Today offers a “first” for MMORPG.com’s hardware reviews. When we reached out to Sennheiser about reviewing their GSP 300 series gaming headset, they surprised us by offering to send along their GSX 1000 gaming headphone amp as well. At first, we were perplexed since the GSPs don’t require extra juice to perform well. After spending some time with it, it’s safe to say that I’ve seen the light, but with a $229 MSRP, is it right for you? Read on to find out.
- MSRP: $229.95
- Cable: Micro-USB 2.0, 1.2m
- Connections: 3.5mm; headphones, mic, speaker
- Headphone Frequency Response: 0-48kHz
- Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16-150 Ohms
- Headphone Max Output Voltage: 1 Vrms @ 32 Ohms
- Line Out Freq uency Response: 1.5 - 48kHz
- Line Out Max Output Voltage: 1 Vrms @ 10 k Ohms
If you’re not already invested into the world of high end audio, you may not be sure what a headphone amplifier even is. Like a guitar amp, the main purpose of a headphone amplifier is to increase the volume of whatever you’re hearing. A non-amped headset at 50% might achieve that same volume at 25% when powered by a unit like the GSX 1000 for example. It does this by providing extra power to the headphones themselves, driving the headset speakers more easily and cleanly than your average motherboard or smart phone. Oftentimes, high end headphones have higher impedances and require extra power to sound their best. Sennheiser’s Game One headset is a perfect example.
The common response at this point is, “I don’t need extra volume, my headphones sound just fine,” and maybe that’s so. But, when you get down to it, using a high quality amp is less about volume and more about clarity. Oftentimes, non-specialized devices provide “just enough” power to their 3.5mm ports to pass muster. At around 80% volume, my Note 5 really starts to struggle to deliver a clean sound on anything more than low impedance earbuds. By running it into an amp, I can keep my phone’s volume at a clear and clean 25% and raise the amp’s volume instead, making for a much better sound and an immediately wider “soundstage” or sense of separation between the instruments/audio cues being played.
The other thing an amp can do is color what you’re hearing with some onboard EQ presets. The GSX 1000 features four EQ modes: standard, gaming, movies, and music. If you don’t want to play around with a multiband equalizer, you can usually adjust an amp’s delivery in a single button press.
This is where the GSX 1000 comes into play for us. Like I mentioned in the intro, the GSP 302s we reviewed yesterday really don’t need an amplifier at all. In fact, most modern devices are capable of driving even high quality headphones without much difficulty (though, there are many exceptions when you enter into audiophile land). It’s for this reason that the GSX 1000 is firmly for audiophiles who are also gamers or those whose headset demands some kind of extra power source. But hold on just a minute, what about those of you who happen to have a great pair of music headphones that maybe you’ve never considered using for gaming? The GSX 1000 is also capable of turning even the most audiophile set of cans into a great option for gaming, and that’s where the scope of who this is for gets expanded.
Looking at the device itself, it’s small and unassuming. It’s about the size of a square coaster, though it’s just about an inch thick. Set into the face is an aluminum ring used to control the volume. In the center of the ring is a simple LED display that shows your current volume as well as which options you have enabled. In each of the four corners is a light strip to indicate which preset/favorite you’re currently on. Out of the box, the GSX is ready to meet whatever type of content you throw at it. On the bottom is a foot to raise the angle and an anti-slide strip to keep it in place. The back is for your 3.5mm inputs for headphone, mic, and a speaker, as well as a micro-USB port for power. Finally, the right side features a rubberized roller for your chat mix.
It’s all very simple. The screen is touch sensitive and you can select your output (headphone or speaker), your EQ preset, stereo or virtual 7.1 surround, whether you want that surround to emphasize the front or back virtual speakers, the spatial presentation of your audio, from wide open to small room, and your sidetone (or ability to hear your mic in your own ears).
Functionally, it works very well. The amount of options here is definitely far above more dedicated music-driven amplifiers, which lends a lot of additional value at this price point. The EQs are only so-so. The gaming mode dramatically cuts down on bass, boosting mids and highs to give you the edge on hearing enemy footsteps. Movie (“Story”), Music, and Stereo all sound virtually identical through my different headsets.
What’s really of note here is the virtual 7.1 surround sound, driven by Sennheiser’s in-house Binaural Rendering Engine. Put simply, this is one of the best surround sound systems currently available in a gaming device. In each of our headphone reviews, I make the point that virtual surround sound is often a lot of reverb trickery that can actively harm positional audio. Here, swapping the 7.1 surround sound immediately expands the soundstage giving you a much greater sense of space within the game. Positional audio is intact and cues remain clear.
Housing surround sound on an amplifier makes the GSX 1000 downright transformative. Literally any headset with a 3.5mm connection can become a gaming headset. Now, there are limits; Sennheiser recommends using these on headphones limit to 150 ohms impedance. They won’t push the upper end of Sennheiser’s own line, by default, but the vast majority of headphones and headsets will be compatible. In a future revision, USB support would be a smart addition to open that scope even further.
The Sennheiser GSX 1000 is a great little amplifier with enough power to punch up most headphones you’re likely to have. The surround sound options are a great bonus gamers are sure to appreciate. Here’s the rub: in the enthusiasts world of headphone amplifiers, $229.95 isn’t an unreasonable price. In the world of gaming peripherals, it’s expensive. That cost puts it alongside major computer upgrades and some of the best gaming headsets that already feature built in surround. For that reason, it’s hard to recommend it unless you’re in the market for an amplifier already. One thing is for sure, though: if you are in the market for this kind of device, it’s sure to impress.
- Great surround sound
- More features than most amps at this price
- Sturdy, premium build
- Can power up to 150 ohm headphones
- EQs are disappointing