It's no secret that a quality surround sound setup is practically mandatory for gaming nowadays. Anyone who wants to gain the competitive edge in games like Call of Duty or Halo or become fully immersed in the environments of games like Dead Space and BioShock absolutely require it.
Sadly, many of us may not have the space or even the cash to put together a proper home theater setup. With the rise in popularity of console gaming seen during this generation, high-end accessories are no longer exclusive to the PC gaming crowd. Among these are dozens of gaming headsets and accessories promising to deliver exceptional audio quality and comfort.
ASTRO Gaming has been around for awhile now, gaining popularity within the MLG for their original A40 headset. The A40's were esigned to cater specifically to the professional and hardcore gaming crowds and managed to create an enormous following. They followed up shortly after with the A30's, building upon their success by creating an all-purpose headset, suitable for everything from music to movies. When combined with their original MixAmp audio processor, delivering 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, it was practically a gamer's wet dream.
Upon receiving my MixAmp, the first thing I noticed was the quality of the packaging. You won't run into the standard sort of retail accessory packaging that you might be used to. ASTRO really spared no expense on the design and construction of the box. As silly as that might sound it really goes a long way to demonstrate the care and workmanship that goes into their products. The package opens up and folds out into three separate compartments. The accessories are neatly organized into each section of the box, mine included the necessary AC cable for the transmitter, 3x AAA batteries for the receiver, optical cable, Xbox Live chat cable, USB to mini USB, and a Y-Adapter allowing for the use of a 3rd party headset with separate microphone and audio jacks. The PS3 chat cable and rechargeable battery pack must be purchased separately.
Now, I've always been skeptical of wireless audio and with good reason too. Most wireless audio devices are sub par at best and can't hope to match the sheer fidelity of wired audio devices. At worst, it can be prone to interference. Annoying popping, clicking, and hissing that can turn an otherwise pleasant session of Viva Piñata into a major headache. Most wireless headsets broadcast on the already cramped 2.4 GHz spectrum, typically the same frequency as your router, wireless phone, or a myriad of other devices. If you've ever had a problem connecting a device to your wireless router, imagine how your headset feels trying to receive all that marvelous audio.
ASTRO has managed to circumvent this issue by pulling out all the stops and using the 5.8GHz signal instead (hence the name). The setup works by transmitting the audio from a base (TX), connected with an optical (TOSlink) cable to your desired console or PC. The transmitter handles the audio processing (now capable of outputting up to 7.1 sound) and sends it to the receiver (RX) connected to your headset. Although the MixAmp now works with any headset (or earbuds) of your choice, the only drawback would have to be the fact that they still need to be wired to the RX. This may be a minor inconvenience to some, especially because you still need to be wired to your controller or PS3 in order to use voice chat. Fortunately, the RX is quite portable and can be easily attached to your hip with the included belt clip. Feel free to wander, go grab that bag of Cheetos or Mountain Dew between rounds. Try not to be too surprised by the fact that the audio is still crystal clear on the opposite side of the house, the range on the TX is incredible.
If you haven't used any sort of surround sound setup for gaming before, simulated or otherwise, the difference it can make is nothing short of amazing. As I mentioned above, games like Call of Duty or Dead Space really show off how important high-quality sound can be. Everyone loves having "HD" graphics, but without proper sound, you are really only getting half of the experience. The ability to hear and react to everything, ranging from the lightest foot steps to bullets whizzing by your head, can make a tremendous impact on your gameplay.
I can't count the number of times that I've been able to react to the distance and direction of foot steps in Call of Duty, allowing me to utilize those precious few seconds to prevent my enemy from getting the drop on me. The sheer immersion that the sound provides has caused me to physically turn and look away from the screen at times because I thought I actually heard something next to me. I cannot possibly overstate the difference by switching from TV audio to surround sound headphones.
Having previously used the wired MixAmp, I can honestly say that the audio quality between the two is pretty damn close. When compared to the popular Turtle Beach X41 headset, I can definitely say that the audio quality or at least the lack of signal degradation from wireless interference is much better. Others have claimed that a slight hissing can be heard in the absence of sound or at higher volumes, but I haven't noticed any such issues. Anyone using the MixAmp 5.8 at an appropriate (ie. not ear-splitting) volume shouldn't notice any sort of background noise or static.
So, is it worth the price tag? I would say that it depends on your gaming habits. If you are a casual gamer with a relatively small gaming budget, the MixAmp 5.8 might be a bit steep for you (especially if you need a headset to go with it). On the other hand, if you are a fairly serious gamer and you are looking to have the best competitive advantage or gameplay experience, I would seriously consider checking out this MixAmp. If you don't already have a decent headset, considering pairing it up with one of ASTRO's headsets for the best experience.
If you got to the second paragraph and already said to yourself TL;DR, here are the pros and cons of the MixAmp 5.8