Gadget review: Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro
THE increasing number of gaming-dedicated headset manufacturers means that consumers are spoilt for choice like never before when it comes to audio options, with a rush of new models hitting shop shelves in time for Christmas. Astro, however, has long been regarded by professional players as peerless. For the past nine years, the San Francisco company has won a deserved reputation among gamers for its dedication to premium build quality, smart design and above all, superb sound. That recognition is only likely to increase after the release of the Astro A40 TRs.
An updated version of the firm’s popular A40 range, the TRs will prove a pleasant surprise to those who have used one of the previous incarnations. Compared to the 2011 version, it is clear Astro have made significant leaps in terms of design and technology, dovetailing with the way gaming itself has changed over the same period. Four years ago, for example, Twitch was just a fledgling spin-off from Justin.tv; nowadays, it is one of the most popular media channels out there.
The headset packs a range of features for those who stream their games
Astro have astute capitalised on this trend with the TR range. It is the first headset aimed specifically at those who make a living from gaming, whether it be in the competitive arena of esports or streaming and YouTube. It is not so much a pair of headphones as a portable studio which combines great audio output with a welter of editing options to allow others to not only see, but hear what you are playing.
When combined with the Astro Command Centre, software which allows you to fiddle around with various EQ settings and inputs to your heart’s content, the MixAmp Pro allows to you tailor your streaming audio in two-channel Dolby Surround Sound. For anyone forced to listen to booming mic interference over a stream, the difference is startling: by customising chat and game audio levels, the TRs allow you to create a professional broadcast experience. Even if you don’t stream, you can use the TRs to add commentary to game clips in the Xbox One’s Upload studio.
The soundscape is rich and full with smooth bass
If all that sounds a little too specialist for those who just want to sit and play a game, fear not. The TRs do all the basic things superbly, producing a rich and full soundscape. The bass is smooth and the high ends crisp, while the directional sound via Dolby 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound decoding offers a clear tactical advantage to those who favour online multiplayer games such as Call of Duty.
The best feature of the TRs, however, is the way in which you can customise the headset itself. This requires an additional purchase in the form of a mod kit, available from Astro’s website, but it is a worthwhile investment, allowing you to change just about every component of the unit, from the microphone and the ear cushions to the headband and the speaker tags. The transformation is not cosmetic; the kit allows you to turn the open design of the TRs into a closed back, passive noise cancelling headset.
There is a pleasing heft to the TRs, which weigh in at 360 grams
The idea of a modular headset is a difficult concept to execute well. It is an item of consumer technology that must be sufficiently hard-wearing to withstand those occasions when it is accidentally sat or trodden on. A flimsy build, meanwhile, can also cause sound to leak both out and in. Fortunately, there are no such issues with the new A40s, with the build quality of the elegant white-coloured main frame not compromised.
This sturdiness does not come at the expense of comfort. There is a pleasing heft to the TRs - it weighs in at 360 grams - and out of all the top range headsets available for the Xbox One, the design of Astro’s model is best suited to lengthy gaming sessions. The materials are premium and it could easily rival non-gaming headsets from the likes of Sennheiser in terms of looks and feel.
The headset is wired but functionality makes up for the lack of portability
The one concession is that the TRs are wired, although fortunately, the updated MixAmp means you are no longer required you to connect a chat cable to the the controller to talk with friends over Xbox Live. For those who simply cannot do without the convenience of wireless, this may be offputting, but the compromise is well worth it. Unparalleled in terms of features and functionality, this is as much an ecosystem as it is a headset and the standout audio choice for the Xbox One.