This year’s EB Expo was certainly something, with an impressive line-up of games, events and products catering to all tastes. It was the first time the expo has been open to the public in Sydney and the resulting turnout was huge, a great sign for the publishers and companies present at the event. It was especially exciting to see gaming headset maker Astro Gaming at the event, and I managed to have a quick chat with one of the company’s founders, Jordan Reiss.
Astro Gaming is a spin-off company from Astro Studios, the designers behind Alienware Computers and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and accessories. With such a prestigious background it was only natural that they would tap into the burgeoning market for high quality, professional-grade gaming audio accessories, a vision that came true for Jordan and his partner, Brett Lovelady, in 2006. Since then, the company has made waves not only with gamers but the audio industry alike, with their A40 Audio System becoming the official licensed headset of Major League Gaming and being acquired by Skullcandy last year.
Jordan gave me a run-down of just what makes Astro Gaming’s headsets so special and it essentially boils down to the excellent quality and intuitive design of the product. Showing me a pair of the new wireless A50 headset, it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into the design. Firstly, the headset has a distinctively clean aesthetic about it and the buttons for functions such as the audio balancer and the master volume are placed such that you need not have to fumble with your equipment every time you need to change the settings. Similarly, the microphone can be turned on and off simply by folding it up and down. The headset is ergonomic as well; as Jordan demonstrates, when you take them off and sit the earphones on your neck, the earpads can fold downwards to rest comfortably on your shoulders. Oh, and the audio quality is excellent of course. I had a chance to play Tomb Raider during the expo and was impressed at how good it sounded, despite being in the middle of a noisy showroom.
The wired A40 is much the same but allows gamers to personalise their headsets by swapping the plates on the side. Dubbed ‘tags’, it’s an interesting point of differentiation and is clearly a big hit with fans of the product, with Upper Playground artists such as Sam Flores and Munk One signing on to bring their artwork to the tag store. There are also licensed game tags floating around (I saw Metal Gear Solid 4 and Tomb Raider sets) as well as the abilty to make your own via the Astro Gaming online site. Although the inclusion of a battery in the wireless A50 headset means that plates on that system can’t be removed, Jordan tells me they are selling just as many of the A50s as the A40s despite the fact that the A50 was only released very recently. Also available in the product stable is the A30, a sleeker wired headset for multimedia lovers and the A*Stars, a pair of in-ear earphones.
It’s not hard to see why Astro Gaming is so well-renowned and the 2nd most popular gaming headset brand in Australia, so the logical next step was to bring the product into retail stores to capture a bigger market. After all, the products, which were originally only being distributed via Astro Gaming’s online store, was already selling twice as well as what American retailers had anticipated. So far so good, Jordan says, with the headsets being available in EB Stores since last month but flying off the shelves so quickly that they’re very hard to spot in the wild.
It’s great to see a company passionate about quality and gaming take their vision one step further and create products that has become so well-renowned in the industry. It’ll be interesting to see where Astro Gaming’s partnership with EB Games takes them, but it looks like the only way is up. A big thanks for Jordan Reiss for taking the time to chat and Dave Tipton from Bluemouth Interactive for organising the interview!