In the gaming arena you either ‘go big or go home’, this is the golden rule portrayed from overall skills to even the all-essential equipment you use. Enter Astro and their flagship A50 Gaming Headset which fills in all the right checkboxes for personal gaming audio, but sprinkles on some premium touches to justify the price — with only a few hurdles to contend with for top honors.
Before we get into that though, in-game audio has become serious business whether you’re a ‘hardcore’ player, pulling your weight among a team, or even just an avid sound enthusiast. Aside the necessities of coordination and communication, a grounded experience is now just as important to the experience.
This current iteration of the A50 can do all of those things without much compromise, and considerably gorgeous to the gaming faithful — a testament to Astro’s design roots where modern abstraction clashes with industrial craft. Everyone else may think the look is cobbled together; however, the liberal use of matte molding, neon plastic, and aluminum is prominent, bulky, and exposed wiring is conventional to its ‘love it or leave it’ build quality. And the essential connections such as MicroUSB tethered charging, Xbox One audio-out, and a very flexible uni-directional microphone is found on the left ear, while the volume dial, power, three-step equalizer switch, and integrated game/voice adjuster is found on the right. You also get a nice-looking stand to proudly display your headset and even a communication adapter for pre-3.5mm Xbox One controllers.
Because of all the built-in stuff you can definitely feel the weight in the earcups, but are still surprisingly comfortable to wear with thin cloth draped over padded foam cushions on the earpieces and headband. The fit of the A50 is more relaxed than you’d expect even after adjusting them for tighter heads, but the looser lends itself to wearing these headphones for extended periods of time without noticeable fatigue. The only complaints here I have is that its oversized shape allows others around you to hear what you’re playing, and more cleanliness is required in warmer and pet-friendly environments.
Despite minor sound bleed and sweaty ears it’s apparent that Astro didn’t skimp on sound quality, a claim the company pride themselves on as the majority of tournament players and eSports commentators regularly use their products. In the case of the A50, the pronounced highs and midranges are cleaner and distinctly uncharacteristic of hard-edged headsets. As a result, it’s better controlled in an effort to keep everything balanced for things other than gaming; with the listening experience being very direct for general dialogue and music. The tradeoff is the action and various impact effects heard in Batman: Arkham Knight and Evolve are non-exaggerated, a quality that remains in all three EQ presets.
The microphone also deserves recognition for having some of the clearest reception and feedback I’ve ever heard. People have always expected a degree of distortion to punch through with standard headsets, however, I didn’t have to raise my voice when speaking on the A50 as automatic noise gating kept the background completely snuffed out of the conversation. The execution is also stylish with the mic cleverly muting itself when flipped up.
After enabling the Dolby enhancements, the A50 seems to have slight home theater characteristics; although there’s still a discernible amount of bass that keeps it firmly entrenched alongside PlayStation Plus and rage-quitters. Much of this involves the MixAmp TX transmitter which serves as the headset’s brain, you can power the A50 on or off, instant pairing, enable the virtual 7.1 surround (Dolby Pro Logic IIx), or have the ability to connect the A50 by AUX, USB, or optical audio to various sources.
But there’s one opponent standing in the way of the throne and that’s SteelSeries and their H Wireless Headset. For testing, I’ve been using both and hearing how each handles audio – the only thing that’s equal is the price, both of which hold steady at a not-so-cheap 300 bucks.
Beyond that though, there’s nothing similar between these models. Wireless performance and battery life is debatably superior for the A50 since the built-in Li-ion can be charged directly via Micro-USB, although both are evenly matched at a nearly-constant 8-11 hours off of a full charge. Both have proprietary receivers, but the SteelSeries’ offering piles on functionality and EQ options that the A50 lacks. And though it’ll be a matter of preference, the H Wireless headset has more emphasis on added bass that’s expected of a modern gaming headset, while Astro took a more balanced route in quality and comfort. Overall, a pretty close call to make.
Even with stiff competition, Astro Gaming has crafted and continuously tweaked the A50 Gaming Headset to relatively sophisticated levels. There’s no glaring reason not to recommend them solely for the home, not only for dedicated gamers but workable as an atypical in-between for great hi-fi. A fantastic all-around choice that can do refinement and a newfound (abeit expensive) favorite.