Astro A50 Headphones Review
Astro A50 Headphones / Price: $299 / www.astrogaming.com
Backed by an excellent product line, expert marketing, and positive consumer reaction Astro Gaming has crafted a powerful position in what you might think was a small-scale business of gaming headphones. The A30s are a powerful set of headphones that produce crisp audio in most situations. The A40s are the darling of the professional gamer set, providing incredibly tactile positional integrity to sounds in a wired setup (wireless available if you pair with the Mixamp, but if you’re a pro gamer you absolutely require no lag, no delay, not even a fraction of a millisecond, you wire yourself in with the A40s; plus with the removable, interchangeable tags on the ears you can identify yourself, your clan, or your affiliation). Now, some 18 months after that last release, Astro is introducing the A50s. This numerical marketing upgrade actually represents a significant shift in the production of these high-end headphones to provide a sound solution that ain’t cheap ($300, essentially), but can be flexible for your gaming and home entertainment sound needs.
Wireless headphones are a tricky proposition depending on your personal requirements. Do you need quality sound control, and would use a single headset in a variety of entertainment situations? Is wireless gaming your prime concern? Is watching movies while the missus sleeps, or sleeping while the missus p0wns n00bs in Call of Duty a prime concern? That choice of headset can be relationship-defining.
Where the A40s really defined themselves among the professional gamer community, these A50s aim at a broader audience. After spending some time trying the profiles, the options, and wearing the headphones, the A50s prove themselves as a very effective, very flexible wireless sound solution that delivers bang for the many bucks.
Essentially, the main shift is that the A50s combine game and voice volume unit into the headset, removing the need for an extra box to manage the sound signals from your chosen gaming system. This move requires a few changes to some of the functions that users of the previous iterations will recognize, but the trade-off is well worth it.
First off, props to Astro for its product packaging. The box for all its headphones, and even the superb $80 A* Stars earbuds (or In-Ear Headset, as they call it) is sturdy, stylish, and adds that gamer vibe in its artwork that really impacts the unboxing experience; as it should, given the price tag. But once inside the setup is quite straightforward, and the removal of game/voice control box removes several cables and time from opening to listening.
The box contains the headset, three plastic parts that snap together to form a stand to hold the headphones (when a coffee table, drawer, or floor might suffice depending on your accommodation setup), the optical cable to connect to your console or PC (or entertainment system), two USB-to-mini-USB cables (providing power and voice to the PS3), and an Xbox Live cable to hook your 360 controller to the headset. This all means no extra power plug, with the internal Lithium-Ion battery providing an estimated eight to ten hours of gaming with voice functionality active (and longer if you’re just watching movies or TV). Without a specific clock on the process, those numbers seemed about right in our testing, if not a little conservative. But if you are in for a marathon session, you can plug a USB cable into the headset and your console or other outlet to charge while you’re still playing.
Once the optical cord is snug from the Mixamp TX (short for Transmitter, apparently) to the console, PC, or entertainment system, you’re almost ready to go… it’s that simple. As mentioned, connection to Xbox 360 for voice chat requires the extra cable from headset to controller, but it’s certainly unobtrusive, with the connector placed at the rear of the left ear.
For the PS3 the connection is automatic, though might require setup in the main PlayStation menu to set the Audio Output settings and then the Accessory Settings for voice chat (and selecting the Astro headset that should recognize automatically once connected).
Once connected, and audio is flowing, managing the audio is straightforward enough, if a not overtly familiar for users of other sets in the series. Those game/voice balance controls have shifted to the right ear piece, pressing one side or the other of the tag adjusts the game volume or voice volume. It’s certainly intuitive once you know it’s there, just be aware that the control is there.
Another vital aspect of online communication is being able to mute the moment the missus walks in the door/apartment walls are so thin that whispers elicit a “shush” from next door/you’re about to sneeze/fart/belch. Now, rather than being on a separate cord or box, the A50s intuitively put the mute function on the mic. While it’s no longer detachable (due to this function) simply pushing vertical instantly clicks to mute. It makes sense in how we react to environmental situations… by which I mean, the aforementioned significant others, mothers, random crashers wondering what the hell you’re doing, but it also works. There’s a point in the push back that you know you’re offline. And after probably one mute moment, it’s perfectly intuitive.
The move of functions to the headset itself (for those familiar with the A30s and A40s) has been very well designed to make fit how a gamer/entertainment absorber (TM?) will expect to use these broad-range headphones. On the left earphone is the Xbox connector for the cable to allow voice chat alongside the mini-USB connector that will provide power if the batteries are waning. On the right headphone is the volume control and the button to let you shift through three different profiles that significantly impact the audio output you’ll hear.
A simple (albeit very small) switch lets you switch through three programmed profiles that, by default, represent a standard level of settings, a movie-friendly setting, and the Astro gaming setting. The Astro level pumps the bass so that every gunshot resonates in every fiber of the headset. The standard setting pairs down all the effects, the bass, the treble, but provides a consistent, crisp sound reproduction. The movie or entertainment level is incredibly subdued to the point that it required kicking up the volume a few notches to feel like the movie had any aural oomph.
Now these profiles are the defaults, and over time game developers will have the opportunity to introduce their own specific settings for their game, and Astro expects to make them available through their website so you just hook up the headphones with the USB cable, then assign your favorites to the three button settings on the headset.
The flexibility is part of the package, but it might make you look for the controls to tweak to your own preferences pretty early.
This shouldn’t be a throwaway but the A50s support 5.8 tech, which is a standard of the here and now for high-end users, but is also rumored to be part of the next Xbox tech spec. (Which may also be handy sales material if you’re looking at getting this headset with a view to the future… when we really don’t know what that future looks like).
But the flexibility of this headset cannot be ignored. I mean, damn, it’s not cheap, but the use on PS3 is so slick. The use on Xbox 360 requires one measly cable that I certainly didn’t have a problem setting up. On an entertainment system the constant move (if you own multiple consoles and desire the full functionality) may dictate your flexibility with the hardware.
There’s almost a sense at wanting to see more when you open a box of headphones that reach the $300 range. That makes sense. I paid duckets, I want cool shit. But the A50s really do perform.
The slick microphone teeters on the edge of genius for managing your own personal interaction with friends or enemies! The headset is comfortable, with a little extra padding on the head compared to the A40s to make up for the extra weight attributed to the inclusion of the game/voice box in the headset.
It’s a versatile piece of kit. Comfortable, powerful, well thought-out, and if I didn’t mention flexible, I need to mention it’s flexible. Dropping $300 on a set of headphones can’t be easy, but to achieve the wireless flexibility that this set offers, it absolutely deserves consideration (and a hear-test if you get the chance, since apparently Astro has some pods appearing at Best Buy stores around the country).
9 / 10