If you are a serious gamer, having a gaming headset is a must. If you’re someone like me who is hearing impaired and lives with others (and wants to continue living with others), it becomes that much more important. I got my first gaming headset in 2010 when I purchased Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and gaming has literally never been the same. I started with a pair of Turtle Beach X31′s. They were great to me for over two years of serious gaming, so when they finally gave up the ghost, I instantly began the hunt for a replacement pair. That is when my bad luck with gaming headsets began. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending, because I think I have found where my back luck with gaming headsets will end: the Astro A50′S.
I was very nervous about investing $300 into a gaming headset given my past experience. Astro is owned by Skull Candy, a company that makes cheap headphones that are known more for their look than their sound, so that made me skeptical. I realize in the grand scheme of things, that means nothing, but it is what it is. Further adding to the complexity of my decision making were some of the pretty intense poor reviews through companies like Best Buy and Amazon. It seemed as though there were what may have been a very vocal minority that received their Astro A50′s dead on arrival. That’s not something I wanted to deal with. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with Phandroid.com‘s Quentyn Kennemer (former Analog Hyper!) that I really decided to take the plunge. He raved about his and told me I would not be disappointed, adding that many of the reviews I was citing could also come across as pure ignorance. Then I remembered I did Tech Support for a living and know how many times a day I turn something that “doesn’t work” into a happy customer and that was that.
There things are incredible. The set up is easy and the fact that I can go back and forth for both audio and chat from my Xbox 360 to my Playstation 3 and even into my PC is awesome. The mix amp is small and doesn’t take up nearly as much space as the amp that came with my X41′s that I am now getting rid of, so I have it hidden in the short area between my TV and the base of the TV. Considering real estate is at a premium in my set-up, that really was huge for me. There is an optional stand that the mix amp can rest within that gives a place to hang the headset, and while I really wish I could use it, space dictates that this will not be an option for me.
Set-up is a piece of cake. The mix amp has only a few connections: two USB connections, one that connects to your device (Xbox/Playstation/PC) and one that is used to charge the headset. Both are short, so owners will have to keep the headset close to the console/computer or buy another a longer USB to Micro-B cable. The headset itself has an internal, rechargeable battery that uses the second USB port. Because it is also short, this is where it may be imperative that anyone buying these headphones gets the longer cable. The worst thing that can happen is that you get into an intense play session or forget to charge the headset and get stuck with it being dead and unable to use them while they charge. The expected battery time is 6-8 hours, but it is pretty safe to assume the low end any time you read a range that is given by any company. As expected by the lifetime of the charge, it takes a good two hours to fully charge the headset. I don’t know how many charge cycles you can expect before the battery needs to be replaced or how to do such a thing, but I can tell you this is going to save me from buying tons of AAA batteries moving forward. The only other connections on the back of the mix amp is an optical in and an optical out. The headset comes with an optical/Toslink cable, which obviously will connect out of your device into the input of the mix amp. This will allow for up to Dolby 7.1 audio in the headset. I can assure you, having up to seven different channels of audio in the headset sounds significantly better than just pure stereo. Set up time literally takes less than five minutes, and that includes all the reaching around to plug things in. The audio output is a great feature as well, as many gamers also have home theaters they use in conjunction or in lieu of their gaming headsets. This allows for the best of both worlds, where you can run the audio out of the device and into the mix amp, and then the mix amp can pass it along to your receiver. This is pretty standard from what I’ve seen with between both Astro and Turtle Beach, but still great that it wasn’t an oversight.
The sound, as you would expect, is phenomenal. Audio quality was never an issue with any of the Turtle Beach’s I owned, and I could immediately tell the difference between analog audio in the X31/X32 and the digital audio I got with the X41. Again, my issue was strictly voice chat and the constant echo (or pairing issues with the X32). With the Astro A50, I have zero issues whatsoever. If Dolby is just a name to you and you don’t truly appreciate the difference between stereo audio and full, digital Dolby 7.1 sound, let me take a moment to explain: the 7.1 is basically seven channels of audio with some bass. Think of see a movie like Fast & Furious in a movie theater. When a car races across the screen, you feel like you are there and the sound goes from one side to the other. That is the Dolby effect. Now I realize that 7.1 may not sound that necessary with a headset that has what amounts to left and right audio, but trust me, when you are wearing these things, you will know where the sound is supposed to be coming from. The two games I have tested this on are Dead Space 3 and Battlefield 3. Both were outstanding choices, as with Astro A50′s really added to the atmosphere of creepiness in Dead Space 3. There are so many background noises going on and I could hear every little footstep from all the scary monsters that were crawling through ventilation shafts or about to go bursting through walls. With Battlefield 3 it was a question of “how do you make the best sounding game of all time better?” The Astro A50′s, that’s how. The Battlefield franchise is known for sound, and this headset really gives me a new appreciation for the series. I have invested well over 2000 hours into Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3, and I feel like I am hearing the game in a whole new way. I don’t know if I could give this headset a bigger compliment than that.
But how did it hold up in chat? Well, so far, so good. I joined in a few Xbox Live Parties with people that had been complaining about echoing and all of them confirmed that I was no longer echoing. The cable that connects from the headset to the Xbox 360 controller is fairly thin and doesn’t instill much confidence, but it also looks like something that would be fairly easy to replace. It has a straight 1/8″/3.5mm connection going into the headset and an angled 1/8″/3.5mm connection going into the controller. I did notice quite a bit of static when I plugged it in for the first time, but after reseating the cable a few times, it went away. Obviously from here I will have to monitor the situation, but as it stands, it looks like my days of echoing are over.
$300 is a lot to pay for anything, especially when you consider that is what I paid for my 160 gig Playstation 3. I can tell you with absolute confidence that this headset is worth every penny. They are built well, sound great and truly add to the gaming experience. The video below will further enhance this review by showing me get my hands on the headset for the first time and trying it out, and around the 13 minute mark, you should be able to hear just how truly capable they are. The Astro A50 headset is available now at places like Best Buy, Amazon and of course the Astro website.