Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR Gaming Headset Review
The Astro A40 is legendary in the gaming headset space.
At a normal price of $249, the full Mixamp bundle is at the upper end of the price range for this category… at least until you part out everything you’re getting and realize it’s actually a really competitive package. Especially as it often goes on sale.
I feel silly for not having tried this headset properly before.
It stands proudly alongside the best gaming audio products I’ve ever used. If you want a one-and-done, fully modular solution for your gaming needs that’ll also do a decent job elsewhere, then go buy one without reading the rest of this.
I actually owned the previous model of this headset for precisely one day in early 2015. But my Mixamp unit was defective. It had a severe channel imbalance, something that affected other units at that time as well. I was too impatient to wait for Astro to replace it, and the store didn’t have any other units in stock, so I returned it.
The Mixamp TR launched later that year, promising an end to such issues thanks to its newly overhauled fully digital architecture, and user-upgradeable firmware. I put it back on my wishlist and then just…didn’t get around to it until now.
The Astro A40 TR is a fully modular headset system, available in a wide variety of configurations. The base headset goes for $149, and includes a detachable cable and microphone. There’s a bundle with a special headset adapter for Xbox One for $199. That adapter includes full volume controls and some EQ presets.
Then, there’s the full bundle with Mixamp for $249. That bundle comes in PS4 and Xbox versions (Microsoft requires special drivers to enable USB chat on Xbox). Both versions will work natively on PC as well. The Mixamp is also available separately for $129, meaning you’ll save ~$30 by buying this bundle.
$149 for a headset and $129 for a DAC/Amp with full surround functionality are pretty affordable and competitive price points…so this is actually a really well-priced product even before the bundle discount.
Sound Quality/Mixamp Surround Processing
Everything about the sound of this headset is impressive.
The default pads and ear cup backs are configured in a semi-open design. Usually, this is good for soundstage and speed…and not the best for bass response.
However, the bass on these is pretty darn amazing. Not up to “basshead” levels, but a touch more pronounced than typical bright studio-style headphones.
It’s well extended, deep, punchy, and fun. I was shocked at this on first listen. It’s really impressive for what is essentially a non-sealing design.
The overall signature is slightly titled towards the bass end of things…but mids and highs are still accurate and pleasant to listen to. Highs are detailed without a hint of fatigue, and the mids don’t sound scooped or unnatural in any meaningful way. Every piece of audio I threw at it sounded just how I wanted it to. It performs about how I’d expect a good $200 wired pair to perform. Very cool.
Imaging is nice, with a soundstage that floats gently outside your ears.
And that’s before we even talk about the Mixamp.
The Mixamp TR is a hell of a thing.
It comes with four built-in EQ presets, and with a PC you can change and customize these to your heart’s content. You can save those changes permanently to the Mixamp and use them on your console as well.
The default EQ is called “Astro,” and it’s designed to work specifically with the sound signature of the A40 headset. Rarely does one get the chance to hear an EQ profile on an amp created by the people who also made the headset that goes with it.
The Astro EQ setting is hilariously good and fun to listen to. The bass gets slightly further emphasized, and makes it feel like there’s a subwoofer in the room. When compared with the excellent Dolby surround stuff, it’s like sitting in a nice home theater.
When you press that Dolby logo button on the Mixamp, two different processing technologies kick in. First, Dolby ProLogic II-X is used to upscale whatever you’re listening to into a 7.1 signal. If your sound is already 7.1 it isn’t touched. Then, the latest version of Dolby Headphone is used to play that back into the headphones. All this processing happens without a hint of lag.
The surround processing is very good, and just about all I could ask for from a virtual surround system. It really feels like the sound is coming from far outside my head. Sure, it doesn’t have the vertical capabilities of the recent Dolby Atmos software on Xbox One and Windows 10…but most games and movies don’t fully support that yet anyway.
The Atmos software has a slightly more sterile, studio feel, and the Astro processor feels more like a simulated room. If I have to give the nod to one of them, I’d probably narrowly take the A40’s implementation of Dolby Headphone over the Atmos stuff, at least at the time of this writing when native Atmos content isn’t prolific.
They’re both awesome, but the feel of the Mixamp surround is like 10 percent more awesome, for my tastes. You’ll have to hear both for yourself to truly decide.
On PC, the Mixamp shows up as a full surround sound system, so you shouldn’t have any problems getting games to run properly. The Atmos software doesn’t report as surround sound hardware, which has caused some issues in PC games for me. Like Fallout 4. And any other game which looks at what your hardware is reporting rather than what the software is saying.
This all perfectly illustrates why I wish the Atmos software had more options other than “On” and “Off.” Astro might be using “older” technologies (by a year or two), but their combination of EQ presets and surround algorithms tuned specifically for the headset you’re wearing is really hard to beat.
Oh, and you can plug any headphones you want into the Mixamp. I wouldn’t use it to drive high impedance stuff, but 99 percent of consumer gear will be driven with authority.
The Astro A40’s ship in a semi-open configuration, and provide relatively little isolation and have a bit of sound leak as well.
This didn’t stop me from testing them in the coffee shop.
The amount of sound leak is fine for a louder environment, but if you used them in a library you might get a look or too. The isolation is not as good as a fully-closed headphone…but they were still usable thanks to the impressive amount of bass put out by the headphones.
Astro sells a variety of mod kits for about $60. These include different ear cup backs that convert these to a closed design, leatherette ear pads, a different mic, and a replacement headband. So you can go fully closed and isolating if you want to. I haven’t tested this myself, but I probably will in the future and I’ll give it a mini-review.
The A40 headset is built out of a mixture of metal and tough high-impact composite and gloss-finish plastic. They don’t look like they’d be the most durable things at first glance, but they’re impressive to hold and feel. For a $149 thing, they’re very well-made.
The headband is quite flexible and I like that the adjustment tube things are fully metal.
Design-wise, it strikes a good balance between gaming headset and regular headphones. They’re a little bit angular and boxy…but they don’t stick out so far on the head that you’ll look silly in public.
I dig the look of them. They come in both black and white. The white one seems like it’d be quite a bit more intense visually, but if that’s your thing then go for it. Plus, the only way to get the Xbox version of the Mixamp in a bundle at retail is to get the white headset as well….though you can mix and match on Astro’s web site.
The cable detaches. Yes!
However, it uses a slightly elongated 5-pole 3.5mm plug at the headset end, so you’ll probably need to buy an official replacement if you ever lose it. The cable includes an in-line mute button for the microphone. It’s slightly longer than the average mobile headphone cable, so you’ll want to place the Mixamp fairly close by if you’re using it.
The microphone detaches, and has a very robust connector. This is great!
The ear pads and ear cup backs easily detach thanks to a magnetic system. As someone who has spent a lot of time stretching pads around headphones, I vastly prefer this sort of easy system. The magnets provide a secure fit and I’m not going to be frustrated down the road if I install one of the mod kits.
Really, the only possible knock I could level against the design is that they don’t collapse at all. They’ll fold flat for placement on a neck or a desk, though.
Sure, Astro hasn’t updated the core design of these too much in their near-decade on the market, but I think they’re pretty great.
The A40’s feature top-tier comfort! I could wear these for a full day without any discomfort. Their default semi-open configuration means my ears won’t get all sweaty either.
I have a little bit of extra adjustment room in the sliders even on my stupidly big head. The cups swivel and adjust very nicely. The padding is not memory foam, but it’s still dense enough to provide a comfy fit.
At first glance the headband pad seems like it’s not going to be thick enough…but it’s nice on the head and well-balanced.
The default ear pads feel like teddy bears around my ears. The holes are perhaps a touch smaller than on some other headsets, but my average ears fit fully in them just fine. I’ve also had no comfort issues from my glasses.
They don’t quite disappear on your head, but they feel just one step above that.
These are among the comfiest headsets I’ve ever worn. They’re better balanced on the head than the HyperX Cloud Revolver, and in the same league with stuff like the Steelseries Arctis and the original Cloud. If you’re a comfort fiend like me, you’ll dig them.
The excellently-packaged bundle box includes the headset, the default mic, the Mixamp TR, a USB Cable, an optical cable, the headset cable, and instructions. There’s no case or bag included…but that’s okay.
The microphone sounds excellent, and is one of the best in the price range. It’s nearly detailed enough to use for regular voice-over work, and more than fine for in-game chat.
The Astro A40 TR Mixamp Bundle is a complete audio solution in a box. You get a super-comfy, high-performance headset. You get a DAC/Amp that’s fully featured on the console of your choice and on PC, complete with exceptional surround implementation. It’s kind of a steal at the regular price of $249, and even better when it’s on sale. And it’s cool that all the parts are available separately too.
What about Turtle Beach?
Turtle Beach offers the “Elite Pro” system. But to get the whole setup it’ll usually cost you about $100 more than the A40's. No thank you!
What about the A50's?
Astro’s A50’s are wireless…but that’s their sole advantage. They cost $50 more. They’re not as modular as the A40’s, even in their new 2016 version. The ear cup backs and the microphone are not removable. And you can’t use the headset with anything other than the wireless base station.
Unless you really really really need the wireless functions, I wouldn’t recommend them personally.
The Astro A40 is my new go-to recommendation in the gaming headset space, whether you buy it piecemeal or get the bundle. I’ve gone from cautiously optimistic to a full-blown enthusiast in almost no time at all, and they’re going to be my main gaming pair for years to come.