In reviewing the EPOS | SENNHEISER GSX 300 external sound card, my research led me to the fascinating world of audiophile headphones. I quickly learned that open-back headphones with their wider, more lifelike sound benefit the most from DAC’s like the GSX 300. It turns out that EPOS have one such headset — the GSP 500 Open back gaming headset. Now, no one in their right mind would call the GSP 500 an audiophile headset like the Audeze LCD-GX. But what it can do is offer one of the cleanest, polished and natural audio than any other $300 gaming headset. But after several hours listening to Hans Zimmer, Snoop Dogg and the Hiss in Control, is it audiophile enough?
EPOS | SENNHEISER GSP 500 Review
The GSP 500 follows the same styling cues as its big brother the GSP 600 series. The thing is massive with huge comfy ear cups that swallow your ears whole. The air traffic controller vibe is strong here with a chunky headband with its unique slide-to-fit mechanism. The ear cups connect to the headband with an intimidating metallic hinge better suited to a Caterpillar earth mover. This 2-axis hinge allows the cups to easily contort to different head sizes and shapes.
My immediate experience was how tight the clamping force was — painfully so. I had to leave the headset stretched out overnight to loosen them out which helped though still noticeable. It also doesn’t help that the ear cushions aren’t cushy pleather memory foam type. So their massive girth tended to press against my temples and jaw line. Similar to others in the GSP line, the headband leaves a massive space between it and your temples. I complained about this wide footprint in my review of the EPOS | SENNHEISER GSP 370. So if you are moving around while wearing the GSP 500’s, it’s easy to bash them on door frames or wall corners.
The GSP 500 also has the same, giant swivelling microphone on the left ear cup and chunky volume knob on the right. Now although it’s made mostly of plastic, at 358gms the GSP 500 is noticeably heavier than the GSP 370. However, that wide headband design keeps it floating on your head without any pressure and is quite comfortable. The GSP 500 also looks the business thanks to an all black finish with metallic red and silver highlights. Compared to the GSP 370 which is a dull grey with no contrasts, the GSP 500 will certainly turn more heads.
Sounds like the hills are alive
When it comes to sound performance, the GSP 500 certainly shows off its Sennheiser heritage. The first difference you notice when you put them on is how much of the outside world you can still here. This is a draw back of the open-back design. It’s designed to let sound flow naturally away from the drivers creating a more natural sound. But that door swings both way with sound from outside coming in.
Most gaming headsets are closed-back — sealing the sound around your ears. This makes them sound closer and boosts bass. The GSP 500 don’t have that seal so when audio is playing, anyone in proximity will hear what you are listening to. I was often caught off guard that I could hear the music coming out of the GSP 500’s sitting on my desk while I was a few feet away.
Ignore that disadvantage and you get some truly excellent sound. Once I started playing some music, I immediately noticed how clean and natural everything sounded. I could also hear far more detail in my music like Cymbals and harp strings that are usually lost. This is especially so with orchestral music. Hans Zimmer never sounded better. And with the sound free to flow out of the headsets, you get a sort of lighter or airy sound that feels like you are in the audience rather than listening to a recording.
My biggest complaint with the sound profile was the lack of thumping bass. This is another draw back with open-back headphones. Closed backs use the sealed sound chamber as a subwoofer for bass. The GSP 500’s certainly have bass which is again, so clean and natural, without sounding like something digitally enhanced. Instead, you tend to hear deep drum notes as if you were in the room where the drummer is. It’s hard to describe the experience but I hope you get the gist.
This applies across games and movies as well. Dialogue sounds crisp and lifelike that I often found myself lifting an ear cup in the middle of the night just to be sure something wasn’t actually happening in the real world. Combatants footsteps in first-person shooters sound sharp and clear and you can accurately tell where they are coming from. There’s also a great deal of separation between game music and effects like bullets or explosions.
While the GSP 500 will work just fine with any 3.5 mm device, they really come to life when connected to an amplifier like the GSX 300. Everything becomes more powerful, especially the bass. The GSX 300 also opens up virtual surround sound which does indeed sound more spacious and realistic than on a closed-back headset. Everything sounds further away from your ears feeling more open and spacious. However, it’s not true surround sound and as good as it sounds, using the GSP 500 in stereo is far more delicious.
As with all other members of the GSP family, the GSP 500 has a retractable boom mic that is activated simply by swivelling it down towards your mouth. You will hear a slight clicking sound just past halfway it’s arc of motion which indicates it’s activated. The mic sounds great without sounding nasally. It’s got great ambient noise cancellation so it won’t pick up anything that’s not close to the mic. Here’s a sample:
Again, using the GSX 300 in conjunction with the GSP 500 headset offers you some great microphone controls. You get three voice effects of which warm is the best, adding a warmth of bass to your voice without distorting it. There’s also more controls for Gain, side tone and the amount of noise-cancelling.
The GSP 500 is a great introduction to audiophile game sound and certainly one of the best sounding headphones you can get at $300. It’s definitely a little on the expensive side but true audiophile gaming would cost hundreds more. While the open-back design offers a very clean and natural sound, it’s not mind-blowing compared to many cheaper headsets. It lacks warmth and excitement to make gaming and music impactful. It’s also not the most comfortable headset thanks to its heavy, tank like design. I would love for EPOS to make a lighter, wireless version of this open-back headset. That would make its high price much more palatable but as it is, I wouldn’t know who should buy this headset. It simply doesn’t do enough to stand out above the competition.