Astro A40 TR Headset Review
Having relied on the stock headsets provided by console makers for years, switching to a headset built from the ground-up for multiplayer gaming and streaming was a bit of a shock. I knew the sound provided by the small, mass-market earphones wasn't great, but it sufficed in a pinch when I needed to not rely on my surround sound system. The microphones on these budget accessories weren't the best either, but served their purpose well enough. I'd dabbled with other headphones from Beats and Marshall, but they weren't geared for gaming or chat, and the experience was still uneven. While I got much better sound, it was a challenge to be heard through the minuscule microphone.
None of the previous methods I'd used for chat, streaming or private gaming could hold a candle to the results I got with the Astro A40 TR headset.
Professional-style headsets always seemed like overkill to me. Even though I play and review games for a living, Astros headsets always appeared to be for the pro gamers on the tournament circuit, and not necessarily for homebodies like me. Of course, in retrospect that seems like a silly line to draw in the sand. If you've invested thousands of dollars on a television, consoles, games, controllers and speakers, why wouldn't you also invest in a more competent headset? I'd relied on the stock equipment because it got the job done, but there's a major difference in adequately performing the job and excelling at that job.
The default A40 TR headset comes with cloth ear cushions, which cup around your ear completely. They're comfortable and don't feel like they're applying too much pressure to the temple, which is sometimes a problem for me with headphones since I wear glasses. The open back speaker tags (the outer shell of the earphone) prevent this standard model from being completely noise-cancelling, but with the mod kit, you can closed back tags and leather cushions to make that adjustment.
In a quiet home at night, there's hardly any discernible difference to the sound output of the out-of-the-box A40 TRs and the modded version. I didn't test these in a raucous tournament setting, but there is a slight drop in the amount of ambient noise and chatter you can hear from those outside your little game world when you've got the headsets modded out with the noise-cancelling additions.
Modded or not, that sound that comes through is vastly superior to any headset I've used previously. Rather than connecting through the headphone jack on the PlayStation 4 controller, the A40 TRs offer Dolby 5.1 and 7.1 surround through the digital optical port in the back of the console. That cord is then run to the MixAmp, which controls game volume, voice-to-game ratio for streaming, and comes with equalizer presets for consoles (on PC, you can use Astro's built-in tools to craft your own EQ or copy someone else's mix online). I preferred to leave it on the Astro mode (the default), but the Bass boost mode was nice when the stadium was rocking in Madden NFL 16. Tournament mode and Balanced mode didn't make much difference compared to Astro for in-house gaming, but there are those of you that will find those modes handy at some point.
As nice as it is to have my home speaker system blaring to capture all the in-game sound, the headset provides a much intimate and clear version of a given game's sound design. Having spent hours playing through Star Wars Battlefront, Madden 16 and Metal Gear Solid V with the A40 TRs, I heard much more subtlety and nuance with the headset on than I did from my speakers. With every single sound pumping directly to my ears versus across my whole living room, I was able to appreciate a bit more of the virtual world around me. Seriously, the difference in playing a game like Battlefront without headphones on was staggering. The shootouts there just felt that much more alive and real because I was so closed off from the outside world.
That said, using the MixAmp is one of the disadvantages such a high-end headset runs into on consoles. With all first-party controllers being wireless these days, having to run extra cords across my living space to use a headset was a bit tedious. Thankfully the included cables (the optical cable and a USB power cable) were long enough to span the distance from my gaming center to my couch. Still, it makes an awkward arrangement when others are around and need to step over cables that would otherwise not be in the way. To get the best quality sound though you do need to use the MixAmp. The slight inconvenience of not being 100% wireless is more than worth the end result though, particularly compared to the default options I'd been using before.
As to chat quality, both the standard mic included and the mod kit's voice isolating mic worked great. The clarity was miles above what I'd experienced with any wired mic previously, but again, most headphones aren't designed for talking. Being able to converse is more of an afterthought for sets catered to listening to music. What's even better is switching to the MixAmp for sound meant chat from friends was output into more than one side of my headphones. When you're just plugged into the DualShock 4, Sony only outputs to mono in my experience. Using the optical out means game sound and game chat are both delivered in stereo. It's made multiplayer gaming that much better, particularly for my comrades in arms who can actually hear me with clarity now.
I didn't get to try out the daisy chaining the MixAmp provides for tournament settings (I'd need another few A40s and a tournament to attend first), but for a solo experience the Astro A40 TR headset has been a tremendous hardware addition. The headset is on the pricey side, but considering how much more it offers for my particular needs, I'd much rather have these than a pair of Beats or Monster headphones. The price range might put it just out of reach for more casual players, but if you spend at least a few hours a day playing games, either online or off, the A40 TRs are worth the price of admission.
The Astro A40 TR Headset and MixAmp are available for $250, with the Mod Kits retailing for $60. Both are available through Astro's online shop and other retailers. The Astro A40 TR Headset, MixAmp and Mod Kit were provided for review.