High-End Gamer Hardware on the Xbox 360 – Onza TE and Astro Mixamp

I’ve been playing with a couple of interesting bits of hardware over the past year or so, and I think I’ve finally got enough time with them to give a pretty comprehensive review and recommenedation.

Razer Onza: TE

First up is the Razer Onza Tournament Edition – this is supposed to be a high-end gaming controller aimed at the hardcore crowd.  It’s got a bunch of cool features to make your Xbox 360 gaming experience that much more sublime.

The results are a mixed bag, though.  I’ll run down the things that they changed one by one:

  • Adjustable resistance analog sticks – This is my favorite feature of the entire package.  Being able to adjust the resistance means that with the right resistance and sensitivity combo, I can get precise aiming without sacrificing maximum turn speed.
  • Microswitch buttons – For fast tapping, these are quite a bit more responsive than the membrane switches, in my opinion.
  • Analog triggers – they’re pretty nice, and the force required to hold them down is somewhat less than the stock Xbox 360 controller.
  • Rubberized finish – I was really expecting this to buff off pretty quickly, but it’s held up nicely.  It gives you a bit more traction if your hands start to sweat after a long session.
  • D-Pad is 4 buttons – This is just OK, I didn’t have a problem with the old D-Pad design, but this is not offensive to me.
  • Backlit buttons – Don’t really care, honestly.  They attract small children, but beyond that I don’t really ever look at the controller when I’m playing, so they could turn off and I wouldn’t even notice.
  • Programmable buttons above RB/LB – Another feature I don’t really use.  I’ve got them mapped to LB and RB.  They’re just in an inconvenient location for me, I’d rather they were down low on the back of the controller where I could use them with the rest of my hand.  As it is, I’ve got 2 sticks and a dozen buttons, and I’m using 4 of 10 of my fingers for all of them.
  • Braided, extra long cord – Hate it.  The braided cord doesn’t flex as easily as the standard wired controller cord, and it tends to kink up.  I keep my controller in a drawer, and I’m always fighting to keep the cord in the drawer and not tie itself into knots.

The real problem that keeps me from recommending this to others is the reliability.  I’ve had four of these so far – each time, the analog sticks have started to register movement even when the stick is in the neutral position.  Plus, the controller’s got two different built-in sensitivity settings, and it seems to pick randomly between them when I turn it on.  Sometimes I think it changes even while I’m playing, although this is harder to quantify.  It’s possible that I just got unlucky, but I’ve been dealing with Razer directly, and they’ve so far assured me each time that this one will work.  However, it seems like every couple of months I start to experience issues again.  The one I have now has lasted the longest, but I’ve occasionally caught it having the same issue, so perhaps before too much longer I’ll be sending it back for replacement again.

Astro Mixamp 5.8

The Astro Mixamp 5.8 is essentially a wireless headset amplifier. The “base station” plugs into the optical out of your TV or surround receiver, and the other half you carry with you to plug your headset into. Astro sells headsets as well as this device, but I already had a set of Sennheiser PC151’s that I opted to use instead.

Holy crap is this thing awesome. The audio quality is exceptionally good, and the device is solidly built and a pleasure to hold and use. I picked up the optional rechargeable battery pack with it, and that was a good call. I can generally play all afternoon without having to charge it. The power port is a standard mini-USB jack, so if I’m ever running low I can just plug it into my laptop (or any other convenient USB port) to keep it running.

The only two extremely minor bad things I could say about it are:

  • The volume dial turns a little too easily. This could be fixed by making it “click” a bit, or perhaps by placing a cover on the device. I often end up laying it down on the couch next to me as I play, which usually ends in me bumping the dial or it rolling around a little bit as I shift. This makes the audio way too loud or way too soft unexpectedly.
  • The power button on the base station occasionally won’t turn the power off the first time I press it. It times out and shuts down after a while on its own, and usually the second press does it, but it’s just a little odd.

Overall, this gets a huge thumbs up for me, and anyone in the market for a new audio/headphone solution should definitely consider it.