Astro makes some of my favorite gaming headsets. They're comfortable for long play sessions, their boom microphones sound clear when I'm calling out new objectives, and they sound pretty damn good—balanced enough for serious music listening but dynamic enough to catch every bullet snap in a Battlefield 4 match. So I was excited to try the company's newest model, the Astro A38 Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headset. Astro bills it as an all-in-one gaming headset that can be used on your desktop PC, a gaming laptop, or even your smartphone. After two weeks of use, I think it's a great set of cans, but I'm not sure it belongs at your gaming rig.
The A38 is a bluetooth headset designed primarily for laptops, smartphones, and tablets. It's a snug set—the pads sit comfortably on my ears with a minimal amount of clamping, and all of the controls are available on the ear cups. The left side has the power/sync button, and a multipurpose play/pause/call answer button. The right has a rocker switch for volume. Both ear pads are made of super-plush leather padding. The headset remains comfortable after two hours of use, though those with larger noggins might need to stretch out the band. Astro notes that the outer shells for each earpad are replaceable, and will offer gaming themed panels that you can stick on with included magnets.
The headset sounds great, which is standard for Astro's prosumer headphones. These cans are well balanced: the high end rings well, but balances with the middle tones and the bass. The low end is present, but doesn't have a ton of punch. That's bad if you want bassy headphones, but I prefer it over the bass-heavy, muddy tones of comparable headsets. For music, it means that you'll hear all of the different distinct parts of a song. For games, it means you'll get a nice soundscape for your battlefield, even if the explosions aren't rumbling your head.
The Astro A38s also have some active noise canceling, which is nice if you're playing games in a noisy room, or you're on a loud plane or train. There's some light noise bleed if you have your volume cranked (you should save your ears and turn the volume down), but nothing uncommon with on-ear headsets.
Where the headset suffers, and why you don't want to use it for your next Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament, is the microphone. Astro developed a “hidden” mic in the A38s that picks up your voice without requiring a separate boom. That's great if you're going to have a phone call in the coffee shop, but the mic quality on Skype calls sounds too much like an actual phone. Teamspeak and Skype partners have described my voice through the A38s as “echoey,” “in a box,” and “like a rotary phone.” That's fine if you're gaming on the go, but not acceptable if you're sitting at your desktop PC, calling out objectives for your Arma 3 squad.
At $230, the Astro A38 is more expensive than the A40, which retails for $150 and, while wired, is a fantastic desktop headset. It's less expensive than Astro's A50 wireless setup, which is $300, but that set both sounds fantastic and doesn't suffer from lower mic quality. Nevermind the fact that you don't need to spend $200 on a gaming headset: you can find SteelSeries' Siberia V2 for less than $70, and it gets the job done well.
The A38 is good for frequent flyers who want some cans for a gaming laptop—the bluetooth on the final retail model connects easily, and the battery life is impressive, holding a full charge over almost 20 hours of use. But if you're a stay-at-home gamer, you're better off with a less travel-friendly model.