It’s crazy to think that a little over five years ago, surround sound gaming headsets we’re considered a luxury item. Back then, they were mostly had by gamers with the deepest of pockets. Yet, for as fancy and pricey as some sets were, those who did plunk down the cash still had to make some kind of concession, whether it was platform compatibility or in the features department.
Then along came ASTRO. A company who, since 2006, has managed to make a name for itself by first capturing the competitive gaming segment and now making the transition to the hardcore gaming consumer. With the A50 wirless headset, ASTRO wants to make it so that concessions don’t have to be made anymore, whether you game on one HD console, or all of them.
One platform agnostic headset to rule them all – does the ASTRO A50 manage to pull this off? The answer is an emphatic yes!
Right off the bat, you know what you’re getting here is a premium product and the first thing to tell you that is the box. Covered in what ASTRO calls “gamer graffiti” art, the A50 packaging is designed in a way that, when seen at retail, customers will want to pick it up and explore its contents. When they do eventually get their hands on it, they’ll notice that the paper and clean design used is more like the packaging one would expect to find on a luxury item such as an iPad and nothing like the clunky and see-through plastic found on your typical gaming headset.
Falling in line with the rest of the ASTRO Gaming family of headsets, the A50 casing is made of a very solid (not at all cheap feeling) plastic. At first glance, you’d be hard pressed to find any cosmetic differences between these cans and their predecessor the A40. If they were tethered (for charging while playing), only the black and red color scheme would signal that you’ve upgraded to (or splurged on) the unit. The ear cups themselves may also be an indicator, as the A50’s now have a wireless receiver built into them adding some slight bulk, but only the sharpest eyes will be able to make that distinction.
Speaking of the wireless receiver, one would assume that because the radio is built into the headset, the A50 would carry much more weight on them. Coming in at 40 grams heavier than their predecessor at a whopping 364 grams, on paper, they seem downright obese. But after switching between the A50 and A40 for over a week, I found that the added weight was not an issue — at all. Also, the A50 actually felt a bit more comfortable from what feels like some slightly extra padding around the ears.
As per the usual for ASTRO, the sound on the A50 is not only incredibly loud but also exceptionally clear. The bass absolutely rocks, and the subtle sound effects, such as the footsteps during a round of “search and destroy” in Call of Duty, makes the opposing team sound as if they’re walking on dry leaves. Seriously, any opposing players might as well wear a bell around their neck because you’ll hear them coming from a mile away. At least you can tell people that $300 bucks buys you somewhat of a competitive advantage.
An interesting addition with the new set are three audio presets that can be toggled on the fly. You have your basic flat, which is the game’s natural, un-touched audio. Next you have an “ASTRO” setting, which raises the highs, perfect for competitive gaming. Finally you have a media mode, which honestly should be avoided, as it’s very overbearing no matter what kind of media you’re consuming.
ASTRO mentioned to us at E3 that these presets will be customizable through custom software they’ll be putting out sometime this year. Not only will users be able to create their own but they’ll also have downloadable presets created by some of the best professional gamers on the scene. At the time of this review, there was still no software to speak of, but the fact that it’s in the works is very exciting.
Although, these are being touted as ASTRO’s answer to those gamers demanding a truly wireless experience, there are a few connections that still have to be made.
For folks gaming on Xbox Live (and you can thank Microsoft for this one), you’ll still have to run a chat cable from the headset to your controller. Not really a big deal, but damn, you would think that seven years into the 360’s cycle this would be a non-issue. Oh well.
Sony fans, you don’t have it much better. Those who get their fraggin’ fix on PSN, will still have to run a separate “chat cable” to one of the USB ports on the PS3. Those using one of the newer consoles with only two USB ports will have to rely on some slim pickings. Get it? PS3 Slim. Never mind. The lack of blutooth is a bit disappointing, but I’m not sure how much more expensive it would make this set.
Finally, no surprises here, no one has it better than the PC master race. If you game on the PC, you will have to make zero concessions. You bastards, I envy all of you.
Before I received a unit for review, other reviewers had reported issues with the headset pairing incorrectly to the mixamp, reporting issues of dropping sound. I, too, experienced this during my first week of use. Luckily (and just in time for this review), ASTRO has since addressed this problem with their mid-August firmware update, and I can say that it has fixed any and all issues that I was experiencing prior to the update, with some added extras.
I wasn’t too shocked to find that the ASTRO A50 actually lived up to the expectations originally set back at E3. It’s everything I loved about the A40, combined with the freedom of a (mostly) wireless system. Sure, it’s certainly comes at a higher price point than what you normally find on gaming shelves, but even before you put them on your ears, you know that you’ve purchased a premium product. Once you put them on, well…let’s just say that gaming without them (especially competitively) never feels the same.
Rocking a pair of Air Jordans won’t help to make you jump any higher, but this headset will certainly help you play a little better. The question is: how much are you willing to pay to have that advantage?