Science and Tech Previews
Astro Gaming A38 Beta: Noise Cancellation Gets a Cool Factor

Devin Connors | 27 Mar 2014 16:00
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Speaking of calls, the built-in mic is pretty sharp, especially for a design that puts the mic on the headphones and away from your mouth. After a few dozen calls made on the device, I didn't receive a single complaint about clarity. That might change if you're on a busy subway or bus, but the noise cancellation tech in the mic seems to its job admirably.

Even for beta hardware, most of the buttons respond well to touch, although the mic mute switch feels a little rough. The rest of the hardware is classic Astro: soft yet durable plastics and rubber, a comfortable headband, and the expected 90-degree turning earcups when you drape the A38 around your neck. The padding on the earcups has a pillow-y design, as the padding sits atop your lobes instead of around. It's a comfortable experience, even after 3-plus hours of music and Netflix.

Mixing noise cancellation with audio is always tricky business, and most headphones tend to excel in the former and not the latter, or vice versa. The A38 isn't the end-all noise cancellation solution, but they do an admirable job of keeping the outside world, out. Noise cancellation isn't an option, meaning that it's on once you power on the headphones, so the fact that the headphones work as advertised is pretty important, obviously. When there's no audio coming through, the A38's have that eerie empty sound thing going on -- the same as all other noise-cancelling headphones. You'll still be able to hear some ambient noise, like conversations across the room or the TV a few feet away, but a jet engine on a long flight will be absolutely diminished.

The noise cancellation truly shines once you have some tunes flowing in -- lips move, but you hear nothing, and finger snaps five inches in front of your face fall on electronically deaf ears. And those tunes, they certainly sound terrific. I've always been an Astro advocate -- I've been using the A40 regularly since they launched in 2008 -- and the A38 is no exception. The balance is just right, whether you're listening to Rush, N.W.A., or Faces on Film. The bass is on the light side, but the low-end is pretty well represented without any sort of rumble effect. It's very balanced, especially for a mobile-oriented headphone.

The Beta Program makes the A38 an absolute steal at $120, especially if you're looking for an everyday pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Whether you're on the subway or walking to work, the A38 will keep the nagging outside where it belongs, while keeping the important stuff (music, calls to Grandma) in-between the ears. And once the $230 retail version hits, it's still going to be a pretty good deal, although I'd recommend looking at Bose and Able Planet at that point, too. Solid music, call, and audio performance in a very stylish, portable, and affordable package should give Astro a winner at retail.

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