Looking for a feature-rich yet mobile and low-footprint headphone amp for your gaming headphones? Paul Rigby gives the Sennhesier GSX 1000 a try
Compatible with a PC or a Mac and mainly aimed at computer gaming, the GSX 1000 audio amplifier features Sennheiser’s intriguingly named Binaural Rendering Engine and its built-in 7.1 Virtual Surround Algorithm.
The compact unit features a LED touch panel and aluminium volume ring and requires no additional drivers, which will be a relief to PC users who must feel that they can’t sneeze without having to install a driver to be able to do so.
You also have the possibility to save up to four favourite settings. If you look at the accompanying images, you’ll see the four horizontal red lines on each corner of the upper fascia. They are the preset buttons.
The Main settings include the option to produce sound through a pair of headphones or speakers (via a Line Out socket to another hi-fi system), while the EQ settings alter the character of the sound, changing the amount of bass and treble required to enhance action gaming, speech and more. The Sound Focus option concentrates the sound output on the front or the rear or a mixture of the two for a more balanced output while the Virtual Surround changes from 2-channel to surround to provide a more immersive experience.
The Sidetone feature needs particular explanation. The headphone user can turn this option off or set it to ‘low’ for open back headphones or high for closed back or in-ear headsets.
The environment icon provides an ‘accurate’ sound option, one where your gaming world is in an enclosed space or one where your gaming world is in a more open environment.
Watch the walk round video (at the end of this review) to see all of these features in action.
Spanning 143 x 70 x 139mm and weighing in at just 390g, the GSX 1000 is mobile and easy to manipulate.
The purpose of reviewing this amplifier was purely to serve as an adjunct to my GSP 300 headphones – obviously, a 2-channel system – and that review, which you can find HERE, and nothing more than that. Hence, any speaker-related and surround sound-specific features will have to be left for another time.
I liked the fact that the rather bright interface light automatically dimmed, if not used, after a few seconds. The colour of the interface lighting could be an issue for some, though. The rather aggressive red-coloured lighting may prove unattractive to a selection of gamers who might prefer a softer option for the eyes. This is a personal preference point, though, not a strict design fault.
I began by playing a range of games on my Mac in conjunction with my Sennheiser GSP 300 headphones. I played a range of games including UFO and Lego Star Wars and found that the addition of the amplifier added a great deal of additional bass. More than that, though, the lower frequencies were more informative in terms of detail with added character. Hence, there were times within the games when the atmosphere was ramped up because the music and effects adopted a more portentous air. The greater sense of threat and foreboding attached a new level of envelopment to the gameplay that pulled me further into the game.
Apart from the crackling electricity that now emanated from passing machinery, the sheer chaotic ambience that combat spawned added a new surge of adrenaline to the gameplay.
I decided to test each and every sound altering affect, accessible from the front fascia. To see how each one changed the gaming experience for the better – or otherwise.
I began with EQ. Moving the EQ settings to Story mode, the sound offered a balance of the dramatic with a broad sonic enhancement without any undue emphasis. Switching this EQ off killed the atmosphere, Esports was too tinny while Music added too much bass. For gaming, go for Story mode.
What also made the gaming effects so effective was entering into virtual 7.1 surround mode which made my 2-channel headphone experience that bit better: immersive with power and ambience. The similarly pointed Surround Amplification was not really for me, though. Merely shifting sound towards a front or rear emphasis only changed the sound direction. It didn’t improve matters general gaming level.
Next on the list was Sidetone Level which was too subtle to make much difference with my headphones.
The Reverb level did affect the music and sound, though. Ramping this option up to its fullest setting added space and air, especially in terms of gun fire and background effects.
For gaming, then, the GSX 1000 proved to be effective and noteworthy but is it even worth bothering about in terms of music-only play? That is, as an audiophile headphone amplifier for a desk-based hi-fi system? Why use the GSX 1000 for music play? Why not? While it’s there, why not make full use out of it?
Playing Shout from Tears for Fears as a MP3, surround mode proved to be the most effective in terms of the presentation of the soundstage, adding a bass balance that was missing in 2.0 mode.
EQ mode in the ‘off’ position was best in terms of giving a neutral presentation. This stopped the amplifier masking important details.
Adding full reverb provided essential air and space which enhanced the dynamic performance.
Other modes proved less significant and were, therefore, ignored. MP3 is a poor quality audio format but the GSX 1000 amplifier gave this format much needed sonic support, almost filling in the gaps that were shown by the format itself. That is, the missing sonic information in the format was partly filled by the amplifier through sonic EQ and other sound emphasis.
Playing Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff at 24bit/96kHz changed the goalposts, though. Principally because there was more musical information available for the source to draw from. Settings remained ‘as is’ with EQ turned off and 7.1 remained on as did the reverb.
This time, the hardware (that is, the combination of headphones and amplifier) itself struggled to deliver the best from the music. Bass was clunky and blurred into the midrange, masking much of the detail while the vocals were rather constricted. But look, the GSP 300 headphones were not designed specifically with audiophile music in mind. So I changed the headphones to higher-end Sennheiser HD650s, a classic design aimed at getting the best from your sound for the money while retaining the GSX 1000 amplifier.
With the HD 650s in place, playing music though the GSX 1000 amplifier in 2-channel mode was pleasant for the very first time. Upping the volume in this mode added power and increased the quality of important information. EQ remained in the off position, other settings added uncomfortable sonic emphasis. Hence, a more neutral suite of setting modes was best in this configuration.
That said, the surround mode remained an attractive option. It added breadth and height to the soundstage and also allowed excellent detail retrieval at lower volumes. In this configuration, then, I would persist with full reverb.
As a music-based headphone amplifier, the GSX 1000 is surprisingly accomplished for the price, especially so considering that its primary focus is other forms of gaming entertainment. OK, it doesn’t have the same level of nuance and fragility as other, more audiophile, designs offer you. That said, as a sort of music-related fall-back/back-up to a gaming amplifier, it’s definitely usable.
As a specialist gaming amplifier, though, the GSX 1000 offers both sonic impact and an immersive performance that adds a new dimension to gaming without going too far and without over doing it in terms of the sonic fireworks. The wealth of EQ options are genuinely useful, adding lots of alternatives for a bespoke sound-tailoring for your ears.
SENNHEISER GSX 1000 headphone amplifier
GOOD: easy of use, feature options, compact size, general sound quality for the money
Sony PlayStation 4 console
Apple iMac computer
Sennheiser HD650 headphones
Astell&Kern AK120 DAP
Sound BlasterX H7 – 7.1 Surround Pro Gaming Headset