Drop + Koss GMR-54X-ISO Gaming Headset Review
This light gaming headset has impressive audio performance
Koss has a long and well-deserved reputation in the audio world, but they’re relatively new to gaming headsets. Rather than re-invent the proverbial wheel, Koss’s headset products smartly combine refined versions of existing Koss design concepts into frames that will appeal more to the gaming crowd, with a modular detachable mic system that I think is brilliant for their affordable price points.
The GMR series (official site here) comes in a number of different colors and flavors. In-house, Koss produces both open “AIR” and closed “ISO” variants that come with a red color accent, and are available with either a USB connection or a standard analog option. Prices hover between $60 and $75 depending on which combo of features you go for.
Alongside the folks over at Drop, Koss also makes the “GMR-54X-ISO,” (official site here) which sells for a standard retail price of $65, but which I got on sale for $60 over at Amazon. It’s based on their closed back analog design, but it’s sporting a new dark blue colorway, a tweaked headband for a lighter clamping force, a new inline mic mute switch and volume adjustment on the main cable, and an extra cable with an integrated microphone and button for use with mobile devices. In terms of audio and mic performance it’s identical to the standard ISO version, so consider this my review for both. I’m hoping to check out the open-backed AIR model at a later date.
On the surface, the GMR (which I’m going to shorten the name to from now on because that’s too many characters and hyphens) looks an awful lot like a gaming version of the excellent Koss Pro4S studio headphones. Indeed, it shares many of the same design characteristics. It features a driver from the same Koss engineering era, “D-profile” shaped ear cups, and a design that prioritizes a light wearing comfort first and foremost.
The sound lives up to that studio performance legacy in spite of the lower price. Drop provided measurements of this headset here if you’d like to look at the graph yourself, and I’d say it perfectly lines up with my listening impressions. Detail is the order of the day here, and it’s wonderful. Sub bass and midbass are both present, but less thumpy and aggressive than on most other gaming headsets. Instead, the focus is on beautiful mids and highs. There’s a slightly cold character to both ranges, just like on the Pro4S, thanks to a dip between the bass and midrange and some extra emphasis up top. But overall these have a beautiful sound that provides a ton of open-feeling detail and spatial awareness in spite of their closed design. It’s a perfect sound for finding enemies and hearing nuance in the sound mix. The Pro4S is a better-sounding headphone overall in my opinion, but this is in the same ballpark, which is excellent for ~$60.
You might expect that build and comfort both took some hits to get the price this low, and you’d be right…but neither aspect is bad. On the plus side, the plastic frame is very light and seemingly well-engineered, with no obvious squeaks or creaks during a week of listening tests. I have seen some scattered reports online of the frame cracking over time, and as I plan to use this as one of my regular headsets from now on, I’ll report back if I have any issues, but so far it’s all good. The frame is surprisingly flexible and has no issue fitting over my larger-than-average head. But where the Pro4S was reinforced all around with aluminum, the build here is plastic, plastic, and more plastic.
Comfort is good, thanks mostly to the hyper-light frame. The D-shaped ear pads provide plenty of space for the ears, but they sadly don’t use memory foam, and they have a little bit of trouble sealing around my head and glasses compared to some other headset models. However, with some fiddling each time I put them on I can get them in a position that doesn’t dramatically impact the seal thanks to plenty of swivel in the ear cups. The suspension headband pad is excellent, with soft little sections of foam that help it totally disappear on my head.
The lighter clamping force and standard ear pad foam mean that this headset doesn’t block out as much outside noise as some competing models do, but it’s still going to mute the environment around you. And fortunately they stay in place even if I shake or turn my head. They are well-balanced, and I found them reasonably comfy even over a couple of longer three hour listening sessions.
I love the detachable cable system on the GMR because it’s completely non-proprietary and non-recessed. The headset end presents a standard 3.5mm jack, and it’s compatible with basically any aux cord out there. It’s even compatible with third party mic solutions like the V-moda Boom Pro and its many imitators, in case you ever lose the included microphone….though I bet Koss’s support could also help you get a new one in that case.
The mobile cable is great. It’s a 4 foot/1.2 meter model that’s right in line with the mobile cables on a million other headsets. The boom mic cable has both positives and negatives. It’s 8 feet or 2.4m long, which is great for reaching behind a PC but way too long for any other kind of configuration. It terminates in dual mic and headset plugs, just like the cable on the EPOS GSP 301, and while that helps reduce mic crosstalk issues it might not be ideal for your personal setup. A 4-pole TRRS adapter is included in the box for console controller connections.
I don’t always complain about cable quality, but the wire on the boom mic cable is very thin and prone to kinks. It’s the only part of the headset that comes off feeling a little cheap, even considering the low price here. Many other headsets include thicker rubberized or braided cables, and I’d love to see a thicker cable included on the GMR. The microphone also comes out of the cable at a very severe vertical angle, meaning you’ll have to swoop it back upwards in a U-shape to get it properly positioned for your mouth. This looks a bit silly…but fortunately the mic is excellent for this price point, rivalling other budget greats like the Astro A10. You can find a short sample I recorded over on my personal site.
Overall, I completely love this headset in spite of the cuts made to keep the price down. The sound tuning is classic Koss magic. It’s beautiful and detailed, and perfect for any type of listening. The light frame isn’t the most robust thing out there, but it provides comfort benefits. The non-proprietary cable attachment system is wonderful, and sets a new high bar for headsets priced this low. It just edges out the similar system on the Redragon H510, since that headset still required a proprietary mic.
UPDATE 3/17/2022: One year later, I’ve realized that I didn’t quite operate the mic properly on this headset. While the boom arm does indeed ship in the weird u-shaped orientation pictured above, if you just curve it up towards your mouth, you’ll actually be using the mic backwards.
I dug this headset out of the closet just to mess with it again, and looking at the mic realized that the flat side of the capsule you can see facing out in the picture of my face here must actually be the front side — something I confirmed by looking through the promotional photos.
I don’t think this is terribly intuitive. Most gaming headset boom arms automatically face the right side of the capsule towards your mouth when plugged in. Here, you’ll have to twist the end of the boom arm around into a curve, and angle it under your mouth, like so:
Once you’ve done that, the performance of the mic does improve since you’ll now be talking into the right side of the capsule. However, even when I wasn’t using it correctly, it sounded pretty good, and so I’m leaving the rest of my review and the original test intact. The main advantages of talking into it correctly are 1)it’s a bit more sensitive to my voice and 2)it doesn’t look nearly as silly.
Although I haven’t been using this headset regularly for a while, it’s still holding up reasonably well. The rotation hinges have a slight creak but the headband is still fully intact. I’ve seen some reports of others having cracking issues with it, but mine shows no problems so far. Here ends the update!
I’d love to see a future Koss product, called something like a GMR Pro, that took the Pro4S and added this microphone to it with a tweaked more-horizontal design. That hypothetical product would be in the running for my favorite gaming headset of all time.
The GMR-54X-ISO as it exists is still great(in spite of that clumsy name), and a wonderful choice for those looking for a good mic and detailed sound. Hardcore bassheads can find better gaming headset options, but on detail the GMR stands proudly against headsets costing twice as much and beyond. It’s my new go-to pick for audiophiles that want to try a gaming product without emptying their entire wallet.
Originally published at https://www.worldbolding.com on May 20, 2021.