“Audio-Technica proves that open-back designs aren't just for audiophiles.”
- Detailed audio reproduction
- Wide soundstage
- Great microphone
- Uncomfortable earcup material
- Weaker bass might not be for everyone
Video games aren’t just about nailing sick noscopes, they’re also about storytelling in a way that is truly unique to the medium. Along with great gameplay, gamers often expect stellar single-player adventures that immerse the player in that world. A huge part of that comes from a game’s soundtrack.
The Audio-Technica ATH-GDL3 open-back gaming headset play right into the expectation of immersive audio and deliver stellar reproduction that lets you hear every single note with crystal clear fidelity set in a gorgeous, wide soundstage.
Before we get into the performance of the ATH-GDL3, I want to briefly mention the packaging. Not only is the box gorgeous thanks to Japanese-inspired art that wraps around right and onto the back, everything save for a pair of plastic cord bags is made of cardboard or paper. Audio-Technica knocked it out of the park when it comes to sustainable packaging, but it’s unlikely I’ll toss this box anyway since it’s so nice to look at.
Clean and light
The artwork on the box doesn’t continue onto the actual headphones, unfortunately, but they’re still great-looking cans. The version we were sent to evaluate is the “white” option, and it’s simple and features only three colors: White, black, and silver. These will look great as part of a desk or PC setup that leans into the white aesthetic, but they also pair well with the PlayStation 5.
The white areas of the headphones are made of plastic, the black on the headband is a silicone-like material, and the silver feels like aluminum. The black grille over the exposed backs of the headphones is also plastic. The included 3.5mm headphone jack cable feels like the perfect length at 1.2 meters (about 4 feet — not too long or short) and feels high quality. Audio-Technica also includes a 3-meter cable (just shy of 10 feet) for PCs that uses a dual 3.5mm split design that is farther away.
The open nature of the design lets you hear yourself pretty clearly even during intense gaming sessions.
It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t just a 3.5mm headphone jack on both sides of that cable: The side that plugs into the headphones is considerably larger. I’ve never seen this before on gaming headsets and I can’t say I can think of a particular reason Audio-Technica had to go this route. That giant portion twists and locks into position to keep it in place as well.
The cable only attaches to one side of the headphones, the left side, which might bother an audiophile but isn’t as big of a deal for gamers. At least in my opinion, it’s pretty easy to get used to the cable’s orientation. Additionally, it’s unusual to see the ability to plug into either side on this style of headset.
The ATH-GDL3 features an open-back design which many, myself included, value for the wide soundstage they provide as well as the comfort that comes from letting ears breathe a bit more than they do inside closed headphones. I was really excited to see this style of can implemented into a gaming headset.
They are lightweight and, combined with that open-back design, comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
That open-back also means that for gaming, Audio-Technica didn’t need to design a way for the headphones to pipe a portion of your speaking voice back into the headphones so you can actually hear what you’re saying; the open nature of the design lets you hear yourself pretty clearly even during intense gaming sessions.
Controls on the headset are limited to a mute switch and volume dial The switch shows three settings: Off, Mute, and On, but the “Mute” and “Off” toggle is actually a single setting and just turns the microphone off. I would have preferred that the mute switch be a bit easier to toggle, as this one can be hard to find while you’re wearing them since it’s located along the backside of the left earcup, right above that volume dial. The headset also doesn’t provide you any kind of feedback if you are muted, so you’ll have to pay attention to that to make sure you don’t forget its status.
Audio-Technica leaned into a Japanese aesthetic when it comes to design, so there isn’t a lot beyond what is absolutely necessary on the ATH-GDL3, which means there isn’t a lot to say either. I happen to like the design choice, but some might find what is offered here a bit barebones.
Designed for comfort
One of the selling points of the ATH-GDL3 is that they are lightweight and, combined with that open-back design, comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I can confirm these headphones feel incredibly light and I had no issue there at all. The padding of the earcups is perfectly satisfactory and the headband rests quite gently on the top of my head and I never once felt any pressure there.
That said, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the material Audio-Technica chose for the earcups, which had an effect on how long I could comfortably wear them.
You can hear every detail in a video game world with incredible accuracy.
I tend to prefer leather-like earphone cups, which feel cooler on my head than fabric ones. Audio-Technica chose a fabric earcup, which means that, after a while, the ATH-GDL3 started to feel warm on my head despite the airflow provided by the open-back design. As a result, I found that my limit for wearing these cans was about three hours.
I am fully aware that this is a personal preference that might not be shared by all — a few of my friends prefer the fabric earcups on their headphones. But since Audio-Technica doesn’t provide another cup option in the box and it isn’t super clear to me how to swap these out if you wanted to go with a different material, it’s something to keep in mind.
Great audio experience for both parties
When I first put on these headphones, it was clear to me that they were made by a company with vast experience making cans for a discerning ear. The quality of the audio is exceptional.
Open-back headphones generally trade a deep, resonant bass for a wide expansive soundstage and clarity, and the ATH-GDL3 do exactly this. You can hear and enjoy every note of music played through these headphones and hear every detail in a video game world with incredible accuracy. Traditional music, as well as video game scores, have a crisp clarity to them that is very rare in headphones designed for gaming.
These headphones also do a great job balancing gaming sound with chat audio — another huge win when it comes to competitive gaming.
But that clarity does come at the cost of richness, so some might say that music sounds hollow or too clinical for their tastes. I compared the quality of these against my Sony Pulse and the Steel Series Arctis 1 headphones and both are far less accurate in how notes are rendered than the ATH-GDL3s, but both also have better roundness to the lows.
That’s not to say that the Audio-Technica cans can’t produce greatness in the lows: They absolutely do. The rolling drums in Aloy’s Theme from Horizon Forbidden West come in spectacularly, as do the horns in Destiny 2’s The Witch Queen theme. So while the lows aren’t the focus, they’re rendered just as well as the mids and highs.
In short, the experience from the ATH-GDL3 headphones is very balanced and flat, which is what I have come to expect from headphones of this style. If you like a bit of rumble in your headphones, these won’t provide it, but if you want to hear every detail of every note rendered accurately and evenly, they’re great.
I also think that the detail provided by this headset is hugely beneficial for competitive gaming where each audio cue is so important for getting a win. Footsteps, for example, are crystal clear through the ATH-GDL3s and I never found myself surprised by an opponent because I didn’t hear them coming.
These headphones also do a great job balancing gaming sound with chat audio and are able to cleanly provide both without either becoming too muddled — another huge win when it comes to competitive gaming.
On that note, it’s worth discussing the microphone: it’s very good, but perhaps a bit too sensitive. Out of the box, the microphone picks up a lot and I feel as though I have to position it about an inch farther away from my mouth than I would with other microphones. If I didn’t, my audio would peak from the perspective of my friends on the other end of the line. It also picks up a lot of other sounds from my office, like my hands on the keyboard, joysticks, or even me fidgeting in my office chair. My friends had never complained about my squeaky chair before I used the ATH-GDL3 headphones.
Sensitivity aside, the mic renders my voice very well and with more nuance than other headphones I’ve used. Basically, my voice through this microphone sounds very close to my actual speaking voice, sans a bit of the low-end. It’s not quite podcasting mic quality, but it’s darn good and your teammates will be able to hear your voice very clearly. What more could you ask for?
The Audio-Technica ATH-GDL3 open-back headphones are made for gamers who enjoy music with clarity. Some might find the sound quality to be a bit too clinical, but I really enjoyed how they render sound so accurately especially when it comes to first-person competitive shooters where I need to hear every cue in order to react to a changing battlefield.
For $129, I’m honestly really impressed with these headphones. Even if you don’t game, they have a wonderful soundstage and are great for music as well.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re looking for a similar style headset that has a bit more emphasis on the lows, you might want to consider the SteelSeries Arctis 1. That headset also features fabric earcups, but they’re made of a softer material that doesn’t feel quite as uncomfortable as the ATH-GDL3. Audio-Technica also makes a closed-back version of the ATH-GDL3 called the ATH-GL3, which is also worth considering for those who prefer that style.
How long will they last?
Audio-Technica offers a two-year limited warranty, but there isn’t a ton that can break on the ATH-GDL3. Odds are pretty high that if they work for the first year, they’ll work for the next 10 thanks to a simple design and well-made parts.
Should you buy them?
Yes. The ATH-GDL3 have outstanding clarity and accuracy across the lows, mids, and highs packaged into a lightweight and simple design.
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