Throughout most of my PS4’s life cycle, I used the Astro Gaming A50 wireless headset. At the time, it was by far the best wireless gaming headset in almost every department. The sound quality was beyond any other headset that I had tested, the comfort levels were on par with some of the best in the market and the battery life was respectable. It was my first gaming headset where I was able to properly take advantage of the in-game sound to gain an upper advantage.
Over the past year, Astro Gaming refreshed its line of A50 headsets for the Xbox One and PS4. Although the sound quality is the same despite the console of choice, you cannot have an A50 headset that is compatible with both consoles simply due to the proprietary technology that has to go into a wireless headset in order to make it compatible with Xbox One consoles. This is a Microsoft issue, not the headset manufacturer’s. With a new wave of eSports games launching over the next few months (Call of Duty, Gears of War, a new season of Rainbow Six Siege to name a few), it has never been a better time to invest in a professional gaming headset if you plan on competing in online events such as the ones hosted by EGL.
At the time of writing this review, the Astro Gaming A50 for Xbox One is slightly north of 300 Euros, or £299.99 if you’re in the UK. That makes the headset the most expensive that I have ever tested for gaming purposes. In fact, you can probably buy yourself a brand-new console for the same money as the headset! However, as far as technology goes, the Astro Gaming A50 delivers fantastic sound quality. It uses Dolby codecs to deliver sound through its 40mm drivers. What makes the Xbox One version even better than its PS4 counterpart is that it also delivers Dolby Atmos, which takes your audio experience to a whole new level. There is a 2-year activation code that comes with the headset if you buy it for Xbox One.
Astro Gaming has also completely changed the way the transmitter looks. The previous version of the headset had a smaller, square-shaped transmitter. The headset wouldn’t sit on it, but instead you’d need to place it somewhere else. The new base station that comes with the headset is designed to allow the headset to sit comfortably on top. Instantly, this upgrade makes you feel like you own a £300 headset since the overall aesthetic looks premium when it’s sitting on your desk.
The A50 is a 7.1 surround sound headset, which when combined with ‘Astro Audio V2’, provides sound quality that is just as good as most premium headsets in the market. The base station has an optical input in order to ensure that the headset will do a much better job in isolating directional sound. For those who want to connect the headset to a PC, it also has a 3.5mm jack. The battery life is claimed to be 15+ hours, however I found myself getting approximately 10 hours (sometimes less). My biggest issue with this is not that the headset is advertised to have a larger battery life. My issue is that the cable the headset comes with is very short. You need to spend more money to get a longer cable from Astro Gaming or somewhere else (it is a standard Micro USB cable). For £300, I would expect that headset would come with a longer charging cable in case you want to game with the headset plugged in.
If you purchase the headset, you must ensure that you upgrade the firmware. I did this immediately, however there have been reports that the headset has a ‘popping’ sound that can only be fixed with the update. I’m surprised that this wasn’t picked up during original testing, but at least they resolved it via an update.
As far as the design of the headset goes, the Astro A50 is one of the best-looking gaming headsets that money can buy. It is large but at the same time quite light. The extremely large ear cups make wearing the headset for extended hours possible. It isn’t the lightest headset, but the thick headband makes for a comfortable experience. As someone who wears glasses, I don’t think the A50 is the best at providing comfort from the sides. It did occasionally rub against the arm of my glasses. There are other headsets in the market that do a better job in providing comfort for those who wear glasses. The company also sells a mod kit that allows you to replace the ear cushions and head band with synthetic leather. I haven’t tested these so I don’t know if they would improve the comfort levels. Again, I would expect something like this to come with the original package rather than a bolt on.
The microphone is possibly my favourite feature, but it also gives me the most worries. My previous Astro A50s died because the microphone stopped working altogether. However, it is not detachable. If your microphone suddenly stops working, you cannot just replace it (unlike some of Astro’s other headsets). I am constantly worried that the same might happen to the new A50s. Despite all of this, the implementation of the muting system is simply the best out of any other headset. All you have to do is point it upwards. It has a slight locking sensation to let you know it is in that position. By doing this, the microphone automatically gets muted. To unmute it, just bring it back down. This mechanic is so much better than fiddling around for a button on your cable or reaching out to a button on your mix-amp. I really do wish that the microphone was detachable – it would also mean that I can perhaps use the headset outside or when I’m watching movies, without the need for a giant rod sticking out.
As far as setting up the headset goes, the Astro A50s are a breeze. Perhaps this is because I have enough experience setting up wireless headsets, but I do think it helps that the headset comes with a quick start guide that is short, but very easy to follow. That guide teaches you exactly how to set up the headset on the console or PC. The only two connections you need to worry about are the USB and optical input. The USB is what powers the transmitter and the optical port gives you sound. The USB connects to the console too, which allows the console to recognize it as a headset. To sync the base station to the headset, you just have to press a couple of buttons for a few seconds. This is a much simpler system than what PS4 offers, which sometimes requires you to go into the audio settings of the PS4 in order to change the audio output.
One of the best aspects of any Astro Gaming headset is how easy it is to use mid-game. Although most of the time, you won’t be touching your headset, it helps that when you need to make a change, it is easily accessible. The microphone is just one example of this. There is a volume dial at the bottom of the headset that lets you control the entire volume. There is also a button on the right ear that allows you to change the game/voice ratio. This is helpful if you play different games. When I am enjoying an FPS, I want to max out the in-game sound. When I am playing FIFA, I do the opposite. Astro has done great things in this department by launching a command software that allows you to better tweak the audio settings of your headset from the PC. Some competitor headsets let you do this from your phone via an app, so I still feel that Astro is a little behind in this department.
The reason my previous A50s lasted as long as they did was purely because of the sound quality. At that point, nothing could beat them in the audio department. Things have changed since then, but for the Xbox One, the A50 is the best-sounding headset that I have tested. Apart from the 7.1 surround sound (which lets you isolate sound and direction as brilliantly as the next top headset), the bass on the A50 is outstanding. It helps that the audio codecs used are some of the best, only because this is not true 7.1 surround sound. As with other headsets, this only contains a simulated surround sound experience, meaning that the codecs need to do all of the work to make you feel that sound is coming from all directions.
The A50 has three EQ settings depending on what type of content you’re listening to. The ‘Core’ level is just a balanced setting that I don’t think anyone will use. The ‘Media’ setting is great for music and movies since it cranks up the bass. However, the ‘Pro’ mode is what we will all end up using, since that amplifies treble. This is the best option if you want to hear footsteps or any other player movement around you.
The wireless signal of the A50s is great. Most gamers will not be walking around the house whilst using these. Worst case would be that someone is still talking to their party friends whilst in the kitchen or even on the toilet! However, it is helpful to know that the frequency range ensures that you won’t lose signal even if you move around far from the base station. Astro claims that you can go up to 30 feet with the headset. That usually covers most rooms next to the gaming one.
Considering that Astro Gaming is now competing in a market that has some excellent alternatives to the A50, I am quite surprised that the price remains at £300 considering that most of its features are not unique enough. There is no doubt that the audio quality is up there with the best, but it isn’t better unless you like a lot of bass. There are headsets that provide a better battery life, changeable batteries, detachable microphones and phone app support. Why would anyone then decide to opt for the A50 for Xbox One? I do believe that the Dolby Atmos integration makes a big difference but perhaps more importantly, the way the headset looks with the base station, makes the entire offering look a lot more premium than other gaming headsets (even if it isn’t). The Astro A50 is the Apple of the gaming headset world. Just because they look and are the most expensive, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best for what you actually need, however they may be the best for what you think you need. It’s worth mentioning that the competition is not that much cheaper. Heads will definitely turn if someone walks into your room and they see the Astro A50 sitting on its base station. If that means something to you, I couldn’t recommend a better headset currently available for Xbox One.