Unless your receiver provides you with such a luxury, the constant plugging and unplugging of an optical cable can get tiresome. We've looked at a few possible workarounds for such a situation and will update this review with solutions if they prove viable.
Other than the occasional logistical hurdle, setting up the A40 should be a short affair. Once the optical audio cable is plugged into the MixAmp's transmitter base and powered, it takes a simple sync operation to get the receiver hooked up. We had no difficulties connecting another optical audio cable to our home receiver's input for digital audio passthrough when we weren't using the A40 headphones.
The receiver itself must also be powered, and Astro offers a separate $20 rechargeable battery for purchase on the company Web site. Customers can also make use of the included three AAA batteries, though we're not entirely sure how long they'll last. That said, we didn't need to replace them during our three-week testing of about 15 hours of gameplay. The rechargeable battery can be powered and charged by a standard USB cable too.
That's about all the setup required for the A40 Wireless System, impressively simple compared with other surround-sound devices we've tested.
The A40s are among the best surround-sound headphones we've ever tested. To be clear, the A40 Wireless System only simulates surround sound, but its performance in doing so is top-notch.
We tested the surround-sound performance with a variety of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games, in addition to Blu-ray versions of "The Fifth Element" and "Star Trek." The films sounded great and did an impressive job of channel isolation simulation, but it was games where the A40s really shone.
Using the A40s with Call of Duty: Black Ops on Xbox 360 was an absolute dream, especially during our various multiplayer deathmatch sessions. The ability to customize the mix of chat and game volume proved extremely useful and all of our teammates reported being able to hear us clearly. We should note that the use of Xbox Live game chat requires the connection of another wire (from the Xbox controller to the MixAmp receiver), so players will be tethered to the receiver and controller.
Bullets seemed to whiz by our heads and the A40 did a great job of helping us locate enemy team members with its directional sound allocation.
Next we switched things up with the terrifying Dead Space 2, a game that features fantastic sound design with its creepy atmosphere and shrieking Necromorphs. Hearing the horror and screams in outer space was quite an intimidating experience with the A40s, forcing us to refrain from testing the hardware at night.
Moving over to the PS3, we popped in LittleBigPlanet 2. While the game doesn't rely on surround sound for much of its core gameplay, the A40s still provided a new layer of audio that we could barely hear without them--the little nuances and the clicking of gadgets and levers were all audible.
Out of curiosity, we took the headphone connection from our receiver and plugged it into the MixAmp's transmitter base. Surprisingly enough, the sound quality was almost as good as with the digital connection, though channel separation and surround simulation were nowhere near as accurate or noticeable.
The A40 Wireless System's price should be the most anyone pays for simulated surround sound. Make no mistake; while the system does a fantastic job, it may not be the solution for every gamer. For those interested in quality wireless headset console gaming, we still have to mention the Logitech F540 (now available for as low as $100) as a much more affordable alternative.
The A40 Wireless System is something for audiophile gamers that demand discreet audio channel separation and accurate simulation. If the $280 price tag is a bit high, why not bring your own headphones and match them up with the MixAmp 5.8, available for sale separately direct from Astro for $140.
Up until now we've recommended Turtle Beach's X41 wireless surround-sound offering for prospective gamers. While its $170 price tag is certainly more attractive than the A40's, its performance and build quality are no match for the A40.