I bet your PC’s audio setup is wack. Maybe you have a USB headset, a cheap speaker set, or a nice pair of headphones plugged into a motherboard. All of those devices work, but you can and should do a lot better. I know that because I’ve used the Sennheiser GSX 1000 audio amplifier, and it is like upgrading from SD to HD but for your headphones.
The Sennheiser GSX 1000 is an external USB amplifier designed specifically for gaming. It features a 7.1 virtual-surround algorithm built to work with gaming audio, and it has a number of preset modes for esports or cinematic gaming. It’s available now for $230, which makes it a bit more expensive than competing products from Creative Sound BlasterX like the AE-5 sound card ($150). But its extra features and external design may justify the cost for many.
What you’ll like
If you’re looking for a single device to upgrade your PC’s audio, the Sennheiser GSX 1000 can make a major difference. The key is the built-in binaural amplifier that processes the sound for each stereo channel separately. Each ear gets more attention and more power than in a comparable monoaural amp.
The result of that amplification is that just about any set of analog headphones is going to sound beefier than if they’re plugged into a smartphone or even some of the more expensive PC motherboards. Your headphones will, of course, make a big difference here, but even the cheapest, crappiest earbuds sound better through the GSX 1000. If you spend more to get higher-quality headphones with impedance above 80 ohms, the amp will deliver even better audio.
Going from motherboard audio to the GSX 1000 is not a subtle jump in quality. Even the most tone deaf among us will notice the deeper, louder bass and the rich distinction between each ambient sound in an open-world game. It is absolutely like going from standard-definition video to HD but for your ears.
The GSX 1000’s 7.1 virtual surround-sound algorithm is also better than most other virtual surround options I’ve heard. Sennheiser built it specifically for gamers, and that shows in the way it handles positional gunfire. Weapons create loud bursts that have a strong sense of presence in 3D space. If you want an even better understanding of the source of fire, you can turn on the esports setting. That sacrifices realism and dampens some of the audio clutter that you’d get otherwise.
Standout, compact style
The GSX 1000 is pretty. It’s a small box that plugs into your PC over the provided red USB cable, and it has bold silver and red accents on a black body. On the top, you’ll find the large silver volume wheel. Adjusting that knob will change the digital volume display on the large LED touch panel.
In addition to the sound level, the circular display also features a number of other controls in bright red and white. It is all striking to look at, but it’s also small enough that you can keep the GSX 1000 in a laptop bag. If you’re a road warrior who spent $2,500 on a top-of-the-line gaming notebook, the Sennheiser amp will give you powerful, portable audio to go along with your intense gaming sessions in your hotel room.
What you won’t like
The GSX 1000’s biggest flaw is its interface. It is not an intuitive device, and its touch controls are prone to registering false-positive inputs. It takes some time to memorize what each button on the display does. Surround setting (2.1 or 7.1) and the equalizer (esports, music, cinematic, or off) are obvious enough, but I had to keep the manual handy to remember how many plus signs did what for the sidetones and environment buttons.
Outside of the screen, in each corner on the top of the device, you’ll find bold red lines. These enable you to save and load profiles or default settings. These are easy to hit accidentally, which can change your audio drastically in the middle of a match. I also don’t fully understand how to save a profile and whether each of those buttons is open to saving and loading. I think I can touch and hold one of these buttons to save my current profile, but it is hard to tell if saving worked.
It’s still easy to get the settings you want once you know what those are, but the interface impedes that process.
Sennheiser is a beloved audio brand for a reason, and the company is trying to leverage that reputation in the gaming space now. This is a good thing because it means we get devices like the GSX 1000. I think the Sound BlasterX AE-5 sounds slightly better, but it’s not a huge difference. But the GSX 1000 is external, and so it can work with your desktop or laptop at home or on the go. That may make it a better choice for people who don’t want or need a PCI sound card.
If you want an external solution, this is an easy recommendation — especially if you’re only working with motherboard or USB headset audio.
Sennheiser provided a sample unit for the purposes of this review. The GSX 1000 is available now for $230.
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