In my first impressions post, I had made a critical error in my setup. I had this sneaking suspicion that something was wrong. How could so many positive reviews be so wrong in my opinion? Simple, as it turns out.
While the mixamp can handle so many different connections and wires, it’s actually a pretty simple device. There are two knobs, and two buttons. There’s a knob for overall volume, and a separate one for voice volume. There’s a button for power, and a button for Dolby Headphone. I say this only to emphasize my initial mistake and confusion.
Dolby vs Dolby…
So, knowing that that the “5.1 sound” in the headset was virtual, and in part due to their documentation, I assumed that the mixamp must have Dolby Headphone enabled to create the 5.1 surround sound. In fact, the very first time to turn on the A40 system, Dolby Headphone is enabled. This however, was a major error for me playing Modern Warfare 2.
As you can see in the picture from the quickstart guide, the button was more simply labeled as Dolby On/Off. Strictly speaking, this is mostly accurate. While the Xbox hooked up via optical cable is outputting Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds, this button enables Dolby Headphone. What’s the difference you ask? In the end quite a bit in certain situations.
As I found out later, Dolby Headphone is the rough equivalent to Dolby Pro Logic. What’s Dolby Pro Logic? Essentially it’s the ability that many receivers have to make a 2 channel (left and right) audio source sound like it’s coming from all around you, even though it is not. This clearly is the problem I was having. Dolby Headphone will also “create” the surround effect even if surround sound is getting piped into the mixamp. So when I said it sounded like the footsteps were all around me all the time, that was actually a much more true statement than I realized.
In short, for a FPS like MW2, make sure this button is off. For a game that’s more cinematic where directional audio is not important, the Dolby Headphone will add a compelling spaciousness to the sound. This is part of the reason why it took me so long to try MW2 with it off. Once you’ve heard Dolby Headphone turned on, the regular and accurate surround sound seems quite flat. In truth, it is vastly more accurate.
Ok, now we’re rolling
Very very good.
The audio cues for me are important, and when I had the mixamp running in the wrong mode, my gameplay suffered considerably. Once I had it set up properly, I was right back up to where I left off. I could easily tell where people were running and shooting from. I’m not really sure what else I could say about the sound. Whether it’s a virtual 5.1 or not, the differences to me are extremely minor and make little to no difference. I found the directional sound to only be slightly and momentarily more ambiguous than a regular 5.1 home theatre setup. By this I mean that I felt sometimes I didn’t know exactly where the sound was coming from instantly, but a split second later I would. However, I believe this is made up by the fact that I’m wearing a headset. Footsteps and other directional audio are noticeable much sooner. So any possible delay in interpreting the sound that I perceive is in the end irrelevant.
I can also attest to the comfort of the headset. I played for many consecutive hours without any comfort issues whatsoever. The cans are cloth, similar to a felt, and there’s no “heat” issues. Some headphone will make you feel like you have ear warmers on after a while, these do not suffer in the least from this effect.
As nearly every review you will read about the astro setup, there are two downsides. The price and the cables. If you know the price, and you’re not immediately turned off by it (I believe a good headset is worth the money), then the cables are you’re only potential downside. I for one prefer aspects of the cables. For one, that means there’s no batteries in the headset. This means less weight, and no batteries that involve charging etc. The cables need to be managed. Once you have a good setup, you probably won’t want to move much. It takes a little getting used to.
The only minor gripe I have is the location of the mic’s mute button. Regular Xbox 360 users know that the mute is on the plug for the headset. Easily within reach when your hands are on the controller for quite muting. I used that a lot. Understandably, since the Astro also function with a PC, this location would make no sense. So the mute is where it needs to be, just not where I’m used to. I will say however, that when people see me with the headset on, they don’t even bother to try to talk to me anyway (I usually can’t hear them while in game), so I haven’t needed a mute button nearly as much.
In the end
In conclusion, if you’re used to a 5.1 setup for your gaming or want to experience quality directional audio, the Astro A40 audio system will not disappoint. You might not want to spend that kind of money on a wired headset, but if the price and cables aren’t deal breakers for you, you will not have buyer’s remorse with this system.