Much like the horseshoe crab and the coelacanth, the Astro A40 TR gaming headset is something of a living fossil.
The headset’s design has barely changed since its introduction in 2009, and 10 years is a positively geological time scale when it comes to gaming peripherals. But the A40 TR hasn’t changed because it doesn’t really need to, and the new A40 TR X-Edition ($150) demonstrates that the lineage can still mostly hold its own against the best modern headsets.
The Astro A40 TR X-Edition is, as you might have gathered, a special 10th-anniversary edition of the A40 TR. It’s aesthetically different, with a special blue-and-red design and custom magnetic speaker tags. But beyond that, it’s functionally identical to the traditional A40 TR, with stellar gaming sound quality, a potentially comfortable fit and more swappable parts than you’d expect (or really need).
The music quality should be better for the price you pay, and the headset is missing a few features that come standard with some newer headsets. But the A40 TR is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” incarnate, and there’s a lot about the device that simply ain’t broke. It is, however, quite expensive for what it does.
The A40 TR looks like a pretty standard gaming headset on the surface, but there are a lot of subtle touches that elevate it above the fray. The X-Edition’s red-and-blue color scheme is gorgeous, for one thing. But even on the standard setup, you get a solid plastic chassis with an adjustable, padded headband and very clear notches to help you engineer the perfect fit. It’s not actually that easy to adjust while it’s on your head, but it also won’t lose its position due to a casual head-scratch or shoulder-tilt.
What stands out even more, though, is the sheer number of removable, swappable parts. The speaker tags on the outside of the ear cups are removable; the boom mic is removable; the earcups themselves are removable.
Everything is held together with magnets or simple jacks, and you can mix and match parts from the Astro website to your heart’s content. (Your wallet permitting, of course.) The headset also comes with a long 3.5-mm audio cable, and a long 3.5-mm splitter for PCs with separate mic/audio ports.
The only adornment is a mic mute button halfway down the audio cable. For anything else — including volume control and equalization — you need to buy a $130 amp. Equalization isn’t necessary on a 3.5-mm headset, of course, but volume control either on an ear cup or the cable is usually a standard feature. It’s particularly helpful for console play, which makes it all the more baffling that the versatile A40 TR forgoes this feature.
Opinions were split in the Tom’s Guide office about the A40 TR. I wore it for hours on end with no issue, although it did take some trial and error to finagle it into a good fit. At 13 ounces, it’s not tremendously heavy, and it distributes its weight well. The ear cups are plush but not too plush, making them comfortable without being so large that the sound gets distorted.
On the other hand, I gave the A40 TR to a co-worker who absolutely despised the headband on top. She thought that the padding wasn’t nearly soft enough, and as a result, the A40 TR pushed down hard on her head the entire time. Since the headset resists easy adjustment, she wasn’t able to fix the problem, only make it a little less pronounced.
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Our heads are about the same size, and we have about the same volume of hair, so my best advice would be to try the A40 TRs out in a store or at a convention before you buy it, if possible.
The A40 TR delivers where it counts, providing detailed, balanced, nuanced sound for every genre I threw at it. I tested the headset with FPS, RTS, RPG, MMO and action/adventure games across the PC, PS4 and Switch, and found that it excelled at every title. (The headset works with the Xbox One as well, provided you have one of the newer controllers, or an adapter for one of the older ones.)
In Destiny 2, the A40 TR nailed directional sound, letting me know where my enemies would come from next. In StarCraft: Remastered, it provided a wonderful balance between the otherworldly sound effects and the synthesized soundtrack. From dialogue in Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales to the sounds of the city in Marvel’s Spider-Man, the A40 TR sounds gorgeous and immediate.
The only downside here is, again, the lack of a volume control dial. On a PC, with access to media control buttons, it’s not too bad. But the PS4 and Xbox One don’t have the easiest built-in volume controls, meaning that you’ll either have to pick a volume that’s just a little too loud/quiet, or stop what you’re doing to adjust it frequently. This is an annoyance in a single-player title, and might be impossible in a multiplayer one.
Aside from its mic mute button and swappable parts (covered above), the A40 TR doesn’t have many bells and whistles. If you buy the MixAmp, you can toy around with equalization settings and chat mixes, but since that’s asking for another $130 on top of a $150 headset, it’s not the easiest investment to make.
The mic provides crisp, clear sound, though, and since it’s removable, you can use the A40 TR easily enough as an everyday pair of headphones. The A40 TR’s versatility also comes in handy, whether you want to play with a PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch or smartphone (although you will need yet another accessory to use Nintendo’s online voice chat, thanks to Nintendo’s bizarre online requirements).
One area where the A40 TR should have done much better was in how it handled music. After hearing its pitch-perfect game audio, I expected music to be similarly crisp and clear, but it wasn’t.
I listened to tracks by Flogging Molly, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones and G.F. Handel. The vocals and treble in every case were fantastic, but the lower registers and bass always had a muddy, unfocused sound, as if I were listening to them on a cheap speaker. I understand that this is a byproduct of the A40 being tuned for game sound, but a little bass can go a long way, especially in a headset that handles higher registers so well.
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You can indeed take the A40 TR with you on the train or the plane, though, thanks to its removable mic and swiveling ear cups. Whether you’d want to depends on whether you have $150 to drop on a dedicated gaming headset in addition to another $50-200 to spend on a dedicated music headset.
When you consider that the A40 TR has basically not changed in the past 10 years, it’s remarkable how well the headset has held up. It still sounds great, looks great and works with just about any system effortlessly. At the same time, it’s missed out on some of the best innovations of the 2010s: nuanced comfort options, inline volume controls and subtle music performance, for starters.
Ultimately, if you want a no-nonsense headset that’s going to make every game, on every system, sound as good as it possibly can, the A40 TR remains a strong choice and the X-Edition is a very pretty variation. Even so, the HyperX Cloud Flight is worth considering in the same price range, and you may want to see what you can find in the $100 neighborhood before you commit.