Are Headphone Amps Worth It?

If you have started learning more about audio and if you want to invest in a more premium audio setup, one of the things you have come across is headphone amps.

Headphone amps are one of the best ways to improve sound quality. In many cases, amps are required for specific headphones or speakers. Amps deliver extra power to your headphones or speaker, often helping to bring out sounds that were recessed and lacking before.

Let’s explore how amps benefit an audio setup and if getting one is a worthy investment for your headphones.

Do Headphone Amps Improve Sound Quality?

Headphone amp with open back headphones

A headphone amp is a device that amplifies the volume of sound coming from a DAC, a component in all devices that processes the digital signal from a computer and converts it into an analog signal that headphones can use. An amp can take the form of either an external device or a part integrated into your computer. The addition of power that is also cleaner can improve the sound quality of your headphones.

Compared to an integrated solution, a dedicated amp provides more power so your headphones are able to work the best they can. Additionally, if you find that you are using most of the volume scale when listening to things then an amp will give you much more headroom, fixing this issue.

Amps do not do much to improve the clarity or accuracy of the sound but the additional power improves the quality of the sound in other ways. The extra power that an amp provides could help sounds that were once muffled or recessed to be able to reach their full potential.

Another issue that amps fix is distortion. The integrated audio solutions in computers or phones can cause distortion at high volumes. Since amps process sound better this is less of an issue.

It is important to understand that an amp will not always improve audio. If you are using a cheap pair of headphones then you will notice no improvement. On the flip side, some headphones need an amp to function properly. There are many headphones, often in the $100 to $300 range, that are efficient enough that they do not require an amp but could still see some gains.

An amp should not change the sound signature of your headphones but give them the power to have their correct sound signature. Tube amps or amps with EQing built in can make changes to the sound.

Overall amps do improve sound quality.

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Is An Amp Necessary?

Headphones on branch outside

Headphone amps can improve your audio but in some situations, they are not a worthy investment. If you use headphones that do not need more power or cleaner power then an amp would just be a waste of money.

Something like a pair of cheap earbuds or bluetooth headphones will not see a benefit from the extra power. In contrast, if you use high-fidelity headphones, often costing anywhere from $200 to upwards of $1000, then you often need or will heavily benefit from an amp.

Some headphones do not need an amp but could see a slight benefit from one. In this case, we wouldn’t recommend getting an amp if you are on a tight budget although it could give you a slightly better experience.

To understand how efficient your headphones are there are two things you need to look at. First sensitivity, which shows how loud headphones can get with a certain amount of power. This is usually measured in dB/mW. Second impedance, which shows how much power the headphones need. It is typically measured in ohms.

Headphones with an impedance of 32 ohms or less and sensitivity of 100 dB or more usually do not need an amp. As you get to headphones that use 60-80 ohms or more and sensitivities of 95dB or less, you will notice that many of these headphones need an amp. It is important to look at both factors and read reviews as the necessity for an amp depends.

Another factor is about how much of your volume range you are using. If you need to turn up your volume to 70 to 100% volume, then an amp may benefit you. You will get more headroom for volume and an amp will take away most distortion that integrated audio solutions create at high volumes.

Most modern computers have a decent integrated sound card with an amp so getting a dedicated amp is only important if you are investing in premium headphones. If your current headphones will not see a benefit from getting an amp, then getting new headphones is usually the recommended option. A dedicated amp is just a recommended option if you need or want more power for your headphones.

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How Does A Headphone Amp Work ?

Headphone amp with some IEMs on top

An amp’s purpose is to take a very quiet, low-power audio signal from a DAC, and increase the volume of that signal. Then the headphones or speakers will be able to turn this information into sound waves.

Without an amp, either integrated into a computer or as an external device, your headphones would not be able to create any sound for you.

A dedicated amp will provide more power and volume for your headphones than integrated solutions. The better an amp the more power it will be able to provide. Additionally, better amps will give cleaner power to your headphones resulting in a cleaner sound. Cheap amps often have distortion in the sound at higher volumes.

Amps have three core parts to how they work. There is the input, the amplification components themselves, and finally the output. There are two ways that the amplification process works work.

  • Solid State/Transistor Amps: These amps use, as the name implies, transistors to amplify the signal given to them. Inside there will be multiple positively or negatively charged transistors that are calibrated to boost the sound in a way that is as clean and efficient as possible.
  • Tube Amps: Tube amps instead use vacuum tubes surrounded by glass. They function similarly to lightbulbs by burning electrons from a filament to instead of creating light, amplify sound. Tube amps can be compared to record players that provide a more fun sound that modern tracks on software or CDs replace with a very clean sound. There is a sort of warmth adding to the bass. As a downside sometimes the glass of the tubes can cause some negative effects on the sound if you are using more sensitive headphones with a less premium tube amp.

In the end, the function of an amp is to increase the volume of the information coming from your audio source, for example, an external DAC or your PC. It does not matter if it is a tube amp or solid-state amp, the end goal is the same.

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Different Kinds Of Amps

Top view of GSX 1000 DAC

Although amps can control the power in different ways, transistors or tubes, there are different kinds of amps to look at depending on your situation.

  • Regular Headphone Amp: This is the standard type of headphone amp.
  • Gaming Amp: Gaming amps function similarly to regular headphone amps but usually prioritize features that gamers would appreciate like a mic input and virtual surround sound.
  • Portable Amp: These are great for situations where you want to drive high-quality headphones on the go or if you want a powerful amp in a small package. Portable amps are often designed to fit in your pocket and are a great option for those who want to use premium IEMs while out or if you want an amp between your office and home.

Finding what is right for you is the most important thing in this case. For most people, a regular headphone amp will do the job. There are some cases where a gaming amp or portable option may suit your general needs more.

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Conclusion

Front view of Topping DX3 Pro amp and DAC combo

Amps are beneficial with trying to improve the sound quality of your headphones, IEMs, or speakers and in many cases, they are even necessary for them to run properly. Sounds that were previously recessed, distorted, or not even present will be more significant and apparent.

You should also consider if an amp is worth it in your situation. You will not notice a difference with an amp with a sub $100 pair of headphones or the cheap earbuds that came with your phone.

It is also important to note that most people will not notice a substantial difference by getting an amp. This is because most people do not use power-hungry headphones or are not very bothered by worse audio quality.

For those who want a more premium sound and may be using more powerful headphones, an amp is a more worthy investment for them.

You also do not need to spend alot of money on an amp. You can find options for about $100 that give great performance up until you are spending upwards of $500 on headphones. Just note that you should always prioritize the headphones in your budget but always consider an amp if your headphones need that extra kick.

Additionally, if you are creating a setup with high-quality headphones and you are getting a headphone amp, you may want to consider a DAC to provide a cleaner, more accurate sound that could also benefit your sound experience.

I hope you enjoyed and as always thanks for reading!

If you have any questions please join our discord and feel free to ask anything.

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Do You Need A Sound Card For Your PC?

Gaming PC on a desk.

Building a computer can be confusing, especially if you need to work out what parts you need to get. One component that you may be unsure about is a sound card.

In the past, dedicated sound cards were essential when building a computer because motherboards did not have any onboard audio solution. As motherboards started to get onboard sound cards people often still opted to get sound cards as it would give them more performance and onboard solutions at the time did not sound very good.

The main issue is if a sound card is still necessary today if you are building a computer.

In short, the answer is no, you do not need to purchase a dedicated sound card if you are building a computer. Almost all modern computers, motherboards, and other electronics will have an integrated sound card and most sound good enough for the vast majority of people. 

If you want to learn more about sound cards, see how one could benefit you, or you want some recommendations, then we will cover it all here.

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Dedicated Sound Card vs Integrated Sound Card

A sound card.

There are two different implementations of sound cards, integrated and dedicated solutions.

A dedicated sound card is a component that can be connected to the motherboard of a computer or can be plugged in via PCB. Many may add one while building a computer or upgrading the audio of an old motherboard if it doesn’t sound very good.

An integrated sound card is one that is built into a specific device, in this case, a computer. Most motherboards will have an integrated sound card built-in. You will find integrated solutions in phones, tablets, and most computers.

Integrated solutions provide a convenience factor as it is one less thing that people have to consider. In fact, the vast majority of people don’t even think about sound cards are even know what they are while buying electronics. This is due to dedicated solutions being so popular.

A dedicated sound card typically requires a PCIe slot on your motherboard. This could be an issue with ITX-specific motherboards since they have one PCIe slot. If you have a graphics card taking up the slot then you won’t be able to use a sound card.

USB sound cards also exist but often do not sound as good. They are commonly included with gaming headsets and they are great if you need a sound card but you don’t have space or don’t want to add a component to your computer.

Integrated sound cards may not have as good quality as dedicated cards, but they take up less space, are more convenient, and the sound quality is good enough for most people.

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Benefits of A Sound Card

Philips X2HR headphones.

In the past, getting a dedicated card was essential. Computer processors weren’t powerful enough for integrated solutions at the time.

As processors became more powerful, integrated solutions came about, but they still weren’t that great. For users who used their PC for more than just browsing the web and emails, a sound card was necessary.

Integrated solutions have constantly been improving but haven’t been that great until the past 10 to 5 years. Motherboard audio now suits the needs of most people. The main reason to get a sound card now is if you are creating with a premium audio setup or you are upgrading an older system.

Regular headphones most likely won’t see a sound benefit from a sound card but higher-quality headphones could see a sound improvement in clarity and quality.

Some sound cards support both virtual and true surround setups. Some models support 5.1 surround sound and there are some gaming options that support 7.1 surround sound. They are great for those who are looking for an immersive speaker or headphone setup for music listening, gaming, or movie watching.

It is also worth noting that a sound card may give you a bit better PC performance by taking some of the load off of your processor but if that is your own priority it is better to just invest that money into a better processor.

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Consider Getting An Amp & DAC Instead

Topping DX3 Pro DAC and amp combo.

Many people consider a sound card to not be a worthy investment when instead you can get an amp and DAC setup with better performance for the price. Creating a setup with both or just an amp is a great way to improve your setup and you can get past some of the issues that sound cards face.

Another way an amp and DAC setup can be better than a sound card is the space and looks. Sound cards will take up a slot on your computer’s motherboard and they often don’t look that great but amps and DACs often look a lot better and instead only take up space on your desk rather than in your PC.

Arguably the worst thing about sound cards and onboard audio is interference. Interference will negatively affect the sound that is outputted by your audio device and is caused by other electrical components. This issue is especially apparent with IEMs as they are very sensitive but can also affect headphones and speakers. Interference can be better or worse depending on the card but it is on all models.

With amps and DACs, you will find not only better audio performance but also more features. You can find gaming DACs such as the Sennheiser GSX 1000 that features virtual surround sound, a mic input, and much more. While there are sound cards with similar features you will find more interesting and useful features in the amp and DAC market.

Like sound cards, amps and DACs are only really needed for more powerful, high-performing headphones but an amp and DAC setup has more potential as there are many more options, especially at higher price ranges. Often an amp and DAC is the better way to go over a sound card.

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Value Sound Card Recommendation

If you are on a budget but still need to upgrade your audio setup, the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX 5.1 is the best option for under $50. The Audigy FX supports 5.1 surround sound but if you want more inputs for 7.1 surround sound and slightly improved sound you can also upgrade for a bit more to the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1.

Both are a step up from motherboard audio and provide plenty of outputs. Additionally, both these options have enough power for many high-quality speakers and headphones as they are able to supply up to 600 ohms of power.

Best Sound Card Recommendation

If you want a surround sound setup, especially for speakers, the Creative Sound Blaster AE-5 is fantastic. The AE-5 delivers excellent sound performance and is considered one of the best sound cards regardless of the price. It supports virtual 7.1 surround sound that is very accurate, providing great immersion in games.

This sound card not only has solid sound quality but also great looks. The card has a sleek black or white casing with RGB lighting.

This card is a great way to improve the looks of your PC. It delivers enough power and lots of clarity for all kinds of music and premium headphones.

Conclusion

Overhead view of a DAC and some IEMs.

Today you will not need a sound card if you are building a PC but if you plan to build a setup that will run premium audio equipment or you are upgrading an older setup then you could notice a benefit.

Although they aren’t necessary they do provide specific benefits for those who those who want to run a high-quality audio setup or want an audio setup that could provide a more immersive gaming experience.

If you are looking at a higher quality setup then you should definitely consider getting a DAC and amp. They share many of the benefits that you can get with a sound card but don’t face some issues that they have like audio interference from other components.

Overall there are many ways to improve your audio experience but most people will be perfectly fine with the audio performance of modern motherboards.

As always thanks for reading and happy listening!

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Open vs Closed-Back Headphones: What Is Right For You?

When looking at headphones, there are two kinds of headphones that you need to decide between. Open-back and closed-back headphones.

Open-back headphones can provide many benefits in sound and long-term comfort, while closed-back headphones can be friendly in more situations and can have a more “fun” sound signature. Both types are tailored for different situations with various pros and cons.

Let’s take an in depth look at the differences and see what is best for you.

Closed back headphones next to an open back pair

Open vs Closed Back: The Main Differences

Open BackClosed Back
LocationOnly good for private listeningGood for use anywhere
SoundHas best sound stage and midsHas best bass
Heat Buildup Can be an issue after a couple hoursCan become an issue after an hour
Bluetooth?Can’t work with BluetoothBluetooth compatible
Premium MarketMost of the high-end market is open backSome of the premium market

Open-Back: Open-back headphones are headphones with the driver being open or partially open. The earcups will often have grills to allow the sound out. This allows for a much more open sound, other benefits in treble and midrange, and improved long-term comfort. Heat build-up is less of an issue.

Closed-Back: Closed-back headphones are when the earcup is fully closed off. This traps in sound allowing the headphones to be more suitable in a public environment. Closed-back headphones also make it possible to have features such as Bluetooth connectivity. They typically have better bass response in comparison to closed-back headphones.

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How Does Open-Back Affect Sound?

Side view of closed back headphones

The main reason why open-back headphones are so beneficial is the many benefits to sound that they can have. The open driver allows some of the sound to exit the earcup away from the ears. This can improve the accuracy, the soundstage, and many other elements of the sound.

The main downside of the open drivers is that they leak sound. This means that if you are listening to music or playing a video game someone in the same room as you may be able to hear what you are listening to or at least the fact that you are listening to something. This is not ideal for public music listening.

While the open-back design can make the sound feel wider and more open, it can also cause you to hear more of the environment around you. If you are in a very noisy environment this could ruin the listening experience but at the same time, music listening is never that great in a noisy environment with both types of headphones.

Soundstage and Imaging

The biggest and most noticeable difference that you will notice between open and closed-back headphones is the soundstage and imaging.

Soundstage is the space and environment of the sound that is created by headphones, IEMs, or similar devices. Imaging is related to the location and size of the instruments or objects in that sound environment.

If you are playing a game it is very easy to pick out the location as to where someone is. You can hear the specific room where someone is and due to a wider sound, there is a wider area for sound to come from. This means you can more accurately hear where someone is in an environment.

The overall sound can feel a lot more immersive in both games and while listening to music. Open-back headphones also allow you to pick out where a sound is coming from better which is very nice, especially for those who like to analyze the music that they are listening to.

Bass

Open-back headphones don’t necessarily change things like the high end and the mid-range but one area where they can cause change is the bass. Typically one of the downsides of open-back headphones is that they often have less bass in forms of quantity. Often the bass is still accurate and still sounds good but there may be less of it.

This isn’t true for all open-back headphones as there are some headphones like the Philips X2HRs that have a lot of bass or planars that have a very punchy sound.

This does not mean that the bass on open-back headphones is bad. In fact, many open-back headphones have a lot of bass, and the low-end sounds very clean and punchy. Many closed-back offerings can make the bass sound muddy.

In the case that you do want more bass, you can always use an equalizer.

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Accuracy and Distortion

Another area where open-back headphones can improve the sound is in accuracy and distortion.

Open-back headphones often have improved sound accuracy, most notably in the mid and high range. This improvement over closed-back headphones is consistent in the area of sound distortion. Closed-back headphones often have distortion that can also affect sound accuracy because of echo from the wall on the outside of the driver. Sound can bounce off the closed ear cup causing distortion in the sounds. Open-back headphones are a lot better with this issue.

The levels of accuracy and amount of distortion can all depend on the headphone model regardless if they are open-back or not.

It is important to note that not all open-back headphones have perfect clarity and sound accuracy but they do help. As you spend more, the more premium options in the market will also perform better as well.

How Does Closed-Back Affect Sound?

Side view of open back headphones

Closed-back headphones may not have all the benefits of open-back headphones but they can still help to provide a very fun sound signature. There is often a sacrifice for sound quality for practicality to have features like Bluetooth and noise cancellation.

The closed-off driver blocks off sound from escaping. This allows you to not have a problem with sound leakage so you can use closed-back headphones in public. This also can result in an improvement in the bass.

Closed-back headphones may not provide all the sound benefits of open-back headphones but they can deliver a fun sound profile for bass heads and certainly are great for practicality. You can use closed-back headphones without bothering others and also without getting bothered by others.

Soundstage and Imaging

As mentioned previously, closed-back headphones usually have a lesser soundstage in comparison to open-back headphones. This does not mean that the soundstage is bad with closed-back headphones but the soundstage is more intimate and the imaging may be less specific and accurate.

While some open-back headphones may have what seems like an endless soundstage, closed-back headphones vary greatly in soundstage. Cheaper offerings often have minimal soundstage while more premium closed-back headphones can have a much wider soundstage.

Overall the level of soundstage depends greatly but won’t be as good as open-back headphones. The same goes for imaging.

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Bass

One area where closed-back headphones have a potential improvement is in the bass. Open-back headphones often have clean sounding base but closed-back headphones will usually have more bass. Depending on the quality of the headphones the bass will sound more punchy and less muddy.

Often cheaper closed-back pair will have bass that is there but does not really have any impact and it may have a lot of distortion causing it to sound what is described as muddy. Although cheaper offerings may have a large quantity of bass, the quality is not that good.

On the flip side, more premium offerings can deliver clear, punchy bass in great quantities that can be very enjoyable, especially for bass heads.

The additional bass can allow for a more fun-sounding pair of headphones. This means that many-closed back pairs of headphones are great for just sitting back and listening to music rather than analyzing the sounds or listening to how different instruments interact with each other.

Accuracy and Distortion

One of the worst areas, in particular with budget offerings, that the closed-back headphones affect sound is by adding distortion and echo.

To most people, you will not notice this issue but if you have tried more premium headphones then the distortion in many closed-back headphones will become more of a noticeable issue. The distortion I am talking about is not from the driver itself but it is a result of sound bouncing off the wall of the earcup causing reverb in the sound, potentially distorting it.

You may not have perfect accuracy in vocals or mid-range with many closed-back options but more premium closed-back headphones will have a very accurate sound with minimal distortion and no audible distortion for most.

This is more of a nitpick and this issue is something that you will only notice if you are using a budget option or if you are accustomed to better options.

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Comfort and Heat Build Up

One of the most important things about headphones is comfort, especially long term comfort.

The comfort of open-back headphones and closed-back headphones can’t directly be compared in all aspects because there are so many different kinds of headphones designs for both styles.

One area where they can be compared is heat build-up. A big issue that plagues the long-term comfort of closed-back headphones is how quickly the earcups get hot. Often many closed-back headphones will get hot after 30 to 90 minutes with many people not being able to use their headphones for longer because of how uncomfortable it can get.

Due to the nature of open-back headphones, they deal with this issue a lot better. Since the side of the earcup is open, not only does this affect sound but this gives your ear access to air on the other side of the driver.

Heat still generates within the earcup but it does not become as unbearable as closed-back headphones, at least not as quickly. Since the hot air does not get trapped your ears can stay a lot cooler for a lot longer. This is especially useful for those who get hot ears quickly or those who use headphones for long periods.

If you wear headphones for long durations and are in a private space, you could notice a benefit from an open-back option.

Should You Get Open Back or Closed Back

What Is Best For Gaming – Open Back

Angled view of open back headphones with setup in the background

One of the main benefits of open-back headphones is that they provide a wider sound than closed-back headphones. This directly benefits gamers because it is easier to hear who is around you. The location of information of where information is coming from is usually more accurate on open-back headphones compared to closed-back too.

With a wider sound, everything can feel more immersive in open-world titles and it can also provide more information in competitive titles. With a greater sense of space, it is easier to understand how close or far another player may be and where exactly a gunshot may have come from.

If you talk while you game with others you may want to be able to hear your own voice. Often closed-back headphones make it harder to hear yourself, especially with a loud game playing. This can be quite weird.

With open-back headphones, this can be less of an issue. Since you can hear your voice you can also hear other things around you. If you are gaming in a loud environment that can distract you from your game too.

Another important consideration is long term comfort.

When gaming you can be playing for a few hours at a time and some people even game for most of their day as a job. This means that you will want headphones that are comfortable, especially for long periods of time.

While the comfort of the earcups and headband is different for each headphone, most open-back headphones will accumulate heat and a reduced rate compared to closed-back options and will accumulate less of it overall. Heat is not trapped in the headphones because the earcup is open to an extent.

Heat build-up is often one of the most uncomfortable things about wearing headphones. This can make wearing headphones a lot more comfortable, especially for longer periods.

When you are gaming you are typically at a more private place like a desk. This means it does not matter if noise comes out of your headphones. This means you can use open-back headphones without bothering others.

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What Sounds The Best – Open Back?

Someone’s taste in sound is a very subjective matter as some people like sounds closer to their ear others like a wider soundstage and some may like more bass while others may prefer a more balanced sound signature.

Open-back and closed-back drivers often result in different sounding headphones. If you want the best bass experience there are good options that are open-back but some of the best pairs are closed-back. If you want a wider sound or something with solid vocals, your best bet is with open-back.

Open-back headphones typically are praised for having improved sound over closed-back headphones in many ways. We would say open-back headphones are the best sounding in many cases but because sound is so subjective you want fully determine what truly is better, especially with so many headphone options.

Overall what matters is that your headphones suit your preferences and needs. Getting open-back headphones will often be your best bet for having great sound quality but they’re a few more premium closed-back offerings that are quite strong such as the DT 1770 from Beyerdynamic.

What Is Best For Public Listening – Closed Back

Close up of closed back headphones

If you are in a public environment often or you need headphones for going out, closed-back headphones are the best option here.

The main downside of all open-back headphones is that sound is able to leak out of the earcup. Although this is a result of a wider soundstage and optionally more immersive experience, this can allow other people to hear what you are listening to.

The level of sound leakage depends on each pair but is an issue with all open-back headphones to an extent. It also depends on what volumes you are playing audio at. In some cases someone can only hear what you are listening to when right next to you and other times they may be on the other side of a room, still able to discern what you are playing.

Overall this won’t affect the listener and actually assists in making the sound feel very wide. This just makes open-back options bad if you are in an environment where people won’t want to hear what you are listening to like a bus or open office.

Closed-back headphones leak no sound most of the time and maybe a little at very high volumes but it is usually not an issue. Closed-back headphones, like earbuds, are commonly used and almost nobody will use open-back headphones because of this issue.

On top of all this, closed-back headphones often support features like Bluetooth connectivity for ease of use and active noise cancellation to make them a better option in public.

Closed-back headphones are just the more practical option in a public setting, even if you may lose on some sound quality.


Conclusion

Closed back and open back headphones on a desk

Overall open-back headphones will often deliver better sound for the same price as a closed-back offering but closed-back headphones deliver more practicality. Open-back headphones limit you to a private environment that should also be quiet but you can use open-back headphones anywhere without bothering others and some even have noise cancellation so you aren’t distracted from what you are listening to.

If you are a gamer or you just want to appreciate a wider and potentially clearer sound, then open-back headphones are great but they aren’t needed. Closed-back headphones don’t deliver bad sound and often can deliver better bass.

There is no wrong choice between the two but instead better use cases for both. Within both categories there are hundreds of options with different features and sound profiles to consider so doing additional research after seeing what is best for your use case is very important.

If you want to see more of our content, check out our newest articles.

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Sennheiser GSX 1000 Review: The Best Gaming DAC?

The Sennheiser GSX 1000 is a great DAC for gamers and those who can benefit from its many features.

With support for a mic input, virtual surround sound, a screen interface, and more, Sennheiser’s GSX 1000 is a great option for those who game often. It delivers plenty of features with only one drawback, the price.

Let’s take a look at the GSX and see if it is right for you.

Sennheiser GSX 1000 DAC

The Verdict

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

If you game often but want an improved audio experience the Sennheiser GSX 1000 is a great option for you. It will improve the audio quality for both your headphones and microphone.

Those who have been looking for more adjustment to their mic and sound setting or are looking for more clarity. If you are a fan of virtual surround sound, the GSX 1000 has the best surround sound processing in any DAC in terms of accuracy and sound clarity. As a result, the GSX 1000 can further your immersion in games.

Features such as a touch screen, dial, profiles, and more allow you to have more customization. This allows you to change the settings to suit your preferences.

The GSX 1000 won’t be able to drive power-hungry, premium headphones but that is also not what it was designed to do. It is a great way to improve a gaming headset or make a regular pair of headphones have features such as virtual surround sound.

If you need to power premium headphones or you don’t need things like the input or virtual surround sound then this option is not the best for you. Getting a non-gaming DAC and amp will probably suit your needs best.

It is worth mentioning that we tested the GSX 1200 Pro but it is exactly the same as the GSX 1000 with the addition of a couple minor features. We will high highlight the additional features of the GSX 1200 Pro in this review too.

You can find the Sennheiser GSX 1000 and GSX 1200 Pro, for a bit more, on amazon for their best prices.


In The Box

Sennheiser GSX 1000 Unboxing

When you open up the box you will find everything you need to get started. In the box you will find:

  • The DAC: The GSX comes surrounded with foam presented to you quite nicely.
  • Micro USB Cable: To power the device and send information to the DAC, Sennheiser gives you a red USB A to Micro USB cable. It is best to use this cables as you may have issues with other cables.
  • 3.5mm to 3.5mm Cable: This cable only comes with the GSX 1200 Pro so you can connect it to other GSX 1200s for latency-free LAN parties.
  • Quick Start Guide: This guide tells you how to get the device up and running and provides links to their website so you can learn how to use the device.
  • Manual: This tells you anything you would need to know that is not the basic stuff on the quick start guide.

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The Build

The build of the GSX is pretty good. The materials aren’t necessarily high end but like most Sennheiser products it is built well and does not give the impression that it can be broken easily or it won’t break quickly.

The construction is mostly plastic with some rubber, aluminum, and glass. The body is all plastic and it doesn’t feel cheap. Rubber is used for some long pads on the bottom so the DAC doesn’t move when doing things like adjusting the volume. The scroll wheel is made of aluminum with glass for the screen.

Sennheiser’s GSX 1000 weighs in at about 10.6 ounces or 0.66 pounds.

Looks And Interface

The GSX 1000 has a black build with silver and white accents on the scroll wheel and logo on the flip-out leg. There are also red accents as the wire is red and there is red LED lighting around the scroll wheel to go with the screen. Although the LEDs can’t change color it is nothing too intrusive and would not ruin a desktop theme.

The GSX 1000 is quite small being 5.63 inches long by 5.47 inches wide with a height of 2.76 inches. It is quite portable if you want to take it to move it to a different setup or go to LAN parties.

One of the most unique features of the GSX 1000 is its interface and the way you interact with it. On the top of the device, there is a screen. On the screen not only does it display the volume but it is a touch screen. On the screen, you can change the output, add sidetone, switch between stereo and surround sound, add reverb to the sound, change the direction of where the sound is focused, and choose from preset EQs.

In addition to the screen, there are also four touch-capacitive buttons or sensors on the four edges of the device to select profiles. Just slide your finger over the LED and you will switch to that profile. The only issue is that profiles will not work when HD audio is enabled. Having four profiles is nice if you want one profile for regular stereo audio and then different profiles for the different games that you play.

On the GSX 1200 Pro variant, you can hold the top left and bottom right sensors for 10 seconds and then your device will go into “Tournament Mode” meaning the settings cannot be changed. This is to make sure you don’t accidentally press something when quickly changing volume or anything else.

Gaming DACs and amps have a dial to change the volume but they are usually oriented on the front rather than on the top of the device with the GSX. Depending on your preference the dial of GSX 1000 may be more comfortable to use for you.

In addition to the main volume wheel, you have a scroll wheel on the right side to control your mic input volume and with the GSX 1200 Pro, you will also have another scroll wheel on the left side to control the amount of volume coming in from people talking to you. This scroll wheel is only needed if you are using the feature of zero latency talking via connecting this DAC to other GSX 1200s.

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Inputs and Outputs

Sennheiser GSX 1000 Inputs and outputs

As for inputs and outputs, the selection is sufficient for most people, especially the market that the GSX 1000 applies to. The GSX is not recommended for those who want a ton of outputs for a speaker setup but for gamers who it is for it will have everything that you need.

To send all the information to the DAC and power there is a micro USB cable. On the GSX 1200 model only you can have latency-free conversations with others who have the DAC next to you which is what the 2.5mm ports are for. The last three ports are 3.5mm for the speaker and headphone outputs and the mic input.

The fact that the ports for a headphone and mic connection are on the back is one of the biggest cons for me as it can make cable management harder and it can put the cable in an awkward position.

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The Sound

Sennheiser GSX 1000 screen

Although modern motherboards have pretty decent sound, the GSX 1000 is a step up and a good improvement if you have an older computer or a laptop.

You will notice an improvement an increase in the clarity of the sound and separation between different elements of music like instruments.

After using this DAC it will feel as if a veil has been lifted away from the sound and the detail of each note will be more noticeable. Sounds that may have sounded more recessed and in the background like vocals will be more forward.

Overall this benefit in sound won’t be necessarily noticeable while gaming but you will notice it when listening to music.

If you are listening to music for a longer period of time it is recommended that you enable HD audio. When you do enable this mode the sound clarity will be even clearer than before but you will be locked with stereo sound and will not be able to change the EQ, use profiles, or control Sidetone.

This mode is only really good while listening to music but while gaming you will want to go back to the regular mode or you won’t have access to most of the settings.

To enable HD audio you must go to your “Sound Settings” then go to the “Sound Control Panel”. Then you will find the GSX 1000. In the settings of the device, you will go to the “Advanced” tab and then put the quality to the highest quality.

Depending on what you are doing you will want to select a different option. If you are listening to music putting the DAC’s quality to the highest setting will put it into HD audio mode but otherwise putting it to the second-highest setting will enable all the features while retaining most of the audio quality.

It is unfortunate that you have to choose between having HD quality sound and having access to the features of this device but the option of HD audio is nice and there is definitely an improvement in clarity.

Even though the GSX 1000 will improve sound quality if you don’t need the features of this device, a dedicated amp and DAC will improve your setup the most.

7.1 Surround Surround Sound

Sennheiser GSX 1000 DAC with virtual surround sound enabled.

One of the most unique features that the GSX delivers is virtual surround sound. Headphones are a stereo device meaning they create sound using two speakers or drivers but the GSX1000 makes it possible to simulate an experience where there are more speakers for an overall more immersive sound.

The GSX 1000 is known for its virtual surround because of how accurate and immersive it is. Most gaming headsets support virtual surround sound but the directionality of the sound is often not that accurate and the sound may actually be more distorted because of how bad the surround sound method is for the headset.

Sennheiser developed this device to have much better surround sound than gaming headsets. The difference is night and day. The implementation is probably the best out of any gaming DAC or gaming headset out there in accuracy and the customization that you can have on the sound to make it more immersive. A GSX 1000 can make most stereo headphones perform better in the surround sound experience than even dedicated gaming headsets.

The virtual surround sound implementation from Sennheiser helps position sounds better than headsets from Logitech, Corsair, and other companies. These other companies create a surround experience by making all of the sounds seem to surround you rather than correctly positioning where each gunshot, engine sound, or plane is coming from.

With the GSX 1000 you can hear the exact floor and room someone may be in while gaming headsets often have more distortion and less accuracy in the sound.

I found that while testing the GSX in various titles, it was great for simulators, open-world titles, and some competitive shooters. In contrast, you will see no benefit in 2D games or titles where locations of sound are not as important.

It is also worth mentioning that surround sound is often not all competitive shooters will benefit from surround sound. You may like using it with games like CSGO or Rainbow Six Siege but surround sound won’t necessarily make you a better player.

Overall what matters are the games that you play and your preferences.

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Mic input

Another great feature about the GSX 1000 is the option for a mic input. If you have a headset with both a microphone and headphone jack then you can plug them into the GSX 1000 for more control and better sound.

With the GSX 1000, the sound of your mic should be cleaner and you can adjust the gain easily. The option to change the mic volume so quickly is great as some applications take in more or less sound than others. This can also make it easier than having to go into settings to change the volume of your mic.

Sidetone

If you have closed-back headphones, like a gaming headset or noise-canceling headphones, it can be annoying or weird to not be able to hear yourself.

Sidetone fixes this by taking your mic input and putting some of that back into what you hear. The quality of it is also quite good. It sounds as good as your mic would sound raw and you could potentially not even notice a difference.

It is similar to the transparency mode of Apple’s noise cancellation products or any other noise cancelling product with that option.

On the screen you can also change if you don’t want Sidetone or the amount of volume that you want to hear of yourself.

Zero Latency Communication

Unfortunately this feature only works with the GSX 1200 Pro but in theory what it allows you to do is quite interesting.

Typically when using apps like Discord, Zoom, or Teams there is a little bit of delay between when people talk and the other person hears it. Typically this ok when you’re not in the same room but if you are calling other people while in the same room this slight delay can be quite annoying.

If you are at a tournament or LAN party and the rest of your team or friends have the GSX 1200 Pro then you can connect up to eight devices together. Doing so will allow you to have communication with each other with no latency or lag between the sound.

You can also change the volume of how much you hear your teammates with the scroll wheel on the left hand side.

Although this is quite a cool concept in theory, in practice it probably isn’t worth it for everyone in a team to get one for just this feature.

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Alternatives

Sound Blaster G6

The biggest competitor to the GSX 1000 is the Sound Blaster G6. They share features like a mic input and virtual surround sound.

When comparing the GSX to the G6 the GSX has the step up in the interface, the mic input, and virtual surround sound.

While both have a dial for the device volume, the GSX has a screen to control the interface and a scroll wheel control for your mic volume. The G6 has neither but it does have software support and a few buttons to enable things like virtual surround sound. The software gives you the same functionality as the GSX’s screen like EQ editing.

The mic input is the same but the GSX has more features like Sidetone so you can hear yourself and control your mic volume.

Although both options have virtual surround the GSX 1000 has slightly more accurate virtual surround sound and the option to add reverb to the sound and change where the direction of sound is coming from.

There are two areas where the G6 has a step up over the GSX 1000. It provides more power and it is usually a lower price. If you want to use something that is more power-hungry than a gaming headset or efficient headphones then the G6 will fair better. The price difference is not very big but is notable because it brings up the idea of value. If you won’t need the mic input, don’t care for the screen, and are willing to sacrifice on slightly worse virtual surround then the G6 is a better option.

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Schiit Fulla 3

The Schiit Fulla 3 does not have all the features of the GSX 1000 like Sidetone, virtual surround sound, or a screen but it still packs as much power as the G6, is the most compact option here, and is the cheapest option.

If you don’t care for exciting features like virtual surround sound then this is one of the best options you can get if you need a mic input. You can find the Fulla 3 for about $100 on Schiit’s for most of the year.

The sound quality is quite good and it can power power-hungry headphones at the $300 price range. If you want to use a Sennheiser HD6XX with this then it can drive the pair really well.

Schiit Hel

Schiit’s Hel is the most expensive alternative to the GSX 1000/1200 Pro but also provides the most power. It delivers the same features as the younger brother, the Fulla 3, but significantly more power. If you have premium headphones but still want to use a mic input then this your best option.

The Hel can power premium headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT990, HiFiMan HE400i, HiFiMan Sundara, and Sennheiser HD6XX.


Conclusion

Top view of Sennheiser GSX 1000 DAC

In the category of gaming DACs and amps, the GSX 1000 delivers the most features to the consumer, albeit at a higher cost.

You may not be able to power $300+ headphones but, the GSX is a step over motherboard audio so you will get cleaner sound in your headphones or speakers with more separation between sounds and less distortion. The GSX 1000 will also improve your mic sound so you can sound better not just in discord but if you are recording something like a voice-over.

In addition to better sound, the interface, virtual surround sound, and other customization make the GSX 1000 and great DAC. The screen that always displays the volume is very useful to see volume instantly along with an easy to use touch screen and dials. The virtual surround sound implementation is accurate and probably the best out. Finally the customization to things like the mic with Sidetone is a really nice addition and gives the GSX 1000 a step over the competition.

Although the GSX 1200 Pro has a couple additional features, the sound and core features are the same. It is not worth it to pay more for the GSX 1200 Pro unless you need the additional features so for most people it is recommended to buy whatever is the cheapest option.

If you think that either suits your needs, check out the GSX 1000 and GSX 1200 Pro on Amazon for a good price.

Happy listening!

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