Logitech-owned Astro Gaming has gone above and beyond with the Astro A40 +MixAmp Pro. At close to $400 it’s obviously something to be sniffed at, but what you get elegantly solves one of PC gaming’s most annoying problems.
Namely – balancing game audio with voice chat volume. The MixAmp Pro box has a master volume, but also another separate dial to balance game sound and voice. This allows on the fly and perfectly precise balancing in-game. It can do this magical trick because it assigns one audio device to game sound and another to voice -- and it can provide one for each, too. Because every game has different sound characteristics (driving is an endless drone, shooting is sharp punctuated sounds, etc), it’s a dream to be able to tweak game to voice balance just by twiddling the MixAmp Pro’s knobs. The box itself looks great and is best placed within arm’s reach.
It can be configured many ways. On my setup I have game audio from a Sound Blaster ZxR fed into the MixAmp via TOSLink Optical, and voice chat using the MixAmp’s own DSP, connected via USB to the PC. That means no sacrifices in game audio quality. It can also be fed game sound via a 3.5mm plug if you don’t have optical. The box also has optical-out to pass through to a secondary amp if you want. Additionally, there’s a streaming output.
It’s an extremely well thought out set of connectivity options that doesn’t lock you into a setup that may have compromises. And – most impressively – the MixAmp box has two audio DSPs inside it, so you can bypass your PC audio entirely and assign one DSP to game audio, and the other to voice chat. My setup uses the Sound Blaster ZxR simply because it offers the best currently available game sound, though the MixAmp’s DSPs are still extremely good should you choose to use one of them for game audio. And, major props to Astro for including optical connectivity, that alone speaks much of the no-compromise approach to design they have.
Once all connected up, you will need to then assign the audio sources for game and mic via Windows’ Sound panel. You may also need to do some configuring in your game’s audio menu, though I found that more often than not simply selecting System Default was sufficient for the game to behave properly.
The headphones themselves are also supremely good. The sound is clean and neutrally equalised. Though, via the MixAmp, at the push of a button four different EQ pre-sets are available (and you can create custom EQs, too), while another button enables/disables Dolby 7.1 Surround, making it delightfully simple to change settings in-game and quickly settle on what suits what you’re playing at the time. The surround positional information is extremely impressive, even without Dolby enabled.
They’re large and comfortable, fully enclose the ear and you can swap out the covers to have them open, or fully enclosed (the ‘enclosed’ covers are an optional extra). The mic boom can also be attached to the left or right side – yet another nice touch that adds a tiny bit to the cost but, again, shows that Astro went all-out with offering ultimate flexibility with these. My only criticism is that the foam under the top strap isn’t quite enough for marathon sessions and you do feel a bit of pressure on your head after a while. The clamping force is fine, it’s only the contact point at the top of your skull that occasionally feels it.
Astro A40 delivers supreme flexibility and control, plus audio quality equal to the very best. Yes, there are other solutions to this issue. You could run a second sound card, or just use your voice software’s on screen display to adjust those volumes, but neither offer the immediate access to adjusting volumes and balance, or doing so with as much elegant precision.