ASTRO has made strides as a superior choice among gaming headsets, but they had plenty to prove when they decided to make the entry-level A10. This is a company typically known for their higher-end tournament-inspired offerings, so it was refreshing they continue to fill out the lineup with the newest A20. This particular headset fits conveniently as a midrange choice and the cheapest wireless option at $150.
The mixture of blocky angles and industrial-like quality is a staple of the brand as a whole. If you’ve seen the A10 then the A20 looks like a beefed-up version of that, showing off a bit more flair that makes broad use of gray plastic and big rectangular earcups molded into struts and a thick, almost flat headband. This also takes some cues from A50 flagship with a bit more color and exposed wiring that runs from the earcup and terminates at the outside top of the adjustable struts, it’s a minor addition that provides some necessary flair without too much effort.
Like all ASTRO models, the left earcup holds the flexible boom microphone that automatically mutes the audio when you flip the attachment upward. Also familiar is the right earcup holds all the controls and a micro USB port for charging the headset, with everything from the power (I/O) and EQ buttons resting higher on the back edge, while the volume wheel sits on the lower back and flanked by Game and Voice mixer buttons that alter prominent chat sources. All of these are easy to reach for better or worse, which I’ll touch on later.
The A20 is wireless so you get a space-saving transmitter box that USB ports for directly connecting and charging the headset, along with an optical (TOSLINK) jack for digital audio. Finally, and a console/PC mode switch. Depending on which version you get, the A20 comes in Xbox One and PS4 flavors that also supports PC (though the console-specific versions can’t work with the opposite console).
When connected to a PC, everything goes through the USB port and the optical audio input isn’t necessary. Connecting the A20 transmitter to an Xbox requires connecting both the USB and optical cables to their respective ports on the system. A short and a long USB-to-micro-USB cable are included, along with an optical audio cable — The Xbox One has one advantage by not requiring a wired connection unlike the PS4 model I reviewed.
Because these are gaming headphones, the performance for in-game audio delivers great stereo sound for whatever I threw at it. The sound field for Call of Duty WWII had satisfying over-the-top boom that seemed to fit the A20 to a tee, portraying a blown low-end bass that doesn’t go too far into jarring you eardrums whenever gunfire or grenade explosions pierce the air.
There was plenty of detail highlighted from the engines and instances of tire squeal in Gran Turismo Sport, capturing the heat of the race in an energetic tone. Other games such as Shadow of the Colossus and Final Fantasy XV did an equally good job of providing directional punch through the headphones, and you’ll have a common sense of where the action comes from. The overall feeling is centered on high frequency and being involved through absolute presence, typical of many gaming headsets of this price.
Music is handled well, although the characteristics lean towards bass-oriented. Needless to say they won’t be categorized as audiophile-worthy, but the EQ button is a decent workaround for switching between a flat-to-high profiles. Modes such as Pro emphasizing lows and high-mids for gaming, and a Studio profile that boosts midrange. A lot of this involves ASTRO’s Command Center software on PC and Mac, giving you personalized customization by letting you fiddle with a variety of EQ settings for individual profiles. The app also lets you toggle various microphone settings and utilize a special Stream Port tab, which should be ideal for podcasters if you can tolerate the app working on top of existing settings.
Buzzing and Volume Annoyances
The A20 is capable around the ears but I immediately noticed that the microphone is a weaker link, unlike what I’ve grown accustomed to with the prior A50. The mic output isn’t balanced and exhibits something that flat and hollowed out, and is uncharacteristically quiet despite the placement being right next to my face. There’s also a lingering buzzing noise that’s randomly pops in and out at the most inopportune times and hissing is consistent, these were problem that recordings picked up during VoIP and podcasts playbacks. It’s competent for normal multiplayer conversations, but eSports and Twitch streamers won’t find much to love here.
Ergonomics is another quip I have against the A20, specifically that volume wheel and so easily it is to accidentally change the loudness. Because it is located on the bottom-right earcup I found myself change the volume with my shoulder blade whenever I shrug or doing physical chores away from the console or PC, it’s annoying that I have to be aware of this whenever I wear these for extended periods, a shame because the A20 are immensely airy over the head.
ASTRO advertises 15 hours of battery life from the A20, but I’ve got roughly 12 hours (give or take) before draining the headset empty. Of course, it’s not exactly the promised amount of charge time but it is better than expected with the wireless performance remaining intact from as far as 18 feet. When the battery does get low the headset interrupts with a “SOS” Morse code jingle, which is a cool touch.
If we look at the ASTRO lineup on its own, then the A20 is a solid choice from an otherwise expensive brand. It’s somewhere in between entry and mid-level and has enough comfort and features to fulfill most users needs. The biggest complaint is that the microphone is a letdown among the competition, and knocks the A20 down a couple notches for anything voice-related. Despite the caveats, the A20 is still solid for those loyal to the ASTRO camp.