After a fairly long hiatus, ASTRO Gaming has finally released their latest concoction. The A50 headset is the first fully wireless headset that ASTRO has ever released, and it utilizes some of the latest wireless audio technology to make it one of the best sounding gaming headsets on the market. Everything that made the A40 headset a favorite of competitive gamers is still there, but ASTRO has taken it to a whole new level. However, at $300, this headset is not for everyone. The price tag may be a little steep, but this is a case where you get what you pay for. The quality of the A50s is unmatched by any other competitor.
After unboxing the headset, connecting it to the system of your choice (PS3, Xbox 360, or PC) is quite simple. Connect the optical cable and the USB cable to the transmitter and the console, and you’re ready to go. Setup is the same across all three platforms (except for the additional chat cable for Xbox 360). The transmitter also has optical pass-through to send the audio to an additional source, and it has a 3.5mm audio jack to connect another source to the headset. This can be used to listen to some music on an MP3 player while playing a game on your console.
The sound quality is on par with any pair of wired headphones that I’ve ever used in this price range. The headset comes with three EQ settings that can be switched at any time via a small sliding switch on the headset. The first setting is designated for gaming, and it allows you to precisely hear every sound effect. This feature would be most useful for competitive multiplayer FPS gaming, but since I don’t play games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, I tested this setting on my favorite cooperative FPS of all time, Borderlands (on both PC and PS3). As soon as I loaded the game, I began to hear all the tiny details that sometimes get washed out when listening through speakers or a cheap headset. Every shot, every footstep, and every shout from an enemy was crystal clear. Even though this setting accentuates the higher frequencies, there is still a good amount of bass to go with it, but not too much as to drown out other sound effects.
The other two profiles are for movies/music and standard Dolby Digital surround sound. I used the music profile to listen to audio CDs on the PS3 and streaming music on the PC, and in both cases, it sounded wonderful. ASTRO has managed to successfully wirelessly transmit a full range of frequencies to the headset, from the thumping of an intense bass track to the high frequencies of a great vocal performance. The third profile is there for anyone who doesn’t want the hardware to interfere with the standard Dolby Digital output, but I found the other two settings to sound much better. ASTRO Gaming clearly knows what they’re doing when it comes to virtual surround sound.
Besides sounding great, the A50 headset also feels great while perched on your head. The cushioned headband on top keeps the closed ear cups from putting too much pressure on your ears. The controls are located in positions that make it easy to adjust volume or change the EQ setting without taking the headset off. One great feature that ASTRO has always included with their Mix-amps is the game-to-voice balancer. Since they’ve gone fully wireless, this is no longer a knob on a separate Mix-amp. Instead, the right ear cup has a click button that allows you to adjust between the game audio and chat audio. Again, I tested this feature with Borderlands, and it works perfectly. I was able to quickly and easily find the perfect balance so that I could chat with my buddy and still hear what was going on in the game. Although I didn’t get to hear what the audio that the microphone picked up sounded like, my friend certainly did when we were playing Borderlands. He said that it was a huge improvement over my previous headset, and that my voice was crystal clear. The microphone is positioned well on the headset, and also features a positional mute switch. When the microphone is rotated all the way up, the mic is muted, and when it is moved down, it is unmuted. The A50s may not be the first headset to implement this feature, but I’ve always found this method to be preferable to a separate switch. Of course, this means that, unlike the A40s, the microphone is permanently attached and cannot be removed. That’s a small price to pay for a fully wireless headset, I suppose.
My only complaint with the A50 headset is the range. It uses Kleernet 5.8 GHz technology, which claims to have less interference and more range. I never had any interference issues (although my house isn’t the most extensive test of that), but I found myself to be limited to the same room as the wireless transmitter. As soon as there was a wall in the way, audio began to cut out until it dropped completely. I got better range from my 4 year old Creative HS-1200, which used 2.4 GHz RF signals. It could at least get a signal through a couple walls. Fortunately, I only need to use this headset in the same room that I’m gaming in, so this limitation doesn’t bother me. But don’t get the A50s and expect to walk all around the house listening to music or chatting with your friends on Skype.
Overall, the quality of the ASTRO A50 headset matches the price tag. Although many people would balk at spending so much on just one accessory, I think it’s absolutely worth it. Some might be upset at the lack of speaker tags (strong magnets don’t work that well with wireless!) and the lack of a removable microphone, but the A50s make up for it by being ASTRO’s first fully wireless headset. If you want to lose the wires but keep the great sound, then look no further than the A50s. This is the finest wireless headset on the market.