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Astro A40 Audio System Review

Recently, MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood has been assessing the Astro A40 Audio System as a replacement for his old gaming headsets. He liked what he saw and today presents his review.

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Let me tell you a little story about the last set of gaming headsets I’m ever likely to own:

Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, headsets break all the time. Last year alone, I went through three or four pairs of low end gadgets. Still though, I’m pretty sure I’ve recently found a set of headphones that I not only care enough about to make sure they don’t break, but that I don’t feel the need to go out and replace… ever, if given the choice.

This headset system (to just call it a headset would be misleading), is the Astro A40, best known for being the official headset of Major League Gaming and it retails for $249.95 USD. Now, I know what you’re saying… Jon! That’s just an insane amount of money to spend on a headset. I thought so too. Honestly, the idea of paying that much money for a headset was about as appealing as the idea of gold-plating my toilet… Sure, it’d be cool to do it just so you could say you did it, but after a while, you’re just literally sitting on a pile of money you could have used to buy groceries.

The system itself is actually a little bit daunting if you’re the non-technical sort. After all, it comes in two distinct parts (the headset and the Mix Amp), and hooks up to digital output ports and other scary areas of the computer that novices aren’t going to like. Still, once you get over the shock of not just slamming the thing into your headphone and mic port or throwing in a USB cable, it’s not hard at all.

I’m going to turn the concept of reviewing on its ear and give you my score up front: I’m giving this “Audio System” a whopping 9.5 out of ten, or 95% for those of you out there who prefer your scores in percentage form. The rest of this article, I plan to spend telling you why I’m speaking so glowingly of this product:

5.1 Surround

In my home office, I’ve got a pretty good thing going. I’ve got a good computer with some spiffy monitors and even peripherals I can be proud of, but my favourite part of it all has always been my 5.1 surround sound system. It’s treated me pretty well over the years both for my general music needs and in terms of improving my gaming. I don’t know if it’s a question of good solid sound making you feel more immersed in the game, or the advantage it can give you to know that the monster you want to kill is behind you and not just breathing somewhere nearby, I just know that I’ve loved it.

My love of my 5.1 system has always made me hesitant to use my headsets, I’ve never liked taking a hit on my sound just to talk to folks while gaming, but it’s always been a necessary evil. Here’s the thing though, the A40 actually gives me the best of both worlds with 5.1 actually built in. Now, I’m not saying that this is a feature unique tot eh A40, but I will say that the A40 does it extremely well. I’ve moved most of my audio uses to the headset only (mostly to avoid fiancé aggro) because I don’t feel like my sound experience is taking a hit.

The Microphone

I’m impressed with the microphone on this thing for a number of reasons. First, it’s made from a nice, malleable rubber material that looks much nicer than the bendy-straw looking monstrosities I’ve had in the past. I also found it sufficiently long (insert sufficiently long joke here). I absolutely hate when the microphones on these things are so short they feel like they’re trying to climb down your throat.

Aesthetics aside, the mic on this thing works like a dream. I’m told that I’ve never sounded clearer or easier to understand.

Maybe the best part about the microphone combines both aesthetics and functionality. It’s the fact that it doesn’t use one of those foam insulators that, while handy for reducing pesky annoyances like having everyone hear you breathe, invariably gets knocked off somehow and becomes a soft, black, foamy cat toy. In the A40, all of that wonderful noise reduction is built right into the mic.

Versatility

I’m the kind of guy who likes when things have more than one use. I like pens with clocks in them, I miss calculator watches and I think my Blackberry is the best thing ever (must… ignore… existence… of iPhone). With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that I like the many different ways that I can use my A40.

The A40 is a good, solid piece of gaming hardware. We’ve already established that, but it also turns conveniently into regular headphones. In other words, the mic is completely detachable (because nothing looks cooler than listening to your iPod with a headset that has a giant mic sticking up out of the top).

Aside from its less-than-miraculous ability to move from headset to headphones, the A40 can also be used in a number of other ways: First, at a LAN party or similar, the mixers can be linked together providing players with a nifty little voice network. This is a great feature for things like Major Leage Gaming, but let’s face it, how often are any of us likely to get involved in a LAN party where all of our friends also have $250 headsets. It’s not impossible, but for me at least, it’s highly improbable.

Maybe the best news though is that the A40 can also be rigged up to your Xbox 360. This gives you all of the benefits of using a headset (avoiding fiancé aggro in the late night hours FTW) and gets rid of the need for those annoying Xbox mics.

One more thing: For those of you out there who like to have your own soundtrack running while you play, but don’t want to have your music program open on your desktop and can’t be bothered switching out to change tracks… the mix amp allows you to plus your iPod (or MP3 player of your choice) directly into the headset. I’ve found that it saves a lot of headache.

So, what didn’t I like?

I have to admit, I do have one big ‘ol criticism of the A40. The thing is a big ‘ol bulky piece of equipment. The look of them kinda makes me think that I should be plugged into the old record player 70s and 80s style. Now, I’m sure that a) there are those of you out there who prefer this look and b) the size of the headset is necessary to accommodate the cool technology that it uses. I only bring this up because I contemplated snapping these puppies into my iPod and heading down to the gym one day, caught a look at myself in the mirror on the way out (big headset attached to tiny iPod) and grabbed my earbuds instead.

Still, if this is my biggest complaint about the A40 system, I’ve got to say that if you’ve got the money to invest in a quality personal audio rig, I highly recommend this piece of technology.

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