Switch Voice Chat Lets Down Astro's Cool Zelda Headset

The Astro Zelda: Breath of the Wild A10 ($70) is one of the coolest gaming headsets I've seen lately. It's a pitch-perfect tribute to one of the best games of the last decade, with excellent craftsmanship and dozens of little details to delight fans of Link's latest adventure.

The sound quality is fine for the price, the mic is clear, and the fit is comfortable. While it costs a little more than a standard A10, the Breath of the Wild edition is also a fitting celebration of Nintendo's beloved franchise.

It's too bad, then, that the headset's special adaptations for the Switch can't help but remind me of how convoluted Nintendo has made online play.

One of the Switch-specific touches on the Zelda A10 is the splitter design. By default, the A10 connects to your console or mobile device via 3.5mm audio jack. However, each A10 also includes a splitter for separate mic/audio channels.

This is usually helpful for PC play, but in the Zelda edition, the cables are labeled with Switch and cellphone icons instead. (They still work just fine with computers, so PC players need not worry.) This labeling is useful, but it also reminded me why Nintendo's voice chat is such a pain to use.

For those who have never tried to use the company's online voice chat (and believe me, you should not be in a rush), a warning: Nintendo's approach is idiosyncratic.

Instead of connecting a headset and mic directly to the console or to the controller, you have to use the Nintendo Switch app on a cellphone. The exact reasons for this are obscure, but the outcome is clear: If you want to use headphones for both in-game audio and chat, you need a headset with a splitter.

(It goes without saying that if you want to listen to games and chat while the Switch is connected to the TV, you'll need both a splitter and an extremely long extension cord.)

To give credit where it's due, the Zelda A10 makes this process as easy as it can be, and the hardware works fantastically. The bending, foldable mic sounds intelligible enough, and the game audio comes through loud and clear, with brassy treble and tolerable bass. (The headset's music performance didn't impress me, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a gaming headset in this price range that would.)

MORE: The Best Headsets for Immersive Gaming

But everything past that is a bit of a slog. After you download the Switch app on your smartphone and sign in, you connect one end of the splitter to your console and another to your phone. Then, you load up a game you want to play online with voice chat — and there aren't that many to choose from.

At the time of writing, fewer than 10 Switch games support Nintendo's voice chat, including Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Diablo III. (Ironically, since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition lack online multiplayer, you can't make full use of this Zelda A10's features with Zelda games.)

Compare and contrast the Switch and its 10 games to the PS4, Xbox One and PC, where almost every multiplayer game offers a voice-chat component. And on those systems, you can chat through built-in or third-party apps on the games that don't support the platform's chat.

On the A10, voice chat doesn't even kick in until you make your way to the multiplayer menu of a game, so getting a group of friends together before you reach that menu isn't an option. So, now you're managing the Switch (likely in handheld mode) with one hand and your smartphone with the other, trying to coordinate with your friends through texts or social media. If you want to change the chat volume midgame, you need to take your attention away from the game entirely.

I don't want to pretend that the system is unworkable. When Nintendo Switch voice chat is firing on all cylinders, it works as well as any other service. But getting to that level takes a lot of effort and a lot more wires than you'd reasonably expect.

The Zelda edition of the Astro A10 is, in short, a distillation of some of the best and worst aspects of the Switch. This headset is beautifully designed, with subtle touches that are sure to delight longtime fans, and it performs very well for the price. But it's also subject to a lot of frustrating hardware-based obstacles that competing consoles would never tolerate.

And much like the Switch, it has Zelda on it, so I can't stay mad at it for long.

Credit: Astro

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