The Sennheiser GSX 1000 is not only pitched as a stylish DAC + amp combo that aims to provide better sound quality than your on-board audio. But also as a revolutionary virtual surround sound device that uses Sennheiser’s new Binaural Rendering Engine to simulate a “groundbreaking” 7.1 audio experience. It’s “surround sound reborn” claims Sennheiser, and while it may not be as sublime as its marketing hyperbole would like you to believe, it does come pretty darn close.
At 100x100x27mm, the GSX 1000 is a compact amp that won’t take up a lot of space on a desktop. It’s a little broader than my iPhone 6S Plus and about half in length, so it’s pretty handy and easy to travel with.
It’s made of solid black plastic with a smooth grey aluminum volume knob embedded into the middle of the device, giving it a very upscale, sophisticated look that should fit neatly on any gaming desktop. The real magic of the design comes when you approach the device. In its sleep state, it dims down and lightly illuminates the current volume level on its LED panel. But the moment you bring your fingers near the device, it light up in bright red LEDs with all of its customization options arranged in easy to understand icons. It’s a stunning device to look at when it’s lit up and quite easily rolls off its AED 899 value.
The best part about the GSX 1000 is that it doesn’t require any software to access its audio features. Everything is done on the device itself using the touch sensitive LED panel. It can also save presets by way of the four LED bars on the corners of the device. Pressing them for a few seconds saves your current audio configuration, while tapping on any of the four will load up their stored preset (much like how a car radio system works when saving channels). Admittedly, I was unaware that pressing and holding on the bar saves the preset and only realized it when my finger accidentally pressed the bar while using the device. I quite like the subtlety and I believe it’s an ingenious way to incorporate presets since it doesn’t use any PC software. So, top marks for the design there, even though the LED bars take more than a couple of taps to actually work.
Coming back to the panel, you can change and tweak up to six settings. Clockwise, you have the equalizer, speaker focus, surround sound toggle, side tone options, reverb level, and finally, a toggle that switches between the headphones and the speakers. The equalizer has three different modes: FPS (which kills bass and highlights highs for footsteps), Music (doubles down on the bass but makes the rest of the sound muddy), and Story (which adds a bit of bass). The speaker focus option allows you to shift the audio’s focus on the front or back of the headphones (why would you want to do that, though?), where as the reverb levels adds artificial space to the sound. This could benefit closed-back headphones but it’s completely unnecessary for open-backs.
The GSX 1000 is pretty bare in terms of inputs. It’s got a 3.5mm headphone, mic and speaker inputs, making it a firmly PC-only hardware. You can technically connect it to your PS4 or Xbox One via the USB, but none of the audio features work and the amplification isn’t all that great either.
The GSX 1000 is built specifically for gaming purposes, so don’t go in expecting audiophile levels of quality that are usually found in other DACs or amps. That said, here’s my performance breakdown:
Sound Quality: As a standalone, the GSX 1000 creates well-rounded audio that is a bit warm with slightly veiled highs, making for a smoother listening experience without sacrificing a lot of details. The mid-range is well handled, and the device seems to add a bit of bass – even when set on neutral – to my Sennheiser HD 598, which inherently is bass lean. Overall, I like the sound signature, and I especially enjoyed the Story equalizer preset which gave a little oomph to the games and movies. For music, I preferred to keep it neutral for the best quality possible.
However, when compared to my motherboard’s onboard Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi CA20K2-based sound card, I noticed that it was lacking in a few areas. I did a lot of A and B testing, and I simply preferred the Creative over the GSX 1000 as it seemed to extract better clarity and detail out of the sound.
Soundstage: The GSX 1000 definitely falls short here. While Creative is able to weave a large soundstage on my HD598 (which are open-backs), the GSX 1000 comparably feels small and caved in. This is easily noticeable when listening to Yosi Horikawa’s Wandering album, which sounds absolutely sublime on the Creative with its astounding 3D audio while on the GSX 1000 it feels a bit restrictive. I did not prefer to enable the reverb effect as the added space felt artificial and messed with the overall sound quality.
In terms of imaging, the GSX 1000 does a great job in positioning audio cues around you. I had no problems spotting enemies in Overwatch and Titanfall 2, and picking up on different sound indicators to know where the action was heading.
Surround Sound: Setting aside Sennheiser’s comical marketing spiel, I must admit that this is the best virtual surround sound experience I have ever had. I have tested tech from Razer, Steelseries, Turtlebeach, Logitech, and more, and nothing even comes close to Sennhesier’s Binaural Rendering Engine.
One of the better things it does is that, unlike every virtual surround sound software, it removes the tin-can hollowness from the sound, creating a clear, somewhat natural audio. This is immediately more pleasing, but the surround sound it produces is the real kicker. It not only expands the soundstage to enhance audio cues, but also adds depth and range to the sound which works quite phenomenally at times. To give you an example, in one match as I was heading out from the respawn room in Overwatch, I heard my team’s Hanzo unleashing his ferocious ultimate near one of the control points, and to my utter surprise, I could tell exactly where he was and how he was positioned on the map. I have poured over hundreds of hours in Overwatch and I have never had such an experience before.
That said, I would not use the 7.1 mode for single player campaigns or even for movies, as the audio still sounds a bit artificial and I simply prefer the more natural sound of the 2.0 mode. But your mileage may vary, as I can easily see someone preferring to use the 7.1 all the time, especially with the Story equalizer preset selected to give the sound a little bit more roundness.
Even though it falls short when compared to my on-board Creative Sound Blaster sound card, the GSX 1000 is still a great little device that has looks, sound quality, and impressive virtual surround sound tech on its side. However, my only issue with it is the pricing. At AED 899, it’s twice as expensive as the widely renowned entry-level DACs Audioquest Dragonfly 1.5 or the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS, and nearly as expensive as the extremely popular Schiit Modi 2 and Magni 2 stack. The only thing going for the GSX 1000 at this price is the virtual surround sound technology, but I don’t think it’s nearly as impressive to buy it over it’s far superior competitors.