Astro On The Go: A*Star Ear Buds and The Wireless MixAmp

A*Star

Earlier this year, I was able to check out Astro's A30 headset. Astro is known as one of the most popular headset brands for professional gamers, but the earlier A40 model was simply too bulky for casual use. Astro's answer was to make the A30s, which were smaller and more portable. And even though they sounded great, there was a problem. As a glasses-wearer, it's tough to wear headsets for longer than a half hour, as the pressure for the ear cups starts to get uncomfortable. So I recommended the A30's to everyone but glasses-wearers. Thankfully, those myopic souls now have an alternative.

A*Star Ear Buds

Astro's next headset isn't really much of a headset at all. The Astro A*Star ear buds are, well, ear buds. They have the same high design and audio standards as A30 and A40 headsets, but come in a much smaller package. They also offer something most ear buds don't, as they can be used for gaming, thanks to a line-in mic (though you'll need a MixAmp to use it with Xbox Live or PSN). Perhaps even more handy is that the A*Stars work great when listening to music on your iPhone and then switching to a call, as there's a dedicated call button right on the mic.

The design of the A*Star ear buds is classy and subdued. These are the sort of headphones you would feel comfortable commuting in or wearing at work. They don't scream "GAMER," even if that's the primary market. If anything, they just look a tad futuristic. A touch of style as an alternative to Apple's bland, white-colored buds.

They also sound great, which is in keeping with Astro's pedigree. Using it for gaming or just listening to music, there's clear channel separation and, so long as you have a good seal with the ear buds, you'll get pretty impressive bass. You're not going to be able to rival the overall quality of the A30s or A40s, but for the small size, the A*Stars pack a punch.

My favorite aspect, though, is the flat audio cable that the A*Stars use. One of the biggest issues with ear buds is that they become a tangled mess within a week or two. The flat cables make tangling much more difficult and allow you to jam the A*Stars in your bag without the fear that a horror show will greet you the next time you open it. I've seen flat cables used in the Beats ear buds, as well, but those come in at double the price of the A*Stars and don't have a line-in mic or volume control.

If you're in the market solid ear buds but don't want to jump the 100 price point, the A*Stars come in at a manageable $80. You should know whether ear buds are right for you, though. If you've disliked using ear buds in the past, the A*Stars don't dramatically change the experience, fit-wise, so you may want to stick to more traditional headphones.

Mixamp

Wireless MixAmp 5.8

If you're looking to use the A*Stars for console play, you're going to need a MixAmp, which Astro sells. The MixAmp has dedicated volume knobs for voice and game noise, and can support Dolby® 7.1 Surround Sound if you have the set-up to support it.

There were complaints about previous versions of the MixAmp, though. They weren't wireless, so you'd end up with a mess of cables stretching across your living room, leading from your console to your headset. Astro's solution? Go wireless! Their MixAmp 5.8 has two pieces, a base station which plugs into your console, and a receiver (above) which can sit beside you on your couch. The receiver uses a 5.8Ghz wireless technology, which means you'll rarely run into interference problems and the quality is rock solid.

Significant other complaining about the noise of your 3am "Black Ops" sessions? The wireless MixAmp is an ideal solution. You can pick the base station and the receiver up in a bundle for $99, though that price will jump to $130 in the near future.

Note: Astro only sells their products direct through their official site and through Dell, so you'll have to go through one of those two sources if you're looking to pick up something from them.