At this moment, the chief editor Kevin is currently cursing me for taking so long with this review. It’s actually not entirely my fault this time. You see, I sat down over 90 minutes ago to write. I poured a whisky. I donned the Astro A50 Wireless Headset. I started some music... and here I am. Having just forgotten what I was doing for most the evening.
Coupling impressive sound with an even more impressive battery life, the fourth release of the Astro A50 Wireless Headset is a must for any serious gamer. With that said, retailing at AU$550, this is perhaps not hardware for the casual gamer. But if you’re like me and spend most your day with a headset on (for work, gaming or video content), the A50 Wireless Headset is a worthy investment.
Coming in two variants --- one for PC / PS4, and one, which I am reviewing, for PC / Xbox One --- this headset could not be slicker in appearance nor easier to set up. In the box, come the A50 Wireless Headset and an angular base unit, which acts as both the charger and the wireless transmitter. For PC simply plug the base unit into the PC via the included 1m USB cable. For Xbox One simply plug in the micro-USB cable and the 1m optical cable. This allows plenty of cable length to set the unit on your TV unit or desk. And, perhaps I’m weird, but I find it is a statement piece wherever it sits. The slick gloss and angular base unit with the headset sitting proud looks great.
As an added bonus, it also comes with an included 2 year activation for Dolby Atmos for Headphones. Perfect for turning your audio experience up an extra notch.
This review talks about my experience with the headset running on my gaming PC.
Plug and Play meant that the headset worked upon connection. The Astro Command Centre allows for those fine tunings that you would expect with a professional gaming headset.
You are able to configure three different equalizer presets. You can choose from a present library (and can import more to the library if you so wish), each of which can be fine-tuned, or you can configure your own preset. These three presets can then be changed on the fly with the press of a button on the side of the headset. Handy if you want to have different audio experiences for, say, first person shooters, listening to music, and watching Netflix.
The software also allows for adjustments of the noise gate in the microphone. I find “Streaming” just right for me, but there are also options for “Night”, “Home” and “Tournament” for when you’re gaming in front of a crowd (only in my dreams...).
The other changes are as you would expect, with tweaks of balance and alert levels. But enough about software...
Full Immersion – Getting a Full Audio Experience
Firstly, the A50 Wireless Headset has a nice ability with split audio. Set your default audio device on your computer to “Headphones (4- Astro A50 Game)” and enjoy the richness this headset has to offer. Load up your voice program of choice (say, Discord or Skype) and set the in-program audio to the “Headset Earphone (4- Astro A50 Voice).” And with this, you can easily alter the balance of both your game and voice communications on the fly with the buttons on the side of your headset. This is extremely handy if you want to drown out the chatter in the final tense moments of a round. Even more handy is that this splitter also works in programs like OBS for streaming, meaning that you can adjust levels on your Twitch stream to boost your teammates or mute them completely.
Now, how is the quality?
Listening to music, the music is rich, bright and crisp. I always thought my previous headset had good sound. Compared to this, my old headset was soft, dull and flat. On the studio equalizer, music is vibrant and enchanting. I really wasn’t kidding in my introduction. Listening to music on this is a joy and I find myself losing time just sitting back, feet up, whisky in hand, eyes closed, and enjoying the notes float over me. I experience no distortion with heavy base, the mids hold steady and the highs are distinct and clear. Clocking some time with some quality jazz is pure pleasure.
Crack out the classic Matrix lobby scene in 4k, and it sounds exactly as you would expect. A cacophony of noise with each and every shot distinct as every tile smashes in the place; all while the rich bass thumping through from the underlying music. Dolby Atmos comes through strong here, with rich 3D immersion. Bullets ping around you in all directions as the movie progresses. Again, pure pleasure.
Where the A50 Wireless Headset excels is exactly where you would expect: gaming. Taking out the convenience of separate audio for voice and game, the gaming sound is superb. Sure, a nice (read: toxic) game of DotA2 might not benefit from the headset. But sinking into a tactical game of Rainbow Six: Siege brings this headset into its own. Every bullet is distinct and directional. You can hear footsteps coming up behind you or from your left or right. You can hear where that pesky player is climbing the side of the building waiting to breach. Explosions are loud, clear and, well, beautiful. Gun sounds rich and sharp. Atmosphere is amped to the max. And the spatial audio gives you full 3D positional accuracy. In a tactical first person shooter like Rainbow Six: Siege, this gives you a great edge. If you can aim better than I can, it’s going to make a significant difference.
And, if nothing else, it just sounds damn good!
In seriousness, my test recordings and review of other people, I sound more natural, less ‘airy’ and less ‘nasally’ with the A50 Wireless Headset. One fellow gamer even told me I had never sounded sexier... but perhaps that is not saying much. The A50 Wireless Headset features a 6mm uni-directional, voice isolating microphone. Together with the noise gate, it manages to cut out a lot of background noise in your voice communications and sounds great doing it.
It is noted that the A50 Wireless Headset defaults in windows to 1 channel, 16bit, 16000 Hz as the sample rate and bit depth when running. This is an intentional setting by Astro. While, sure, I can increase other headsets far beyond this in Windows, it doesn’t mean that it is recording at those levels.
With the impressive sound enveloping your ears, especially with night sessions, it is also handy that you can adjust the side tone through the Astro Command Centre to ensure you can hear your own voice. This is not something that has always been present on my former headsets, so the ability to adjust levels is a welcome addition. It helps so that I am not yelling into the night (unless, you know I am really mad at a team mate).
I will note one flaw. The microphone, seemingly without an appropriate filter, sometimes picks up my ceiling fan depending on where I am sitting in my office. This results in a nice little low rumble through the side-tone. It is generally not transmitted over Discord/Skype, but it can be a distraction. I will be looking into seeing if I can find a suitable ‘dead cat’ / wind muff to place over the microphone boom to prevent this.
Comfort... with a minor hair-pinching flaw
The A50 Wireless Headset fits comfortably for me. Compared to my Logitech G933s, the ear cushions are a much snugger fit. With that said, this is not at all a bad thing. The sound definitely envelopes my ears more and the sound is richer as a result for me. With adjustable heights and at just 380g, the A50 Wireless Headset is definitely not too taxing to have on your head for hours at a time.
The ear cushions come with a synthetic mesh cloth which, while light and breathe reasonable well, do warm up a little. I have been wearing these for hours at a time, and it’s not unbearable. Even with the heater cranking, it is definitely tolerable and no different than any past headset I have worn. But it would be interesting to see how they fair in the summer months in Australia.
The A50 Wireless Headset does have the option for the A50 Mod Kit. I have not trialled the Mod Kit, but it allows users to add a synthetic leather headband and ear cushions for improved noise isolation. It would be interesting to see how these fair, both in terms of comfort and noise isolation. It would also be good to see if it helps my one comfort flaw with the headset at present... with longer hair (ISO life!), I often feel the pinch of plucking hairs as I take my headset off, with the mesh being fond of my long ginger-blond locks! As a result, I have had to remove a few hairs from the headset, but it is nothing excessive.
Going Wireless – Recharging, Battery and Range
The need to plug in USB cables into the base of a wireless headset has always been a pain for me. Like plugging a USB drive into your computer, the cable never goes in on the first attempt.
To recharge the A50 Wireless Headset could not be easier, though, as all you need to do is simply place the headset in the base unit at the end of your gaming session. Contact pads on the base of the headset easily connect with the base unit as the headset slides into place and with a blink of the lights on the front it is clear that it is positioned correctly and charging. When you’re ready to game, simply lift the headset and place it on your head. Of course, if you have forgotten to place the headset on the charging base station, you can of course plug in a Micro-USB cable to charge-on-the-go. To fully recharge the headset from flat, it takes approximately four hours.
A common complaint I hear from my gaming friends is the need to recharge wireless headsets. This year has been a gruelling test for my existing wireless headset, with it being turned at 9am for work and finishing the day at around midnight gaming. While the battery is a little well-worn, this use has required the headset go on charge around dinner time to make it through the day.
The A50 Wireless Headset on the other hand just lasts. Sporting a Lithium Polymer single cell battery, Astro Gaming claims the A50 Wireless Headset to have a 15 hour+ battery life (with an impressive standby battery life of 20 months).
I think it performs even better than this.
Today, I pulled the headset off the base unit before lunch. I have had a pretty lengthy day gaming, talking to friends, watching TV, and many hours of music. And now, well over 12 hours after I took it off the base unit, largely spent on the computer, the battery still sits at 55% charge. That said, if you’re pumping loud explosions through Dolby Atmos in a first person shooter, I imagine this would increase the drain on the battery. Regardless, if you’re planning long gaming sessions, the Astro A50 Wireless Headset will fill your needs for longevity.
In terms of range, I definitely find it perform better than my previous headset. I live in an older home with hardwood frames. With my study at the front of the house, the signal has no problem going through the tiled bathroom and a fridge to allow me to listen to music while cleaning the kitchen. This is something I have not been able to do with any of my former headsets. And it’s quite handy to be able to keep talking to friends when I go to get a drink between games.
One addition worth a quick note is the ability to plug my phone into the back of the base unit via a 3.5mm cable and transmit audio from my phone to the A50 Wireless Headset without requiring my computer to be turned on. This is really handy for me, working on a different laptop during the day, especially considering my previous wireless headset required that 3.5mm cable to be plugged directly into the headset itself.
The fourth release of the Astro A50 Wireless Headset + Base is a superb piece of kit for any gamer to wield. The sound is sublime and the battery life is far excelling anything I thought I would receive while having loud, rich audio pumping like this.
With that said, at $550, I can understand people being hesitant to drop that much coin on a headset when you can find other decent headsets between $130 and $280. For me, though, with consideration of how much I use a headset, it makes perfect sense to me to spend the money on something comfortable, with superb audio quality and an immersive sound experience, and a solid battery life.
It’s not cheap. And perhaps it is not as good as having a studio XLR microphone plugged into your computer with studio-grade earphones cranking your gaming noise through your ears. But from my experience with Logitech, Turtlebeach and Razer, the Astro A50 Wireless Headset far outperforms anything I have used with the convenience of a combined headset for gaming.
DRN would like to thank Astro for their support in providing this review unit.