi used to be, with an OK amp. I actually used to own it too. It’s not a bad device for being so small.

        • aspect
        • 1 year ago

        Still plenty of other DACs that measure better than the Modi 2 uber in that price range with lower noise, distortion and better linearity.

          • qmacpoint
          • 1 year ago

          Just wanted to drop a pun… I use onboard audio for my PC needs, as I already have a NAD setup for my TV setup

    • MOSFET
    • 1 year ago

    Interesting news. At $130 a Schiit DAC is well within reach.

      • B166ER
      • 1 year ago

      Or an AQ Dragonfly. This thing is worth less than $35, only cause its got a “cool” display and the ESS 9018 dac.

        • DoomGuy64
        • 1 year ago

        Pretty much, and this markup scam isn’t limited to DACs either. We only have a couple good devices on the market, and this cheap junk is trying to pass off as competition, which makes purchasing based on price impossible. You have to investigate the internal components of every high end product now, because the hardware scam artists are trying to obfuscate and infiltrate. It’s like Bose, except worse.

        IMO, if they were honest about the price, people would buy it without complaint for the value. Doing this instead creates a reputation for scam artistry. SteelSeries is trying to become the next Razer.

          • DancinJack
          • 1 year ago

          You just have to mostly avoid the “gaming” stuff.

          Schiit stuff is amazing for what they offer, albeit still relatively overpriced in some cases along with the rest of this market segment. They also do a ton of their own R+D, make all their products in the USA, and have great warranties so some of the price is fine with me.

          Disclaimer: Schiit owner, but have owned other DACs and amps in the past.

      • Growler
      • 1 year ago

      A SMSL AD18 has these connections plus Bluetooth and a remote, and is only about $10 more. You need bookshelf speakers, because the only output is standard speaker terminals. On the other hand, bookshelves are generally going to sound better than “computer” speakers.

        • wingless
        • 1 year ago

        SMSL makes great DACs! I’m using a credit card-sized SMSL M2 on my main gaming rig right now.

      • Pwnstar
      • 1 year ago

      That’s strange that they think their DAC is so crappy.

        • Chrispy_
        • 1 year ago

        It’s not crappy, it’s Schiitty.

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