ASTRO Gaming HALO 5: Guardians Edition A40+MixAmp M80Overview -
After a beta and several other teasers and spin-off games, the first true 'Halo' installment has made its way to the Xbox One. To mark the special occasion of 'Halo 5: Guardians' arrival, ASTRO Gaming has, in partnership with 343 Industries, produced a special edition of the legendary ASTRO A40. This special variant has been paired with a special version of the MixAmp M80, which is ASTRO Gaming's answer to the Xbox One's controller. As a bonus to the package, the 'Halo 5' themed package includes a 'Halo 5' REQ code.
Not only is the ASTRO Gaming HALO 5: Guardians Edition A40+MixAmp M80 adorned in 'Halo' touches, but the entire color scheme and detail are specifically meant to invoke and match the Spartan Locke look that Microsoft choose for the both the Xbox One Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians Wireless Controller - Spartan Locke and the Xbox One Halo 5: Guardians Limited Edition 1TB console.
ASTRO Gaming HALO 5: Guardians Edition A40+MixAmp M80
Ah, the ASTRO Gaming A40. This headset has been a part of gaming in some form going on seven years, and with good reason. I'm going to get into the characteristics that make the A40 an excellent wired headset, but it's important to remember that the M80 MixAmp makes up a sizable part of this package as well. Functionally, the M80 connects the A40 the Xbox One controller, whether that's the old controller, the new controller, or the Elite controller. The M80 includes a full control cluster, complete with a multi-function LED set. Before going deeper into what the M80 does, however, I want to cover what makes this particular A40 and MixAmp M80 special.
The HALO 5: Guardians Edition
There have been a few different variations of the A40 headset, and there have been a few different special editions. Typically special editions come with speaker tags for a certain major game. In contrast, the M80 has previously only been available in one silver and grey color.
Simply put, the ASTRO Gaming HALO 5: Guardians Edition A40 is the best-looking A40 that I have ever seen. It thoroughly beats the previous A40s to be bundle with a MixAmp M80, but more than that, the combination of smart color scheme and excellent detailing make this A40 a stand-out. The detailing extends to the M80, and thus it easily trumps the standard M80.
This A40 is described as blue and dark chrome in color, but there is more to it. The metallic blue aluminum stalks that highlight the A40's looks from afar, have a futuristic pin striping that is both very 'Halo' and also nice in its own right.
The dark chrome plastic featured on the ear cups and frame has a perfect sheen that balances a light shine with a matte finish. There are tiny UNSC markings in the bottom corners of the headband. The headband itself is a muted grey, which allows everything else to be highlighted and offers a welcome touch. Within the headband and visible top-side is a stylish grouping of the 'Halo' logo, a blue half frame, and an interlocking grey black pattern that screams 'Halo' but with subtlety and a hint only for fans.
That same style of black on black honeycomb touched off by grey insignias and a small blue line is carried through on the ear tags, which like other A40s, can be removed in favor other tags.
Only the mic seems devoid of hidden detail; however, the dark grey body and inner silver facet at the mic fits perfectly with the rest of the headset's design.
The looks are stellar, but if I had to change one detail, it would probably be the little UNSC logos. They are almost too subtle.
This A40 is the result of a partnership between ASTRO, 343 Industries, and Microsoft. This same partnership led to the creation of the A50 Halo Xbox One Edition. While that headset is has some nice Master Chief style, this A40 is so much nicer, not to mention much more limited in terms of production numbers.
The HALO 5: Guardians Edition A40 is striking all around but without being too loud. Those characteristics extend to the special M80. The ASTRO logo has been applied in that same Spartan Locke blue, and the center button has a honeycomb look and feel. The top side is silver, but the bottom has another pleasing texture with a mute grey look. It's here where a small grey 'Halo' logo resides.
Together the headset and MixAmp are wonderfully matched, and bear out the idea that this special edition is top shelf. Other items to note that are particular to this combo include the packaging, which has an inner box that is 'Halo' and Spartan Locke themed. Finally, there is the REQ pack, which grants the user an ASTRO emblem to use in-game.
The two other things included in the box are a 1.0M Audio cable, which lets the A40 be used with a phone, PC, PS4, etc., and a small micro USB cable, which is included in case the user needs to update the firmware on an older Xbox One controller.
The 2015 A40
Underneath the all of the 'Halo' stylings, this is the 2015 edition of the ASTRO Gaming A40, which was first released in 2014. This is an open-back 40mm design. At times it can be easy to forget that this is a passive design, but it is. Aside from the sole 3.5mm jack towards the rear bottom of the left ear cup and the two mic jacks, there are no other connections or controls on the actual headset. The A40 is extremely balanced in terms of its light weight. It's also smartly articulate, with those aluminum stalks allowing the ear cups flexibility without being loose. The ear cups can fold flat if needed. With the cushioned ears and headband, the overall effect of wearing this A40 is quite pleasant. For my medium plus sized head (7 3/8), the A40 is snug, but it doesn't specifically apply pressure to any one point. That means that I can wear it for hours and not have to see scary marks on my ears, face, or head immediately afterwards. While the A40 fits me like a glove, I do feel that someone with a much larger head might have an issue.
The boom mic is close to perfect. I don't really like boom mics, and I tend to get annoyed when I bump them or constantly have to adjust them when I take the headset on and off. With the A40 design, this is not the case. The mic flips up out of the way whenever I want to take the headset off and flips back into place without nary the need for an adjustment. I like that I can switch the mic over to the right side if need be (just pull the mic and pop off the speaker tags, and then switch sides), or just pull the mic out altogether if I want. I prefer, however, to keep the mic on the left, since that is side where the cable connects. I also like that in a pinch, I can take out all the padding from the ears and headband and clean or replace it of need be. With the enduring popularity of the design, getting new pads in the next 3-5 years should be easy enough.
The MixAmp M80 hosts all of the controls needed when playing. It connects to Xbox One controller via the big accessory port. After connecting, the M80's nice volume nob and mute button form the core of a nice design. I've used several different chat adapters, including Microsoft's own, and the controls on the M80 are going to be hard to beat. By separating the Voice/Game balance buttons the left and right side, it's easy to adjust while playing, and the specific degree of adjustment is shown in the LED line. The LED line also shows total volume when that is adjusted, and shows which of the three EQs is in use when the EQ button is pressed. I'll get into the sound quality of the A40 + M80 below, but first I have my biggest complaint about the whole set-up.
I mostly use the M80 with my Elite controller, and I like that it works well while allowing me to still use all four underside paddles. Like other chat adapters, the M80 snaps into place on the controller using a single notch on the bottom side of the controller. Now granted, normally it's mainly reviewers like me that need to pull in and out these chat adapters, but in the case of the M80, it uses a flat cable to connect to the A40. This flat cable is nice, but it's fixed on the M80 side. This is probably to keep another cable connection from introducing noise and fatigue, but it means a cable coming from the controller whenever the M80 is connected. I use headsets a lot, maybe half the time or more. Still, that leaves a lot of time when I'm using my home theater, and there is either a cord coming from the controller or else, I have to work to disconnect the M80, which I do.
What I may do is adjust the tab on the M80 so it isn't quite as tricky to remove. Of course, it's worth considering if the M80 is even a necessary part of the equation. The other important part of the package, the one meter audio cable, connects the A40 to about everything, including the new Xbox One controller and Elite controller. I used the cable on both the PC and the DualShock 4 (as well as some time with the Xbox One). Chat adapters were created for the older Xbox controller desing; however, I like having the M80's controls and EQ options. Furthermore, I trust ASTRO's audio output design more than I trust Microsoft's. I can't say the M80 is a must with the new controllers, but I prefer using it.
I ran the A40 + MixAmp M80 through a gamut on the Xbox One, with 'Halo 5,' 'Rock Band 4' and 'Star Wars: Battlefront' all being heavily tested. The stereo sound is very good with an obvious highlight being (sorry 'Halo 5') being 'Battlefront.' I went the full 15 waves on Endor using the headset to hear both approaching enemies and crucial escape pods. (Surviving solo in the forest makes for a very 'Rambo' feel.) Playing co-op in 'Halo 5' can be challenging with so much going on in the audio department, and that's where having quick access to volume and chat/game balance pays off. The M80 gives feedback on the adjustments like no other chat adapter.
The A40 does well with bass while keeping everything crisp and clear. It can also be paired another direct connect MixAmp, including the new TR series. As it is, the A40 naturally balances out mic usage, and I never worried that I was too loud or too quiet. Even so, I don't recommend trying to sing in 'Rock Band 4' using the A40 mic.
The M80 has three EQ modes, Pro, Core, and Media, which can be switched using the center button and are represented in the LED line by highlights in the Left, Center, and Right respectively. Pro is mean to emphasize the sounds of enemies, while Core is the more balanced presentation. Media brings in more bass, which I found preferable with movies and music. In essence, I would use Core (that's the center one) most of the time, and Media when watching movies or playing the new rhythm games. No doubt, when wanting to listen to media without bothering others, this is a fine stereo presentation.
On the PS4, I connected the A40 directly to the DualShock 4, and headed to the frozen forest of 'Call of Duty: Black Ops III.' Between solo campaign play and co-op zombies, there can be little doubt that the A40 has been tuned to aid the player even in stereo while maintaining a pleasing audio presentation. Just for fun I played 'Guitar Hero Live' using the A40, and was impressed on how well the music catalog comes through the headset.
On the PC, I listened to music and played 'Fallout 4.' This new 'Fallout' can get pretty dense between the in-game radio, companions, enemy chatter, ambient, Pip-boy/power armor, etc. The A40 lets all of that breathe while still letting me: freak out a little while a Glowing One chases me into a minefield in underground tunnel, (hopefully) turn and deactivate mine in that one second before it goes off, and find Dog Meat when he is barking at some item for me.
One thing I think this package is missing is a mobile cable. It's not just the question of an extra $10, but the mobile cable module could have been tailored to fit the striking Spartan Locke looks.
The total package price is not cheap, but I don't see how a collector, or a 'Halo' fan, or just about anyone else, could ask for a better looking headset. Time will tell, but I suspect that this is a truly limited run that won't be available to buy come late 2016.
My well-used ears do seem to want the higher volume levels of the M80 on the Xbox One, but the ultimately, when chat gets added into the mix, the A40 + M80 delivers with an audible online experience worthy of the ASTRO Gaming namesake. The cabling on the M80 could use a tweak, but otherwise the functionality of the A40 remains stout. When it comes to the visuals trappings of the HALO 5: Guardians Edition A40+MixAmp M80, the looks and feel are second to none, and the special nature should make this an excellent gift.
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