Audio-Technica has made several plays at the gaming audio market in years past, mostly by taking an already-existing headphone and slapping an already-existing microphone onto it. None of these models made much of an impact or dented into the market share of the large established gaming consumer brands.
Now, they’ve taken their first real crack at a truly original gaming design, and although it still uses core components first developed for Audio-Technica’s studio headphone lineup, it’s got enough going for it that it might finally steal away some customers looking for a premium audio solution.
I just wish the cable was detachable.
The Audio-Technica ATH-G1 is a closed-back, wired gaming headset with a removable microphone and a permanently attached cable. That cable is the bane of this headset’s existence, and the only thing it gets dramatically wrong. It sells for a standard price of $169, and rarely receives discounts. It launched late last year, and here’s the official product page. I bought mine for full price from Amazon.
There’s also a wireless variant available that’ll set you back $249, which is a significant price premium. The wireless model includes a built-in surround virtualizer and comes with an extra set of ear pads. As $50-$60 is the common price delta between wired and wireless gaming models, I’m not sure those small extras justify Audio-Technica’s large price hike, which is why I decided to personally buy the wired model.
Plus, if you’re looking for a surround solution, Audio-Technica now offers “Immerse with Audio-Technica,” a third party partner solution which uses a picture of your ear to develop a custom surround algorithm. I’ve got some more thoughts on that software down below.
The ATH-G1 sounds very much like Audio-Technica’s popular, iconic, and polarizing M50X studio headphones. That’s not a surprise on the surface considering the ear cups have a nigh-identical design and seem to also be using the same 45mm drivers. However, Audio-Technica has made some small tweaks which I think make this gaming version sound better than their venerable professional model.
With its small bass ports on the top of each ear cup and its newly-designed hybrid leatherette and cloth ear pads, the ATH-G1 has a more relaxed and open sound than its studio predecessor. That’s wonderful, in my opinion. The M50X is known for its aggressive in-your-face sound and thin soundstage, and both of those things are improved here. The bass is a little more emphasized on the G1, but smoother in tone and texture. The classic M50X midrange bite is still present, but it’s a little wider and less harsh thanks to the increased width of the soundstage.
The M50X is still a better headphone for professional tasks, but the G1 is a better overall listen without question. It’s a generally neutral headphone with just a little warmth that’s wonderful for music, gaming, and movies, and it’s one of the better- sounding gaming products on the market. It sounds better than the Corsair Virtuoso, which is its most direct price competitor right now, though I still think the Arctis Pro and the Cloud Orbit sound better.
If you’re already familiar with the sound of the M50X and you want that type of sound in a gaming product, this is basically the perfect choice for you.
The G1’s industrial design makes it look like it’ll be a terrible metal vise grip on your head, but it’s actually quite comfy. The pads use a sports fabric on the side that touches your head, and have just enough room inside them for my ears not to touch the driver wall. The openings are a little more roomy than the famously tiny openings on the M50X pads. And the clamping force is light and pleasant.
Up top, the small replaceable headband pad looks and feels like it’ll be woefully inadequate, but with the headset coming in at a paltry mass of just 250g, the tiny pad is up to the challenge. I can wear these for an entire day without issue on my larger head at just six of ten adjustment clicks, and my thin-armed glasses don’t cause a major issue with their seal.
Isolation is not as good as the M50X, thanks to the breathable pads and bass ports mentioned above. The G1 isn’t as leaky to the outside world as a typical open headphone, but also not as closed-off as most gaming headsets. That makes it a worse choice for loud rooms, close quarters, or gaming tournaments, but I think that the improvements to the sound are worth the trade-off.
The ATH-G1 has one of the best microphones I’ve ever personally experienced on a gaming headset. It’s a little tricky to attach and detach because the keyed 2.5mm port holds onto the microphone tighter than you might expect, but that’s the only real flaw with it. It has a wonderful near-broadcast-grade tone, and its flexible boom arm is highly adjustable.
You could easily use this for just about any audio task, whether you’re doing voice chat, working from home, podcasting, or streaming games online. It’s clear, accurate, and has a wonderful resonant tone to its pickup. It’s not as rich-sounding or fully featured as a desktop USB microphone or standard XLR mic, but it’s at the very top of the pile as far as headset microphone quality. The Corsair Virtuoso’s mic has a similar exceptional tone to it, and the Arctis Pro’s microphone also performs in the same bracket, though its background noise isolation is a little bit better.
I swapped the order of the categories from my usual routine because I wanted to get the highlights out of the way before I ranted a bit.
Firstly, I actually really like the “exposed ducts” industrial design of this headset. It has a good deal of metal in it, but the exposed superstructure means it’s also very light. The result is a phenomenally solid-feeling headset that still manages to be as light as headsets built entirely from plastic. The headband here is a real win for Audio-Technica’s engineers, and when combined with the classic cups from the M50X (now with a blue accent) this is a very cool-looking thing.
Most of the build is great, too. The cups articulate smoothly to easily sit on your head, and fold flat for increased comfort around the neck. The adjustment sliders are very robust and clicky. The metal headband perfectly bends out with an even tension across its entire stretch as you open it to put it on. And I’ve had zero creaks or squeaks in a week of heavy use.
Unfortunately, it all comes crashing down with a baffling and stupid attached cable. I can forgive an attached cable below a $100 price point if the rest of the design makes up for it, though even at lower prices replaceable cables are increasingly more common. But at $160? On a headset with a studio heritage that includes replaceable ear pads and a replaceable headband pad? There’s zero excuse for using a permanently attached wire.
The permanent cable isn’t even of a high quality, either. It’s covered in a heavy rubber coating and it’s quite springy, making it hard to straighten out and hard to coil back up. It’s 2 meters long, making it a little too long for desktop use and a little too short to run behind a PC. The headset end of the cable is stopped in a huge rubber piece that has little flexibility and probably won’t provide adequate strain relief.
Further, there’s an inline control box a short length down the cable from the headset, and it’s both obnoxiously large and tremendously cheap-feeling. It has a small, smooth volume wheel on the side of it, and a large clicky mute switch for the microphone as its main feature right in the center. The mute switch is very light and badly built. It rattles around constantly, and when you click it on and off, it sends a very loud pop down the line that all your friends will hear.
At a slightly lower price, the M50X includes three different detachable cables, a carrying bag, and a 6.3mm adapter. The lone extra in the box for the G1 is a small splitter for using the headset with standard motherboard audio jacks.
I guess you’re really paying a lot to subsidize the R and D budget for the new headband here, or something.
A couple of months ago, Audio-Technica was one of several companies to launch a partnership with EmbodyVR to use their “Immerse” software on their gaming headsets. This software is also now available for Logitech and Beyerdynamic gaming products, and I’m sure more companies will join up in the future.
Immerse has a 14-day free trial, and then it’s sold on a yearly subscription model rather than offering a permanent license. You can pay $14.99 for a one-year license, or $39.99 for a five-year plan. I think that’s a little ridiculous, and I decided not to sign up for a subscription.
The big gimmick of Immerse is that you have to send in a picture of your ear so that they can customize the HRTF virtual surround processing to your specific ear shape. I found the software quite convincing with surround audio tracks, but their stereo upmixing mode didn’t work too well for me no matter how good my ear picture submission was.
Also, it’s not dramatically more effective than Windows Sonic, Dolby Atmos, DTS Headphone, or THX Spatial Audio. Sonic is free, and the rest allow you to pay a small one-time fee and then never think about it again. They all work well with the exceptional sound signature of the ATH-G1.
Don’t pay a recurring subscription fee for headphone surround virtualization, please!
Audio-Technica’s flagship-level gaming headset is frustratingly close to unbridled awesomeness. It sounds wonderful. It’s light and comfortable. Its design is relatively unique, and it combines smart weight reduction with a robust feel in the hand. The microphone is a master class in how a headset microphone should sound, making it a great choice for just about any application.
But the cable feels like it marched into the room from a much cheaper product. The big hollow control box in the center of it ruins any premium feel that the headset was going for. Audio-Technica themselves make cheap studio headphones with cables more supple than this one, and they make numerous similarly-priced products with fully detachable cables. No one else in the gaming space saddles their premium flaghship model with a permanently attached cable, and I don’t know why Audio-Technica thought this was a good idea.
A future revision with a more premium-feeling cable, or at the very least one that ditches the tacky control box, would be much better. There’s still a wonderful headset here, but at this high price point you can and you should expect to get features in line with what the rest of the market has to offer.