I typically use earphones for listening to music and podcasts. Small, cheap, mobile, and sporting a single button for limited but effective controls, they’re exactly what I need when it comes to amusing myself on the way to work. The Astro A50 can best be described as the opposite: large, premium, glued to whatever gaming station or home theatre you put them in, and sporting a range of specialized options. And in the circumstances they’re designed for, the A50 shines brighter than most other headphones at their price point.
For those unfamiliar, the Astro A50 are a pair of premium $399.99 CAD headphones that are equipped with a flip-down microphone and a base charging station. There are two models: PlayStation 4/PC and Xbox One/PC, with a switch on the headphones themselves that determines which of the available two the headset will interface with. Built by ASTRO Gaming, these are meant to be top-quality gaming headphones.
The charging station serves as the A50’s anchor and link to your device of choice. It can smoothly hook up to a PC with a USB cable, and can be attached to either a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One (we are reviewing the PS4 model) with a slightly more involved, but well explained and quick setup process using an optical cable. The base must be plugged into a device, otherwise the headphones will not work. You have to commit to a location.
For that reason, you should take precautions in case you have to move the A50. I strongly advise that you keep the box it comes in for use as a storage container and travel case. The plastic moulds within keep everything stable and safe through bumpy rides, and taking everything in and out is a pain-free affair.
Before we move on to using the headphones, there’s a small eccentricity that must be warned of. The headphones will charge if plugged directly into a power outlet, but the base only functions and charges the headphones while plugged into a PC or PS4. It’s an odd, unintuitive design choice. Sure, the base needs to be plugged into a device at some point to use all its functions, but if one thing can charge directly, why not both? The headphones also have a fairly aggressive auto-shutdown feature (5 minutes for no audio coming through the speakers even if the microphone is in use, and about 17 minutes if sound is playing but no movement is detected) that can’t be turned off. It doesn’t seem necessary considering that the headphones have about 13 hours of battery life and are basically rooted to their charging station, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the intended uses.
At any rate, just because you can’t do much with it doesn’t mean it’s not good at the things it can do. The Astro A50 sports excellent sound quality, and, unlike some commercial headphones, it doesn’t unbalance the audio layers by cranking up the bass. You won’t need to mess with any settings to get fantastic audio right out of the box, so it could well be said that the A50s are convenient and easy to use.
These headphones are well-built, durable, and have a premium-looking design with comfortable ear cups that you can wear for hours. It gets rather warm on your ears after a while, but it’s not really an issue as long as you take breaks as appropriate. The headphones are simultaneously sturdy yet flexible, giving way to the curvature of your head, and you can adjust how far down the ear cups are. The headband and ear cushions are swappable if need be, and you can twist the cups around to inspect them.
A volume wheel is easily accessible on the back of the right headphone, allowing you to adjust the volume on the fly. The headphones support Dolby Sound, so surround sound is supported, and is handled fairly well. Sound starts to break up at around 40 ft away from the base even with obstructions and a winding path, making the wireless range a lot more impressive than the average headphones. This aspect has limited uses, but if you value the ability to walk across a floor in your house while listening to something, it works. One thing you’ll just have to watch out for is sound leakage; even at normal volumes, you can hear the audio emanating from them if the wearer is standing anywhere in a quiet, medium-sized room with you.
The Astro A50 comes equipped with a flip-down microphone. Speaking into the mic automatically plays your voice in the speakers with no alterations, which can be useful in certain circumstances. You can actively adjust the game/voice balance with a large button on the outer side of the right headphone.
Finally, there’s the Astro A50 command center. This easy-to-use piece of software lets you set the sound equalizing and save your settings to a preset. It also has a microphone tab that gives you control over the mic’s frequency response as well as its noise gate. However, it has no option to extend or disable the auto-off feature, which is fairly unfortunate. There is also no surround sound effect menu or true button mapping beyond the equalizer presets.
The Astro A50 headphones are a perfect fit for gaming. These headphones have good sound, a convenient wireless design, and a comfortable fit you can wear for long gaming sessions without any fatigue. They won’t be the best headphones if you have a particularly noisy gaming environment like being at a competition – which you shouldn’t bring them to in the first place, as they aren’t really build to go anywhere. However, they deliver on most aspects that make good gaming headphones. They have a clear and reliable microphone, a good battery life with power saving features (annoying as they are), and an excellent sound for both gaming and listening to music. They even come with a robust software which offers as many customization options as most people will need. For gaming, and for stationary activities like watching shows or movies, these headphones are worth their asking price.