Not many people outside of professional gaming have heard of Astro, but it's a design firm with notable clients (Microsoft and Alienware among them) that has focused on gaming audio for the past several years. The Astro A40 headset, a large set of over-the-ear phones used in Major League gaming tournaments, is a solid if pricey solution for PC and console gamers that debuted several years ago.
The A30 headset, now available for sale on Astro's Web site, is a more compact version of the A40 intended for use as a cross-purpose device for mobile music, gaming, and laptop users. Though the headset is far larger than a set of earbuds, the detachable boom microphone and additional in-line mic with call answer/music pause button let the A30 double as a smartphone headset.
For $149, the A30 comes with a pair of white or black headphones and three different cables, one length ideal for music phones, another that's better for TV gaming, and a third with dual jacks for laptops with separate mic and headphone inputs. For seriously hard-core gamers, the A30 headset has removable and customizable magnetic headphone gamer tags, although we don't think we'd ever consider investing in customization.
The A30 is advertised as a headset that works for console gaming, but to use it with a PS3 or Xbox 360 you'll need to buy a separate MixAmp with appropriate input jacks. The MixAmp also decodes 5.1 data into simulated two-channel surround and can custom-mix the levels of headset audio and in-game audio, but it also brings the cost of the headset package to $229, which might be more than many are willing to spend.
We tried out a pair of A30 headphones for a good week and a half, and even without the MixAmp the audio quality was better than expected, and certainly good enough for use with an iPhone or other player. As opposed to the open-backed A40, which let in background noise, the A30 seals off a little more for privacy, although it's not as effective as a good pair of in-ear buds. Astro claims the bass has been boosted a little in the A30 set, as compared with the "level accurate" A40, and to our ears it sounded nice both with music or when playing rich, environmental games. With the MixAmp, the A30 becomes a much more complete set, and we appreciated the variety of MixAmp inputs for Toslink and other audio cables.
The cables on the A30 are a little thick, and the dual-jack cable connectors are pretty beefy, too, but the headset felt comfortable and sturdy when on. All the cable bulk, combined with a large included zipper case, makes these better travel headphones than quick commuters.
Though the jury may be out on whether the A30 headset is worth the investment for regular headphone users, as a gaming headset it was compelling and comfortable enough to use whenever we booted up our PS3 or 360. And, despite the extra wiring with the MixAmp configuration, setup is relatively easy.
Fellow CNET colleague Dan Ackerman has also been trying the headset out, and says, "Having previously been forced to buy a bunch of expensive, and otherwise incompatible, hardware to set up headphones for console use at home, I appreciated the ability to hook these up to multiple sources. And as someone who knows the horrors of headphone fatigue from working for long hours on music projects (mostly wearing AKG K240), I also thought these were surprisingly comfortable." You can see him wearing a pair on the Digital City podcast as of late, FYI.