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Astro A40 TR Gaming Headset and MixAmp: Tournament Ready

By Christopher Coke on January 02, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Astro A40 TR Gaming Headset and MixAmp: Tournament Ready

Since Autumn, we’ve been exploring headphones and headsets like never before. As we round out into regular coverage, we knew we had to reach out to one of the biggest headset makers in the world: Astro. They were kind enough to send us a selection of their best, and we’re kicking this off with the A40 TR: a high-end tournament ready headset with its own surround sound MixAmp. This is our review.

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Specifications

A40 TR Headset

  • MSRP: $249.99 ($199.99 at the time of writing)
  • Ear Coupling: Over-Ear
  • Frequency Response: 20-24000Hz
  • Distortion: THD <1%
  • Connection: 3.5mm 4-pole Jack
  • Microphone: 6mm unidirectional with noise gate
  • Nominal Impedance: 48 Ohms
  • Weight (without cable):

MixAmp Pro TR

  • Inputs (Rear): TOSlink, USB-Micro B (audio/power), 3.5mm Stream Output
  • Inputs (Front): Headset Connector, 3.5mm Aux In, Two digital daisy chain ports
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz - 24000Hz
  • Power Input: 250mA at 5V
  • Power Output: 100dB SPL at 125Hz

I might be something of an anomaly in the gaming world. Before the current review series, I had never used an Astro headset - unless you count stopping demo stations at Best Buy. When I planned this coverage series, however, I knew that they had to be included. Certain brands just seem to dominate their product categories, and in the world of gaming headsets, Astro and Turtle Beach go head to head, and have both become household names in gaming circles.

I say that because, even as someone strives for objectivity, it’s hard to separate yourself from the expectation of checking out “the big guys”  when you’ve spent years hearing about them. I would expect most gamers picking up a pair of Astros for the first time will feel the same.

So from that lens, how do they stack up? Pretty good, actually. First impressions are stellar with easily the best unboxing experience I’ve had with a gaming headset. The box you see above is actually a sleeve for an inner, folding box that looks like it’s meant to be on display somewhere.

I don’t get too enamored with these things, but it definitely makes you feel like you’ve shelled out for something a little more cool and premium than anything else. Inside the box is the headset, MixAmp the detachable boom mic, both 3.5mm and USB cables for connecting the MixAmp, PC, and headset, as well as a TOSlink cable for your optical input. It’s all well placed, so you can store your cables in the box without worrying about everything turning into a mess when you repackage what you don’t need.

The headset is very comfortable. It’s lightweight, coming in at only 360 grams, and has enough grip to stay in place even if you’re snapping your head or jumping up quickly. The earpads are thick and soft deep enough to keep my ears from pressing on the hard inner plastic. I also like that Astro opted for a fabric covering on the ear and head cushions, though this cause a fair bit of noise bleed. Still, they’re tuned just right for a gamer like me. I was worried that the tighter grip - which I always love at first - would eventually make my ears hurt. Even after hours at the PC, it never happened because of the lush cushioning. Other manufacturers should take note: this is how a good, secure headset should feel on hour one and hour six. Like most other gaming headsets, this only applies with glasses off. The grip does become uncomfortable after an hour or two when you’re sporting specks.

The A40s use a lot of plastic, more than I would like to see at this price point. That said, the most common point of failure is well addressed, where the headband connects to the earcups, by utilizing a metal rod and slider for adjustment. This also allows the earcups to rotate for easy resting on your shoulders. The headband itself, though, is all plastic. It flexes fairly wide, but I’m worried it may become brittle over time. This shouldn't be a concern if you take care of your headsets, but it's definitely something to keep in mind if you're prone to throwing them on your desk when you're through.

On a flat EQ curve, the A40s have a warm sound signature with mellow highs and mids. With the MixAmp or the Astro Command Center software, you can swap between three pre-loaded profiles or set your own. I tend to avoid the profiles that ship with headsets, but these weren't bad and can all be tweaked to taste and swapped on the fly. If you really want to get in depth, you can even go into the advanced settings and tweak your Center Frequencies and bump up the decibels on customized frequencies. There is a level of depth here just not found on other headsets.

I admit, I was just as interested in trying the controller box as much as the headset. It's a powerful little box that can enhance any headset with Dolby Digital Surround Sound, mix chat and voice input. The version we were sent is also cross compatible with PlayStation 4 but an Xbox version is also available. It also allows you to run optical audio into the unit to really maximize your sound quality while cutting down on any possible lag.

The MixAmp is a bit bigger than a deck of cards, so doesn’t take up much space on your desk, but looks and feels good. The volume wheel is big and scrolls smoothly. Holding the power button briefly swaps between PC and console modes, which also changes the color of the power LED from to indicate which you’re currently in.  I also appreciate the rubberized bottom which keeps the box from sliding around on your desk.

It’s easy to setup with a USB cable running to your computer and your headset plugging right into the front. You can run another audio source into the box, which pipes directly into your headset. I often used it to listen to podcasts while gaming, which is much better than having to alt-tab to a browser window. 

The most important part, though, is how it changes the sound. The MixAmp definitely gives more juice to the headphones which means that volume and distortion are never issues. For gaming, this is perfect as booming explosions will distort cheaper drivers, but the A40s held up very well. It also provides quality surround sound for gaming that dramatically widens the soundstage without distorting positional audio. Music and movies reveal the layers of reverb being applied, so I’d recommend turning it off when you’re not gaming.

Lastly, we have the microphone. Rather than apply hefty doses of compression to isolate your voice (it still applies some), it utilizes an active noise gate. Within four different settings, anything over a certain volume is assumed to be a voice and allow to pass. Anything under gets completely blocked out. Have a listen:

The Astro A40 TRs also have the best side-tone of any gaming headset I’ve tried. Why aren’t other headsets as good as this?!

Final Thoughts

As a newcomer to Astro hardware, I came in hearing commentary from people who had loved and them others who hated them. The sound quality is good with more options to tweak your sound than any other headset I’ve tried. The plastic headband is a drawback, but the tradeoff in care seems worthwhile when you’re getting such a comfortable headset and an excellent MixAmp that has value completely apart from the A40s themselves. For $199 as of this writing, it’s a steep asking price, buying high-end Astros is a bit like buying Beats or Nike shoes. They’re a bit of a status symbol.

Pros

  • Very comfortable
  • Customizable noise gate is an improvement over usual voice isolation
  • MixAmp is excellent and can be used with any headphone
  • Advanced EQ customization

Cons

  • No surround sound customization
  • Plastic headband
  • Expensive

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.