When it comes to offering choices, Audio-Technica is all for it. Like the recent work-from-home headsets ATH-101USB and ATH-102USB, you can choose either a single-ear or a stereo version. Likewise, this new pair of gaming headsets come in open-back (ATH-GDL3, S$178) and closed-back (ATH-GL3, S$138) options.
When I received the review units, I am delighted with the box packaging, designed by Australia-based Japanese artist Kentaro Yoshida. It instantly bring out the Japanese-y of the headsets. It would even be better if the design can be printed onto the headsets. Perhaps it may materialise as a limited edition fashion? Check out the unboxing video below.
It is quite ingenious of Audio-Technica to generalise the sound signature of the headsets using nature’s elements. The closed-back ATH-GL3 is Earth, which can be related to the grounded, warm, closed-up sound signature.
The open-back ATH-GDL3, on the other hand, is associated with Air, and like all open-back headphones, the characteristic is more spacious, airy, less congested sound.
I would advise against choosing based on the design, though. The open-back model is better-looking thanks to the extra attention of the blue internal drivers, but the sound presentation is literally heaven (air) and earth.
Design and Operations
There are only 2 physical differences between the two gaming headsets. First, the open-back version reveals the internal drivers through the honeycomb mesh. Second difference is the earpads. The ATH-GL3 closed-back headset sports hybrid earpads made of fabric touching the head, while the synthetic leather are lined on the outside and inside of the earpad. This reduces sound leakage and contains the sound within the earpads, while offering long-wear comfort and reduce heat build-up. The earpads are slightly less thick, so my ears are touching the inner headset walls.
Comparatively, the ATH-GDL3 open-back headset is fitted with full fabric earpads and is slightly thicker, so I feel more room when wearing it. It is also less warm and I remain aware of the surroundings. More critically, there is no sound isolation, so people around you can hear the sound on the ATH-GDL3 headset.
Let’s move on to the common traits. The headband design takes after the earlier Audio-Technica gaming headset series but tweaked to have its own style. If you observe, one of the over-arching bands is a thin metal while the other is a thicker black enclosure, and that allows the wires to run between the two earcups.
All the cables are detachable, so both headsets include a 1.2m length with 3.5mm TRRS terminating end, and a 3.5mm length split into separate 3.5mm headphones and mic, which allows the headset to support more devices. What’s interesting is that the headset end uses a 4.4mm connector, which makes after-market cable replacement a bit more challenging.
Located at the left ear cup are the volume knob and the mic mute switch which you can operate with your left thumb. This appears to be a compromise as opposed to in-line controls which I felt was better as I could visually check whether the mic is off or on. I suppose I have to remember the position of the mic switch and have a mental note. It might be good if there is a marker which my thumb could feel and recall which position is “on”.
Audio Quality: Air vs. Earth
I generally prefer open-back headphones because they sound more open, more musical, and less cluttered. This is exactly how I felt when I tested the ATH-GDL3. The sound is spacious, the instrumental positioning are more distant and spaced out. The high frequencies are clear but not close enough to listen to the details.
When I tried the ATH-GL3, it brings me a different experience. There is more pronounced bass – a known advantage of a closed-back headphone – and the midrange is also fuller, which usually makes the headset sound a little more warm. This fullness is well-controlled so it does not sound too bloated. While the treble and vocals are not as bright-sounding, they sound closer to me in terms of spatial imaging. The ATH-GL3 also delivers the details more prominently.
As I am not a gamer, I went to YouTube to listen some of the gaming videos posted online. I also ran through some multi-channel movie trailers and pretty much confirmed my assessment. On the closed-back ATH-GL3 headset, bass is boomier at the expense of clarity. Sounds can get a bit cluttered but ironically details are more audible. On the open-back ATH-GDL3, the treble are clearer but vocals felt slightly more distant than the ATH-GL3.
Comparison to ATH-770XCOM
How does these Earth-and-Air gaming headsets compare to an office headset like the ATH-770XCOM? Given the target audience are different, Audio-Technica has tuned them differently for the right applications. With the ATH-770XCOM, the audio tuning favours the lower frequencies, extends towards the midrange, yet the upper frequencies are relatively more tamed. The gaming headsets present audio more faithful.
However, the mic quality on the ATH-770XCOM is clear and better at capturing upper frequency, while the ATH-GL3 / GDL3 deliver stronger mid-tones. Listen to the real audio comparison in the below video.
Comparison to IINVICTOR Soturi
You can also hear the mic quality of the IINVICTOR Soturi in the above video, which sounds bright and harsh on the mid-treble frequency. The advantage is that it catches the most attention during gameplay. As for audio quality, the Soturi is tuned with more spatial imaging and brighter treble compared to the Audio-Technica, while the bass turns out weaker. The general impression is that Soturi brings out more directional details due to its brighter signature. While the Audio-Technica siblings sound more balanced, I suspect gamers would prefer the high-frequency brilliance and the deliberate wide imaging.
ATH-GL3 vs. ATH-M50xBT2
If you are considering to use these gaming headsets as an alternate music headphones, here is how it compares with the popular ATH-M50xBT2 in wired passive mode. The M50 is famed for its sparkling treble presentation, and given the “Earth” character of the GL3, the M50 sounds more crispy with stronger mid-treble, clean midrange while achieving a more airy sound. The ATH-GL3 might be favoured if you want a little more bass impact and warmer tonality. Fit-wise, the M50 fits the ear better and I get better noise isolation.
ATH-GDL3 vs. ATH-M50xBT2
On the ATH-GDL3, the overall sound positioning is more room and less tight. Main instruments sound more distant and open. But the sound signature is still bounded by the same 45mm driver shared with the ATH-GL3, hence the M50 is still superior in the transience. The ATH-GDL3 bass rumbles a little more despite being open-back, and is also more comfortable to wear for long hours. And let’s be open here (pun unintended), it might be a stretch to compare these sub-S$200 gaming headsets with the iconic M50.
The ATH-GL3 and ATH-GDL3 gaming headsets present a rather balanced sound without excessive tweaking of the frequencies. They offer a faithful neutral presentation of audio content. Going by the product description, I think Audio-Technica has delivered what they have positioned: “a purity of sound that’s all too rare in the gaming world.”
So, is open-back better than closed-back? It all depends on the kind of gaming content that you are playing. If you love to feel the boomy impact, then go for the closed-back ATH-GL3. If you prefer a better spatial sense, perhaps your game is more casual with more environmental audio mix, then the open-back ATH-GDL3 would be more ideal. Personally, I would opt for the open-back, which is S$40 more than the closed-back version. Both gaming headsets work as good for work and studies, although I would prefer to use the ATH-770XCOM due to the presence of the in-line controls.