There has been an explosion in the audio market over the last couple years. From Dr. Dre’s mass appeal and well marketed Beats Audio technology, to Skull Candy’s wide line up of audio products, to the clarity of Able Planet’s patented Linx Audio system, to the readily available Tritton and Turtle Beach units, consumers have more options than ever when it comes to pleasing their audio receptors.
Unlike Beats Audio, which relies on a famous celebrity to market its products, Astro Gaming uses a more straightforward marketing approach by letting the quality of the product speak for itself. Launching a couple months ago, the A50 wireless headset is a natural evolution from the previous A40 wired model. But with a beefier $300 price tag, expectations are much higher.
Before the unit is discussed in detail, let’s get some of the specs out of the way:
– Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20,000 KHz
– Weight without cable: 0.81 lbs/363 grams
– Ear Coupling: over-ear with binding on top of head
– Connector: 2.5mm Xbox Live chat port, mini-USB port
– Microphone: 6.0mm uni-directional noise canceling
– Power Supply: USB mini-B (USB 2.0)
– Battery Life: 8-10 hours
– Wireless Radio: 5.8GHz
– Inputs: Optical In, AUX In (3.5mm)
– Outputs: Optical Passthrough, USB Power and Voice, USB Charging Port
– Battery: Li-ion battery
– Dolby Digital: 7.1 surround sound
– Compatibility: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and more
Everything is shipped in one easy open squared container. With an outside slip cover that displays information about the unit, the cubed shipping container opens like a book and sturdily houses the headset and all components inside via a carefully designed plastic molding. Although the packaging is undoubtedly secure, I just can’t wrap my head around the strange graphic design choice for the box and cover to the one-page, single fold instruction booklet. Instead of displaying facts or images about the product, this headset associates itself with a nonsensical tan and white general pattern design. If you just randomly picked up this box and instruction manual, you would have no idea that a high quality headset was inside; you might assume it would be a stack of comic books or art supplies. Granted, the packaging doesn’t really have an overall effect on the product itself but I think it is worth pointing out since the packaging does not necessarily represent the product.
The instruction manual could not be any more simplified. With minimal text, the 2-page spread instruction sheet uses icons and pictures of the product to explain installation. This guide is very easy to follow and pretty much anyone should be able to get everything up and running in just a couple minutes. Like the awkward box art, the cover to this instruction manual doesn’t serve any purpose and it is a wonder why a simple 8.5″x11″ double sided sheet didn’t display the instructions.
Installation and Included Accessories:
Because this unit is wireless, there are two pieces that must be synced up for proper use: the headset, which is an over-the-head design complete with cups that completely enclose both ears, and the transmitter, which is the approximate size of a box of playing cards.
Just as the instructions promise, installation is easy and will use an Xbox 360 in the following example. Using the included optical cable, just connect the one end into the 360 console and the other end into the Optical In port on the transmitter. Then attach the included USB cable from the console to the transmitter so the transmitter can draw power and be digitally connected to the hardware. That’s it. Optionally, the included 3.5mm cable can be used to plug the headset into the 360 controller for online voice chat.
The instructional manual states that the transmitter and the headset come pre-paired so out of the box syncing is not required. However, my unit was not properly synced. This was not an issue, however, because syncing takes no more than 10 seconds – just hold down the power button on the transmitter and the power button on the headset until they turn white. Everything synced quickly and easily and had no issues since.
The A50 also comes with an additional USB cable to charge the headset. However, this cable is very short and there is no way you can play and charge unless you are right next to your console. The good news is, this headset has a surprisingly long battery life (around 8+ hours) and I was able to charge my headset even after my 360 was shut off thanks to the included USB cables. So when not in use, just get in the habit of plugging it in when you walk away. Unfortunately, there is no option to charge this unit by simply plugging it into a typical wall outlet.
A stand is also included and is actually well designed as it houses both the headset as well as the transmitter. For the most part, putting the stand together was easy as it involved nothing more than snapping a couple pieces of plastic together. But attaching the top lip part took a bit of patience and force to connect. Once everything is put together though, the stand gives the entire unit nice presentation values and doesn’t take up too much space.
The main selling point of the A50 is simple: 7.1 surround sound in a wireless model. In short, this unit sounds great.
One important factor to recognize is the lack of HDMI support. This headset strictly runs off Optical Input only. With this said, this headset is not true 7.1 surround sound even though it is labeled as such. It is really 5.1 and essentially fakes the other two additional channels. But not to knock this fact too hard, most other surround sound systems also use this method of combining two speakers to generate a couple extra channels. Further, most games, DVDs and even Blu-rays are still only created with 5.1 surround sound. Unless both the media (specially coded Blu-ray, for example) and hardware (7 speakers plus a subwoofer) are properly connected (HDMI), true 7.1 surround sound will not be possible. Instead, it will be 5.1 with a hybrid of channels to make up the two additional channels. But even still, these headphones sound great and only true audiophiles can tell the difference anyway. This wireless headset uses 5.8gHz which allows for better sound quality and more distance can be between the headset and the transmitter. It would have been cool to be able to adjust the bass levels but this unit sounds great on its own.
Compatible with PC, 360, or PS3, the A50 encourages online multiplayer gaming with the built-in microphone. This microphone is not detachable but can easily be raised and lowered with the flick of a finger. Positively, the mic tucks away with a low profile and doesn’t really add any weight to the unit and does not get in the way while wearing it. Unfortunately, the mic’s muting function does not work. The instruction manual states that flipping the mic in the up position automatically puts the mic on mute but with testing my follow gamers were still able hear me although my voice was faint. But then again, my voice was faint most likely because the mic was furthest away from my mouth. On the other hand, this headset actually converts the usual mono mic into stereo. So instead of hearing your buddies through your left ear when playing online, voices are actually split between both speakers and come through in stereo. This might not sound like a big deal but it actually creates a different type of experience especially if you are used to using the standard Microsoft headset.
The headset itself is also easy to use. Once the unit is turned on, volume can be adjusted in a couple difference aspects. First, there is a jog-dial slider found on the back of the right ear cup which can increase or decrease the overall volume. Finding this dial can be difficult when first using the headset but chances are once you find your volume comfort level you probably won’t be doing much adjusting after that. The volume control is actually highly impressive. Instead of turning the dial until you reach an end point, this dial turns infinitely in small detailed increments. Instead of simply turning the volume from an 8 to a 9, this headset slowly increases the volume level with each click of the dial and will increase to 8.1 to 8.2 to 8.3 etc. This detailed volume control ensures constant comfort and can reduce the chances of playing too loudly. Secondly, the face of the right cup is basically one giant button. Tapping one side of the cup will increase the game volume to voice ratio while tapping the other side will do the opposite. It is very easy to use and instant results are acquired.
The biggest mystery with this unit stems from the Audio Select Mode found just below the power button. Here, there are three plainly numbered settings: 1, 2, and 3. Negatively, there is no indication as to what number does what. The packaging merely states that there is a mode for Normal, Pro, and Music but does not map out which number is associated with each mode. Even the Astro website didn’t list out this information. I just kept experimenting with each notch until I found one that sounded best for what I was using it for.
Just to reiterate, this sound quality for this unit is higher than I expected. I have been using a 6.1 surround sound system for a few years now but was blown away by the difference in these headphones. The problem with a typical speaker based surround sound system is usually two fold. One, running long wires can be a pain. And two, each speaker needs to be set according to the viewing distance. This means if you are sitting closer to the left speaker, the right speakers will need to be adjusted to compensate for sitting closer to the left speaker. Sure, you can plan on sitting right in the middle of the room, but guests that sit on the outer perimeter will have a lesser audio experience due to difference distances away. Because these headphones are obviously designed for a single person, the surround sound system is always perfect calibrated. For example, I was able to hear the detailed crunch of the snow when walking in a frozen wasteland in Boarderlands 2 and the booming magical effects in Skyrim sounded like I was casting spells with my own hands. These detailed sounds were not as apparent when using a standard surround sound system. In short, this headset creates an even more immersive gaming experience and is actually very cool. Once you experience this for yourself, it will be difficult to ever go back to general stereo speakers ever again.
While the unit works with quality and is easy to install, I just wish there was a second Optical Input. For $300, I would assume that most buyers of this headset will have any combination of 360, PS3 and a PC. So limiting the headset to a single device is not ideal and becomes cumbersome especially when switching between PS3 and 360 often. Not having a second input, or even an HDMI input, is perhaps this unit’s greatest flaw.
The A50 uses giant ear cups that enclose the entire ear. But even after two hour long gaming sessions, my ears remained comfortable, did not get hot, and I even wore my eyeglasses. More often than not, glasses wearers suffer when using headsets because the added pressure causes the frames to grind into temples. Surprisingly, this was not the case with this unit. The padding on the cups and top headstrap are also made of a material that kind of resembles carpet. I know this sounds weird but it is more comfortable than I thought it was going to be.
My biggest issue with the wearability of the A50 is the top head cushion mostly due to the fact that this headset isn’t exactly the lightest thing in the world. After a short while, it just kind of dug into the top of my head even with the liberal padding. Every so often I would move the headstrap to a slightly new position on top of my head to maximize comfort. But even though the unit can still be considered light weight, any added weight can decrease comfort levels since the entire unit is essentially resting on the top of your head.
When gaming, I spend most of my time playing in my favorite recliner. I bring this up because this chair has a high back so I can rest my neck and head. This headset, however, did not interfere with my comfort of sitting in this chair as the ear cups are not over bulky. So even if I was lying down, this headset can still be used and used comfortably. This is an illusion of sorts because this is a big headset but yet it doesn’t get in the way as much as you might expect.
So even though this unit can be defined as comfortable, one of my bigger gripes comes from the overall construction of the unit. With a $300 price tag it should be a safe assumption that this unit comes with quality. Yes, the sound quality is there but I do not necessarily feel the same way about the assembly of the unit. Simply just holding the unit by the headstrap or by an ear cup and it is easy to see why; everything just loosely flaps around like a flag in the wind. It is so loose, in fact, that I can’t help but feel that something from the plastic construction can crack off. This makes me question the durability of this unit as accidentally dropping this on a non-carpeted floor could have dire consequences. Each ear cup also houses a red wire that is displayed through a little window, giving the headset a virus-in-a-test-tube kind of feeling. It looks cool but can’t help but wonder if a sturdier material could have been used to give the unit more strength. The $300 price tag is worthy for the audio quality but the overall construction feels cheap and lacking.
If you are looking for a headset that allows you to get lost in gaming, the A50 will surely fit the bill if you are willing to shell out $300 smackers. The sound quality is great and installation is easy just be aware of the lack of a second input and the overall construction of the unit is a bit flimsy. Check out all Astro Gaming has to offer by checking out their website.
– 5.8gHz provides clear audio with great range
– Comfortable ear cups even for glasses wearers
– Highly adjustable audio, can accurately adjust volume and even game-to-voice ratio
– Long battery life
– Easy to install and everything you will need is included
– The included stand holds both the headset and the transmitter while providing a nice presentation
– Compatible for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and more
– Automatically converts the mono voice chat into stereo
– Sound quality is great
– Ear cups are comfortable to wear for long gaming sessions and avoids the dreaded hot ear syndrome
– Included USB charging cable is very short, can’t really play and charge
– Flipping the mic up to mute doesn’t work
– Mic only flips up and down, not left and right or with any other adjustability
– The included Li-Ion battery has great battery life but can’t be swapped out manually if it dies
– There is no option to charge the headset from a standard wall outlet. Must only use USB
– Awkward package and instruction manual design
– No HDMI input or output
– Only one Optical input
– Headset just doesn’t feel sturdy as it loosely flaps around by simply holding it
– The top head rest starts to hurt after a while, could use better padding there
– The instructions said the headset and transmitter were pre-paired but they were not. Also had to charge the unit right out of the box.
– Higher price point of $300
– Finding the volume slider can be difficult when wearing the unit
– Connecting the top holder part to the stand was more difficult than it needed to be
– Travel case is not included but one can be purchased for $20 on Astro website
Also Consider: a longer USB cord so you can play and charge if you forget to charge between gaming sessions
Better Than: being restricted with cables
Wait For It: a wireless HDMI input for true 7.1 surround sound
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