For the past several years I have been lucky enough to attend several preview events all over North America. With each event I attend, inevitably the Astro A40 wired headsets always seems to be the headset of choice for publishers when showing off their soon to be released games. I can’t count how many times I throw on a pair of A40’s at one of these events and I am simply blown away by the sound, clarity, and comfort of the headsets. Yet, I have always held out from purchasing the A40’s for one reason and one reason only – they are wired. The sight of wires running across my living room floor just begging for either the cat or the dog to start chewing on them is not that appealing to me. So needless to say, I prefer going wireless when it comes to headsets. The only problem is that in the past nobody offered an amazing wireless headset that delivers an exceptional 7.1 surround sound experience and a level of comfort that can withstand prolonged gaming sessions.
While at E3 this year, I had a chance to check out the Astro newest headset, the Astro A50. During the 30-minute demo I listened to them in action I was impressed. While I did gasp at the price of the set ($299.99 before taxes) I was pleased with what I had heard and I walked away looking forward to the day I could really put the set to the test. Well that day has come and over the past week I have had a chance to give the headset a good workout and overall I have to say I am quite pleased. The Astro A50’s undoubtedly do the Astro name proud and they are arguably one of the best wireless headsets on the market. This being said, I still see some room for improvement and I did have some issues with the overall package.
Right off the get-go I have to say I was impressed with the A50’s packaging. It is very professional looking and high quality. You spend a considerable amount of money for the headset so it was nice to see a great deal of attention paid to something as simple as this. Out of the box, the A50’s come with everything you need. Included is the A50 Headset with built in Lithium-Ion Battery, Astro Wireless 5.8 Ghz Transmitter with KleerNet, Headset Stand, 1.0M USB Power Cable, 0.5M USB Charging Cable, 1.0M Optical Cable, and a 1.5M XBOX Live Chat Cable. Everything you need is in the box including a quick set up guide.
The only noticeable omission in the A50 package was the lack of a detailed A50 manual. I ripped apart the box looking for one until I read the fine print on the quick set up guide which stated I needed to download the manual from the Astro website for more information. When I went Astro’s website I found the A30 and A40 Headset guides but I could not find the A50 guide. To say I was a little annoyed is an understatement. Simply put the manual should have been included in the box and it should not have been a ‘fishing expedition’ to locate it online. Granted the easy set up guide is all you need to initially set up the transmitter and the headset. Yet if you want to know how long you should re-charge your device or what the difference settings mean for the EQ Audio Modes you will need to go online and download the user manual if and when you can find it.
A fancy manual and stylish looking packaging means nothing if the A50 headset doesn’t sound any good, but don’t worry they sound awesome. Over the past week I played my review copy of Sleeping Dogs, as well as Modern Warfare 3, NCAA Football 13, The Bee Movie Game (hey, my daughter still loves it) and I watched some Netflix with the headset. In all instances, the sound was simply phenomenal. The transmitter that is powered by your Xbox via a USB cable includes a button that turns on the 7.1 Surround Sound. One simple click gives you an immersive home theater sound wrapped around your head. Every little footstep and gunshot in MW3, every little grunt and tackle in NCAA Football 13, and even the subtle sounds of an air conditioner humming in the background in Sleeping Dogs can be heard with the A50’s. Not only do they sound great, but I found it hard to take them off. In many ways the A50’s re-energized my gaming experiences as I was hearing noises I never heard before and it made for a more incredible gaming experience. The headset certainly rivals, and perhaps beats, my home theater setup, which is not too shabby featuring ceiling mounted small Paradigm speakers, a Velodyne Subwoofer and a somewhat older Pioneer receiver. Granted if I crank the sound in my living room it certainly evens the score a little, but the neighbours would be upset along with everyone in my household.
There are 3 EQ settings on the headset and they are aptly titled Pro, Core and Media. The Pro setting allows for a more treble focused experience while Media setting is more bass heavy. Core mode is right in between the two with nothing more emphasized then the other. Finding what you like is the key to using any headset and it will be for the A50s too. I found for a more balanced experience I was playing using the Core setting as I wanted to hear some bass now and then but not have the heavy sounds over emphasized. Of course you may not feel the same way as I do, but hey, you should be able to find something here. Apparently Astro will eventually feature the ability to download even more EQ settings, but at the time of writing this review no such options were available.
I am sure many of you are thinking, “other than being wireless what is the difference between A50 and A40”? Sound wise, they are certainly on par with one another. Yet besides the obvious “no wires” difference, the technology that goes into the A50 is pretty cool as the MixAmp is located inside the ear cup. The built-in MixAmp with 5.8 GHz technology is inside the ear cup and results in an unparalleled amplified 7.1-surround sound. I just loved how everything was at my fingertips too. The power/pairing button (albeit a tad small), the EQ audio modes, game & voice volume, and master volume are all located on the headset and in convenient places. You can balance the voice and game audio with a simple click of the ear cup itself. I absolutely loved not having to reach for a separate mixer when adjusting the volume. The simplicity and convenience of having the MixAmp built in makes for an experience where everything is at your fingertips and adjustable even in the heat of the battle.
Another great feature when it comes to the A50s is the 5.8 GHz technology. This means the A50’s operate at a higher frequency than most wireless devices. This also means less interference. In my household we easily have over 10-wireless devices and not once did I ever detect any interference. At one point, I walked away mid-game while my character on screen was listening to some Hong Kong hip-hop tunes in Sleeping Dogs. I wanted to see how far I could walk around in the house before I ran into any interference or sound issues. I was surprised that I didn’t get too far before the sound started to cut out. When I went downstairs, or walked into my bedroom on the same floor as my media room, the sound started filtering in and out. That being said, playing in my media room, and sitting around 15-20 feet back was flawless and I had no issues with the headset cutting in and out.
Comfort wise, the A50’s are about the most comfortable headset I have worn to date. The cushioned ear cups feel great and I never found my ears getting too hot or sweaty. The headset didn’t seem too heavy either. The headset is adjustable so even those with large melons should not have a problem finding a comfortable fit. The A50’s are also quite ecstatically pleasing as well. The design is perfect for any home entertainment setup as they fit in quite naturally. The included stand looks great and the headset hangs on it perfectly. Sure the A50s are not as “flashy” or as “geeky” as the Tritton’s Ghost Recon Tritton Headset I reviewed a couple of months ago, but they are superior in many other ways including look and comfort.
Astro states that the headset will give you about 12-hours of battery life. I found my set started to fade out at about the 10-hour mark the first time I used them. Perhaps I would have preferred a little longer battery life; however, this could have arguably compromised the A50 in terms of weight and comfort. Also, I never charged them out of the box as the quick set up guide doesn’t give you any indication whether or not you need to or not. It it takes about 5-hours to charge up the headset which is accomplished by hooking up the included USB cable into the transmitter. I should not that the A50’s battery will start to lose its charge hold as you use them, just like any other rechargeable device, and you will need to replace the batteries eventually. Did I mention that you cannot change them yourself as they are not removable. In order to do this you will have to send your headset back into Astro. This is sure to anger owners, as shipping them back to Astro should rack up a pretty hefty charge. Not to mention, you will be without your headset for a while. You can always hook up a USB cord and continue playing but that would defeat the purpose of having a high end wireless headset. All I can say is that I hope to get a good couple of years out of my A50’s before I have to worry about new batteries.
In terms of other issues with the A50’s, I was a tad miffed I could not remove the mic. This is by no means a deal breaker but rather a small annoyance. From what we were told at E3 this was a design choice in order to keep the A50’s as light and small as possible as well as to include the option to add custom tags. This being said, when you swing the mic to an upright position it automatically mutes the voice chat. You don’t have to go fiddling around for a mute button in game, which was nice touch. It is truly the simplicity of the set that makes them pretty cool.
To call the Astro A50’s “wireless” is a tad misleading and this remains my final ‘beef’ with the headset. There is an included cable for enable you to chat with other gamers over Xbox LIVE, so it is truly not wireless. This will not be an issue for PS3 and PC Gamers but it is an issue for Xbox owners. I have to admit I was disappointed to look down and see a cord running from my headset to the controller. Again, this is not a deal breaker but when you call them “wireless” I just wished they were wireless in every sense of the word.
Despite some of my minor gripes mentioned above the Astro A50s are one of the best wireless 7.1 Surround Sound headsets on the market. For use on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, the A50s are perfect for any multi-console owner and perfect for those looking to invest in fantastic headset to use for the foreseeable future. When it comes to sound, look, and comfort, the A50’s might just be second to none. So if you are looking for a top notch headset you can use for all your gaming needs, the Astro A50’s should be at the top of your list.