The Astro A40 2011 bundle is aimed at the professional gamer with a high-end price tag of $250 to match. The bundle consists of two main pieces of hardware; the Astro A40 2011 headset and the Astro Mixamp.
Astro A40 2011 Headset
Available in black or white, both look like a professional headset made with a hard plastic frame with metal poles connecting the speakers to them. They feel sturdy to hold and have a nice weight to them, though they are not heavy enough to feel any effects after a few hours of gaming. The metal poles can be moved to adjust the length to fit your head, once in place they stay firmly there.
As any regular headphone users will confirm, the connecting parts of the headset are usually the first to break when accidentally sat on. While I wouldn’t recommend testing it, the build quality feels like it would fare better if you accidentally dropped or sat on them. You also get a sturdy case to protect the headset while not in use or when travelling.
The headset uses a cup design to reduce both internal and external noise leakage. The foam cup is very comfortable and the area is wide enough for those with larger ears. To add some customization, ear plates magnetically attach to the outer side of each headphone. They are sold separately in a few different designs. An optional foam insert fits in between the external side of the speakers and the ear plates, they supposedly reduce sound leakage but I heard no difference.
The microphone boom is made of a soft flexible rubber which are plugged into a connector found on both sides of the headset. The microphone is very good quality, my friends commented on a very noticeable audio improvement when compared to the standard Xbox wired and wireless headsets. The microphone does pick up a lot more audio than others so you may want to position the boom a little further away from your mouth to reduce the loudness of your voice. A voice switch can be found on the headset cable for quickly toggling the mute option.
The audio quality is quite simply amazing! I tried a variety of games and they all sounded great. The speakers come into their own with high intensity games such as racing games and first person shooters. It feels like you are in the battlefield and you can be forgiven for physically ducking as a RPG flies over your head or grenades go off with a trembling bass filled explosion. In the heat of the battle the audio on TV speakers can sometimes end in a mush of noise with voice, gunfire, vehicles and explosions all being heard at the same time, with the headset audio sounds more defined giving you a realistic experience.
The speakers also pick up the finer noise which can be lost in stereo TV speakers or headphones. When used with the Mixamp to provide Dolby Digital audio, enemy footsteps are clearly heard from their position and are relayed in surround sound. Often I had enough time to turn around and kill an enemy as they tried to sneak up on me from behind. Ambient noise is also more prominent, birds and flies in a first person shooter were previously unheard on my television speakers. The headset gives you more awareness of your surroundings and with this advantage you play a better game.
The A40 2011 headset is excellent in design, build and audio quality. I have no complaints about the headset, not even a minor annoyance. At louder volumes there is noise leakage so if you are planning some late night gaming with someone sleeping nearby you may want to consider this. If I were pushed to give a thing that could be improved it would be to add a voice chat volume slider to reduce the loudness of your voice.
The Mixamp is a box which goes between your audio source such as a games console and the A40 headset. It has a variety of inputs from optical and coaxial for Dolby 7.1 sound, through to standard stereo jacks for connection to a MP3 player. PC’s are also well supported with a mic socket and by connecting the USB, which also acts as a power supply, it will recognize the Mixamp as an audio device allowing you to play audio or voice chat through it.
The Mixamp is fairly easy to set up, though it can seem a little daunting at first as the package comes with a number of cables. A quick read through the manual will have you up and running in five minutes. For the Xbox 360, you plug an optical cable from the console to the Mixamp, connect the headset cable and if you are planning to use the microphone; a final cable from the Mixamp to your controller. The cables are quite long and you may get tangled up when moving around which could be annoying at times.
The main dial controls the master volume and the smaller dial controls the balance between the game and voice audio. I found leaving the master volume at around 11 o’clock on the dial comfortable for my ears, it goes up to 3 o’clock if you wish to burst your ear drums Getting the right balance of game and voice audio was occasionally a little tricky. I talk a lot in Xbox LIVE party chat with friends and with the voice being in stereo instead of mono some friends are louder than others and I was finding myself regularly adjusting the balance. You do lose some of the richness of the game audio when the mixer is in the favour of voice, the audio can sound less bass filled and defined as a result.
The Mixamp allows you to daisy chain extra units to offer a chat system which uses no bandwidth, useful if you want to get the best out of a network connection or private chat to team members in a tournament. While this feature may be unused by many it is a nice addition.
As with the A40 headsets, the build quality is very good, the design and features cover all the angles with support for consoles, PC and MP3 players. The Mixamp works very well and brings the A40 headsets to life with great quality audio. Apart from occasionally being tangled up in wires I had no issues with the Mixamp.
The A40 headset and Mixamp are expensive, there is no denying that. If you are a serious gamer the headsets are the perfect choice for your audio requirements. They do improve your game both audibly and in terms of feedback such as hearing enemies footsteps. Both products are excellent quality in all areas and are worth the premium price.
You can read more about the Astro A40 2011 edition headset and Mixamp at http://www.astrogaming.com/.