Astro A40 Headset and Mixamp: First Impressions

Lately, I have been playing MW2 on my computer monitor, with my awesome AudioEngine 5 speakers. I find the 24 inch screen and distance to my eyes to be the perfect balance for me. But I missed my 5.1 home theatre speakers that I had on my TV. So this was my final push to buy a 5.1 gaming headset.

While I know that the Astro A40 audio system is not a “true” 5.1 setup, all the reviews from every source imaginable on the internet said that every sound could be accurately placed in the sound stage, and that their virtualized 5.1 is excellent. So, despite the high cost (especially if you ship to Canada), I decided that I’m spending more than enough hours online play Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox 360 to justify the cost.

The headset arrived yesterday. The boxes that the product comes in are excellent. They really present the product. Unboxing was genuinely enjoyable. The cable selection is sizable, and the USB cable to power the mixamp is the thickest, heaviest, most beefy USB cable I’ve ever seen by far. I know it shouldn’t matter at all, but I liked that it was so rugged (and slightly rubberized).

Anyway, once setup, I had to “set” the cables, meaning make them usable at my desk. Astro is certainly generous with the cable length of all the cables (I would estimate the USB cable to be at least 10 feet, and the cables from the mixamp to the headset were at least 6 feet also). Since I sit probably 2 feet away from the mixamp, I re-bundled them to a more usable length.

Starting up the Xbox, the headset blew my mind with the regular xbox 360 startup noise. I started to get really excited. So then I fired up Modern Warfare 2.

This is where I feel I should clarify how I play and what I’m used to. I started playing MW2 on my 5.1 setup. I typically like my video games loud. I really like to hear everything, and sound is a huge part of my video game/movie experience, more than most of my friends. I consistently use the sound in MW2 to my advantage. I use the sound to locate enemies, keep track of my team, play stealthily and generally enjoy the whole thing. I probably put in roughly 100 hours on that setup. Then I moved my Xbox to my computer monitor and speakers.

So I lost my 5.1 setup playing the game on my computer monitor. As I said, my AudioEngine 5 speakers (only 2) now became my sound system (I really love these speakers, full balanced sound). At first, I really missed the full 5.1 experience. But over time (the next 100 hours) I’ve started to be able to pinpoint sounds from all around me again. I wouldn’t say I can tell where something is coming from every time, but quite frequently. I’m not sure if this is a testament to excellent sound design on behalf of the developer, or simply me adjusting to the setup. Knowing that I can’t see the sound source by default, suggests that the sounds is either to the side or behind me.

So, back to the headset. The actual in-game sound was basically too good. And I don’t mean that in a complimentary way. When they say you’ll hear footsteps, they’re not kidding. I felt like I could hear the footsteps of the other team from way too far away. If you’re around your own team, you’ll hear 12 separate feet hitting the ground everywhere all the time. I found that I wanted to ditch my teammates more than usual, just so I could make sense of the soundstage that I was presented. It’s not that I couldn’t tell there was footsteps to my left, right, front and back, it’s just that I was given so many that I couldn’t make use of all that information.

I also found the bass to not be the strong suit of the A40 headset. This however, does not differ from the other reviews I had consulted. If there’s a lot of air strikes, grenades, guns whatever going off at once, prepare to feel completely surrounded. This however is what you want I suppose. Again, I think I’ve just gotten really used to my 2 channel setup.

My first few games were very frustrating. I felt that the headset was overwhelming what I could handle. I tried extremely hard to “find” people using the sound. This was to the detriment of my score. To be fair, I was also quite distracted by other people at home and my dogs when I was playing. Once I stopped trying to actually “hear” everything and just started playing, things got better. I, on more than one occasion, pulled a 180 to shoot someone sneaking up on me.

All that said, I need some more time with them to form a valid opinion. My initial reaction would be categorized as good, but not great (as so many others have felt). I also believe, that I personally need some time to get used to this setup. I will continue to use them for the next week or so.


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