Review: Astro A50 Wireless Headset (Gen. 4)

by Kirby Yablonski

Headset Specs

   - Cost: $399 CAD (Astro Website)
   - Microphone: 6.0mm unidirectional & voice islolating
   - Speakers (Drivers): 40mm Neodymium Magnet
   - Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz
   - Ear Coupling: Over-Ear
   - Weight: 380g (13.40 oz)

Base Station Specs

- Wireless up to 30 feet
   - USB Micro powered (USB 2.0 compatible)
   - Optical Pass-Through
   - USB Power & Soundcard
   - USB Charging Port
   - AUX In
   - Mic out

We were recently sent an Astro A50 Wireless Headset, which is currently in its 4th generation, to review. Astro has been making Xbox headsets since the days of the Xbox 360. Although the headset is indeed wireless, it does not connect directly to the Xbox One as it uses a base station to send the wireless signal. There are quite a few new headsets on the market that now sync up with the Xbox One console, thogh this isn't one. For me personally, before having the chance to put the A50 through its paces, I was skeptical that I would like, or even want, to own such a headset. Well, after extended time with the headset I have to eat some humble pie and admit that that I was wrong.

When you first get the A50s and slide the box from the outer jacket, opening the package and unveiling the contents within is actually an experience. The best way I can explain it is that it feels like you are opening a premium product, like when you open something designed and packaged by Google or Apple. Inside you'll find the headset safely packed with the base station, and under all that you'll find a micro-USB cable, a fiber optic cable and some product documentation.

The A50s are a looker, as they are an all-black headset with some branding on the outside of each earcup in a colour that I can best describe as gold or a bright bronze. Look closely and you'll see small white lines on the metal poles where the earcups sit and adjust. They are basically measurement lines, so you remember where your perfect fit lies. Each earcup has memory foam wrapped in breathable cloth while the headband has the same foam and cloth on the bottom side to provide a nice cushion for the top of your head. The microphone is on the left side and is not removeable. This is indeed a great looking gaming headset, and I stress gaming, as you won't be hitting the streets, taking a bus or sitting on a plane wearing it, as it's not meant for such.

Comfort wise, you'll find the 380g weight noticeable, but not in an uncomfortable way. It is somewhat heavy, but as you start to game with it you'll only really notice it if you make the effort to do so. I did some marathon gaming sessions in Destiny 2, played some Cat Quest II and COD: Modern Warfare during my review time and did not find any issues with its comfort or fit. It is not the tightest fitting headset, but it doesn't move when you adjust how your sitting or get up to grab a drink or take a quick break to stretch. If you make the effort to shake your head, you'll have to shake harder then normal to have them fall off.

The over the ear design of the earcups are comfortable too, as the breathable foam allows for some air to get in to keep the temperature comfy. They were also comfortable while I was wearing my glasses as they didn't press on the arms too much, if any. The earcups take a bit of finesse (strength) to adjust, but once you get that "just right" fit, they will slide up or down the metal poles they are attached to. On the flipside, the padding around the earcups does let sound in, and out, during gameplay; however, should you be looking for a more enclosed experience, you can order a mod-kit which will allow you to attach leather wrapped padded earcup in place of the cloth one, which isolate the noise even better.

Controls on the headset are intuitive, but you have to get used to where the buttons are. All the headset controls are on the right earcup (in this review the listing is from the bottom to the top). On the back you'll find the master volume wheel, a preset EQ button (cycles through a total of 3 settings), a button to turn on/off the Dolby Digital Surround Sound function and the power button. On the outside of the right earcup the plate is used to mix the in-game audio and your voice chat. Muting the mic is handled by flipping the mic up, and flipping it down unmute it.

The base station is the smallest that it has ever been. It displays all the major functions that are important including battery level of the headset, the mode it is in (PC or Xbox), the sound mode (e.g. Dolby encoded or stereo) and what EQ setting you have active on the headset. The base station is also a charging dock, as you simply place the headset on the top, with the mic flipped up, and it will click onto the charging points that are recessed into the base station. And as a side note, you will also update your headphones, and the base station, by putting the headset into the base station, plugging it to your computer, and both will be updated by the Astro Command Center if they need to be.

One of the big features of the base station that I appreciated is the fact that it has a fiber optic out port, which allows for the signal to pass through to an external source (e.g. soundbar, receiver, TV). Being able to pass a signal without having the need for a ‘hub', or by manually changing it, is great. The base station will look right at home on a desk, a shelf, or even a home entertainment stand. The other important, and useful, feature is that there is a micro-USB plug that will let you use an external cable and charge the headset while you are playing if your battery is about to die.

So, lets get to the most important part of this review: "How does it sound?" Simply put, it sounds great. I have to admit that the more I used it, the more I was able to almost fall in love with it. Yes, it's true, it really made me realize that Astro makes a great premium headset. For me what was most prevalent when using it was the level of audio detail that was reproduced while allowing everything to have its own soundstage. From sound effects, music, to dialog, everything was so well balanced.

The music and sound effect engineers at Bungie are magicians, and Destiny 2 continues to be a showcase of their talents. Listening to the game through the A50s was a treat. From the sound of my ship flying to the Last City, the footsteps of me and my fireteam running on the hard floors of New Pacific Archology, to the sounds of moving water on Nessus or Io, or running around on the newly reimagined Moon and exploring the vast expanses created by the Hive underneath it's surface, the A50s were able to recreate everything with such detail and precision. Of course, the game's music was just as enjoyable as the sound effects, with the haunting and melodic sounds of the new Shadowkeep DLC being impactful when needed. Even with the cloth covered foam, which is prone to noise leakage, you'll still note all the detail of each music track and all the instruments involved.

Changing things up, I played the ID@Xbox title Cat Quest II on more than a few occasions. It's an adorable game with lots of cute sounds full of cats and dogs trying to save their world. You'll enjoy the lighthearted music and sound effects as they are clear, and even directional, through the A50's speakers. Finally, COD: Modern Warfare has been reimagined, and it sounded excellent on the A50s. Even when there was a lot of gunfire and explosions, there wasn't a time when I felt that the 40mm drivers were being overworked, even towards the maximum volume of the headset. Each weapon sound is clear and distinct, while sound effects and AI banter never sounded lost or overly mixed, and directionality was very prevalent.

I had the A50s in Dolby Digital Surround Sound mode and used the Astro EQ setting (no. 1 of 3). The other settings are Pro and Studio. Astro states that the A50s support Dolby Atmos. I did a little research on the internet about this, and it seems that there have been documented issues with those wanting to use Dolby Atmos. So, I continued to use headset in Dolby Digital Surround Sound. You'll definitely notice the directionality of the audio, as it is processed from the base station to the headset. And yes, it is not true 5.1 or 7.1 due to the nature of single speakers in each earcup, but damn, it is good and you will feel like you are in the middle of the action depending on what game you are playing.

In regards to the individual EQ settings, you can download the Astro Command Center onto your PC, and by simply connecting the base station with the headset to the PC, you can see the current EQ settings, download differently tuned settings, or you can adjust settings to your liking. As I am not an EQ savvy kind of guy, I left things alone because who am I to question Astro's Audio Engineers. The A50s are said to be tuned Astro Audio V.2 and Astro claims they work with game developers in creating custom and unique soundscapes. I can't vouch for the all of Astro's claims, but what I do know is that the Astro EQ mode sounds the most ‘balanced', while the other two modes either have more bass or more mid and high frequencies. It really comes down to one's preference, and should the presets not be what you are looking for, feel free to head into the Command Center and tweak them to your liking.

I mostly used the A50s for gaming, but I did listen to some music via Spotify for the Xbox One. I enjoyed all the music that I listened to, including the heavy rock, some pop music, as well as some EDM and classic rock & roll. The balance in the tonality was quite nice. If there was any complaint, it was that some of the music wasn't as bass heavy as it could have been, but I'd rather have clean and tight sounding music and bass over muddy bass and distorted ‘boom' anytime.

Battery life for the A50s is rated at 15 hours per charge. I didn't use a stopwatch to time how long they lasted, but I can say that there were times when I played daily and I didn't have to charge them for a few days. The charge does seem to last for a good amount of time, and I think that Astro's claim is fair. One feature that the A50s have, and that is related to this area, is that they detect if you've put them down on a desk, table, chair, or anywhere but on your head. Upon doing this, they will turn off on their own if you forget to do it; a feature that will allow you to extend the current battery level even further.

Along with the good does come a hiccup or two. One thing that I did note during my time with the A50s is that if you want to game with friends in a party chat while listening to external speakers, you cannot. Given that you plug a USB and fiber optic cable of the Xbox One to the base station, the console continually reads that the A50s are connected, even when turned off. When you go to use a chat headset to interact with your friends while gaming, you will not be able to talk to them as the microphone will not work. The other issue is the base station's lack of convenience. If you want to take your Xbox One on the road, or the A50s to a friend's house, you'll have to pack the base station and the headset together, whereas a wireless headset that syncs directly to any Xbox One is more convenient to take with you.

Overall, the Astro A50 Wireless Headset (Gen. 4) really took me by surprise. I found the sound to be extremely detailed, the headset comfortable to wear even though it is somewhat heavy, and the battery life was decent allowing for multiple gaming sessions on one charge. Some may complain that the cloth covered memory foam will let too much game sound out and too much external noise in, but it didn't bother me much if at all, and if you want, you can buy the A50 mod kit which I mentioned earlier. I went into this review somewhat doubtful given the need for the base station, but I am leaving very much impressed with what the Astro A50s have to offer. Well done Astro, well done.

 Overall Score: 9.0 / 10


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