Virtual surround sound can be a real hit or miss experience depending on the audio engineering and device, and it’s easy to get lost trying to find the right gear when the offerings are so confusing. I personally enjoy a high-quality 5.1 or 7.1 headset/amp setup when gaming competitively, but outside of multiplayer-specific scenarios, the audio frequency breakdown when using virtual surround sound doesn’t translate well across other media. Even when playing titles that specifically benefit from virtual surround sound, I’ve never been able to enjoy the sound design in its fullest because there’s always a channel or two that performs poorly as the audio drivers try to emulate depth and distance.
All of this changed when I tried the phenomenal Sennheiser GSX 1200 PRO Audio Amplifier—one of the most impressive audio devices I’ve tested in a long time. The GSX 1200 PRO is an eSports oriented amp that boasts one of the best, if not the best, virtual 7.1 surround sound implementations I’ve ever experienced. Sennheiser’s audio engineering is transformative, and the near flawless audio spatial positioning is just one of its many useful features.
"The GSX 1200 PRO is an eSports oriented amp that boasts one of the best, if not the best, virtual 7.1 surround sound implementations I’ve ever experienced."
The Sennheiser GSX 1200 PRO Audio Amplifier retails for $249.95 and it can fit in the palm of your hand. The amp is designed with portability in mind, and it takes mere seconds to set up and get going. Aesthetically, the GSX 1200 PRO looks stunning. The modern and minimalist design approach serves as a real treat when displayed on a work/gaming desk, and I absolutely adore the smartly designed touch screen that lights up the device info in one place.
The back panel is a hub for all the connectors, including a mini USB port, speaker and headphone jacks, as well as Chat-link 2.3 mm A & B connectors that allow you to cascade up to 8 GSX 1200 PRO units. There are no external drivers or firmware updates necessary as everything that’s needed comes packaged in the device itself and is ready for use.
For my review setup, I connected a pair of Audioengine HD3 speakers for regular stereo performance testing and the Audio Technica ATH-M70x monitor headphones for everything else. All sound settings are accessed via the practical Display & Touch control panel that also serves as a volume dial. There are six main features that individually offer three levels of adjustments: headphones and speakers switch, equalizer settings, surround amplification positioning, stereo vs surround toggle, sidetone level adjustment and three levels of reverb.
"The GSX 1200 PRO performance has left me speechless. Imagine seeing an OLED display with HDR capabilities for the first time in your life. It changes your experience, it changes your expectations, it changes everything. The GSX 1200 PRO has such an effect, but with audio!"
The best part about the GSX 1200 PRO is the device’s fantastic out-of-box performance. The audio is exceptional both with EQ enhancements turned on and off. There is no need for advanced frequency tweaks as the GSX 1200 PRO delivers perfectly calibrated channels. It’s also worth noting that the EQ presets work surprisingly well. Music, Story and eSports are individual presets that emphasize certain channels depending on your media. I find the Music EQ preset to work especially well across all media as it provides a very clean balance between crisp mids and deep lows.
The Reverb and Surround Amplification settings are more of a luxury than a necessity. Increasing reverb has some pleasing effects that add immersion in certain open world titles, but its shortcoming (echoey sound) are evident as soon as you find yourself in narrow environments—so it’s best when left on Neutral. Surround Amplification lets you choose between increased virtual front speakers, increased virtual back speakers or balanced. Aside from a vew experimental scenarios, I’ve found little use for directional amplification and opted for the balanced setting for the remainder of my testing.
"Every crunch of gravel, every ricocheting bullet, every sigh and every growl during an intense online match is heard with laser-sharp clarity and an equally impressive bass punch."
The GSX 1200 PRO performance has left me speechless. Imagine seeing an OLED display with HDR capabilities for the first time in your life. It changes your experience, it changes your expectations, it changes everything. The GSX 1200 PRO has such an effect, but instead of delivering an enhanced visual fidelity, it provides an evolutionary step in audio engineering!
The first game in queue is Dirty Bomb. This multiplayer shooter serves as the perfect testing ground for surround sound due to its energetic and enveloping audio design. The constant barrage of explosions and air strikes can be tough to pinpoint when using stereo, but with the GSX 1200 PRO, I am not only able to identify the precise direction of incoming attacks, I’m actually able to hear their exact distance. This is the kind of thing you see advertised across every audio product that carries the 7.1 surround label, but Sennheiser’s GSX 1200 PRO genuinely delivers on that promise. The surround sound accuracy here is nothing short of a miracle. My match performance in Dirty Bomb improved significantly over the past few weeks of playing with the amp as I felt more “present” in the game’s world.
Superb accuracy aside, the GSX 1200 PRO‘s frequency channels with surround mode turned on remain flawlessly balanced regardless of what is happening in the environment. Every crunch of gravel, every ricocheting bullet, every sigh and every growl during an intense online match is heard with laser-sharp clarity and an equally impressive bass punch. The sound is such a colossal improvement in virtual surround technology that going back to my current gear, including my favorite devices, is utterly jarring.
After being completely blown away by the immersive surround sound experience in Dirty Bomb, I moved on to something subtler, namely horror games. Amnesia and Outlast are two titles that I’ve beaten numerous times, but journeying through the same worlds with the GSX 1200 PRO is worth a dozen journeys more. The atmospheric and orchestral sound of both titles reaches new depths when 7.1 is engaged. The first time you hear the distant shrills of mental patients in Outlast is outright chilling. The improved sound has made stealth segments in both titles much more immersive. The way the character’s breath sounds like it’s coming from my own mouth as I try to remain hidden in a closet is both a terrifying and ecstatic experience.
"Amnesia and Outlast are two titles that I’ve beaten numerous times, but journeying through the same worlds with the GSX 1200 PRO is worth a dozen journeys more."
Continuing down my Steam library, I threw countless titles at the amp for further testing, but one of the most notable highlights was Project Cars 2. The Cars’ roaring engines are simply outstanding with Sennheiser’s surround engineering. You can feel the engine’s gut punch as you take corners at lightning fast speeds.
Even with all the settings at your fingerprints, there’s an added function for saving individual presets for even faster mode switching. Each corner of the device has four thin stripes that serve as memory storage slots. Settings are simply changed by touching the corresponding corner after making your changes, and the settings are registered onto the device automatically.
"The Sennheiser GSX 1200 PRO Audio Amplifier is easily one of the best AMPs currently available for gamers."
After weeks of drooling over the surround mode, I switched over to stereo testing with equally satisfying results. Switching to my external speaker system with stereo engaged is as simple as touching the corresponding menu controls on the touch pad. No need to access any menus or re-plug any chords, everything is controlled via Sennheiser’s practical audio hub. The music performance on the GSX 1200 PRO reaches audiophile levels. Again, the out-of-box performance is unmatched, and there’s no need for separate channel tweaks. The simple EQ presets are more than enough to get the kind of results you want, and I applaud the designers for adding so much emphasis on the user experience.
Conclusion: The Sennheiser GSX 1200 PRO Audio Amplifier is easily one of the best AMPs currently available for gamers. The audiophile performance across both stereo and virtual surround sound modes is outstanding. Even though two hundred fifty bucks isn’t considered cheap, the GSX 1200 PRO is a great value given the technological leap it provides to virtual surround sound in gaming.
Final Score: A+