In today’s audio review I have the Astro A30 System from Astro Gaming. Astro gaming have built up a solid reputation as a gaming peripheral outfit during the course of this past generation and their foundations set in place since the beginning as Astro Studios – the parent company of Astro Gaming – were actually involved in the design of the Xbox 360 itself. With such heritage it’s no surprise Astro are one of few de-facto console peripheral brands and official headset supplier of the MLG.
The A30 System itself includes both the Astro A30 headset as well as the highly regarded Astro’s MixAmp Pro. THe A30 System comes supplied with everything you need to get going be that across PC, PS3, Xbox 360 or even any other devices such as a phone or media player that can make use of the A30 System’s headset.
- Ships With: A30 Headset, Astro Speaker Tags, and Astro MixAmp
- Headset Cables: A30 Console Cable and PC Splitter
- AdapterMixAmp Cables: Optical Cable, USB Power Cable, 1.5M Xbox Live Chat Cable, and 1.5M 3.5mm Audio Cable
- Transducer Principle: Dynamic, Open
- Frequency Response: 15 – 28,000 Hz
- Nominal Impedance: 32 ohm
- Weight w/o Cable: 188 grams
- Characteristic SPL: 97 +/-3dB
- Ear Coupling: On-Ear
- Headband Pressure: 2.0 N
- Distortion: Less than 0.1%
- Connector: Multiple Connectors for PC and 3.5mm Jacks
- Microphone: 6.0mm uni-directional noise canceling mic + 4.0mm omni-directional in-line mic
- Power Supply: USB mini-B (USB 2.0 compatible), or 4 x AA batteries (not included)
- Power Output: 70mW 32ohm per channel
- Battery Life: 12+ Hours
- Frequency Response: 35-20,000 Hz
- Inputs (front): Headset connector, 2.5mm Xbox Live voice communication connector
- Inputs (rear): L/R analog RCA, TOSlink digital, coaxial digital, 3.5mm microphone (PC voice), 3.5mm mp3 connector, USB mini-B (audio/power)
With the introduction and spec sheet out of the way let’s take a closer look.
The A30 System packaging sports a rather sleek red and gun grey design on an overall dark design. The box manages to avoid any gaudy looking design we’re accustomed to with gaming peripherals.
The back of the outer packaging is just as simple and well though out highlighting all the exciting features.
With the cover off we’re presented with a busier and perhaps more usual gamer design but the graffiti looks is unique in it’s own way.
The box itself opens up to present the A30 Headset, MixAmp and the abundance of cables neatly hidden away under the door on the left.
With the components out of their packaging we can take a closer look at them.
As you can see the on-ear headphones sport a sqaure design which I thought would feel odd but the fit is actually quite nice and comfortable for long periods.
The headset itself feels quite light and, really, doesn’t instil confidence that it would survive too many travels to LANs. I’ve used significantly dearer dedicated headsets that have also had a similarly disappointing weight and feel to them, but ultimately, this is a trade off the manufacturers have to make in order to maintain a level of comfort during play which Astro do deliver on.
The finish of the grey pattern is solid and doesn’t feel like it’s going to scratch off due to your standard usage patterns such as putting them down on your desk or any hard surface. The ear covers can actually be switched out for other designs if the digital camo look isn’t your thing.
The above picture also shows that the A30 is a closed-back design. A closed-back design means that during your fragging and tagging sessions you won’t have any serious sound leakage. The lack of sound leakage is both good and bad as it tends to have a less “natural” sound for you but also means any noise coming form the headset is kept to a minimum.
Finally the accessories, here is a snap of the the cables included of which there is everything to get setup on the devices supported. It may be worth noting that if for whatever reason the huge included TOSLINK cable isn’t long enough the MixAmp has a mini-TOSLINK input.
The cables are finished in ‘rubbered’ sleeving and as a result, look quite good and feels like they could take a good amount of usage, kinks and so on without breaking. Perhaps best of all, if you do need spares only the headset-source cable is seemingly proprietary.
With the headset and accessories covered let’s move onto the MixAmp itself.
The MixAmp Pro is a smart device that aside from working as a ‘desktop amp’ also acts as a receiver of sorts. The MixAmp supports the decoding of Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as the pass-through of PCM streams from your devices.
As you can see there is the volume knob occupying the biggest space, an equalizer button on the left which has four preset modes and a Dolby button on the right. The Dolby Headphone technology when enabled takes the incoming signal and applies some processing which gives the sensation of surround sound even in a stereo headset. Generally speaking, using this processing method will sound better from a digital source than a analogue one as the MixAmp can then work with a 6 channels to make the final product rather than 2.
The smaller knob allows you to dictate how much sound comes through the headset in regards to game volume or voice. This is a superb feature as it means you can quickly change the balance on the fly – especially when used with a PC as it saves you having to go into the volume mixer, for example, when you’re at the mercy of a Skype call and tab back into game.
Along the bottom you have have two outputs at either end to daisy chain this MixAmp with others at LANs for your own, un-interrupted voice network. Middle-left is the audio out for the headset and middle-right is the audio in/out for the Xbox 360 controller – PC/PS3 chat works over USB.
Along with the outputs you can see that the MixAmp itself has a similar rubbered finish around the edge (and underside) of the device with the top being a glossy-like rubber surface. The device feels and looks feel built and looks good. The buttons have a nice tactile feel to them and both volume knobs have just the right amount of resistance not to annoy but to enable fine tuning. In comparison to the build of the A30 headset, the MixAmp is streets ahead.
With both components covered it’s time to see how they stacked up performance wise.
Firstly, game performance from the the A30 system was superb. I’ve used various console 5.1 systems over the years, both dedicated and virtual, but for me the A30 bundle has been the best.
The game of choice tested was Grand Theft Auto V, which in my humble opinion, has a muddy sound balance on it’s own. With the A30 system I was able to really take in Rockstar’s vision compared to my usual dedicated amp/headphone setup I use for console gaming. With 5.1 enabled on the PS3 and the Dolby Headphone mode on, the Los Santos audio treat finally matches up with the visual.
I spent some time driving around and waiting at junctions, level crossing and the metro stops and the Dolby mode really does bring Los Santos alive. I was switching between Dolby on/off to see if normal stereo did sound better as often these processing technologies don’t actually sound better, but the spatial treat served up in Grand Theft Auto with the A30 system was superb. Traffic direction can be picked out, game audio is clear with a good separation of the radio station and character voices, and waiting at the tram stations listening to the Spanish voice over was triggered a nostalgia trip of some time I spent in Barcelona last year.
The second console game tested was The Last Of Us. The Last Of Us has a superb acoustic score trickled over the survival-horror environmental sounds of the game itself.
Gun shots, water flooding and the ever chilling ‘Clicker’ enemies all sound superbly terrifying. If there was ever a game to be played with headphones and more so the A30 System, it is this. As the scenes switch from survival to Naughty Dog’s nuanced exploration set pieces the A30 flows just as well. The score sounds perfect and the character voices aren’t muddled due to headphone mode with the added surround element adding that bit more to Joel’s shouts for Ellie when she goes out of sight.
In regards to the PC usage, and more specifically the voice chat element of the A30 System, my experience is only positive. The A30 headset sounded fine to those I was speaking to and the ability to turn friends up (or down) during game play is really great. If you connect the MixAmp to PC with both the TSOLINK cable and USB and set it it so voice is sent over USB in your computer’s settings you can by pass having to switch audio balance in the volume mixer which is a massive boon and one less tedious task to worry about during a gaming session. The last thing anyone wants to be doing during a teamfight on League of Legends is tab out and turn game volume back to where it was because your voice client just nerfed it.
In terms of media performance, the A30 system did fine here although Astro’s own tuning and closed back design mean that everything comes an noticeable bass application. There isn’t a ridiculous distracting amount of bass – the opening credits to Dexter actually sounded better, if not more sinister, to me with the A30 headset than my open-back headphones. Once the show beings though there is no muddying of the voices, environment noises or so on except for the scene is a typical boomy affair such as gunshots or club scenes.
Like video, music also doesn’t bypass the closed-back and bass nature of the headphones but it isn’t necessarily bad and can be filtered out with EQ settings either on the MixAmp if you are at home or your media player’s software. The opening few tracks of Arctic Monkey’s bass-heavy ‘AM’ definitely play into the hands of the A30 to their benefit without sounding forced and cheap. On the whole, audio quality was clean and crisp but just didn’t have the natural sound i’m used too, which is completely understandable given the target audience of the device.
With performance covered it is time to wrap up my time with the A30 System in the conclusion.
Starting with the device itself, Astro have produced a solid package for the gamer with more than one device who want un-disturbed, high-quality audio during their gaming sessions.
The headset itself, while not the greatest build on first appearances, does it’s job well. Audio quality is great as is the comfort and fit. As I mentioned in the closer look, the square pads threw me off at first but they sit on the ear better than some circular headphones I have used. Voice quality is solid and the microphone can be twisted in various ways to fit where you feel comfortable with it and snaps back to its default position without or hitch or suggestion it will break after long usage.
Like the A30 headset, the MixAmp is great but for me it’s the real jewel in the crown of the A30 System. The ability to use three different devices with it at once means you can have problem free switching between PC, console and another device connected via the 3.5mm jack. Build quality is superb and the Dolby Digital decoding and encoding sounds great, Of course, you can also use the MixAmp (and the headset) individual of each other and this level of flexibility is great.
If I have anything negative to say about the A30 System it is the price. At £170 is a lot to ask for something which, for the most part where the MixAmp is concerned, is wasted on the PC user. A lot of soundcards and even motherboards have Dolby Headphone built-in so one of the unique selling points of the MixAmp is lost here.
For £70 the MixAmp is a nice device for the PC user if they wish to buy it separately due to the multiple connectivity and switching options and perhaps aim to pick up a console down the line. Likewise, The A30 headset on it’s own is £80, at which point you’re getting into the serious end of dedicated PC headsets if you’re a PC gamer only.
In regards to the price and consoles it isn’t that bad comparatively where the competition is concerned. The A30 System offers up a a solid headset and amplifier for the little more than some competitors asking for a headset alone. If you want the console and PC audio bases covered, i feel the A30 system is solid solution for the years to come.
***Update (11/10/2013) from Astro***
Over the past few months we have been asked by more than a few of our fans for more information on how ASTRO Gaming products will work with the upcoming next gen consoles.
PS4: We can say with 100% certainty that our headsets will deliver Dolby ® Digital GAME AUDIO on the PS4, just like they do for the PS3. Our headsets will also deliver full voice chat functionality over the PlayStation Network upon Sony’s release of a post-launch PS4 firmware update.
Xbox One: Game Audio for the Xbox One will function as normal, through the optical output – meaning all our current products will deliver full Dolby ® Digital GAME AUDIO on the XBOX One. However, the chat connector on the controller is now a proprietary connector, meaning that our current products will require an adapter to connect to the controller for Xbox Live voice chat. Fortunately, until this chat adapter is available, the built-in Kinect microphone will provide full voice communication access to Xbox Live while using ASTRO headsets on the Xbox One.
Regarding new Xbox One products in our pipeline, we are an officially licensed Xbox One partner, but we are not allowed to comment on the specifics of any products we have under development. Rest assured, none of our current products will be made obsolete by anything going on in the Xbox One ecosystem.
The Xbox One controller is ditching the 2.5mm jack for voice, so on the surface at least, the A30 will be redundant for voice chat on Microsoft’s system without an adapter of some sort (which Astro appear to be strongly hinting will arrive). Sony have tended to be more open where peripherals are concerned and are going to allow any 3.5mm device to plug into their controller for game and voice audio but USB voice is still on the cards as Sony will be releasing a patch post-launch that allows voice communication over USB devices. Even Sony’s own Pulse line of headsets will have to wait for this update.
To conclude, the A30 system is solid, either individually or as a whole. It’s competitively priced, performs great and looks the part. It is an expensive piece of kit, but with the update from Astro it seems there is no reason you won’t be able to use the A30 for the whole of the next console generation. The target market of the A30 are the “hardcore gamers” who are more than likely day-1 guys and girls and will be at Oxford Street come midnight of the 22nd and 29th of November, for them, this would be an ideal device to pick up too.
A solid performing package from Astro, but only let down by the fact that immediate voice support won’t be available at next-gen launch.