True story: I know people who game with $10 Gamestop earbuds. I’m not sneezing on that; you go with what you got. But if you want true immersion, a dedicated gaming headset is the only way to play. I often say that once you go high-end gaming headset, you won’t go back. I think I may tweak my personal nerd motto by stating “once you go Astro A50 Headset + Mixamp, you’re ruined for all other headsets.”
I won’t pretend that these rather excellent cans come cheap. The Astro A50 Headset + Mixamp carries a $299 MSRP, which is the gaming headset sector’s very high-range. It’s the cost of a new video game console. My current cans, the Razer Star Wars The Old Republic 7.1 surround sound headset, is “just” $129.99. That’s a $170 premium. Are the extra bucks worth it?
Indeed. Let me detail why.
The Astro A50 Headset + Mixamp is a remarkable piece of gaming gear. It’s not just audio quality (which features simulated 7.1 surround sound) that I speak of, but the design, too. It, unlike the Razer Star Wars The Old Republic headphones, is conducive for long play sessions thanks to a sturdy, but lightweight build. I hooked this puppy up to my PC and played Batman: Arkham City for over three hours without feeling its weight; typically my ears get a little sore after having cups pressed against them, but the Astro A50 cradled them with a soft touch. When the time comes to take off the headset, you can spin the cups 90-degrees and place them on your shoulders. They’re a tad bulky, but don’t weigh you down.
The right cup features the main controls. There’s the power/sync button that pairs the headset to the transmitter, three MixAmp EQ settings (Media Mode, Core Mode, Pro Mode), volume, and a voice and game MixAmp rocker built into its broad side. I’m right-handed, so I’m able to manipulate the controls with ease, but southpaws may need an acclimation period.
The left cup houses the USB jack for plugging into a PC, PS3, or wireless transmitter (it’s also the method by which it charges), and a audio jack for connecting to a Xbox 360 or other audio device. There are lots of options here, and thankfully, all the necessary cabling comes bundled with the hardware. Also built into the left cup is a flexible, non-removable microphone that goes mute when you do the most natural thing in the world when you’re done talking: lock the mic into a vertical position. It’s obvious that Astro studied gaming headset usage and applied its knowledge to the A50.
Astro states that the non-removable, rechargeable battery is capable of supplying roughly 10 hours of enjoyment; in my tests, I saw roughly seven. The Astro A40 line has swappable outside panels, something that is missing here due to the integrated MixAmp game/voice rocker. Included in the box is a plastic stand for mounting the headset when you want to show off your prize.
Media Mode boosts the bass, which is the ideal setting, at least to my ears, for listening to music and movies. The drums and bass in Handsome Boy Modeling School’s “The Truth” absolutely thumped. Despite the monstrous boom bap, the audio didn’t suffer distortion, so I cranked the volume (powered by 40mm audio drivers) to obscene levels. Pro Mode, conversely, focuses on tremble. Core Mode falls between the two extremes and offers the best sound balance. You mileage, and tastes, will vary, of course.
Pop in a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, a title with lots of audio effects happening at once, and prepare to get floored. Footsteps, gunshots, voices, and other sounds are properly positioned in the virtual soundscape. Note: The A50 doesn’t have noise-cancellation, but the cups fit snugly around the ear to lessen outside din. Be forewarned: If you crank the volume noise will leak out and others will hear what you hear.
Oh, yes, this was all tested wirelessly. The integrated KleerNet 5.8-GHz wireless technology connects the A50 to the transmitter, a small, lightweight box that talks to a PC via USB and houses other connectivity ports. Astro adopted KleerNet as it, according the company, delivers excellent audio quality with strong connectivity. I can vouch for that statement. My tunes sounded as great as a wired signal when I was in the immediate vicinity of the Mixamp; in fact, the only time I heard any drop-out was when I walked about 40 feet away. The A50 even kept the signal when I navigated a flight of stairs to a lower floor, albeit with some breakup. In other words, you’ll enjoy a steady audio stream if you stay within a realistic distance.
Note: I couldn’t plug the headset into my Alienware m11x laptop and have it recognized by my PC. It charged, but if I wanted to listen to a track, I had to plug the headphones into the Mixamp that contains the software drivers. That’s not a huge drawback, as you’ll probably have the Mixamp hooked up to a desktop, laptop, or console most of the time. Consider this a FYI.
The Astro A50 is gaming headset excellence. It costs a pretty penny — you can purchase two rival cans for the same price — but it’s well worth the heavy coin due to the outstanding audio quality, excellent (albeit bulky) build, and gamer-centric touches. If you’re serious about your audio, consider the Astro A50 a must-buy.