There’s a lot of manufacturers these days vying for your gaming dollar. Before it was simply a matter of dropping the best components possible into your tower and going from there. But now the process is much more complicated: you’ve got specialist monitors, sound cards, mice, mouse pads, keyboards, external drives, media centres – the list goes on and on.
One would think there was plenty of competition in the market already. Take a look at what’s on offer for headsets. There’s ASUS, Creative, Coolermaster, Corsair, Logitech, Plantronics, Sennheiser, Razer, Steelseries, Thermaltake and Turtle Beach battling for your hard-earned dollars, as well more classic manufacturers of audio equipment like Koss and Beyerdynamic.
But now there’s a new player in the scene: Astro Gaming, the company responsible for making the official PC headset for one of the titans of eSports in America, Major League Gaming. They have a range of offerings, but I’ll be dealing solely with the A40 wired headset and the corresponding MixAmp.
The MixAmp in particular is quite an interesting package if you’re used to just purchasing a sound card or a headphone on its own. It came bundled with a myriad of cables, enabling it to be compatible with, well, everything. You can plug it into your PC via USB or optical sockets. The latter works for your TV as well, but the customisation doesn’t stop there.
If you’re a console fan, you’ll love the ability to daisy-chain multiple Astro headsets together, creating a private voice chat network. This isn’t as necessary for PC gamers, but it also saves an incredible amount of time screwing around with Teamspeak/Mumble/Ventrilo should you choose to go down that route. Astro were even cheeky enough to throw in the ability to connect an MP3 player direct to the MixAmp, giving you your own private soundtrack if you so desired.
Along with the aforementioned utility, the MixAmp also has separate volume controls. The largest manages your master volume, while the smaller knob underneaths handles the level of your sound in relation to your microphone. I’ve been using this liberally over the past week; it’s a great tool when you accidentally frighten people on Teamspeak, as well as being a lazy option to increase the volume of your music and movies without having to change your master volume (which, like most people, will leave untouched after discovering their preferred setting).
It should be noted at this point that the difference in purchasing the wired A40 (there is a wireless version also) without the MixAmp is around $40 cheaper, with the MixAmp costing $130 on its own. These are figures straight from Astro’s website and the final cost when you buy from a supplier may be cheaper.
The headset itself is far less complicated and connects to the MixAmp through a single plug, although there are also multiple configurations available, not only with cabling but the headset itself.
For starters, perhaps you’re one of those people who has always hated having the microphone on the left side. Not a problem: simply pull out the microphone and the two magnetic covers on the ear-pieces and plug it into the other headset. While you’re at it, you can leave the covers off entirely if you want the headset to be a little more “open”.
The headset itself has two large square rubber pads with an slightly padded inner-ear. The outer cushioning is large enough that most people’s ears should slip in between, but the design is good enough that you won’t be in any discomfort.
The microphone itself can rotate in a full circle, while the cans can be rotated by 45 degrees. That’s fantastic if you want to just lie down somewhere and use them as a makeshift pair of speakers, which they handled perfectly at full volume.
But no matter how many features a headset has, it’s all for naught if the sound quality is rubbish. Thankfully, that’s not the case with the A40s. When listening to music, they had just as much depth, clarity and punch as my Beyerdynamic DTX 700s and Razer Megalodons. Playing shooters such as Counter-Strike and Call of Duty was equally enjoyable, with the 7.1 surround sound giving me a clear indication of what and where the action was.
The build quality’s fairly good too. Like the Megalodon and the DTX 700s, the A40s use a fair amount of plastic in the construction, although a pair of metal tubes that connect the cups to the headband itself makes them just that touch more durable. The joints have always been the flimsiest part of any headset, and while I wouldn’t feel comfortable dropping it regularly on a wooden floor, the A40s should last years with a bit of TLC.
Of course, all of this luxury comes at a cost. The Astro A40 with the MixAmp sells for US$250 on the Astro website, while the only stockist I could find that carries the same model – EB Games – was selling it for $300 and it won’t become available until October.
If that’s the final figure, then it’s an exceptionally high asking price. Most gamers I know would sacrifice the build, audio and microphone quality to pay half or a quarter of the price. As a quick example, I loaded up the parts list for MSY to see what was on offer. The cheap versions of the Plantronics were selling for less than $40; a Razer Carcharias could be picked up for $89. Even the Megalodons, which are aiming at the same type of consumer as the A40s, were selling for $169.
Audio’s not the kind of thing where spending twice the money results in a product twice as good. Largely, it all comes down how important sound is in your PC build. If you’re like me, the kind of person willing to fork out the extra money for a separate sound card and a nice set of headphones, then you won’t be disappointed by the A40s.
There isn’t anything I can really fault the A40s on except for the price and possibly wiring, but the latter is more of an annoyance for console gamers than PC gamers. If the street price ends up being somewhere between $200-250, then I’d happily recommend this without reservation to audiophiles and hardcore gamers alike.
But $300 is a little steep even for me, which is a shame – it’s truly a wonderful headset, probably the nicest set of headphones I’ve had the privilege of using for an extended period since I owned a set of Phillips HP890s a decade ago. If you’re interested in the Astro A40s but concerned about the price, I’d advise that you go along to one of the major console LANs and see if you can try out a pair for a while in between matches. But if you’re the kind of person who wants the best gaming headset on the market, look no further.
- Works with absolutely everything
- Excellent 7.1 surround sound and microphone quality
- Still comfortable after several hours
- More features than every other headset on the market
- MixAmp’s functionality is superb
- Really expensive
- Not available yet – Christmas present perhaps?
- Cabling might frustrate console users