Review: Astro Gaming A38 Bluetooth Headphones

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Product: Astro Gaming A38 Bluetooth Headphones
Release Date: August 13, 2014
Manufacturer: Astro Gaming
Original MSRP: $200
This product was provided by the manufacturer for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

I first saw these headphones at E3 2014, and even in that limited amount of use I was pretty impressed. Based on the Astrogaming A30’s, the A38 model offers full wireless capabilities via Bluetooth connectivity. Even though their primary purpose is for use with phones, tablets, and laptops, I quickly thought of the Vita and how well my Motorola S305’s worked a couple of years ago.

First, let’s go over some of the main features. They’re very easy to pair with just about anything that supports Bluetooth profiles for Phone and Audio features. The instructions to put them into pairing mode are a bit muddy though, making it seem like you need to hold the power button for five seconds to power them up, but that’s not how you do it. Instead, make sure they’re already turned on, then hold the power button for six seconds and then release. The light should flash Red, then start blinking quickly. Once paired, the light should flash Blue slowly.

Next, the A38 Headphones offer active noise cancellation and it works beautifully. I’ve tested them in a few noisy situations, including my five hour flight to PAX in Seattle, and the effect is pretty staggering. They don’t cancel “everything” out but it feels more like the fact that you can hear that someone close is talking, but you can’t hear what’s being said.

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When you first power them up and put them over your ears, it feels likes they’re a ‘noise vacuum’, even when no sound is being sent to them yet. The first couple of times that you experience this you’ll probably try to pop your ears like when you’re on a jet. I purposely pulled them away from my ears while I was mid-flight and that’s when I fully realized how effective they are at ridding you of most of that external noise all around you. It’s pretty astounding.

… they can start acting like earmuffs …
Since these are based on the A30 model, they actually sit on top of your ears instead of around the edges, but fortunately the entire earpiece is soft memory foam. This makes them very comfortable, so much so that I can wear them for eight hours a day without any discomfort.

The only issue that I have with this design is when it’s really warm outside, or when I walked with them for long distances. They don’t handle sweating as much as wearing standard earbuds and like most headphones they can start acting like earmuffs, retaining heat instead of letting it escape. It doesn’t happen often though, and usually it’s more of an annoyance than anything else.

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Other than that, they’re very light and comfortable and even passed my ‘lawnmower test’ with flying colors. They did even better on the lawnmower than the V-Moda M100 headphones in terms of blocking the noise emanating from my John Deer. And since they’re wireless, I liked using them even better than the others I’ve tried in the past. Also, like the A30’s, you can turn the earpieces 90 degrees to rest on your collar if you need to take them off.

… there’s a physical ‘mute’ switch …
Audio quality is excellent as well with good range and clean bass. Because these only work while powered, audiophiles will probably complain since they don’t like anything messing with their source material and that leads to my biggest complaint. To be fair, I’m pretty confident the hardware is designed around the active noise cancellation, which can’t be achieved without a power source. But I would have loved the inclusion of a 3.5mm input to use in cases when the battery loses its charge. In other words, you can only connect to these via Bluetooth, so there are some definite limits. Again, I understand the design decision, but I still would have liked the option.

Usability with the Vita specifically has been stellar. Audio quality has been top-notch, and the built-in microphone on the headset itself has operated much better than the mic built-in to the Vita. I also like that there’s a physical ‘mute’ switch on the bottom of the headset assuring that it’s switched on or off which can sometimes be a gamble with soft-buttons.

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Battery life is also extremely good, and so far it’s outlasted a very full day of use across multiple devices. And speaking of buttons, four others, all located behind the earpieces, are setup for power on/off, “action” (answer phone, pause playback etc), and volume up & down. Everything is smartly designed and intuitive.

… incredibly light and easy to transport …
I also want to give you a unique use-case scenario. My stepfather had some old, ratty infrared headphones connected to the TV so he could better hear what he’s watching. He wanted something new so I started looking for alternatives. I ended-up finding an $80 Bluetooth transmitter that handled both 3.5mm and Optical inputs, so we ordered one. When it arrived I connected it to their TV via optical and then I paired these A38’s with it. He watched an entire Baseball game with them on, and he fell in love with them. So he bought his own pair and he uses them every day now. Of course, because of the noise cancellation, he yells a lot now too.

Conclusion:
These are definitely the best headphones that I’ve ever used from Astrogaming and they hit every bullet-point that I can imagine for on-the-go usage. They’re incredibly light and easy to transport, the audio quality is fantastic, and they just work extremely well in every situation I could throw at them. They’re definitely more expensive than a pair of earbuds, but if you travel a good amount, I’d take these over earbuds any day of the week.

Score:
9.0

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