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The A50 is famous for a reason: It’s one of the best gaming-oriented headsets on the market, if not the best. The 2014 edition retains that mantle. Forget the A38—this is Astro’s true baby.
The A50 is a wireless version of Astro’s even-better-known A40 headset. Like the A40, it’s an over-ear headset with a boom microphone.
It’s an extremely durable headset, with metal accents complementing some hefty plastic bits. The left ear features a MicroUSB jack for charging and an audio-out for Xbox One chat, while the right ear has a volume roller, power switch, and built-in equalizer. The headset’s a bit heavier than I prefer, especially in the ears (where the transmitter, battery, et cetera are kept), but the headband is padded enough that I never experienced much discomfort.
The ears are also generously padded and are covered in some sort of felt material, which feels luxurious but unfortunately tends to make my ears sweaty and hot a lot faster than faux-leather or mesh. It also picks up hairs easily, which is annoying if you’re trying to keep your brand new headset looking good.
It’s a gorgeous design overall though, with earcups that rotate to lay flat, brilliant use of negative space, and great use of colors that fall outside the usual industry fallbacks. Even with the enormous boom mic strapped to the side the A50s are sleek and beautiful.
And they’ve got a sound to match. The A40 and A50 are a standby for a number of tournament players and broadcasters, and for good reason. The A50 isn’t flat response. It’s bass-boosted like any other gaming headset. However, the mids and highs cut through on the A50 better than any other headset we’re reviewing here this year. There’s still an enormous amount of bass, regardless of which of the three built-in EQ settings you choose, but the rest of the mix doesn’t suffer as much as it does on competing devices.
In part that’s because of the shape of the earcups. They’re large enough you get a good sense of space, which helps separate out the different audio sources you’re hearing. It’s still “7.1 Surround in a Headset,” which means it’s not really surround sound, but the A50 does impart a good feeling of presence.
The microphone is similarly fantastic. This is one of the loudest, clearest microphones I’ve ever had the pleasure of using on a headset. The quality is unreal. The only issue is that the automatic noise-gating is sometimes a bit overzealous, squelching my voice if I don’t speak loudly enough, but it’s amazing the difference between the A50 and the average headset microphone. The microphone also mutes when flipped up, which is a favorite feature of mine.
The built-in EQ settings…well, you probably won’t notice any difference flipping between the three. The base station is nice and compact, with USB audio, aux-in, and optical-in capabilities. I got about nine hours on a charge and the headset kept in contact throughout my apartment (about thirty feet range).
There’s also the built-in mixamp. Astro lets you balance how much you’re hearing the game itself and how much you’re hearing chat from the other players. That way if other players are too quiet you can boost the chat volume just by tapping the right earcup (though in singleplayer games you’ll obviously want to keep it fully set on game audio).
All-in-all it’s a fantastic package. You even get a little stand for the A50 to sit on! Just one caveat: It costs $300. For a gaming headset. Cue spit-take.
Sure, the A50 is fantastic. It’s definitely the best wireless gaming headset, and it’s up there with the best headsets overall. But is it $300 fantastic? The HyperX Cloud features some great audio and a decent enough microphone for just $80. The A40 is arguably as good or better than the A50 and it’s $150 cheaper (though it doesn’t come with a mixamp). And that’s to say nothing of the audiophile-grade headphones you could buy for $300.
The A50’s an amazing headset—one of my favorites—but before you plop down $300 maybe you should look into the alternatives.