Audio-Technica is a brand beloved by audiophiles, but its clout in the gaming sphere is comparatively small. Fair enough: the company only entered the arena in 2014, but the Japanese outfit has yet to build a set of cans we'd consider among the best gaming headsets. They've usually been expensive affairs, too.
That might change with Audio-Technica's 2021 offerings. Assessments of earlier Audio-Technica outings have generally sang the praises of its audio, but criticized their cost and aspects of their build. The ATH-GDL3 is a wired open back design, with 45mm drivers, a detachable boom mic and simple onboard controls—there's a mute button and a volume wheel. It weighs in at around 220 grams, opts for a comfortable and conventional headrest, and—speaking subjectively—looks pretty elegant too.
Connectivity on the wired headset is as you'd expect: it comes packaged with your stock standard 3.5mm plug for both mic and earphones on a three metre cable, but you also get a 3.5mm to 3.5mm plug that's better suited to consoles. The mic is also detachable via a 3.5mm jack.
Type: Open-back, wired
Frequency response: 10-35,000 Hz
Drivers: 45 mm
Connector: 3.5 mm
Microphone: Electret condenser, hypercardioid
Weight: 220 g
Price: $169 / AU$189
It's worth explaining what the 'open back' operating principle is, because it actually makes a significant, albeit sometimes subtle difference. Open back has an open or grated exterior on the cups, and while they're especially prone to sound leakage (as well as letting external sound in) they offer a more panoramic sound, with an emphasis on clarity. That makes them great for the broad soundscapes of vast open game worlds.
Meanwhile, a more standard 'closed back' design is better at blocking out exterior sound, but offers a less exact representation of the output due to reverberance in the cup itself (Audio-Technica has issued the closed back ATH-GL3 alongside the model under review if that's your preference).
These are all important matters in a recording studio or for audiophiles, but for gamers it basically means this: Do you play games alongside a sleeping significant other, or in a loud environment? Probably go for closed back, just to be safe. If neither of those are true, open back offers a more 'immersive' experience, on paper.
The ATH-GDL3 bears this out: playing Forza Horizon 5 at close to top volume, I can still hear the techno playing from a bluetooth speaker on the other side of my office. But switching between the wired HyperX Cloud II and the ATH-GDL3, the detail and clarity is immediately apparent in the latter: the ambience of rural Mexico positively sparkles, the 2019 McLaren Speedtail roars with almost alarming presence, and every shattered stone wall and splintered tree seems to make physical contact with the ears, like ASMR for misanthropes.
Of course, my partner sitting at the desk beside me had to put up with all this too.
One pleasant bonus is that, despite open back headsets tending to be a bit soft in the bass department, the ATH-GDL3 didn't break a sweat making Borderlands 3 ballistics sound brutal and, resorting to some bowel-rattling drum and bass to put it through its ropes, there was no noticeable distortion or loss of clarity at high volumes. If you like to be pounded mercilessly by big bass sounds at the cost of clarity, the ATH-GDL3 definitely favours the latter approach.
The boom microphone cuts through perfectly well, and according to my Back 4 Blood zombie-murderin' companion, the open back nature of the headset didn't lead to any of my in-game audio bleeding into the mic input—a fair concern to have in advance, but it's something I didn't experience at all.
The ATH-GL3 is perfectly comfortable for long stretches, and as a person with a remarkably large head there's plenty of headroom (get it) on the sliding headband. This thing is light, which contributes somewhat to its slightly flimsy feel in the hand. It's not that the ATH-GL3 feels like it's going to break easily, but the cups don't feel as bulletproof as the thick-veneered Cloud II, for example—unfair comparison perhaps, given that model's market leading build quality.
But the effect has its bonuses too, because this model looks professional, elegant, with a notable lack of gaming peripheral flair. That classically aggressive look doesn't sit right with some people, so this cleaner look will suit those. The cup pillows feel rugged and luxurious on the ears, but the fabric (rather than leather) covering is the type that can wear down over time, and it gathers hair and dust too.
But it's fair to say Audio-Technica has fulfilled its mission here: absolutely brilliant sound, a more conventional and approachable build compared to earlier outings, and a bunch of measures to ensure this thing will last: the cups are replaceable, as is the headband. It's a crowded market in this price range, but for people after audiophile-verging clarity, the ATH-GDL3 is a worthy contender indeed.