The number of companies setting their sights on audio solutions is increasing. Corsair and CoolerMaster are two older companies who have recently begun manufacturing headphones, speakers and other audio products. Yet SteelSeries and Astro Gaming are two different companies, each with a dedication laser focused on audio solutions for gamers competing at a professional level–and all those who want to “…be like Mike”. You may not be a professional glorified gastronome of gaming, but I have pitted two products against a each other; each of which could easily make you feel like a pro. The V2 is the $80 flagship offering from SteelSeries. The Astro A40 Audio System is the $250 “Head Honcho” from Astro Gaming. One is a mainstream offering while the other is targeting enthusiasts looking for premium performance. Though the deck may seem stacked, the results may surprise you. Now…
Accessories & Features
The A40 is first to attack with a bevy of accessories such as changeable speaker tags (lock into place with magnets), removable microphone, digital/analog connectivity options and a mix amp for adjusting sound and voice volumes independently. The mixamp also works with any set of headphones and it too sports its own slew of connectivity options including analog cable or optical cable for 5.1 Dolby Digital.
Users can also mix in their favorite music directly from various secondary devices and music players using the included mixamp. Simply plug in a 3.5-to-3.5 cable, to connect an iPod, iPhone, Droid or any other digital music doohickey of choice. The music player’s volume is independent and controlled on said music player. Feature-rich is an understatement for the Astro A40 audio system.
SteelSeries sees the “Astro”-nomical competition and enters the battlefield with a completely different approach. Reaching into their playbook they opt for the tried and true “No Frills” style of product-kung fu. Unapologetically, SteelSeries offers you nothing but the headset and slick retractable mic. There is no amp and no multitude of connectivity options. There is however, an in-line volume control located on the cord just below the headset. This also features the rather modest and standard microphone mute option. At least there’s that!
The dueling audio combatants each entice aesthetically, with intriguing techniques. The A40s only ship in a few color schemes. But the speaker tag system is uniqe and very sweet. The ability to create and submit your own unique tag designs to Astro Gaming, truly extends the customization. However, the SteelSeries V2 headies come in many more color styles and schemes, some emblazoned with pro gaming clan logos. Some also feature LED lights which can radiate various colored illuminations.
Winner: A40 Audio System offers a ton!
I found the A40 and The V2 to be equally impressive performers for chatty gamers. Voice communication is handled exceptionally well on each. On the V2, the attached microphone is unobtrusive with sufficient voice sensitivity. As mentioned above, the microphone also neatly retracts into the left side of the headphone around the left earphone. The microphone can’t be removed or swapped between left and right sides as the A40 setup features. Yet, this solution works just as well. The microphone volume on both the V2 and the A40 records clear voluminous audio for voice communication. This is highly important during intense gaming sessions where a game’s ambient sounds can drown out voice communication between players. Many other competing products on the market leave much to be desired. Often the need to turn down in-game audio is an incessant problem. While this is a non-issue on both the dueling products presented here, the mixamp makes it an adjustable non-issue for the A40s. That amp allows users to control voice communication virtually independent from their in-game audio. It’s a useful trick!
Winner: A40 Audio System
When pitted in head-to-head music, movie and gaming sound performance, each unit came through the trials-by-fire unscathed, neck-and-neck and equally canorous. Both produce crystal clear clarity. Bass is rich and deep. Dramatic music themes in Mass Effect 3 and The Witcher 2 are audibly bold and strong. To boot, the V2 and A40 seem to enhance the sound in games, which have not been previously acclaimed for their audio prowess. These games include Street Fighter IV, Shank 2 and Crysis 2. That was a nice boon.
Winner: Tie! Unassuming V2 performs like a champion–something it shares with A40 Audio System.
Yet none of this matters if the comfort is absent. The SteelSeries v2 is a lightweight headset with sufficient padding around each speaker to sustain hours and hours of gaming gab sessions. Unfortunately this may be where cutting corners hurt the most. The construction does not appear cheap. But the unit does feel a bit airy. I prefer a more solid, slightly heavier feel when it comes to a headphone and microphone setup. This is something the Astro A40 setup exhibits well. Although the Astro set does come packed with a bit more girth, neither set is overly tight or constricting. So there is no fear of suffering a headache in the middle of your frag-fest.
Winner: A40 Audio System barely squeezes out a win with its slightly superior construction.
Again, the two products were neck-in-neck when it came to raw audio quality. The price and included accessories is truly what draws the line in the sand for these two exceptional headphone and mic setups. One stands accompanied with a small army of included goodies. The other holds firm as a no-frills high-performer with little to bolster its appeal, aside of outstanding performance and a low cost of entry. Individual taste may sway some in different directions. But the Steel Series V2 is a high quality gaming headset that can be had for a relatively affordable price. While the Astro A40 & MixAmp commands a much higher price for the same audio quality, albeit for many more features, options and accessories.
Which is better for you, you ask? It depends on your needs. Do not pass judgement solely, off our “Overall Winner” key! This is one of those situations where personal taste and needs will sway your decision one way or the other. If canorous affordability is what you seek, then your head is made to fit the SteelSeries V2. If you want more than just stellar performance and have the clams to reel in a bigger more brightly colored audio fish, then aim for the stars and go with Astro Gaming’s A40 & Mixamp audio system. It’s astronomical in every way.