While this brand might be better known for audiophile-grade equipment, the ATH-A700 headphones show the gaming brands a thing or two. Astonishing audio quality balances out the lack of gaming-centric features, but you'll pay for the privilege.
Unlike Sony and Sennheiser, Audio Technica isn't a name that most Australian households associate with quality sound equipment. Yet this fifty year old company is the number one headphone maker in Japan. The lack of presence can be explained by the fact that Aussies had to wait until 2008 for a local distributor to start selling Audio Technica products down under. Since then the brand has built an extremely strong reputation amongst audio enthusiasts, and the A700 headphones ably demonstrate why.
Unlike many of the gaming brands, the A700 headphones arrive in very plain packaging, obviously aiming to keep prices down. Opening the packaging reveals a set of headphones and not much else — there aren't any stickers, plugs, converter cables or carry cases included. The headphones themselves also look rather boring, with a relatively plain, closed-back design. Also known as a circumaural design, the large ear cups totally cover the listener's ears, blocking external sounds while stopping sound leakage. The A700s are very large compared to other sets, and can get quite warm after extended listening. Despite the size they feel nice and light to wear thanks to their low weight, at just 290 grams. More importantly they don't get too sweaty during lengthy gaming sessions.
There's no way to manually adjust the headband as these headphones use Audio Technica's proprietary 3D Paddle head mount system, with twin paddles that rest atop the user's skull. We noticed that the paddles creak audibly when moving and the fit doesn't feel quite as firm as some of the other brands. They're still rather comfy, but certainly not the best in the pack.
With no built-in amplifier and a single 3 metre cable with 3.5mm stereo jack, the A700 headphones are best suited to PC gamers. Console owners can still use them but they'll need to run the headphones via an external amplifier first. If you do happen to have the right gear, you're in for a treat, as the A700s offer simply amazing audio fidelity. Our first sound test was the hugely popular Battlefield 3, which recently won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for Audio Achievement. Like all of our testing, we used the ASUS Xonar DX as the source. To our amazement these headphones exposed much more detail in the game's sound effects than we'd ever heard before. We're accustomed to simply hearing a gunshot when firing a weapon in Battlefield, but with the A700s we could hear the trigger mechanism clicking, the bullet detonate and finally the empty round ejecting. The difference is impressive. There was absolutely no distortion no matter how hectic the fire fight, with amazing mid-to-high range sound reproduction. Bass was also crystal clear, but slightly lacking the oomph some gamers prefer.
Directional audio performance was exceptional thanks to the high detail, making it next to impossible for enemy players to sneak up on us. Our next test was Shogun 2, and the oriental soundtrack was simply stunning. We could hear every pluck of the harp, while the Taco drums sounded rich and powerful. Finally we tested some of our favourite tunes — unfortunately the audio quality of these headphones is so good that it exposed the compression flaws in our MP3 collection! Music lovers will need to use extremely high quality MP3s at the minimum with these headphones, preferably CDs if you still have any.
The A700 headphones are all about sound quality. They might not have any of the features normally associated with a set of gaming headphones, but their amazing ability to perfectly reproduce the game's soundstage makes them best for discerning gamers. If only Audio Technica could slap a microphone and headphone amp on for the console gamers, these would be the ultimate gaming headphones.