Audio Technica ATH-AG1 | Hardware Review
Ah Audio Technica. The venerable, high quality audio company, renowned for its premium quality audio gear, especially microphones. The newest additions to their product line-up is the ATH-ADG1 open backed and ATH-AG1 closed backed gaming headsets, and with such a revered company behind them, they’re bound to pique the interest of anyone interested in good game audio.
I got my hands on a pair of the AG1 closed backs, and have spent significant amounts of time with them strapped to my noggin. Read on to find out if they’re worth your consideration – and your cash.
To be perfectly clear, the AG1 and ADG1 are essentially reshelled and rebranded Audio Technica 700X series cans with an integrated microphone and USB DAC. This isn’t a bad thing, though, since the 700X series is known for its outstanding audio performance.
NOTE: The ATH-A(D)G1 series headsets are currently only available in Australia, since Australia helped develop them (yay Australia!). Audio Technica are planning to have them available for worldwide release sometime next year. We will definitely keep you updated on the details of this, and let you know when they become available.
Type: Closed-back Dynamic
Driver Diameter: 53mm
Frequency Response: 5-35,000 Hz
Maximum Input Power: 1000 mW
Sensitivity: 100 dB/mW
Impedance: 38 ohms
Weight: 310 g
Cable Length: 1m
Connector: 3.5mm (1/8″) gold-plated stereo mini plug (4 pole)
Accessories Included: USB adapter for 1m cable, 2m extension cord (2x 3.5mm plugs for audio and mic)
Sensitivity: -46.5 dB (0 dB = 1V/Pa, 1kHz)
Frequency Response: 100-12,000 Hz
Polar Pattern: Unidirectional
Firstly, the AG1 comes in a pretty box. Immediately noticeable is the black and gold colour scheme, which you will come to associate with the final product. The front has a largely gold panel with the AG1 labelling and an image of the product found inside the box, perhaps a bit ostentatious. This folds out, connected to the front with velcro dots. Under the wing is a quick labelled rundown of the components. Revealed is a clear plastic window, showing the headset in its full glory. It’s strapped to a black plastic skeleton, sturdily restrained with cable ties and cardboard and foam struts. Loose in the box are the requisite warranty and quick start instruction leaflets. Around the back and inside the plastic support is a triangular cardboard box, containing the extension lead and USB DAC, which I thought was a particularly stylish touch. The overall impression from the box is one of respect and care for the product, despite its slightly excited front image.
Instead of a full headband, the AG1 has Audio-Technica’s familiar dual wing design. Each side has an independently moving pad that rests on the scalp. There is a level of extra comfort afforded by this design, allowing for a more even distribution of weight and subsequently a more comfortable fit. The wing design has always looked inherently flimsy, though – it’s full of intricate moving parts, but it feels sturdier than it looks, and it’s quality manufacturing. Be aware, though, that the wings don’t play nice with long hair in ponytails.
The cups are matte black hardened plastic circles, surrounded by a ring of matte gold plastic that connect to the pads. Gold Audio Technica branding sits in the centre of each cup, fine and stylish. I personally don’t like the gold and black colouring, but some will. It’s not as if it’s gaudy or cheap at all – in fact it’s quite elegant and understated, bordering on beautiful – gold just isn’t my personal favourite colour (it doesn’t go well with my eyes).
The AG1 has great pads too, made of soft and luxurious premium leather. They feel comfortable, allowing for long term wearing with minimal discomfort. They do tend to get a little bit warm after a while, but never uncomfortable. Overall, though, the pads give a sense of the quality of the construction and the consideration put into the pleasure of wearability.
I have a bit of an issue with the mic boom, though. I like that it’s short, and it doesn’t need to be any longer than it is. It feels sturdy, and it keeps any bend you apply to it. But the position it connects to the cup in is awkward, making a bump out the front that impedes on portability. You can only lay it flat on its back if you don’t want to damage the mic boom. On top of this, the rotational range of motion is, frankly, anaemic. The boom only rotates through about 100 degrees, meaning you’ll always either have the boom down in its ready position, or rotated out the front, distractingly in the corner of your eye. It’s such a small issue, but every little flaw grates against the premium presentation the AG1’s are pushing for.
The cables, bizarrely, are a mess. Connected to the bottom of the left cup is the fixed cable terminating in the standard three ring 3.5mm jack. The problem with the cable is its meagre 1 metre length. Compared to the standard 2 metres of most wired gaming sets, and indeed the 3 metre cable of its base 700X series design, the shorter cable is a strange and unnecessary hobbling. To mitigate this shortness, a 2m extension cable is included in the box, which the attached 1m plug neatly fits into. The strange thing? Instead of terminating in a single three ring jack, it splits into two jacks – one for audio and one for mic.
This is actually a pretty big deal, for one reason – the included USB DAC.
Firstly, it’s a decent piece of tech. In fact, it’s a really good DAC. It improves sound quality if you’re on a basic system. The most important thing it does is isolates microphone noise, ensuring you don’t get any leakage through your mic to your headphones. But, and here’s the damn kicker to the above cabling mess, if you want the use the USB DAC to its full capacity – sound and mic – you need a three ring jack, since it only has one plug.
To be clear, you can use the headset with the separate audio and microphone jacks. It’s perfectly functional. The issue is that in this configuration the microphone automatically feeds sound into your headphones, completely eliminating any sound isolation you might have. The USB DAC reduces this noise to nothing. You unequivocally get the best performance from this headset using the provided DAC, and, unless you are sitting within one metre of your tech, or have your own extension cable, the provided cabling will leave you wanting.
The potential solution to this is simple – add an extra 2m extension cable that is a straight three ring to three ring. Or replace the current cord with a three ring extender and add a splitter attachment. Or add an adapter that combines the two ends into a three ring jack. Or, more expensively, adapt the USB DAC to have both three ring in/out and separate mic in/audio out jacks. Because damn, it’s annoying having to sit that close to your gaming machine.
A huge benefit of the three ring construction is that it makes it compatible with your phone. The AG1 works well with phone calls, with the clarity of the mic and headphone combination hugely beneficial. As an added bonus, it works with the audio jack on the PS4’s Dualshock 4 controller, instantly compatible with headphone and voice coms. And, thankfully, both devices tend to be quite okay with a one metre cable.
Another issue with the cabling is a lack of a basic feature common to almost all gaming headsets – the AG1 lacks an inline controller. It isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but it demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the expectations of a gaming headsets. In lieu of this controller, the microphone mute button is located on the headset on the inside of the mic boom. It’s rather awkward to get to in a pinch, since the button position ends up being rather close to the left cheek. And, to top it off, the mute only works when the button is depressed – there is no toggle here.
Despite its few design flaws, the AG1’s are an exemplary sounding set of cans. If sound quality is your main thing, you can’t go wrong with the AG1’s 53mm drivers. The pleasantly warm sound that oozes from the drivers is rich and full of detail. Outstanding sound definition lets the user pick out the smallest details in the sound. There is a bass bias here, with strong heavy lows – perhaps making it a little bass heavy, but it works wonderfully for gaming. Mids are recessed, but not so significantly as to impede on gaming. Being closed backed, the soundstage is rather close, and the vocal range tends to melt backwards into it, but it isn’t a huge blow to your positional awareness, and it really emphasises that bass thump, perfect for action games and shooters. Suffice to say, the AG1’s sound quality is definitely and unequivocally exceptional, sure to delight even the most discerning audiophile.
I was a little disappointed with the sound isolation on the headphones, though. I opted for a closed backed pair, since I prefer a set with good sound isolation, but the isolation on offer is less than spectacular. There is little leakage out, but quite a bit in. It’s not bad leakage, but it’s not as good as I would have hoped for. If I were to make the choice again, I’d probably go for the ADG1, since open backed designs tend to give a wider soundstage, and the isolation on the closed backed AG1 is not enough to mitigate that loss. So keep that in mind if you’re considering between the two. Also, I think the ADG1 are prettier.
(Yeah, that’s not me in the video)
Being an Audio Technica, you’d expect the microphone on the AG1’s to be top of the line. And you will not be disappointed. The AG1’s microphone tech is easily the clearest, best sounding microphone I’ve ever had attached to my headset. It picks up a fantastic amount of detail and transmits it with great clarity to your device. In conjunction with the DAC, it’s even better. It is more than good enough for game communication, and ideal for recording podcasts or Lets Plays or audio commentary. My only gripe with the microphone (aside from the mute button and boom restriction) is that it is perhaps a little too sensitive, picking up a lot of background noise – although it does this very clearly – so be sure to plan your ambient noise environment accordingly (which you should be doing anyway).
So what we have is an exceptional sounding set of head cans, a fantastically clear microphone, and a quality constructed package, let down by one or two strangely basic design flaws. I really hope that Audio Technica examine the few little but fundamental design flaws and refine them in future iterations, because the AG1’s audio framework is so so good. If you can deal with the short cable, lack of in-line controls, awkward mic mute press and hold action, and the restricted motion of the mic boom – and chances are you probably can – then it’s definitely worth your while to look into these cans. At $279, they’re not cheap (although they are good value), but with its outstanding headphone and microphone sound clarity, quality construction, and comfortable fit, the Audio Technica ATH-AG1’s are a fantastic audio solution for your gaming needs.
The ATH-AG1 closed backed and ATH-ADG1 open backed headphones are currently only available in Australia, with an expected US release sometime in 2014.
Review sample provided by Audio Technica. Thank you.
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Build Quality – 9.5/10
Design – 7/10
Useability – 7/10
Performance – 9.5/10
Price – 7.5/10
Overall – 9/10
(Not an average)
Manufacturer: Audio Technica