It's been a while since I've reviewed a pair of headsets, in fact it was over a year and a half ago. While the set has served me well, it was PC only, and a recent change in life situation has found me needing a solid headset for my console gaming - one capable of both voice and Dolby Digital playback. There's a wide range of options out there with a wide range of prices, but one of the premier companies known around the gaming circles has been Astro. Enter the recent Astro A30 headsets - a smaller and lighter version of the popular A40 cans, designed not only for consoles and PCs, but for use in portable gaming. Lets take these for a spin, shall we?
The first thing you'll notice about the A30's is the incredible build quality. Actually the first thing you'll notice is just how well everything is packaged, the presentation will remind you of an Apple product with your product laid to rest in quality boxes and padding. The headset itself comes with a hard zip up case with a pocket to hold cables. I've never seen a headset that felt so solid - there's no cheap plastic like material anywhere on it; the piano black finish of our headset oozed style, while the overall size and curves of the pair of cans making it easy to wear. The outside of each ear piece has removable "speaker tags" which allow you to customize the look of the headset. It ships with default Astro branded ones, but you can order custom tags on the website for $20 a pair.
Everything in the package with extras including: optical cables, rechargable battery, and extender cable adapter.
The cushions, which let in very little outside noise are incredibly well put together and comfortable. It's not that cheap fake leather feel of other headsets, the material feels like a high quality cloth. Your ears will never tire wearing them with the material being very breathable, and there's plenty of padding across the top adjustable band.
What's odd is you'll notice there's only a six inch cable off the headset, certainly not long enough to plug into any device. This breakaway adapter takes different style cables that are included for different purposes. You can plug the headset directly into a portable device like an iPhone or PSP, hook it up to the Astro MixAmp, or plug it directly into your PC via one of the included cables. As you can see, versatility is key in the Astro A30's, allowing them to be your go to headset in any device - even the cable to hook up to portable devices as a built in inline microphone, so you can use it with an iPhone to make and receive calls. After spending $150 on the headset, you'll probably want to use these as much as possible, so the versatility and portability is definitely nice.
The custom Co-Optimus Tags I created
To use these on your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 with voice you're going to need a device called the MixAmp. Bundled with the headset it'll run you $229 for the package. The MixAmp is where all the magic happens, providing Dolby Digital processing and giving the headset simulated surround sound. To co-op gamers the headset provides a really important piece for communication - and that's direct control of chat and game volume via a balance dial. We've all been in a situation where the game is simply too loud for us to hear our friends crying for help while under siege, and this option is a savior. I found myself keeping the balance about 3/4 of the way towards the voice side in my Xbox 360 and PC use of the device. In use the boom microphone, which is detachable on the left side, easily picked up my voice with consistent results.
More interesting is just how powerful the MixAmp is - it's basically a portable home theater receiver going as far as providing multiple inputs including Optical, Digital Coax, 1/8" mini and and analog A/V. Hardcore gamers can even daisy chain the mix amps together for a private voice channel during LAN parties. Of course, this is also a small problem in that there's simply way too many cables to deal with, and for the average user, it may be a daunting task to set up. For instance here's what you'll need to do hook up your 360 with voice chat
Optical Cable from Xbox 360 to MixAmp Breakaway Cable to the Headset Microphone Cable from Controller to MixAmp Optional USB Cable to MixAmp (this charges and/or powers the device if you aren't using batteries)
It's a minor annoyance really, and almost no different than a typical home theater set up, but perhaps by bringing that out of the cabinet and into your lap it makes it a bit more unsightly. The headset ship with excellent documentation with clear instructions on the best ways to hook up your new investment, as well as all the alternative options.
Again, I can't say enough at just how versatile the MixAmp is when combined with your headphones. Hooking it up via USB to your PC gives you an external sound card with full Dolby Digital support - and you can either run a cable from your existing mic in to the MixAmp's for full balance control, or use it as is sacrificing that. PlayStation3 owners can hook up via USB as well to get full chat support through the A30 headset.
So how do the headsets actually sound? The best way to describe the experience is to say while wearing them I completely forgot I actually had headsets on and at times felt like I was in a theater. I used the A30's to play 360 and PC games, I watched movies in Dolby Digital, and listened to music while programming. In every case sound was rich and dynamic with excellent bass reproduction. They simply performed in every situation extremely well.
I can honestly say the A30s are the best quality headsets I've ever used. Combined with the MixAmp they become the most versatile. While definitely not the cheapest combo, the investment in these devices are for the serious gamer looking for something to last a long time.
+ Extremely Good Build Quality
+ Comfortable, even in long sessions
+ Different cables for different devices
+ MixAmp provides options for numerous devices
+ Excellent Sound Quality
- May be too expensive for some
- Lots and lots of cables
- Would like the breakaway cables to be a bit longer
Editors Note: The Astro A30 Headset and MixAmp was provided by Astro Gaming for review purposes. The Co-Optimus Tags were ordered and purchased by the reviewer.