PRICE: $100 ($130 after 1/1/11), available now via pre-order for the week of Nov. 22
COMPARE TO: Hmmm...well, there's nothing really like it, other than pre-existing wireless gaming headsets like the Turtle Beach Ear Force X41s—but this turns any headphones into a wireless gaming headset.
WHY COMPLEX IS CO-SIGNING: Astro followed up their pro-level A40 headphones earlier this year with the popular (and Complex-approved) A30s. Both units relied on Astro's companion MixAmp to deliver crystal clear 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound, a feature Astro has in common with other high-end gaming audio companies like Tritton. We loved (and still use) both products, but the one drawback to a headphones/amp combination has always been cord overload. Console to amp, amp to outlet, headphone to amp, headphone to controller and amp for Xbox Live voice chat—it's enough to make us consider going back to the default Xbox headset. (Plus, real talk, your girlfriend is already heated enough that you're playing Modern Warfare 2 or NBA 2K11 again—do you need to add insult to injury by tripping her up in wires when she walks through the living room?). But Astro has heard our cries, and introduced a product that truly untethers the headphone gaming experience.
The MixAmp 5.8 consists of two components: a base station that connects to a gaming console via optical cable (see above), and a receiver unit that communicates with it via 5.8GHz wireless signal (see below). The frequency means no interference with the usual household applicances that can make a wireless connection hinky—so go ahead, put the base station by your microwave or cordless phone. The receiver unit is light and small enough to be placed just about anywhere, from your belt (there's a clip on the back of the receiver) to the table in front of you. Your headphones and Xbox controller (if you want voice chat, and a PS3 chat cable is also available) then jack into the receiver unit, localizing all connections and doing away with anything connecting you to your console. You can also use any headphones you already own, as long as it can handle the amplification—if you're just in a single-player campaign or shredding on Rock Band 3, go ahead and use those Sennheisers. Everything is deceptively light and small; you can get a true sense of its size in the image at the very bottom of this review.
As for the sound...well, it's Astro. They don't roll something out unless it works, and works well. We used them for everything from music (DJ Hero 2) to action (Fable III) to FPSes (Modern Warfare 2), and it all sounded great. The Dolby 7.1 (as long as you use an optical cable to connect your console to the base station) means you can hear everything, from footsteps overhead to the direction a gnome's chastising voice is coming from. There's been a lot of sequels in gaming this year, but we can confidently say that this is one innovation that we can't imagine improving upon.