When playing games it’s hard to deny the extra immersion that using a headset offers. I use a headset for all of my PC gaming but I’ve never had the urge to use a headset with my Xbox One. I guess I felt the surround sound system in my living room works just as well or, probably more likely, I don’t have any headsets that work natively with the Xbox One. The latter issue was resolved when Astro Gaming sent over one of their A20 Gen 2 wireless headsets.
The original A20s released back in 2017. Filling the gap between the budget focused Astro A10 wired headset and the high end (and high priced) A40 and A50 models, the A20 wireless headset has served as Astro’s mid-tier option for console and PC gaming. The Gen 2 refresh, which we are reviewing today, offers up a few changes to the original design while maintaining the same $119.99 price tag. To warrant that price, the A20s will not only need to be well built but also capable of pumping out high fidelity sound. So let’s dig in and see if the Astro A20 Gen 2 headset can deliver.
- Current Price: $119.99 (Amazon)
- Microphone: uni-directional (6mm x 2.7mm)
- Ear Coupling: over ear
- Drivers: 40 mm Neodymium
- Wireless Range: 49 ft (15 m)
- Headband Pressure: 0.45 kfg +/-50g
- Transducer Principle: dynamic
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz
- Sensitivity: 100 dB SPL 1kHz @ 1mW
- Nominal Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Total Harmonic Distortion: < 3% (20 Hz - 10 kHz)
- USB Connector: USB-C (charging only)
- Weight (without cable): 318g
- Battery Type: single rechargeable Lithium-Polymer 1050 mAh
- Battery Charge Time: 3.5 hrs
- Battery Save Mode: auto-shutdown after 10 minutes
- USB Connection Type: USB 2.0
- Wireless Frequency: 2.4GHz
The Design - Quality And Comfort
The Astro A20 Gen 2 headset carries over much of the physical design of the original A20s. They maintain the same plastic, boxy looking frame of the originals, with the flat top piece having soft rubber foam for padding on the underside. The ear cup frames are an inch or so longer than a typical rounded headset and attach vertically to the ends of the top frame. Instead of the adjustment sliders being internal, the elongated ends of the ear cups slide along the outside of the top piece.
This design may look different from other headsets but it doesn’t affect the comfort of the A20s. The wide body of the headset has a fair amount of flex to it, allowing it to fit well on my big head without any uncomfortable pressure points. The soft fabric padding on the ear cups is more breathable than faux leather pads and allows for hours of use without any discomfort. The foam also has just enough give to it that it doesn’t smash the frames of my glasses against my head, something that has plagued other headsets and has been the number one cause of me returning them to the store.
The USB transmitter has received a nice upgrade with the Gen 2 version. The original A20s came with a small transmitter box that had to be plugged in via cables to your Xbox. This required multiple cables and no one wants to add another piece to the pile that can get unplugged during a cable management tug of war. Fortunately, this has been replaced with a flash drive-sized transmitter dongle that is plugged directly into the USB port of your device which makes switching between console and PC a breeze.
Other than a single button on the transmitter to switch between console and PC use, all of the A20’s controls are located on the right earcup. The power button is located at the top rear of the cup. A button to switch between the three equalizer presets is located midway down the cup, with a small power indicator LED nestled in between the two buttons. The volume wheel is located at the bottom rear of the cup with the voice:game balance handled by buttons bookending the green wheel.
Overall, having all of the controls in one place is very handy and the spacing between each button helps avoid pressing the incorrect control. The only negative to the control placement lies with the EQ button occupying the same spot my thumb naturally hits when putting the headset on or taking it off.
You’ll also find a USB-C port on the underside of the cup. The USB port is for charging only, not connectivity, and the lack of a 3.5 mm jack makes the A20s fully wireless. The 15-hour charge will accommodate all but the longest of gaming marathons, but forgetting to charge them between sessions could find you relying on your TV’s speakers for sound when the battery charge runs low.
One change from the original set to the Gen 2, and it’s something that didn’t impress me at all, is the switch from an all black color scheme to a new black and white color combination. While the black and white color scheme works well with an Xbox One or a new PlayStation 5, I would prefer an all black set to go with a PS4 or Xbox Series X. This new look definitely screams cheap console headset, betraying the A20’s actual build quality. At least Astro didn’t jump on the RGB bandwagon that has proliferated the gaming world.
Each set does have green or blue accents to match the branding colors of Microsoft and Sony. The Xbox branded set I had for review comes with a transmitter compatible with both the Xbox One and Xbox Series X as well as working with Mac and PC. Moving the headset between devices is as simple as plugging the transmitter into whichever device you want to use and pressing the mode button to match it up - a green LED on the transmitter means it is in Xbox mode and white notates it is in PC mode.
Similar to the Xbox headset, a PlayStation branded set will work with PC, PS4, and PS5. Other than branding, the headsets are physically identical, with the transmitter being the only differentiating factor. Although a unified transmitter would be the perfect solution, a single headset can be paired across all PlayStation and Xbox consoles if you have both transmitters available, and Astro offers individual transmitters for $19.99.
One design feature I was leery of is the A20's boom mic. I've had a couple of headsets that used a similar flip-down mic and both have had their lives prematurely ended when the mic was broken in half or snapped off at the pivot point. Astro has eased my concern by using a rubber material instead of the rigid plastic normally used. I put the A20’s mic through a rigorous test and it survived my attempts at destroying it. Instead of cracking under pressure, the rubber boom can be bent, twisted, and abused and still return back to its original shape.
Setup And Support
For all the quality put into the build, the one area Astro has dropped the ball is in documentation and software support. Other than a regulatory pamphlet and ‘Do not return to the store’ flyer, the only instructions in the box come in the form of a quickstart guide. The guide is minimal, with only a few pictures, and doesn’t give any insight into the use of the EQ button or voice:game balance.
A quick search online further muddies the documentation situation. A search for ‘Astro A20’ sent me to the Gen 1 webpage instead of the Gen 2 site. When I finally got to the correct Gen 2 support page, I was still greeted with the Gen 1 setup videos. A quick trip to the Astro Gaming YouTube channel led me to the updated Gen 2 setup videos so it looks like Astro has some housekeeping to do.
With the updated transmitter the setup of the A20 Gen 2 really is a no brainer though. Just plug the dongle into your device and away you go. All the hassle of picking the correct sound output is handled by the Xbox One automatically and sets up the A20s with Windows Sonic for surround sound support. One thing it didn’t do was mute output to my regular sound system, so be prepared to handle that on your own.
PC setup was similarly simple. Plugging the dongle into a USB port once again provided a hassle free setup. Every time the dongle is plugged in it defaults to Xbox mode and a quick press of the button on the dongle will change it to PC mode. Windows does distinguish between the two modes, identifying the headset as Headphones (Xbox Controller) when it’s in Xbox mode, but I didn’t notice a difference in sound quality between the two. I don’t know if this can cause any issues, though, so I always made sure to switch into PC mode when playing games.
Although I was able to figure out all of the A20’s controls without guidance, a little more paper documentation could come in handy for the uninitiated. More disappointing is the absence of software support. The original A20 had full access to the Astro Command Center software to cover equalizer settings, selecting a noise gate for the microphone, and adjusting outbound game:voice balance for streaming. All of these can be adjusted with third party software but it seems strange to not at least offer in-house software support for a $120 headset.
The Audio - High Quality At A Mid Tier Price
The sound output when connected to both an Xbox One and PC is strong and steady. The A20 Gen 2 set stepped back from the original’s 5GHz bandwidth down to the 2.4GHz range, trading speed for a boost in range. The 2.4 GHz bandwidth is still quick enough to stream sound to the headset and gives you a longer range than 5 GHz, up to approximately 50 feet (15m). Even on a crowded 2.4 GHz channel of an apartment building I didn’t experience any signal loss or interference as I roamed from room to room.
The A20s don’t have noise cancelling but the maximum volume was enough to drown out most of the ambient sound in the room. External noise wasn’t noticeable while listening to music or playing games where there is almost constant audio, although sound can leak in and pose a bit of a distraction when watching a movie or a game cutscene. I wouldn’t say that the A20s are any better or worse than other headsets that don’t offer noise cancelling but, if total isolation is your goal, they won’t be the perfect option.
As I mentioned earlier the A20 has an EQ button that’s used to switch between three preset sound levels. Preset 1 pushes more of the high end, perfect if you want to highlight the vocals of your favorite pop songs or squealing tires in a chase scene. Option 2 gives a balanced sound suitable for general use, while the third option brings some some extra bass for those big explosions games and action movies like to throw at you. The presets give good base settings to start from but an audiophile will probably want to use an equalizer to further tweak the sound to their liking.
The voice:game fade buttons are a convenient way to balance your gaming to suit your needs. Want to cancel out all those players with loud, open mics but don’t want to go in and mute each player individually? Just hit the Game button a few times. Each press will reduce just the chat volume, leaving the game volume unchanged. If you want to communicate to your team during intense battles the Voice button has the exact opposite effect.
There is an audible beep when you reach either end of the balance spectrum and another beep alerts you to when you are back to middle ground. The middle beep is perfect when you are switching from playing games to watching a show or listening to music and want to get the balance back to the default middle setting. And for anyone who wants to crank it to 11, you can use the Game button to push the volume a little higher than the regular default outside of games.
The real question you probably have is whether the A20s provide the clarity you need to gain an edge on your opponents in multiplayer, and the simple answer is yes. Games are providing better sound quality than ever, and even without software surround sound the stereo quality of the A20s provides good positional awareness. During my time playing Call of Duty: Cold War I was able to discern the general direction of gunfire, and the crisp audio allowed me to judge footstep position and location fairly well. Enabling surround sound through Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic for Headphones took it a step further. I still suck at multiplayer but the step up from my usual $60-$80 price range to the $120 price tag of the A20s is absolutely worth it. Now I at least know which direction the killshot came from.
Communication - The Mic Drop
Gaming headsets aren’t only about what you hear. They also have to deliver good outbound sound. No one wants to have a teammate with a mic that gives cheap, crackly voice output or, even worse, let’s them hear every breath you take. The uni-directional mic on the A20 does cut out a lot of the ambient noise in the room though loud noises and people talking right next to you will still come through to some degree. Fortunately, the mic has a flip-up mute function. Flipping the mic up to mute it is much quicker than fumbling around to find a mute button on an ear cup.
As for sound quality, the mic performed adequately in games, Discord, and on Zoom calls. You aren’t going to get the same quality that a stand-alone mic offers, nor should you expect to. That said, the mic lacks strong lows but it isn’t so weak that it sounds like I am talking through a tin can like some cheaper mics. Ambient noises are muted enough that you aren’t constantly projecting your surroundings through an open chat, though the missing noise gate software could have made this even better. The ease of use of the flip-up mute function was a godsend in keeping coughing and outside conversations at bay.
I can forgive the new black and white color scheme as an attempt to appeal to the console market, and the A20’s audio quality more than makes up for the tacky look. I’ve used headsets for PC gaming for years but this is the first headset I have used with my Xbox One, and while it’s hard to beat a 5.1 (or 7.1 if you have it) surround sound system for movies, the Astro A20s provide a great alternative when the rest of the family doesn’t want to be bothered by the noise. As for using the headset for Xbox gaming, my surround sound system can’t hold a candle to the immersion that the A20s provide, and the audio cues afforded by the headset have changed my view of console gaming only needing your TV’s sound.
At $119.99 the A20s aren’t cheap, but they do give superior sound and construction compared to the host of lower-priced headsets I have used. Compatibility with the Series X also ensures that when I finally make the jump to a new console I won’t have to deal with getting yet another headset. And the extra $20 for a second transmitter is nothing compared to the price and inconvenience of having to grab another headset to cover any Sony consoles.The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.