Manufacturer: Astro Gaming
MSRP: $299
Sound Produced: 7.1 Surround (Simulated)
Type: Wireless (Fully embedded)
Primary System: Universal (Systems supporting digital optical output)
Connection Method: TOSLINK (Digital Optical) USB (Power, PC/PS3 chat), 2.5mm-2.5mm cable (Xbox 360 chat)

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Basic Description

It has been a long time coming, but after years of iterating on their existing product line, Astro Gaming has finally released something the market has been demanding. While their Wireless Mixamp 5.8 cut some of the cords, gamers were still tethered to a small receiver that houses a master volume and game/chat balance dials. With the A50s, the company has moved one step further creating what is called a “fully embedded wireless solution.” They’ve accomplished a magnificent feat of engineering, cramming their mixamp technology into the right earcup on the headset. Additionally, Astro has taken a leap into the future by incorporating KleerNet 5.8Ghz wireless technology.

The new model doesn’t come without some cosmetic drawbacks. If you can live with the stock look of the unit though, there is no reason not to consider the A50s. Just make sure you are ready to commit the cash.

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What’s in the Box?

  • Headset
  • Wireless Transmitter (Tx)
  • 1 meter USB Power Cable
  • .5 meter USB Charging Cable
  • 1 meter Optical Cable
  • 1.5 m 2.5mm Xbox Live Chat Cable
  • Headset Stand

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Aesthetics and Durability

From a distance, it would be easy to mistake the A50 for a classic black pair of A40s. Once you realize that there isn’t a cable coming off the unit and the coiled cable visible through the fully dynamic adjustment sliders is red (and not black), things become clear. If you were blindfolded and an A40 headset were placed in one hand with the A50 in the other, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

The weight of the two units is nearly identical, and that speaks volumes about the engineering prowess of the team at Astro. In addition to the 40mm (technically, 44 mm) drivers, they’ve packed all of the components found in their wired mixamp into a single earcup. The right side features a game/chat balance toggle, with the power button, preset slider and master volume dial comfortably accessible. The left side features two ports. One is for charging, and the other is for connecting the 2.5mm Xbox Live Chat Cable.

The plastic is lightly textured with the the Astro name embossed into the top of the headband. One of the aesthetic touches that I love is the visible cable coiled in the adjustment posts. The cylindrical adjusters are one of two glossy accents on the headset. The headband is suspended in-between two thinner plastic pieces. This allows a springier, less rigid feel despite the heavy foam underside. This also cuts the weight down significantly.

The microphone boom is a flexible piece of plastic encasing the heavy duty cable. The microphone itself is covered by a glossy plastic protective piece (as opposed to the metal on the A40s) rather than a wind sock. I never noticed an excessive amount of wind or popping due to the absence of a foam covering.

Two things should be noted about the A50s in comparison to Astro’s other headsets. First, custom speaker tags aren’t an option. The magnets that affix them would wreak havoc with the mixamp. Second, the microphone is not removable. This is due to the flip-up mute feature. Since you can’t connect this model to a portable device (remember, no cables), the latter of these should not matter.

The included headset stand features a tray to house the transmitter should you wish. The divot that the unit sits in also perfectly fits the Wireless Mixamp Transmitter 5.8 and the Wired Mixamp. On the rear, the transmitter features a digital optical passthrough, USB mini port for power, standard USB to connect to the headset (for firmware updates) and, on the top, power and Dolby buttons.

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Ease of Setup and Use

Connecting the transmitter to any digital optical-enabled device is simple. And, once selected in your settings menu, you’re ready to go. The headset and transmitter come pre-paired, but you’ll likely need to do it again after you upgrade the firmware. The first update is already out (and can be secured from Astro’s site here). I strongly suggest that you upgrade your device immediately.

Before upgrading I noticed audio drops and fading microphone sounds. Both of these have been remedied. An update coming later this year will also give users the chance to configure their own presets for the three slots provided (controlled via a slider switch). By default, the equalizer settings are optimized for movies/music, “as intended” game sound and Astro’s “pro” configuration for competitive settings. While gaming, I regularly used the third position for enhanced sound.

The integrated battery features 10-12 hours of life, with a subtle tone sounding when charge is running low. You can directly connect the headset to a USB power source to continue gaming, though. There are also subtle beeps connected to using the balance rocker on the right earcup. Pressing toward the front weighs the mix in favor of game audio; toward the rear accentuates voice chat. There are three different sounds for reaching the outer limits of the range in either direction and hitting the middle. This makes it very convenient to reset the mix while wearing.

Master volume is smartly located where my thumb naturally goes to on the underside of the right earpiece. I’ve used other headsets that require some manner of muscle training to go to the right place for volume and other features. It’s not so here. The design makes it a natural, intuitive process.

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Sound Quality and Performance Notes

One of the things that Astro Gaming is very proficient at is making the soundscape feel completely natural. Anyone who has ever owned one of their products has likely experienced the “is that really coming from my headset” moment. Often, I take mine off just to make sure sound isn’t also coming from the TV or my home theatre system.

This phenomenon happens more frequently with the A50s. The absence of the speaker tags allowed Astro to create greater sound isolation and heavier bass, though the latter certainly wasn’t necessary. The soundscape is rich and full, but most importantly, it’s natural. The combination of the comfort of the unit with the fine tuning of the 7.1 surround creates an entirely immersive experience.

Dialog, even on the more bass-focused “pro” setting, was always clear, even amidst heavier, thicker background noises and soundtrack offerings.  I recently played through all of Darksiders II using the A50s, and absolutely loved the subtlety offered. Sounds like Death’s gallop up and across wooden poles and the distant squawks from his crow, Dust were as pronounced and crisp as the heavy clop of spectral steed Despair’s clops across the rock. The game features some very subtle audio cues for one of the collectibles, and I found far more than I think I would have without the A50s.

The microphone provides high quality recording quality that proves out the KleerNet claim. While the sample below is certainly more impressive than the Wireless Mixamp 5.8 and A40 combination, it isn’t quite as good as the A40 with Wired Mixamp setup. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but how close the two are should.

Recording Sample:

Astro A50 Recording Sample

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Comfort

Astro’s approach to design has always been the most comfortable for my headshape. I prefer the soft fabric on the earcups to leatherette, velour or microfibre. I rarely come away from even marathon sessions with the dreaded “sweaty head.” The pressure distribution of the A50s, while not quite as weightless as the A40s, still manages to remain comfortable even when playing for hours on end.

If you are looking to make a decision between the A40s and A50s on comfort alone, well, I’ve got bad news. I can’t help you. The two are so close that I would feel comfortable recommending either. Make your decision based on feature set.

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Differentiating Features

The flip-up mute featured on the A50s mean you won’t be button-hunting when you want to have a private conversation. In the same token, the natural motion to lift the boom when taking a drink prevents your teammates from suffering through your slurp. KleerNet is a big selling factor for the A50s, especially if the company behind the tech fulfills its promise of integration in 30 to 40 million different consumer electronics.

This would even further increase the value of the A50, since users would be able to pair the unit with any television, home theatre system or game console that includes the feature. If Sony or Microsoft decide to jump on board, you’ll be able to hook directly into their next consoles. My fingers are crossed.

On the downside, the battery is integrated. Should it become unusable, you’ll have to tap into Astro’s (forthcoming) replacement program for a fix. This will not be free, of course.

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Accessories Required/Recommended

I suggest picking up a longer USB to USB mini cable that would allow use while charging when battery power runs low.

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Conclusion

The A50s are a marvel of engineering. The fact that Astro managed to put the mixamp inside one earcup while only negligibly increasing weight (with no impact on comfort) is beyond impressive. If you are a console gamer that hates being tied down with cables (with that slight exception of chatting on Xbox Live), this is a great place to start looking… if you have the budget. On the flipside, if you are strictly a PC gamer, wireless is less of an issue. The A40 with Wired Mixamp offer slightly better recording quality.

This is Astro’s first product to include presets; something we’ve seen from many other manufacturers already. The move to fully embedded wireless and (soon to be) customizable equalization settings allows Astro to check all the boxes, even the ones that their competition ticked off first.

As always, prioritize the features you need out of a gaming headset. That said, I’m confident that the A50 can fulfill most needs.

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