I’m not much of an audio guy. I spent most of my teenage years listening to heavy metal cranked all the way up to 11. I went into this review with a bit of trepidation as I was worried that I wouldn’t do the A50’s justice or appreciate them to their fullest. However, much like how great art can inspire those who don’t know Van Gogh from Bob Ross, the Astro A50's can turn people like me into audiophiles.
Over the last month or so I spent over 70 hours with the A50’s, listening to a mix of gaming, movies, and music to see if they lived up to their $300 price tag. That amount of money buys a lot of games and gaming gear, but after my time with the A50’s I think they might be one of the best gaming purchases you can make. They will have you truly appreciating the wonders of video game audio.
Inside the elegantly-designed box are two USB cables (one to charge the headset and the other to connect the wireless transmitter to a sound source), an Xbox Live chat cable, TOS optical cable, stand, wireless transmitter, and the headset itself. Setting up the device is straightforward: plug the optical cable into the optical out of the device (PC, Xbox 360, PS3) and then insert the USB plug into an empty USB port to power the wireless transmitter. Once you are connected you sync the headset to the transmitter and it’s go time.
Next, there’s a little bit of configuration that has to take place, but then you’re in for auditory heaven. I did have a few issues with my Windows PC recognizing the device but they sorted themselves out after some device manager work. My situation was a bit unique as I daisy chained the A50’s in with my existing PC speakers and it took some time to work out a few things.
My first few gaming sessions with the A50’s were good but nothing to write home about; the headset was on par with my PC speakers. Or so I thought. Then I began to hear nuances, like the subtle warble the pulse lasers make while recharging in MechWarrior Online; or clearly making out the types of weapons fired at me in Battlefield 3. Hell, hunting down stones in Darksiders II was easier as the sound was amazingly clear in the headphones and because the 7.1 setup worked as advertised: you really can tell the position the sound is coming from.
Movies also became more intense. While watching Star Wars: A New Hope, the headphones nearly vibrated off my head when the Imperial Star Destroyer roared past the camera at the top of the film. Dialog, music, and special effects are much cleaner than I’ve heard out of any speaker I’ve owned (and this includes some high-end Bose speakers).
Musically the headphones deliver as well. Everything is clear and crisp. I listened to everything from Deadmau5 to Mumford & Sons and was impressed with the audio quality. Every bit of range was pitch perfect (at least as far as this tin ear could tell).
There’s no doubt that the A50’s are a luxury product. Everything in the box looks and feels well made. The headset and its buttons are solid and well crafted with nothing feeling fragile. Even the included USB and TOS cables are made of nice soft-touch plastic which is luxurious to the touch.
Like most expensive things, the small touches really make the product perfect. Things like an optical out so that the A50’s are a part of your audio ecosystem and not the endpoint of it. The microphone auto mutes when you push it all the way up. This alone was nice, but Astro went further by putting a slight bump in the movement so you can feel when the microphone is on or off. The headset automatically lowers the volume when you turn it back on as well, so you won’t go deaf if the last person using it cranked it all the way up. The folks at Astro have thought over everything you want in a headset.
The A50’s are very comfortable and not as heavy as they look. I would get a slightly sore neck after three to four hours of wearing them but my poor posture probably plays into that. The cans are covered in a nice fabric with soft padding and allow the headphones to breathe a bit; they won’t lead to unnecessary sweating. Much like a new sofa or chair, the padding and fabric took a few uses to break in, but even those early stages weren’t uncomfortable.
Astro says the A50’s will last ten to twelve hours on a single use. I can validate that claim. I squeezed in a little over twelve hours on a couple occasions and I never got anything less than ten hours out of them. The headset gives you auditory warnings when the battery is about to die so you’ll know when it’s time to save your game or just do without audio for awhile. I found that if I set the headset next to me while charging and then cranked it all the way up, I could still hear most of the sounds, but it lost the 7.1 magic.
Range is also good to about 20 feet. This is more than enough for most people to grab something to drink or answer nature’s call without taking the headset off. As you reach the edges of the range, the headset fizzles out a bit, so it’s apparent when you are as far away as you can get.
Issues with the A50’s were minimal and limited to the audio having small bursts of fuzziness from time to time. It didn’t happen often but it was noticeable when it did. I would have liked a larger power button and a longer charging USB cable. It would be nice to be able to play while I the headset recharged, but that feels like nitpicking given the quality of the components.
The big question is if the headsets are worth the $300 price tag. It took some struggling but I finally came up with the perfect metaphor for the A50’s. Since I don’t have the money to create my own “man cave” in the basement, the A50’s are the next best thing as they provide a “man cave for one” where you can focus only on the game, movie, or music at hand. Three hundred dollars is also nice compared to the $1,000 to $1,500 required to to re-create the same experience with speakers. Considering all that, $300 is a bargain.
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