Astro A40 TR Gaming Headset Review + Mic Test!

Astro A40 TR Gaming Headset Review + Mic Test!

An earlier version of this story originally appeared on The Cube...but the one you're reading now is ninety percent new text with additional impressions, edits for clarity, and a microphone test recording.

The Astro A40 is legendary in the gaming headset space, both for its exceptional audio quality...and its $249 price tag.

It first debuted around 10 years ago, and the newest TR version added minor tuning improvements and a fully digital amplifier. It's a complete higher-end audio package in a box.

I don't think it's overpriced when evaluated on its own merits, but you can get more features for less money with other brands, whether you're on console or PC.

OVERVIEW

The default Astro A40 TR bundle is $249. It comes with the headset in white or black, and a Mixamp designed to work with PC and either PS4 or Xbox One. It's kind of a bummer that one amp can't work with both consoles, and this is because Microsoft requires proprietary drivers for USB chat support on the Xbox. So, the PS4 amp will work on Xbox One for audio playback, but not for voice chat. And vice versa.

The headset sells by itself for $149, and for $199 with an Xbox One chat adapter that has a custom amp built in. I don't know if that amp has the same issues the official Xbox one now seems to have, but I would guess it doesn't.

If you want the Mixamp by itself to run a non-Astro pair of headphones, or because you own both consoles and decide you need chat support on both, those are $129.

So, the $249 bundle saves you about 30 bucks.

On their own, I think the headset is worth $149 and the amp is worth $129, when compared to similar products on the market. The problem is that the improvements here probably aren't enough for most people to switch away from more value-conscious products like the Logitech G433, HyperX Cloud, and Steelseries Arctis. Or even a good basic pair of studio headphones with a mic. In a vacuum these are great. In the market...it's a tougher call.

SOUND QUALITY

Without the Mixamp, the Astro A40 has a thunderous, warm sound signature that doesn't crush out all of the details in the mids and highs. It's a relaxed, movie-theater-big type of sound. It's designed to impress you and make you smile, rather than overwhelm you with little sparkling details. It doesn't go so crazy that it strays far from accuracy, but it's definitely hyped up a bit in the sweet spots that tickle your brain's "Oooh!" centers.

The Mixamp adds a number of options, particularly if you use it on PC. It ships with four preset EQ profiles that you can fully customize through an app and save back to the device. The default Astro preset amps up the sweetening, and the bass in particular takes on a subwoofer-like thumping quality that I enjoy.

Astro's Mixamp also supports Dolby Headphone and ProLogic IIx surround sound technologies. ProLogic IIx is designed to take in anything from stereo all the way to 7.1 on PC, and 5.1 on consoles, and mix it up to a full 7.1 signal. That signal is then passed off to the Dolby Headphone processor for playback on the headphones. You can activate both of these technologies with a single button on the top of the amp.

The result is a simulated room of speakers that sounds pretty great and fun. You lose a little bit of the finer detail, but the positioning is impressive. Unfortunately, unlike the EQ, you can't customize the settings for either of these Dolby technologies: they're either on or off. That's a bummer, as cheaper headsets like the G433 and Razer Kraken 7.1 V2 allow you to customize surround sound settings. 

There's nothing subtle about the sound of the A40. It's going for bigness and fun over pinpoint accuracy. It won't please the most ardent of audiophiles, but I think this was probably the right choice for most home users.

Comfort/Isolation

Astro delivers a very comfortable fit in the A40, thanks to really soft ear pad material, a wide range of adjustment, and a headband pad that conforms nicely to the contour of your scalp.

I have to wear them almost fully extended, but I have a larger head. The weight is perfectly balanced between my face and head. I'm surprised they didn't use a high-grade memory foam in the padding, but the cloth materials are soft like a teddy bear.

If you have super large ears, you might find the trapezoidal shape of the ear pad holes a little off-putting. Otherwise, I have no comfort complaints about this headset.

Now...as to isolation...by default, there's none. Zero.

The Astro A40 ships in a "semi-open" configuration that might as well be fully open. The ear cup backs have holes around the edges that allow for ventilation, widen the sound field, and give your ears some air so they don't heat up.

You can buy a mod kit to convert them into a closed headphone, but that'll set you back another $60. That's a bit steep for a set of new ear pads and cup backs, in my opinion.

BUILD/DESIGN

The A40 headset is made mostly of high grade plastic with some light metal reinforcement in the adjustment mechanisms. It feels sturdy, and doesn't have any squeaking or creaking. It's exactly the level of build I'd expect for a $149 headset.

The cable is removable. The microphone is removable. The headband pad is removable. The ear cup backs and ear pads are also easily removable thanks to magnetic attachments, so if you do decide to invest in the Mod Kit you won't have any trouble quickly switching back and forth. I like this...even though I think the Mod Kit is maybe $20 too expensive.

The design is sleeker than the average gaming headset, with a look that doesn't float too far away from your head or scream GAMER at anyone who happens to be nearby. I like that. But if you're into the more angular and fun designs of other headsets, or like RGB lighting...you'll find its understated look boring. The modular nature of the ear cup backs probably prevents them from adding lighting.

 The profile on the head is slimmer than the average headset

The profile on the head is slimmer than the average headset

MICROPHONE QUALITY

Okay, if you're familiar with the mod kit that I've been slamming throughout this article, you'll know that in addition to new pads and cup backs, it also comes with a "Better Microphone." Further, if you've read other reviews of this headset out there, you've probably seen them complain about the included microphone.

I have no idea where this disappointment comes from. I think the included microphone is really good, and there's no need to invest in the mod kit if the mic is the main thing you're after. Here, listen to this:

Sounds good right? The A40 mic is easily in the top tier of mics I've ever used on gaming headsets. I've had none of the problems some other reviewers did, and I can't really account for these differences. That audio file above is 100 percent the raw audio I got out of the mic, compressed as a high-quality 192k MP3 out of Audacity.

Unless you're in a super loud environment, I don't think you'll need to upgrade to the noise-cancelling mic in the mod kit. The included mic is exceptional.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Astro A40 Mixamp bundle includes a fun-sounding comfy headset with a solid mic, and a capable desktop amp with good virtual surround sound for PCs and consoles. 

But here's the rub.

The G433 from Logitech is only $99 and also features solid sound performance, a USB sound card for PCs with DTS Headphone X on PC, a nice boom mic and a second cable with mic for mobile use. And extra ear pads. And a carrying case. (Ironically, Logitech just bought Astro).

Want to go wireless? Well, you could step up to the $300 Astro A50...or for $150 you could get the Steelseries Arctis 7. The Arctis 7 includes a wire for console/mobile compatibility (unlike the A50 which is tied permanently to its wireless base). It has great sound, DTS Headphone X on PC, and a customizable and super comfy headband system. It also has more metal in its construction.

I could keep doing this all day with other famous headsets like the Razer Kraken or the Hyper X Cloud, or the Logitech G533.

The Astro A40 is not a bad product. Far from it! It's a fair deal for the money. It sounds good. It looks good. It has a great desktop amp.

But so many other headsets offer an even better value for the money. Sure, the Astro Mixamp allows you to get surround sound out of a PS4 without buying a Sony headset...but unless you fit that specific use case, the A40 might not be for you. You can already get free surround on Xbox One and PC with Windows Sonic on any headset. And like I mentioned above, other cheaper headsets offer capable surround technologies with more customization than the Astros.

They're totally worth the money if you need exactly what they do. I love them and they're great by every objective measure.

But you can do better dollar-for-dollar. And honestly, you probably should. 

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