The Astro Gaming A50 wireless headset commands a high price, but it’s smartly designed and boasts big, powerful sound, above average comfort, and unfettered wireless freedom.
The strange thing is — it’s not quite as good as the Turtle Beach XP Seven, and the design isn’t quite as good as Logitech’s G930 — but the A50’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s taken a place among my favorite gaming peripherals (and bumped the aforementioned competitors from my desktop).
- Material Construction: The headband is plastic, with aluminum ear cup connectors.
- Ear cups: Cloth covered 1/2” foam
- Head band: Plastic with metal ear cup connectors
- Ear cup swivel: Full 90 degree swivel so the headset can rest on your upper chest when not in use.
The Astro Gaming A50 is large and relatively bulky, but it’s actually more comfortable than its somewhat clunky appearance suggests. The ear cups are larger than average and give your ears room to ‘breathe’.
On the whole, this makes the A50 quite comfortable, even for extended periods, although it’s not quite as comfortable as theRazer Tiamat 7.1 Elite or SteelSeries Siberia V2. Regardless, it’s still well above average, and definitely more comfortable than the Turtle Beach Ear Force XP Seven–at least for those us lacking a greater abundance of natural cushioning on top (i.e. longer hair). Add wireless freedom to all of it, and you get a very comfortable headset.
- Inline controller: N/A
- Inputs (on the Mixamp): AUX In 3.5mm, Optical, USB (for power)
- Outputs (on the Mixamp): Optical Passthrough, USB Charging Port
- Control Module Functions: All headset controls are mounted on the ear cup, and include volume, mute, and a switch for changing between 3 audio presets. The external wireless module that attaches to the computer has a Dolby On/Off and a power switch.
- Cable (braided fiber, vinyl sheath, etc.): N/A
The A50 is among the best designed headsets I’ve had the pleasure to use, with smartly-placed controls that facilitate easy usability. Astro Gaming has clearly done their homework in figuring out what works and what doesn’t for gaming headsets, although they could still stand a little improvement. (Logitech’s G930 wireless is still arguably the best design of any PC gaming headset.)
Virtually all of the most important functions are within easy reach on the ear cups. Pressing forward on the right ear cup decreases volume, and pressing backward on it raises it—no fumbling for external control modules or tiny buttons. (Technically, the documentation describes these functions as the “Game/Voice balance”, but functionally it’s arguably just as good for volume control).
Additional—and less conveniently located—controls on the back of the right ear cup include a tiny power switch and a simple 3-mode switch to change between mixer modes, which are Media, Core, and Pro. The Media mode is best for music and movies and the Core mode is best for gaming (it’s bass heavy if you like your explosions with some extra thump). The Pro mode is supposed to be geared towards competitive gaming and emphasizes ambient sound to improve awareness. Although these controls are harder to find and use, they are also ones you’re not likely to use often or change mid-game.
There is also a small master volume roller located on the bottom, rear corner of the right ear cup. It’s small but actually pretty easy to find, because reaching up to the ear cup somewhat naturally puts your thumb in position to touch it.
Another nice touch is the microphone, which automatically mutes when you swivel it up, and activates when you lower it.
Topping it all off is the handy headset stand included with the A50. Not many headsets come with them so it’s a nice and useful addition. The A50’s sound processing module (called the MixAmp) rests in the bottom of the stand and connects to a USB port on your computer (for power).
The MixAmp also includes Optical In/Out connectors, and a USB charging cable. Powering on the A50’s control module automatically sets the A50 as the default sound system, and powering it off automatically switches back to the default speakers.
The A50 doesn’t require or use any driver software. Although this means the A50 boasts fewer overall features than some headsets in its price range, it also makes the A50 more straightforward and easier to use. Generally speaking, the A50’s do everything they need to do: they sound great and they’re easy to use.
- Number of Drivers: 2
- Size of Drivers: 40mm
- Type: 7.1 Dolby
Despite fairly ‘average’ twin 40mm drivers, the Astro A50 delivers big, thundering music at nearly painful levels without a hint of distortion—it doesn’t get much better than this folks. I cranked every volume (Windows volume along with the A50’s) to maximum and cranked up some ridiculously loud music. I used Evanescence’s Bring Me to Life and Guns N’ Roses Welcome to the Jungle as just a couple of test songs for music playback, and couldn’t make the A50’s crackle or hiss in the slightest.
For gaming, I took the A50’s in a spin through Left 4 Dead 2, one of my favorite tests for surround sound headsets. Here the A50’s sounds good quality wise, but directional audio reproduction (subjectively speaking) doesn’t seem quite as good or as distinct as the aforementioned Razer Tiamat and Turtle Beach XP Seven.
Movie audio (I used the Blu-ray for Iron Man) was similarly excellent, and the microphone proved perfectly capable in my rounds of Left 4 Dead 2. (And I still love the swivel up/automatic microphone mute feature).
Another thing worth noting is that the A50 doesn’t seal out external audio much—but this has both advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include improved comfort and the ability to hear your wife and kids if they need you. Disadvantages include being able hear your wife and kids if they need you. Regardless, the A50 gets more than loud enough to tune out external distractions.
Battery life is rated at 8-10 hours, and the A50 is smart enough to shut itself off if it idles for more than 5 minutes. Over the course of a week, the A50 lasted on a single charge through a mix of ‘typical’ use. I never had the headset die in the middle of a game.
Wireless range is reasonable but unimpressive, petering out around 25 feet away from my desk (with 1 intervening wall, however).
The Astro Gaming A50 headset delivers big sound in a well-designed, comfortable wireless package, and they won’t leave you crying over the 300 bucks you had to drop on them. If you can afford them, they’re a sweet set of ‘cans’.
And for you multi-platform gamers out there, the A50 is compatible with the Xbox 360 and PS3 as well.
Astro Gaming A50 features & technical specifications (courtesy of Astro Gaming)
Ships With: A50 Headset with Li-Ion Battery, Astro Wireless 5.8 Ghz Transmitter w/ KleerNet™, Headset Stand, 1.0M USB Power Cable, 0.5M USB Charging Cable, 1.0M Optical Cable, 1.5M XBOX Live® Chat Cable
- Transducer Principle: Open Air Frequency Response:20Hz – 20,000 KHz
- Nominal Impedance:48 ohm
- Weight w/o cable:0.81lbs/363 grams
- Characteristic SPL:118 db @1kHzEar
- Coupling: Over-EarDistortion:THD<1%
- Connector: 2.5mm XBOX Live® chat port,
- Mini-USB portMicrophone: 6.0mm uni-directinal noise canceling
- Power Supply: USB mini-B (USB 2.0 compatible)
- Battery Life:8-10 Hours
- Frequency Response:35-20,000 Hx
- Wireless Radio:5.8GHz STS Module
- Inputs: Optical In, AUX In (3.5mm)
- Outputs: Optical Passthrough, USB Power & Voice, USB Charging Port