Pros: Incredible sound, Open design, High quality microphone, Light and comfortable, In-line controls
Cons: Expensive, Sensitive volume wheel, Very few accessories
Introduction and Overview
Gaming headsets usually get a bad rap for sounding terrible when it comes to audio quality. They are typically bass heavy with very little care given to the soundstage and frequency response. Audio-Technica, known for their professional quality recording microphones and studio headphones, is trying to change that with their ATH-AG line of gaming headsets. They take an audiophile grade headset and build in a microphone to create what could be the best sounding gaming headset on the market.
The packaging almost reminds me of an Apple design; simple and elegant. The blue accent on the inside of the speaker grill is a little bit over emphasized in the picture though compared to the actual product, but it still looks very high quality. Right away it’s clear that this is an open air design. In theory this gives the sound a more natural path to your ears instead of bouncing all around in a closed-air system, but we'll get to the sound quality later in the review. Most headsets have 40mm drivers but the ADG1x has larger 53mm drivers. These help deliver fuller and more accurate sound. Knowing Audio-Technica's other product lines, I am expecting a lot from the attached gooseneck microphone as well.
Inside the box we find the headset, a 2 meter extension and audio/microphone splitter cable, a microphone pop filter, and some documentation. The standard connector is a 4-pole jack and is probably aimed at mobile gamers. The extension/splitter cable is what desktop gamers will use as the pre-attached 1.2m cable probably won't be long enough to reach to your computer. Looking closer at the cable, I found it to be hard rubber and rather rigid. It isn't stiff, but it remembers and holds bends very easily. Even after a week of usage I still couldn't get it to lie flat. I certainly would have preferred a high quality braided cable considering the price tag. This cable also is not removable. A removable cable would have been a nice touch since it makes transportation much easier, but it's not the end of the world.
The in-line controls are the perfect size for me. Some 'gaming' headsets have these huge gaudy control pieces that just seem to get caught on everything. The top of it has a microphone mute slider and the side has a volume wheel. At first I was confused by the mute button since it just says "on" or "off". I didn't know if that meant the microphone was enabled or if the mute was enabled. To clarify, it's the latter option. Set the slider to off to talk. The volume wheel was also extremely loose on my headset and I would have preferred some more resistance. I found that even just rubbing on my clothes or arm could turn down the volume.
Now we can head over to the microphone. It pivots up and out of the way when you're not gaming. The rubber coated boom is excellent. It holds its shape very well and feels like a high quality microphone. The microphone itself features a supercardiod design which is what I would expect. It is highly directional which should help cut out on background noise. The included pop filter is good to see as well. Even with these two factors I still lowered the boom a bit below my mouth. It was a bit too compressed and nasally at the standard position. You can listen to a microphone test here which compares the ATH-ADG1x to the previous generation ATH-AG1.
Here is the full headset. The physical design is very similar to Audio-Technica's ATH-AD(X00)X line of high-fidelity headphones. You can read my review of the ATH-AD900X here. Since the ATH-ADG1x is an open-air headset, the drivers are not concealed inside the ear chambers. Instead, they are free to the open air. There is a thin metal grill around the outside to protect them from damage. Around that is a dark gray colored plastic ring that connects to the upper suspension system.
On the left earcup we find the boom microphone and hardwired cable. The microphone boom can rotate 90 degrees up and down. There is a little more movement since the rest of the boom is flexible. There is a hard rubber strain reducer around the cable connection going in to the left earcup. Like I said before, I would have preferred a removable cable but the connection should be pretty secure.
The earcups are covered on the inside with a soft black cloth. It feels very comfortable to the touch and there is also some padding underneath to hold its shape. Unfortunately, the cloth is sewed directly to the outside of the headset so it can't be removed to be cleaned. As opposed to a closed design, the open-air design helps naturally cool your head. I didn't feel nearly as sweaty after a long gaming session as with other headsets. The earcups only fold in about 30 degrees though as opposed to some other headsets which fold flat.
Audio-Technica's suspension mechanism is unique and I really like it. As you can see, there are two components; wings that rest on your head, and plastic covered metal wires above them that hold tension. The clamping pressure is lighter than most other headphones so clearly these wouldn't be good for fitness audio. Shaking your head can easily dislodge them so I would suggest adding a rubber band between the wings if you want a tighter fit. The wings have a material similar but slightly harder than that of the earcups. Overall these headphones are very light at only 285g or 10.1oz. They are open so there is no heavy sound chamber and the suspension system does a good job of distributing the weight on and around your head.
Most gaming headsets put audio quality second to fancy features and looks; the ATH-ADG1x is quite the opposite. It has a relatively simple design with no big marketing features. It's clear that audio quality comes first. For my objective tests, I played a reference linear audio sweep up to 20 kHz and recorded the audio output with an SM57 microphone. I then analyzed the frequency response compared to the reference input (pictured below). Here we see the audio response from the ATH-ADG1x. It is generally flat with a peak around the low to mid split, a slight dip in the middle, another peak at the mid to high split, and finally a slight drop off at the very top towards the inaudible frequencies.
Here we have two other response curves for reference. The first is that of the ATH-AD900X which you will notice is very similar. The designs borrow heavily off of each other. The second is a cheap gaming headset that doesn't sound very good. Notice how it is much blockier with numerous peaks and troughs.
You will never get a completely flat response and you probably don't want one. The slight ups and downs make the music more enjoyable and less fatiguing to listen to. Standard gaming headphones have overemphasized lows and a harsh high end. They may sound good to some, but it's really nothing like what the audio was intended to sound like. The ATH-ADG1x, being an open-air design, doesn't have the low end rumble of other headphones. It is extremely punchy and bass hits are tight. The upper highs could get a little fatiguing though depending on the song but only after a few hours of intense listening. The soundstage was really wide. Most headphones make it feel like the sound is coming from a small point in the middle of your head. The ATH-ADG1x made it feel like the sound was coming from your entire head and around it. While overall it's not perfect, it's about as good as you're going to get from a gaming headset.
The ATH-ADG1x from Audio-Technica is at a bit of a difficult place in the market. It's a wonderful headset for gaming with great sound quality, an impressive microphone, and good comfort. That being said, the price does come as a bit of a letdown. At over $250 and with very few included accessories, it may be out of the range of many consumers. For those looking to save money but not willing to sacrifice on audio quality, I would recommend purchasing some $150 audiophile grade headphones and a $20 clip on microphone. While you can't beat the convenience factor of the ATH-ADG1x, this may be more appealing to the budget conscious shopper. The ATH-ADG1x is the best gaming headset I've ever heard, but you are paying for it. If you have the money and an ear for quality, I would definitely pick one up. If you'd rather spend your money on another part of your setup, there are still some good options.
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