The one thing Astro Gaming's lineup of gaming headphone solutions have been lacking is wireless connectivity; that is, of course, until now. The company has responded to the demands of players and critics with the MixAmp 5.8 - a new adaptive wireless system that allows users to combine not just their existing Astro headphones, but any set of headphones or earbuds from any manufacturer with the system to achieve wireless freedom. We've put Astro's new wireless solution to the test, and we've been blown away by the results.
The MixAmp 5.8 is a unique approach to the problem of wireless headphone audio, instead of creating a wholly new headset that features integrated wireless technology, Astro has crafted a solution that allows you to use any pair of headphones or earbuds you already own. To accomplish this, Astro developed a wireless transmitter system that integrates with your home entertainment center and sends high-fidelity 5.8 GHz audio to a special receiver unit that you can plug headphones into.
While not truly wire-free due to the fact that system requires users to still have a wire dangling from their headphones to the receiver, it does separate them from the confines of the six to eight feet of usage area provided by standard wired audio solutions.
The system is broken down into two main pieces: the transmitter unit, the Tx, and the receiver, the Rx. The transmitter base station is small and low-profile - roughly an inch tall at its tallest point and four inches on each side. The compact nature of the Tx allows it to integrate into your home entertainment center without taking up a whole lot of space. The Tx features a digital optical TOSLINK cable passthrough, allowing it to not only broadcast an incoming multichannel audio signal, but also pass it on to your A/V receiver simultaneously. In other words, if you want to use a speaker system, you don't have to unplug the MixAmp 5.8 system or use an additional splitter system.
The Tx also features two USB ports that can be used to recharge the Rx units, but only if users opt into the optional rechargeable battery packs offered by Astro for $19.95. The fact that the Rx unit isn't sporting a rechargeable battery unit to begin with is a bit of a disappointment, but certainly not a deal-breaker. The Tx also sports an auxiliary input that is used to route PS3 voice communications through the system via an optional 3.5mm to USB cable for $7.95. Straight out of the box PS3 voice chat support is also a bit of a letdown, but again, not enough to write off the entire product.
As for controls, the Rx unit keeps most of the audio adjustments close at hand, while the Tx only accounts for power and Dolby Headphone Surround toggling buttons. The Rx features dedicated volume and voice and game audio balancing dials, like Astro's standard MixAmp, as well as a 3.5mm headphone input jack, a mini USB port, and a 2.5mm Xbox Live voice communications cable jack. The Rx also features a first for Astro's MixAmp design - a bass expander.
If you're looking to squeeze a little extra bass response out of your headphones, just toggle the bass expander button and the MixAmp 5.8 will bump up the low-end frequencies of the incoming signal. The difference between the two modes is very subtle, depending on the existing equalization and driver components of your headphones, but gives just enough of a boost to bass frequencies on solutions that are otherwise lacking.
Pairing the Rx to the Tx is extremely simple - just hold down the power button on both units until the indicator light flashes white and you're good to go. Up to four Rx units can be paired to the Tx at once, allowing users to share a single audio signal.
Interestingly, since voice communications are routed through the Xbox 360 controller, theoretically users could have dedicated voice communication for each receiver on a Xbox Live game being played through local splitscreen, like Halo: Reach or Call of Duty: Black Ops. But, with added units comes added cost, and each additional Rx unit costs $49.95.
The only snag to the MixAmp 5.8 system is that in order to route voice communication audio for the Xbox 360 or PS3, users will have to use a headset that has a 3.5mm cable with an integrated voice channel. The Astro A30 and A40 headsets both support this type of connectivity, as do any smartphone earbuds, such as those bundled with the iPhone. If, however, voice communication isn't a priority, you can, of course, use any pair of 3.5mm headphones or earbuds to get audio.
But let's get down to business - how does the MixAmp 5.8 sound? In a single word: phenomenal. We've encountered plenty of wireless audio solutions, but Astro's may top them all. The system uses 5.8 GHz wireless technology, whereas most wireless products utilize 2.4 GHz, which gives the MixAmp 5.8 increased range and significantly higher fidelity audio. Subsequently, the MixAmp 5.8 is free from issues like interference from cell phones and other wireless products and signal degradation. In fact, the Astro MixAmp 5.8 delivers sound quality that rivals hardwired connections, complete with directional surround sound audio, and it can do it all at unbelievable distances.
We tested the MixAmp 5.8 in a variety of environments and were able to achieve high quality surround sound audio at distances of up to 60 feet, spanning different rooms. That's right, you can go practically anywhere in an average size house without losing audio. The only time we lost connectivity was when we had over six walls and 40 feet between us and the transmitter. More importantly, the system broadcasts incredible directional audio - no matter how far we went, we were amazed at how we could hear bullets whizzing past us left and right.
The system supports both 7.1 and 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound signals via an on-board Dolby Pro Logic IIX decoder, which outputs Dolby Headphone Surround via the 5.8 GHz wireless band. This, of course, means that it is simulated surround sound, and the system does not support headsets with dedicated surround sound drivers in each ear. However, although it lacks true surround sound support, we've found that simulated surround sound can be just as accurate in pinpointing sound.
At the end of the day, we'd be hard put to find any significant problems with the MixAmp 5.8. It is cost effective, especially at its introductory price of $99.95 ($129.95 normally), and with support for a number of different headphones and earbuds, user preference is maintained. More than anything else, the MixAmp 5.8 sounds absolutely fantastic and has incredible range.
If you've been looking for a solid wireless audio solution, Astro's MixAmp 5.8 is definitely worth checking out.
IGN Ratings for Astro MixAmp 5.8
An extremely wide range that spans multiple rooms and over 60 feet.
10 Build Quality
Well constructed and ready to withstand regular use.
10 Audio Quality
Phenomenal sound quality with detailed directional audio processing.
While not truly wire-free, the system is adaptive and works with a wide range of headphones. Voice communication support can be more limited, but varies by headset used. Rechargable battery pack and PS3 communication cable are sold separately.
10 Ease of Use
Easy to setup, pair, and operate.
A solid value, though we would have liked to have seen the rechargable battery pack and PS3 cable packaged with the standard unit.
9.5 OVERALL Incredible (out of 10)
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