Up until now, all the headphones GadgetyNews has had to review are from a purely musical point-of-view. As gamers have equally specific requirements we have the Astro A40 TR headset and amp bundle to test.
The Astro A40 TR headset comes bundled with the MixAmp Pro external soundcard and can also be customised thanks to some clever interchangeable bits.
Astro is a well-known brand for US gaming fans and, looking at the base of the amp, it is in Europe via the Skullcandy brand.
Astro A40 TR design
Let’s get the one thing out of the way to start with. These are wired headphones.
Some of you might be considering moving away from this review right now but, if you are LAN gamer or actually get involved in e-sport games, having a physical connection makes the headset much more reliable in crowded settings and removes the risk of interference. This is why TR equals Tournament Ready folks!
The Astro A40 has been going for about 5 years now and the design hasn’t really changed that much during the years.
The earcups that house the 40mm drivers are sat in a glossy plastic ring that lets it pivot slightly up and down for comfort. It also connects to the headband through a metal tube that both protects the earcup’s cable as well allowing it to turn completely sideways and lay flat.
The headset is nicely chunky and surprisingly light, tipping the scales at 13.3 ounces. The plush, cloth-covered padding on the ears and under the headband makes wearing them a comfortable and pretty sweat-free experience during gaming marathons.
The left cup holds the 3.5mm connector to the included MixAmp Pro TR and this points straight down. A rather nice touch is that there is a recessed 3.5mm connector for the removable, flexible boom mic on both earcups. This enables lefties and righties to use the mic with equal ease. More about this in the performance section.
The earcups’ panels (dubbed ‘tags’ by Astro) are removable, being held in place by magnets. One of these tags has a cut-out to accommodate the mic connection.
The A40 TR is vented, which means there is space under the back panel of each earcup. This helps to avoid sweaty lobes but also means that sound can leak out.
Astro A40 Mod Kit
Thankfully, if you want a more sealed experience for better bass and/or privacy, this is where the A40 TR Mod Kit comes in handy.
All these bits snap on and off thanks to the magic of magnets. That is, everything except the headband padding. This you have to wrestle with slightly. I will admit to being slightly worried that I might break something, but that was seemingly unfounded.
This £48 Mod Kit includes two additional tags with rubber gaskets to block off the vents, leather-covered earpads and headband padding. You also get a larger, voice-isolating boom mic. The black and green colour scheme is great if you have an Nvidia themed rig.
Like other Astro headsets, you can also swap out the tags with a variety of colours and styles for £16 per pack. These cosmetic tags are open-back, like those included with the A40 TR itself.
Astro MixAmp Pro TR design
The MixAmp Pro TR that’s included with the A40 TR offers plenty of connectivity and control options.
The MixAmp is a 1.7- x 3.1- x 5-inch (HWD) rather good looking, sturdy, plastic box.
The face is dominated by a large volume knob flanked by Dolby, EQ, and Power buttons.
Below this array is a smaller mix knob. This lets you balance the audio between the game you’re playing and your team’s voice chat on the fly.
The front panel is home to the 3.5mm connector for the headset itself, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, and two ports for daisy-chaining multiple MixAmps together (for full team communication and synchronisation on a hardware level).
In order to have clear sight of the settings, the MixAmp is angled up slightly. It sits on a smooth, tapered rubber base that keeps it from slipping and helps with isolation.
The A40 TR + MixAmp Pro TR comes in two versions. One is designed for use with the Xbox One, while the other is designed for use with the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3. Both will work equally well with your PC, and both headsets can plug directly into your smartphone using the same cable you hook up to the MixAmp Pro TR.
I have been sent the White Xbox One version of the headset and, even though I am using it with my PC, it registered instantly as soon as I plugged in the USB cable.
Astro A40 TR and MixAmp Pro performance
The A40s come loaded with a single 40mm driver in each earcup. These dish out a frequency response of 20Hz to 21KHz and, for those of you who like this kind of thing, a claimed impedance of 48 ohms, THD of 0.1 per cent.
The MixAmp Pro offers a per channel power output of 70mW and frequency response of 20Hz to 20KHz.
Personally, I have no problem with a wired connection as my tower sits on my desk but I can see how this might rankle with some who might have their console sat under the TV across the room.
My issue is that, as Astro have fitted the cups on each side with a mic connection, why could they have not done the same for the headphone cable? The NAD VISO HP50 headphones allow you to choose which cup the cable goes in so you don’t have it trailing across your front, why can’t the Astro A40? At the moment, my tower and the MixAmp are to my right. The cable enters the headphones through the bottom of the left cup… annoying lead time. It’s a small issue, but possibly something that Astro could do with addressing for a premium product.
A40 TR gaming
I’m not usually one for gaming with headphones on as my PC audio rig is pretty good, I reckon. The thing is, after playing a few first person shooters (Black Ops, Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead 1 and 2, etc), as well as clocking up some time with Project Cars wearing the A40 TR, I might be a convert.
Audio through the MixAmp and the A40s come through really powerful and clearly. The clarity of dialogue is really impressive. Effects, such as gunfire and eerie noises in games such as Left 4 Dead 2, were also top notch.
The soundstage wasn’t as wide as what my speaker set up produces. Saying that though, I could still get a good feel as to which direction noises were coming from. The headphones weren’t as spatially impressive as I was hoping for, but they do give a decent amount of ‘surround sound’. So, differentiating between sounds from behind or in front of you in the game is pretty good.
Where the A40 TRs trumped my speaker set up was in immersion. I felt more a character in the games rather than a player of them – if that makes sense.
Playing team games the mic was clear. To hear an example, have a listen to this (I’m the non-Irish sounding chap).
A40 TR music
The Astro cans (not to be confused with Astrakhan) and MixAmp gives a bass-heavy response, which I kinda expected.
It’s not totally uneven though as the amp tends to sculpt the high-mids and treble accordingly. This slightly compensates for the presence of the beefier low end.
The sources being used are Tidal and as some choice Flac tunes. With these the Astro TR and MixAmp Pro has an awful lot that keeps me grinning.
The A40 TR headphones might not be the final word in musical reproduction but Rammstein through these is a beast! The industrial pounding of Sonne and Du Hast are amazing; chunky guitars and bass doing their thing whilst the keys and vocals are still clear in the mix.
I would, however, recommend you avoid the more gentler part of your music collection. I dare say that the A40 TR doesn’t really know how to treat tracks such as ‘Finn’ from Tori Amos or Esbjorn Svensson Trio’s ‘Tuesday Wonderland’. The bass and upper ranges are all well and good but there does seem to be something lacking in between.
Their handling of movies was on a par with gaming, which is no real surprise to me to be honest.
MixAmp Pro tweaking
There are some handy pre-set EQ tweaks which are engadged by pressing the left-hand button beneath the main volume dial.
The Pro setting, indicated by a red light in the top left of the button, reduces bass and emphasises mids and highs.
Core mode is indicated at the the top right of the button and applies no equaliser effects whatsoever. A light at the bottom right or bottom left shows that Media or Astro/LAN modes are live respectively. These will push up the low and mid-range with the latter mode adding microphone noise cancellation for noisy environs.
Astro A40 TR and MixAmp Pro review conclusion
Aimed squarely at the more serious end of the gaming community, the Astro A40 TR is kitted out as such.
The design hasn’t really changed but this just means they got it more-or-less right in the first place.
OK, it’s not wireless but I don’t think that’s really a deal breaker. Especially when you consider the headset’s fantastic build quality and performance.