Summary: Looking for a high-end headset for LAN gaming? You may want to check out Astro Gaming's A40. The A40 includes a daisy-chanable A40 mixamp, providing clans and league gamers their own private channel for communications, while the headset supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and is Dolby Headphone certified. See how the system performed in today's review!
Gaming audio is one of those areas that have really come into its own in the past couple of years. An immersive audio experience can go a long way to pull the player into the game world. Unfortunately, to get a good positional experience, most users have had to resort to 5.1 speaker sets. While no one questions their effectiveness, they do tend to question things like space availability and price when one considers a 5.1 system. Itís also no fun to have to turn your speakers down if you want to engage in any late night gaming sessions without waking the neighbors.
Thankfully, manufacturers have been developing good surround headsets for years now, although their positional performance has traditionally lagged behind that of 5.1 speaker systems. A drawback to a gaming headset is that most of them are designed around PC gaming with 6-channel analog inputs. Consoles, especially the current generation, make use of TOSlink optical connections and Dolby Digital surround, preventing Xbox and PS3 players from enjoying a private gaming session. Astro Gaming is the latest manufacturer to tackle this problem with their A40 Audio System.
The A40 Audio system is actually two different products that work in conjunction to provide a discrete surround experience: the A40 Mixamp and A40 Headset. While Astro Gaming sells the products separately for $129.95 and $199.95 respectively, you can purchase both in a bundle for $249.95. While this route is certainly cheaper than buying them separately, itís by no means a small chunk of change. Before we start focusing on price, letís take a look at what the A40 audio system has to offer.
The boom microphone for the A40 is encased in flexible rubber, allowing the user to position it to their specific tastes. This comes in handy as the A40 lacks a microphone volume control, instead relying on its full strength line level output. By adjusting the distance between the boom and your mouth, you can get the exact amount of volume needed for good voice communications. The microphone snaps in and out of place with ease, making the A40 pretty versatile for both single and multiplayer gaming.
The sides of the A40 use what Astro Gaming calls Ďspeaker tagsí, which are essentially magnetic covers bearing the Astro logo. In theory, this allows the user to customize the sides of their headset, although as of now, Astro only offers one other set that showcases the logo of Major League Gaming. 3 tags are included with the A40, 2 solids and one with the necessary hole to allow you to use the boom microphone. The speaker tags also give the user an open air design so they arenít completely shut-off from the outside world. However, Astro includes foam pads that can be installed between the tags and ear cups to help reduce outside noise, making your rejection of reality complete.
The mixamp is what really piqued our interest in the A40, as its numerous connections make using the audio system viable in just any configuration possible. The front of the mixamp is where you will find a single 3.5Ē jack for headsets as well a 2.5Ē jack for connecting the A40 to an Xbox 360 controller. Beneath them lies a red dummy jack that fills the holes of the daisy-chain connector. The A40 system allows anyone with an Astro Gaming mixamp to daisy-chain amps together, creating a secure LAN-like interface for voice communication. This is an interesting feature we could see being somewhat useful for competitive gaming, although normal users probably wouldnít find much use for it.
The rear of the mixamp is where the magic happens, so to speak. There you will find connections for TOSlink optical, coax, RCA left/right, 3.5Ē PC microphone output and even an auxiliary input for an MP3 player. The A40 requires a power source since itís essentially a powered amplifier, so Astro also included a USB connection to allow the mixamp to pull power from either your console or PC. Astro also sells a rechargeable battery pack separately, for gaming on the go.
On the front of the mixamp are the volume dials for both audio and voice levels. When connected to a 360, the voice dial can adjust the balance between voice and in-game noise on the fly. This makes in-game adjustments a breeze, especially considering how quiet Live voice communications can be. The bottom left sports the power button, while the bottom right turns Dolby effects off or on, depending on the users preference. The power button also flashes to indicate a low battery, which helps you know when itís time to recharge. The mixamp supports Dolby Digital over TOSlink and Dolby Headphone over analog, providing users with some options for achieving surround sound.
Unfortunately, the only thing it seems Astro forgot to throw into the mixamp is the ability to do voice over the PS3. While there are connections for both PC and Xbox 360, to use the A40 for voice communications on the PS3 requires the purchase of a separate connector that takes the PC jacks and converts them to a compatible USB connection. This was probably done to cut costs, however, the mixamp already has a USB port so adding in PS3 functionality could not have been that difficult.
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We played quite a few hours of Left 4 Dead using the A40 and were very impressed with overall quality and positioning effects throughout. Its goes to Astroís credit that quite a few times during our sessions we had to pull the ear pads away to ensure we werenít hearing audio from our speakers instead of the headset. Audio reproduction was clear enough to convince us that we forgot to hook it up and were listening to the game through our set top speaker set. Gears of War 2 also exhibited excellent audio work, but we really like the voice communication aspect of the A40. The voice dial allowed us to turn up some trash-talking playersí volume, allowing us to hear exactly how they would defile our poor mothers. Our compatriots on Live reported that our voice quality was indistinguishable between the wired and wireless Xbox headsets over both Steam and Live. Itís important to note however that the voice dial only works when using the A40 over Live, as received voice communications are mixed into the audio stream by your PC.
Overall, we were really impressed with comfort and audio quality we got from the A40. The A40 worked so well to immerse us into games, we kind of forgot we supposed to doing a review. Instead, we just kind of focused on the game and objectives. But again, thatís just how good the A40 sounds; you forget youíre wearing a headset and can just lose yourself into the game at hand. While this is great as far as gaming goes, itís been horrible for our productivity.
When compared to our Tritton AXPro set, the A40 wins hands down in terms of both audio fidelity and ease of use. Also, the A40ís have a greater range of adjustment, which should help them fit just about any size and shaped head. And while the A40ís microphone can be installed into either side of the ear cups, the AXPro only has a port on the left hand side which takes away from his versatility. Ultimately however, itís all about sound quality and when compared to our reference set, we did have a tendency to prefer the A40 over the AXPro, especially in surround sound. The A40 seemed to have a little better channel separation, which helped produce more realistic surround than the AXPro. When it comparing stereo audio however, we found both sets were on more equal footing, with neither one really sounding better than the other.
Versatility: With numerous means of connectivity, the A40 is perfect for just about any setup imaginable. While TOSlink optical is the preferred method to receive a Dolby Digital signal, the A40 mixamp also support Pro Logic II and even Dolby Headphone should already have a decent headset. With the ability to provide surround sound from not only your PC, but also the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, the A40 Audio System is kind of one-stop solution for your gaming audio needs. The Dolby button also allows you turn off any Dolby effects easily. Finally, Astro has included just about every cable you could possibly need to maximize your audio investment, from 3.5Ē audio to RCA-adapted PC jacks.
No PS3 Voice Support Out-of-the-Box: While Xbox and PC owners will enjoy the improved audio quality right away, PS3 owners will need to purchase a separate adapter to use the A40 for voice communications. With a built-in USB port, we wonder why Astro did not include the ability to plug the A40 directly into the PS3 as a headset adapter, like on competing headsets from Tritton.