Ears-on with the Astro Gaming A38 (pre-production unit)

Posted on Feb 4 2014 - 10:36am by Jeffrey L. Wilson
Astro A38 on table Ears on with the Astro Gaming A38 (pre production unit)

The Astro Gaming A38′s got the look. And sound.

Astro Gaming is best known for its high-end console and PC gaming headsets, but the company dabbles in the mobile market, too. If you’re in the hunt for a wireless headset to accompany your smart phone or tablet, the attractive, highly portable (it weighs less than half a pound!) A38 is available for purchase at $119 — if you’re willing to be a beta tester. That’s right, the A38 is currently in an unfinished state, but other companies could only hope to produce a beta product with such polish. Although Astro Gaming plans to improve the A38 based on user feedback and a number of already planned in-house changes, the cans are quickly becoming my go-to headset for listening to podcasts, music, and comedy recordings while on the go — despite a few flaws.

Here’s how the Astro Gaming A38 beta program works. You pay the discounted $119 price now (it’s full retail price will be $249 when it arrives this summer), but gain the ability to trade in the A38 for $119 in Astro store credit toward any future purchase. The A38 beta program also includes a VIP launch party in San Francisco, the ability to purchase gear at a discount, and much more.

The A38 comes in two color schemes: white-and-yellow (with a pearlescent finish) and gray-and-blue (with a matte finish). I had my eyes on the white model, but my gray preview unit drew lots of compliments as I walked around the office and made my way through the snow-covered New York City streets. The square-like tags (a staple in Astro Gaming’s headsets) can be popped off and replaced with ones purchased at astrogaming.com if you want to add a bit of flair.

The right cup houses an USB port and volume controls. The left cup houses the power/Bluetooth pairing button, multi-function key that lets you answer calls, pause audio, skip/go back, or place a device in airplane mode, and mic on/off switch. If you have a device that supports NFC (near-field communication) you can hold it to the left ear up.

Pressing and holding the power button for three seconds places the A38 in pairing mode. You’ll know it’s in pairing mode when you hear a beep and the LED alternates between red and blue. I decided to put the bad boys to the test by pairing it with my Samsung Galaxy Note II and firing up Slacker Radio. Thanks to the audio drivers and AAC Bluetooth 4.0 playback, Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away)” bounced with a satisfying thump that didn’t override the high-end sounds and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” sounded like a fresh, energetic recording. That said, Audioslave’s “Cochise” did sound a bit muddy. The maximum volume isn’t deafening, but perfect for my ears; I cranked the music without suffering discomfort.

The A38 employs an active noise-canceling mic and speakers designed to eliminate din. I didn’t hear any background noise when listening to songs on my morning commute, but the noise-canceling mic didn’t prove quite as effective when I took calls while in midtown Manhattan. Friends reported hearing a significant amount of noise, but that’s something that Astro Gaming is working on (see below).

I was impressed with the A38′s wireless range. I live in a multi-story house and was able to move up and down a single level without losing the signal (going from the first level to the third level dropped the signal, though).  The only true technological problem I encountered involved the headset randomly increasing the audio volume out of the blue. I have no idea why this happened — perhaps those incidents were linked to delayed audio increase inputs, but that’s just speculation.

The cans are lightweight, so you can wear them for extended periods with ease. However, the A38′s headband doesn’t feel particularly durable — the plastic isn’t as sturdy as the plastic in the Astro A50 (it’s more in line with the Astro A30). You may want to be careful where you sling these cans when you remove them from your head.

According to Astro Gaming, users can expect over 15 hours of talk time and 20 hours of audio playback. In my tests, the A38 kept a charge longer than my Galaxy Note II — I usually would charge it up every other day. The cans can go from dead to fully charged in roughly five hours.

Astro Gaming states that it’s working on improving the A38 in the following areas:

  • The noise-cancelling mic will improve on two fronts: The noise-cancelling will do a better job of filtering out noise, and the mic will be improved to provide better clarity.
  • The A38′s antenna is being improved, which should net increased wireless range and strength.
  • The volume will be notably increased.

The Astro Gaming A38 is a promising wireless headset for the mobile gamer or music fans. Check out our full review when the headset’s released in the mid- to late-summer.

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Jeffrey L. Wilson is the former Big Boss of 2D-X.com. Now retired, he spends his days as a man of leisure. Kinda.

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