When we reviewed the Astro A40 Audio System, we felt Astro Gaming set the bar pretty high for not only for the gaming audio accessory industry, but for themselves. Though not without its faults, the Astro A40 system proved to be an incredibly versatile and high-performance gaming audio solution. Despite praises from us and much of the gaming press, Astro has been working diligently to expand upon the A40 headset and this week unveiled the fruits of their labor — the Astro A30 headset.
One of the most common criticisms of the A40 was that it was bulky and came with an even heftier price tag of $199 for the headset alone and $249 for the complete MixAmp system. For the A30 headset, Astro has sought to trim sizable fat from both the price and the form factor, while adding a few new features to appeal to new audiences and target on-the-go consumers.
In terms of the design, Astro seems to have ditched the blocky, road-ready aesthetic of the A40 in favor of a sleeker, sexier frame that more closely resembles traditional headphones. While still incredibly unique, the A30’s design is far less noticeable when being worn or resting on the shoulders of the user. The A30’s framework is in many ways a unibody design; while the headband can be extended and earcups rotated inward for resting around a user’s neck, it is expertly constructed to feel like one solid piece.
In addition to the drastic size differential between the A40 and A30, the weight difference between the two headsets is staggering. While the A40s are comfortable, they are pretty weighty, the A30s, on the other hand, feel almost weightless. Part of this experience is due to the A30’s on-ear earcup shape, as opposed to the over-ear padding of the A40s. Unless you’ve got exceptionally large ears, the A30’s earcups should rest comfortably on the furthest edges of your ears, with no gaps for sound to get in or out. The earcups of the A30s are closed-back for further sound isolation.
But the Astro A30s aren’t all form; a few functional improvements have been made as well. The quick release cord, which extends only a few inches below the headset and can be connected to included cables of varying length and output, now incorporates a built-in microphone. The built-in microphone provides a nice alternative to those who’d rather not to deal with a full-on boom microphone. This is especially useful for using the A30s with the iPhone or other smartphones with all-in-one audio cables. Furthermore, the inline connector now features a play/pause button for iPod and other media player control. For smartphone use, this function can be used to answer or end calls.
The inline microphone seemed to pick up spoken dialogue fairly well, but with a natural level of distance between the user and the microphone, it’s not nearly as clear as the A30’s detachable boom microphone. The A30’s boom microphone, unlike the A40’s which popped into either the right or left earcup, is fixed on the left side. The connection port is seamlessly integrated into the frame of the headset. Unfortunately, the boom microphone is permanently in the extended position unless it is completely removed. It can, however, be bent to be less intrusive when not in use.
As for audio performance, Astro has tweaked the equalization of the A30s to be slightly bassier while maintaining strong mids and crisp highs for better performance in multimedia applications; however, we found the boost to be beneficial in gaming applications as well. In fact, we found ourselves favoring the A30s for their beefier tone, especially when playing audibly-rich shooters like Battlefield Bad Company 2. As we mentioned before, the headset can be purchased with the MixAmp system, which is the only way users can get full simulated surround processing and integrate with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Since the surround sound processing is taking place in the same product whether you purchase the A40 or A30 headset, our multi-channel audio experience was virtually identical. We were still able to locate sources of audio in a wide sound field, which is essential for gaming use.
It is important to note that Astro has revised the MixAmp hardware since we first reviewed the A40 Audio System to incorporate integrated USB connectivity with PCs and the PlayStation 3. Otherwise, users can still connect multiple devices via optical toslink cable, USB, stereo headphone jack, COAX, or RCA. Also, for those concerned about whether Astro’s customizable speaker tag system is still a key feature on the A30s, the answer is yes, however, they are of a different shape and size than those used on the A40s. You will be able to buy and create your own speaker tags, but existing pairs for the A40s will not work on the A30 headset.
At $149.99 for the headset by itself and $229.95 for the MixAmp bundle, the Astro A30 is by no means a cheap endeavor, but in our opinion, every dollar spent is matched with high quality components, top-tier audio performance, and a level of unique style seldom seen in gaming headphones.
IGN’s Ratings for Astro A30 Gaming Headset
Rating (out of 10) – Description
9.5 Build Quality – (A solid, unibody-like design that seems built to last.)
9.5 Audio Quality – (An impressive tonal range with a little extra bass, ideal for music, shooters, and action titles.)
9.0 Features – (The new built-in mic and media playback controls are perfect for gamers on the go.)
8.2 Ease of Use – (Like the A40 Audio System, it’s still a bit of a tricky setup.)
9.2 Value – (While still expensive, the A30 system is cheaper and, in many ways, preferrable to the A40s.)
10 Comfort – (The headset is practically weightless and the earcups breathe exceptionally well.)
9.7 OVERALL (out of 10)