In 2008, Astro Gaming, the fledgling video-game-focused spinoff of San Francisco industrial design firm Astro Studios, released a headset, the A40, pitched specifically at professional tournament players. By the end of that year's Major League Gaming season, most teams had adopted the headset, thanks not only to its superior sound quality but also to the tactical advantages provided by its private communication network. "People wearing our products began winning," says Brett Lovelady, the company's founder and president. In short order, the A40 became the official headset of the MLG Pro Circuit.
As the company developed and improved its tournament headset in consultation with pro gamers, it was also laying the groundwork for a less-expensive consumer-grade headset. It's the same way traditional sporting goods manufacturers like Nike and Burton do their business, Lovelady says. "You go to the top to show how you can be the best professional. By showing what works in high-performance, high-stress proving grounds, you become relevant to other people who aspire to have the same experience."
So now that Astro has proven its worth to the best, it's back with a product for the rest--the brand-new A30 headset, which takes DNA and styling from its pro-grade big brother. It's designed to integrate with pretty much any digital entertainment platform you can imagine, so that users can move easily between gaming consoles, mobile devices, and PCs. The product ships with three different audio cords of different lengths and feature sets, which can be swapped in via a simple connection module in the headset. There's also both a detachable boom mic and an in-line mic, depending on what you're using the headset for. Basically, Astro wants you to be able to go from a multiplayer game on Xbox 360 to a Skype conversation, from listening to music on your iPhone to playing your PSP on a plane, all without ever taking off your headset.
Like the A40, the A30 is compatible with Astro's MixAmp, a kind of Swiss army knife of audio solutions for gamers, including game/voice balance control, a number of team chat options, and an mp3 input so users can plug in their music libraries without taxing their systems. One major difference between the two headsets, however: The A40 has an open-backed design which relieves pressure during marathon gaming sessions and allows external sound in so that gamers can hear teammates and crowds, but also lets headset noise out into the world; the A30, by contrast, has a closed-can design that eliminates sound leakage, making it appropriate not only for mobile gaming but also for listening to movies and music in public places.
But while the A30 tries to go with you anywhere and do whatever you need it to do, it's got the soul of a gamer behind it. The headset, like its predecessor, is specifically "tuned for gaming," Lovelady says, meaning it can capture the increasingly nuanced sound design of contemporary video games, which gets lost when blasted out of TVs and traditional headphones. He adds that Astro Gaming plans to turn its sights to wireless headsets and audio solutions next, while also expanding its offerings of cases and other soft goods, and perhaps embarking on a few artist collaborations on mobile gaming lifestyle products. "We want to raise the bar on gaming peripheral expectations," he says.
The Astro A30 Headset is available direct from Astro Gaming for $149 beginning March 9.
See more from the WANTED series.