Astro has become almost a household name for gamers. Among few others, they’ve risen to the highest ranks of the peripheral world, commanding demo stations at stores around the USA. Over the last month, we’ve reviewed the A20 and A40 and were impressed by each. Today, we’re rounding out our run with their flagship, the Astro A50 Wireless Gaming Headset. It’s the best of their line and has a price to match. Is it worth ponying up the $299.99? This is our review.
A50 Wireless Headset
- MSRP: $299.99
- Transducer Principle: Open Air
- Ear Coupling: Over-Ear
- Drivers: 40mm Neodymium Magnet
- Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20,000Hz
- Characteristic SPL: 118dB @1kHz
- Battery Life: 15 hours
- Microphone: 6.0mm unidirectional noise canceling
- Weight w/o Cable: 0.83 lbs (380g)
- Console Compatibility: PS4 & PC
A50 Base Station
- Wireless: Up to 30ft
- Output: 5.0V, 180mA
- Base Station Inputs and Outputs: Optical Pass-through, USB Power & Soundcard, USB Charging Port, AUX In / Mic out (TRRS 3.5mm)
- Power Supply: USB Micro-B (USB 2.0 compatible)
- System Requirements: Astro A50 + Basestation
- Dimensions: 8.5”/4.25”/1.15”
- Weight w/o Cable: .70 lbs
Like the A40s, the A50s come in premium packaging. Astro does a great job of making you feel like you purchased a premium product before you’ve even tried the headset. Like the A40s, the outer box is a sleeve the booklike inner shell that’s decorated like it should be on display. When you open the box, you find the headset snug inside its plastic with all of the accessories on the other side. Here you’ll find the base station used to connect and charge the headset, the detachable boom mic, as well as a USB and optical cable for connecting to your PC.
The build quality is quite similar to the A40s but they’ve changed out the materials to a soft touch matte black across most of the exterior. This change really makes the glossy headband and colored adjustment bars pop, giving the A50s a more refined look. The A50 does feature its own Mod Kit, sold separately, but the look remains largely the same. You still won’t mistake these for your average set of over ears, but I think its more subdued look is a definite improvement for gamers who want a solid headset without the overly “gamery” look.
The similar build quality also means that you’ll find the same mix of metal and (mostly) plastic in its construction. At this price point, I really like to see metal in the headband to avoid cracking as the headset gets older or suffers drops. I gave the headset a good stretch and twist, right up to the point where your average gorilla could comfortably put these on, and they didn’t so much as a creak. They are definitely solidly made and seem up to the test of time.
Astro doesn’t skimp when it comes to comfort. I’m a big fan of their ear cups. They’re big and easily fit over your ears without pressing the edges. The cushions are cloth-covered fabric and plush. The fabric makes them more breathable, so heat is less of an issue, but that does mean they aren’t as isolating as the leather earpads you can pick up in the mod kit. They’re also deep enough where your ears aren’t pushing against the drivers, which is just uncomfortable in other headsets. Props should be given to the headband for providing plush padding also. The A50s also find the nice middle ground where they grip enough to feel comfortable and stay in position but not hard enough to fatigue you too soon. There’s nothing like a good head hug, am I right?
I kid, but seriously, there’s something reassuring about the fact that these cans are staying in your head whether you’re tilting or leaning down or whipping around. I hate a headset that falls off from normal use.
Anyhow, let’s get to what you really care about. For $300, how do these sound? They feature big 40mm neodymium drivers with a frequency range of 20-20000Hz. For gaming headsets, that’s pretty standard. What makes the A50s stand out is their excellent tuning. For games, out of the box you can expect deep, resonant bass and the pristine crack of gunfire that’s only possible with tightly tuned treble. On many gaming headsets, you’ll be stuck tuning the EQ in the software to get that kind of balance. If it’s not your cup of tea, you can choose from three presets synced to the device with an easy to locate earcup switch.
I’m also impressed by the size of the soundstage. In stereo mode, things are delightfully spaced out when many closed-back headphones leave you feeling boxed in. This also applies to music and videos, which makes them more versatile than I found the A40s to be.
The A50s also feature Dolby Digital 7.1 Surround Sound and it’s better done than the vast majority of surround sound headsets I’ve heard. It expands the soundstage but not as much as you might think because the surround is controlled. It’s not full bore (and shouldn’t be as there’s no control other than ON/OFF), so you’re not stuck in a sea of directionless reverb. You can easily tell what direction enemies are approaching from and actually get the drop on enemies you’re hunting yourself. This is how surround sound should be and Astro deserves major kudos for pulling it off.
One of the big differences between the A40s and A50s is the lack of MixAmp. Or is there? Astro says this functionality is built right into the headset and base station. It seems odd that an entire unit could be removed without the sound suffering, but to their credit the A50s sound a bit better than the A40s and you really don’t lose any functionality without the the MixAmp. Almost all of the functions are covered between the headset and base station, including EQ swapping and audio out. You lose the stream output, however, which was a beloved feature of the previous MixAmp, and the audio output is limited to optical only.
The Astro Command Center Software has been tuned up to provide extra functionality, however. Here you can tune custom EQ profiles and choose which three will be saved to the headset itself. The advanced settings also return which allow you to fine tune individual frequencies. Just as importantly, though the stream port is no more, you can control your headset’s output with a built-in mixer.
The microphone tab now allows you to color your vocal with Warm, Airy, and Bright presets. It’s a nice feature if you’re a streamer and would like to color your voice a little bit. If there’s one thing that I could complain about here, it’s that the Warm preset cuts off the high frequencies a bit too much. Have a listen:
The microphone tab now allows you to color your vocal with Warm, Airy, and Bright presets. It’s a nice feature if you’re a streamer and would like to color your voice a little bit. If there’s one thing that I could complain about here, it’s that the Warm preset cuts off the high frequencies a bit too much. Airy and Bright are similar but do a good job of capturing a more natural sound to you voice without overdoing the compression found on wireless headset mics.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I like the idea of the base station in theory, you set your headphones in the tray to charge and have a nice little screen that shows important indicators. And to it’s credit, it mostly works very well. I’ve never had an issue with transmitting and it delivers on the promise of 30 feet of range. The problems come when it’s time to charge.
For starters, I can never manage to just set it in the tray to charge. It has to be positions just so so the charging pins line up, despite having magnets to help with this. Every time I take the headset off, it needs to be fiddled with. Once it actually starts charging, it charges slow. In my testing, I was averaging just about 15% an hour. The battery does last a good 12-15 hours and is smart enough to go to sleep when placed on its side (headset makers, take note - this is an excellent feature), but it’s a bummer that it takes so long.
The Astro A50s are a solid improvement over the A40s and are worthy of their flagship headset status. I was impressed by the fullness of the sound they’re able to produce in all forms of content. They’re also very comfortable and feature a refined look from their predecessor that should please gamers wanting to avoid the “gamer chic.” Though battery life is good, the base station is surprisingly finicky to get situated, and for the money there’s a bit too much plastic in its build. Still, this is a cross platform headset that’s easy to set up and delivers where it counts most: excellent surround sound. If you’re considering an Astro, look no further than the A50s.
- More refined look than the A40s
- Comfortable with a reassuring grip
- Excellent, full sound
- Great surround sound
- Full featured software
- Still too much plastic for this price
- Finicky base station
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.