On the market for almost two years now, Astro Gaming’s A50 Wireless audio system headset is a solid-sounding and versatile solution for any gamer investing in some headphones. Compatible with the current and previous generation Xbox and Playstation consoles, the A50 headset will also work on PC and any other device with optical input and output support.
Featuring Astro’s MixAmp TX with Dolby Digital 7.1 surround sound support and KleerNet’s 5.8Ghz wireless transmitter technology, the A50 Wireless system is a high quality — though only moderately mobile — bundle of audio clarity and fidelity. Competitively priced within the market of 7.1 surround sound headsets at $300, the A50 offers an equivalent option when compared to the top-shelf headset solutions from SteelSeries, Turtle Beach, Tritton, Logitech, and other manufacturers.
Although marketed as a gaming headset under the umbrella of a company branded Astro Gaming, the A50 headset is an audiophile’s partner in crime paired with a feature set that provides gamers easy access to audio control and mixer balancing between game and voice volume. The fact that it’s a single headset that’s compatible with just about every device you can imagine is a huge plus as well.
Before we cut into the review, let’s get the specs out of the way.
The Astro A50 headset operates with a 20Hz to 20,000Hz frequency response at 48 ohm impedance with a 48kHz sample rate in Dolby Digital format. As an early warning for PC gamers looking to snag a top-shelf headset, ensure that your playback options mirror these numbers should you pick this headset up. Though the audio fidelity is high given the device’s frequency response, these are not studio grade earpiece and won’t produce sound at higher sample rates.
Outfitted with 2 40mm drivers, the engineers at Astro approached audio power and quality in a surround sound environment by mixing a pair of drivers with an amplifier rather than stuffing a larger volume of smaller drivers into each earpiece.
Gaming peripherals are best defined by two aspects; functionality and versatility. They need to be reliable while offering a feature set that provides greater ease and access when compared to their ordinary counterparts. For headsets the audio needs to be crisp and definitive, the microphone needs to be clear, and control over your audio needs to be on the earpieces or tethered with an in-line controller.
Astro’s A50 Wireless system provides gamers with these basic tenants and a few more. Since the device is wireless, there is no in-line controller; instead the controls are housed on the right cup. With an equalizer switch offering 3 separate modes (best defined as bass, middle, and treble), a master volume wheel, and a Game button which balances in-game volume with vocal audio the headset gives you quick access to a few aspects of audio control in one location.
Situated on the left cup, the microphone is easily muted by flipping it into a vertical position.
However the feature that sets the A50 apart from the rest of Astro’s inventory is its wireless capability. Featuring KleerNet technology with a 5.8Ghz transmitter, the A50 performs moderately well as a wireless headset. Audio remains clear along with the microphone within the envelope of the transmitter’s range, which is not especially impressive. Depending on where you live you may have consistent performance throughout your residence, but in my house I found the transmitter to be inconsistent regardless of distance.
The A50 is quite susceptible to material interference. The headset did not like my upstairs bathroom halfway down the hall from my room though it worked fine at the other end of the hall. The audio also cut out down the length of the stairs only to come back at full strength once I reached the landing.
Better serving console gamers in this aspect by relieving them from tethering their heads while on the couch, the A50 as a wireless solution for PC gamers merely spares you the inconvenience of removing your headset should you have to leave your desk.
The battery power of the headset also performed less well than advertised. Though touting an 8 to 10 hour lifespan, following a full charge (which took about 4.5 hours) the headset lasted about 5 hours for me before the telltale beep indicating a low battery chimed in the right earpiece.
As a USB powered device, the A50 requires the machine hooked up to the mixer amp to be powered on for the headset to charge, which can be problematic for console gamers. You can still use the headset while it is plugged in and charging, but tethering your headset to the amp eliminates the convenience of distancing yourself from your console. From my PC respective, I had the headset plugged in more often than not.
Alternatively, you can charge the headset with a wall socket USB charger to avoid keeping your system on solely to juice up the A50. However, if you plan on a marathon play session over 5 hours, you will most likely have to plug in the device to keep it charged. Given that the device ships with a 22-inch USB cable for charging (and a longer cable for connecting the mixer to your console or computer) you’ll be hard pressed to play on such a short leash. I used a longer cable that came with my phone, though Astro sells longer USB cables separately.
Although the feature set for the A50 is inconsistent, the audio performance and fidelity is simply superb. The 2 40mm drivers powered by the MixAmp TX pack a punch for a peripheral headset not designed for the studio. The amp produces powerful sound through the speakers with clear highs, boisterous bass, and a solid mid-range with impressive audiophile-approved clarity; no aspect of sound is distorted. I’ve honestly enjoyed listening to music with the A50 more than I have gaming with the headset as the clarity of the bass is the best I’ve heard short of Bose.
The 7.1 Dolby Digital surround format has also fooled me on more than one occasion, convincing me for a brief moment that my speaker system was plugged in.
However, as it is a branded gaming headset we’ll talk some shop in that arena.
I ran through a few play-tests to gauge how well the audio performance translated to the realm of gaming. The A50 exceeded expectations regardless of the genre.
Granted, Battlefield has had a rough year with the performance woes plaguing the fourth title in the series, but the audio engineering DICE produces is wonderfully orchestral. Running around the streets of Los Angeles in the beta for Battlefield Hardline listening to the cacophony of sound elicited more fun than the actual gameplay. The snaps and zangs of incoming rounds persisted with clarity while the surround sound capabilities provided a wealth of situational awareness. The direction of cars and helicopters was easily identifiable when out of visual range or obscured by buildings, while the echoes within the structures bounced around the earpieces more acutely than my 5.1 surround headset.
For gamers seeking a surround sound experience, the A50 delivers.
In an effort to combine music and a gaming environment, I also plugged the A50 into the optical output on my Visio TV for a match in Rockstar Table Tennis. Providing a more claustrophobic audio environment than the mean streets of LA along with a solid techno sound track, Rockstar’s ping pong title fit well for an audio test. Never missing a beat the A50 handled not only the music but the game environment with exquisite quality and clarity. From the ball striking the paddles or the table the audio quality rang true as the sounds echoed throughout Jesper’s Swedish Lodge. However the music once again stole the show. The amp and Dolby format processed the treble, mid-range, and bass with flawless clarity, allowing me to enjoy the fine subtleties within the layered audio tracks and sequences from the game’s soundtrack with no distortion or speaker buzz. The nuances in the music commonly missed with lower quality speakers and drivers were on full display.
The industrial design for the A50 headset is a mixed bag. At times top notch while at others mediocre at best, the design failed to achieve the same mark of quality as the audio engineering.
Notably, the microphone runs hot. Out-of-the-box the microphone suffered from static and other negative aspects of quality, likely a result of the noise gate. After updating the firmware the microphone had a meager increase in quality, and it recorded loud. Once I turned down the recording level to 60% the microphone quality hit the sweetest spot it could muster; from that point on the static became non-existent but the quality was sub-par compared to the microphones I’ve had in the past.
The threshold for the master volume and Game button balancing are also problematic. The adjustments for both are incrementally inconsistent but also have a wide range. The master volume control took 9 to 10 spins with my finger to reach the full range from mute to maximum, and both seemed to be dictated by inertial scrolling rather than a set increment.
Control layout also could have been better thought out. Though the Game button is in a great spot on the outer cover of the right earpiece, the power button, EQ switch, and master volume are placed in the middle of the right earpiece on the back edge. It seems like a great place for these controls, but they are tucked away in a manner that leads them to be easily covered by hair. For bald people this won’t be a problem, for everyone else you’ll probably have to fish for these controls.
It would have been nice for Astro to toss a push-to-talk key on one of the earpieces while also shipping the audio system with more literature that details all the notification beeps, but the quick start guide provided in the box makes the plug-and-play setup an easy process.
The A50’s are rock solid in the realm of comfort. In fact they are the most comfortable pair of headphones I’ve used. The cups are lightweight in comparison to surround sound headsets I’ve used, while covering and compartmentalizing your ears well for passive noise cancellation. The headband fit snugly when adjusted accordingly — though I refrained from head-banging with them on — and they didn’t shift with typical head movements while gaming. The overall weight is distributed well across the top of your head and the cushioning for the earpieces has yet to cause me any discomfort even after hours of continuous wear.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging the Astro A50 Wireless headset:
#1 Features: 7/10
Priced for its feature set rather than quality, the A50 has a wealth of features custom-tailored for gamers. Unfortunately, the wireless performance is inconsistent and susceptible to material interference.
#2 Audio: 9/10
No complaints. The headset and the MixAmp TX are audiophile-approved with high fidelity. They aren’t studio quality, but they’re still quite impressive.
#3 Design: 7/10
Not the best designed headset on the market, the A50 features both successes and frustrating failures.
#4 Comfort: 9/10
Regardless of how long I wore them they never caused discomfort. Glasses-friendly design for those with a prescription or Gunnars.
Overall Score: 8/10
The Astro A50 Wireless audio system headset is a fantastic piece of gear for audiophiles who are also gamers. Outfitted with a number of useful game-focused features, the headset does suffer from a few design flaws, especially its wireless capabilities and microphone. However it remains one of the most versatile and comfortable headsets on the market.