Over the last several weeks we’ve been playtesting an unreleased piece of hardware by Astro, the manufacturers behind the beastly A50 wireless headset – the best wireless headset we’ve ever used. The upcoming headset, the A38 (beta version) comes in two different color sets, white and yellow with a pearlescent finish or blue and gray with a matte finish, and for our preview we took a close look at the white and yellow variant, which caught our eye more than the other. The A38 is a wireless unit, a big brother of sorts to Astro’s A30 wired lineup of headsets.
The A38 beta period began in January and interested parties can buy into the program for $119 (the final version price will retail at $249) until the beta period closes in March. We’ll compare differences between the preview build and the final version later in the year, but for now we’ll describe and talk about what works and what may not in the current version.
The Astro A38 connects with mobile devices via Bluetooth and is specifically built for users on the go to work alongside smartphones, tablets and laptops. It’s easy to to power on, pair with any compatible device and has strong battery life. Like the A30, the A38 comes packed in a carrying case with everything you need inside. In this case, all the A38 needs is a small USB cord for charging and a small sheet which details the button layout and how to pair the unit with your Bluetooth-enabled device.
What caught us by surprise is that the A38 headset is actually more comfortable than the A30 wired headset thanks to increased padding. Despite being wireless and thicker in appearance, the A38 remains light to wear. All of the buttons are sleekly build into the ear pieces and there’s no plug-in mic, which is the biggest difference for us – and the biggest drawback – compared to its wired brethren. There are buttons for power (also used for pairing), volume controls, and a multi-fuction control button for answering calls, switching tracks, etc.
Before we talk about the mic, let’s talk about the sound. As someone who used the A30 early on in its lifespan frequently, tried out the A40 and swears by the A50 (I use it daily for gaming and weekly for podcasting), the sound quality of the A38 is great and the wireless works nearly as well as the premium A50 at a distance. I could hear the sound clearly walking 20+ feet away, and downstairs to the floor beneath. According to Astro, both the signal strength/range and the sound volume will be improved in the final build.
The Mic however is adequate at best in its current state and didn’t meet our expectations. It’s very quiet relative to Astro’s other headsets and Skullcandy’s wireless units. We were told that Astro is working on exactly this before its full release later this year, possibly in September, giving them lots of time for changes. Here’s what’s on the docket for improvements in the A38:
- The Noise Cancelling Mic: The A38 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. Likely to be more subtle changes here.
- Wireless Range: The A38 antenna is being improved and should net increased range. Not sure how much yet, but sounds like it will be notable.
- Wireless Connectivity: The A38’s ability to maintain a solid connection at any distance will also be improved.
- Volume: The A38s volume will be increased notably.
With that in mind, we’ll have to wait and see on the mic improvements before if we can mark it down as something worthy of purchase by gamers, podcasters and YouTubers on the go who need a quality microphone. For us, it doesn’t fit the bill on that front, although we find ourselves using the A38 all the time anyway for working on the laptop or viewing media on our tablets – simply because it’s so clean, both in sound and practicality, having no wires and being so portable.
As a beta build, we were impressed by the A38, and Astro was quickly to jump on early to our concerns before we even had them. If the final build of the A38 contains a mic that sounds clear with improved noise cancellation, then Astro will have added something unique and impressive to their lineup of premium headsets, and something we might find ourselves using when on the go and covering events.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.