When deciding which headset to purchase what makes you choose one brand from another? Loyalties? Quality? How about whether it’s stereo or surround sound? Everyone has their preferences and sometimes even an allegiance to a brand, but in my experience most seem to agree on one thing – ASTRO Gaming makes the best headset. That’s quite a bold statement and one I just had to investigate for myself.
After chatting with a representative and looking at all the headsets that ASTRO offer, one word can describe my initial experience with them… impressive. Their website is well laid out and includes a forum, blog and community page, which links to two of their pro eSports teams – Team EnVyUs and OpTic Gaming – there’s even apparel and accessories you can purchase, all of which are reasonably priced. First impressions are everything and mine is of a company that loves its brand and its community equally – you can’t help but be sucked into the vibe that these guys create – but while ASTRO Gaming looks impressive, the proof in the pudding is in the eating… or in this case the listening!
These days companies pay as much attention to packaging as they do to the product itself and the Xbox One edition of the ASTRO A40 is no exception. Packaged in high-gloss heavy cardboard, the headset is neatly displayed in molded plastic and the box is held shut with magnets – in the absence of a proper A40 case, that can be bought separately, the packaging is more than adequate at keeping the headset safe and sound.
I certainly appreciated the quality right from the moment I took the box out of its cover sleeve and with a big grin on my face I carefully removed the contents, which includes everything you will need to get on with gaming plus an extra 3.5mm audio cable that you can use to connect the A40 to a smartphone. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a standard audio cable, using another high-quality cable, only delivered sound in one ear so if you do fracture the cable make sure you pick up a replacement directly from ASTRO.
Before getting down to business and plugging the headset in, I took a moment to admire the craftsmanship of the A40 – it’s stunning. The build is solid without making the headset cumbersome or too heavy. The ear padding is shaped, fits around your ears and made of soft-brushed fabric for maximum comfort – the unidirectional swivel of the cups mean that you’re guaranteed to get the perfect fit and you won’t overheat while using them.
The A40s are a snug fit, it was like my ears were being given a huge hug but not so that it crushed my skull! At no time did the headset give me any pain or discomfort while gaming or listening to music. When you do need a break, the A40 can be rested comfortably around your neck with the earcups folding flat – they look pretty awesome too in sky blue and grey. The ASTRO branding is accented across the A40’s design, which really celebrates its brand without overindulging.
Once you’ve checked that your Xbox One controller has been updated with the latest firmware by using the micro USB that comes in the box, you’re good to go. Plug the headset into the M80 Mixamp and that’s it, no other leads are required. ASTRO are renowned for their Mixamp technology, which for the Xbox One edition of the A40 has been combined into the chat adaptor. The style of it puts Microsoft’s official adaptor to shame.
A rocker switch controls the balance between voice and game while a large turn dial located at the face of the Mixamp controls the overall sound, depressing it lights the dial red and mutes your mic. In the centre of the Mixamp is where the magic happens – the equaliser.
There are three EQ presets that cycle with each press of the button: Pro, Core and Media. Pro is best for when you’re gaming online; you won’t be caught out when you have this EQ setting active. While playing Evolve I could easily pick out which direction the monster was headed and on Advanced Warfare I was aware when some sneaky bugger was trying to shank me in the back. Core is your all-round EQ setting, ideal for single player gaming and Media is… well, for listening to films and movies.
Combining the chat adaptor with the Mixamp is genius, there are fewer wires than the previous Mixamps and all the controls are directly at your fingertips. The only downside is that you will only be able to use it with the Xbox One; also the wire that connects the Mixamp to the headset is enclosed so if it fractures you’re kind of screwed. The wire itself protrudes from the bottom of the Mixamp and at a slight angle, I would expect that ASTRO have done enough tests to ensure that fractures are unlikely and should you suffer one I’m sure the good folk over at support would only be too happy to sort out a replacement or repair – after suffering a fracture with the official Xbox One stereo chat adaptor this is something that bothers me more than it would do most.
The Mixamp’s buttons are well placed; you’ll never be caught fumbling around for the right button. The EQ settings are perfectly pitched and I often cycled between them during games depending on whether I was listening out for other players, running through a level or just immersing myself in a cutscene.
The presence of the headset’s audio is something I wasn’t quite prepared for. Having used a variety of stereo headsets over the years, I thought I had heard it all, but the A40 really places you inside the sound – ok, so not many of us have been to a warzone, but when listening to music it really sounded like the band were there in the room with me.
This brings me on to another standout feature of the A40 – how they work with an iPhone. I’ve found that the iPhone has a nasty habit of making the best headphones sound crap but not even the A40 could be knocked off its game. My music was alive and I wanted to hear my entire iTunes library again to see how different it sounded.
I don’t think I will be wearing the A40 out in public anytime soon though, as much as I like the design I did find that they suffer quite a bit from sound leak – not to worry though, ASTRO have a smaller Bluetooth set that I’m sorely tempted to purchase just for music on my iPhone. There’s even an iOS app that includes a music player, equaliser, manuals, videos, community links and iPhone wallpapers – the app has it all – the music player even allows you to queue up music and create playlists.
Another of ASTRO’s headset features is the speaker tag, customisable cover plates that magnetically snap onto the outside of the headset ear cups. New sets and designs can be purchased from ASTRO and include two plain plates and one that has a mic hole – unfortunately the set included with the A40 only has one of each – the plain plates are for when you don’t have a mic connected.
The mic itself is on a super flexible boom and can be attached to either ear, using the speaker tag that includes a mic hole. I did find that the mic is actually the weak link in an otherwise perfect headset. While using the Razer Kraken, my friends commented on its mic clarity but when I appeared online with the A40s I was asked if I had a cold! I could still be heard perfectly fine, but I sounded deeper – I did find that I could hear my friends more clearly and even though there’s no voice monitoring, I could also hear my own voice better so I didn’t end up shouting down the mic. With the Kraken I found that the mic was too sensitive with it often picking up my breathing, with the A40 this is not an issue – if the weak link is just that I sounded deeper then I’d consider that to be quite an achievement!
I’ve used a lot of great headsets over the years and without being disrespectful to any of them, ASTRO Gaming has knocked them all out of the park. I can’t recommend the A40 enough, everyone who has had a listen to them has remarked at their clarity and comfort and it only leaves me with one question… is it wrong to love a headset so much?
I must admit to being surprised at the audio clarity and how different my games sounded – everything just sounds so perfect, so alive. The A40 is a premium headset and it’s no wonder why ASTRO owners speak so highly of it, sure the initial outlay is rather daunting (£170) but if you have the pennies for a top of the range headset, look no further than the A40. If you’re after a surround sound solution for your gaming needs then ASTRO Gaming also have an A50 but that’s for another review.
Thanks to ASTRO Gaming for supplying TiX with a review unit