Astro A50 Audio System Review
Being the 1% Never Sounded So Good
A good headset is one of the most important tools in a co-op gamer’s toolbox, especially in the crazy world of online co-op. Astro’s been doing solid work for professional gamers and people with disposable income for some time now and have just released the A50 Audio System, the wireless follow-up to the venerable A40s.
The A50s keep the design standard set by the A40s, matte black plastic with large, over-the-ear earcups. The tags from the A30s and A40s are gone, but in their place are the controls for the Mixamp, a volume knob, and a toggle switch for up to three audio presets. I don’t particularly miss the tags (though our own Nick Puleo has some sweet Co-Optimus ones for his A30s), but the inline audio controls prevent the microphone from being switched from the left side to the right like you could with the A40s.
Keeping in line with Astro’s A40s, the A50s have great sound quality - almost surprisingly great considering the fact that these cans are wireless. As with most gaming headsets, they perform especially well in the high- to mid-range, though they do pack a little punch on the low end - more than the A40s, in fact. Despite the fact that I actually have a pretty nice audio setup in my home, while using the A50s I was able to detect some details that I’d completely missed before (seriously, I’d never noticed about half of the audio detail in Diablo 3). Games sound fantastic, and the positional audio works as advertised. You won’t mistake it for true surround sound, but it comes pretty dang close.
Yep, still lookin' pretty good.
Wireless performance is our primary concern, and the A50s pass the test with flying colors. I’ve done just about everything I can outside of fraying cables to interrupt the signal, and the only reliable way was to put multiple walls between myself and the Mixamp. Cell phones sending and receiving data didn’t even cause a single chirp, which has always been a prime source of frustration in my home. The signal comes through crisp and clear, and without extra noise.
Mic input is about as clear as you’ll get without purchasing an expensive dedicated microphone, and I never had a co-op partner ask me to repeat myself, nor did it cut out like some mics tend to do - I’m looking at you, Xbox. The attached microphone can be muted by flipping it up, which is a nice touch, but I’d have appreciated a button to toggle a muted state instead. If you’re not in need of the mic, it’s not removable.
While the A50s come in as slightly heavier than their predecessor, I’ve had no issues with wearing them for several hours at a time. The padding around the earcups can get a little warm during the hot summer months, but everything is balanced very well for extended use. I have a slightly large (but not too large!) head, so a problem I constantly run into is tension from the earcups pressing more firmly against my skull, but the A50s manage to sidestep that issue altogether. My brain says “Thanks!”
Stand, A50s & Mixamp. Not pictured: the cord you'll need to hook up that 360 controller.
Included with purchase is the new Mixamp TX, a wireless version of Astro’s standard Mixamp Pro. The Mixamp TX acts as a wireless base station and has connectors for both line-out (from a PC) and optical connections. There’s a second optical connector that acts as a passthrough to a receiver if you have one. USB connections power the Mixamp (from your console/PC) and allow the headset to charge. The RCA connection from the standard Mixamp is nowhere to be seen, which may be of concern for some users. The closed-circuit chat setup the previous Mixamp allowed for is also missing, but unless you’re a pro gamer or running tournaments, it shouldn’t matter.
Though the A50s are wireless, you will have to wire them to an Xbox 360 controller in order for voice chat to work on that system. Astro provides you a cable for this purpose, and though this is a problem for every headset manufacturer, I often wish that a better solution could be found.
The only thing that should give most gamers pause is the pricetag that the A50s come with. Three hundred dollars is asking a lot, especially since you can get any of the current generation consoles for less. It’s a tough value proposition, but I think most people will know whether or not they’ll be able to add a pair of A50s to their arsenal.
The A50 Audio System is quite simply the best wireless gaming headset I’ve personally used. If you’re already lucky enough to own a pair of A40s, I can’t find much of a reason to upgrade unless wireless functionality is that important to you. The audio quality is best-in-class, and the microphone comes in loud and clear for your co-op partners. If you’ve got three hundred bones burning a hole in your pocket, these are the headphones for you.