Astro Gaming puts out some really spectacular gaming equipment. In my experience, the A40′s are one of the best gaming headsets you can buy for console gaming. The PC space is more competitive, and as I learned again at the show with so many companies using the A40′s, they’re great but not perfect. They can produce sound that’s too sharp and they are wired, with the separate mixamp control.

Then I got to try out Astro’s latest headset, the A50, and it’s a serious step up. It offers three things above the A40: a built-in mixamp, wireless (5.8GHz no less) and communication, and improved sound drivers.

In a sense, this makes the A50 almost exactly the same as the A40, except untethered. There is a wireless A40, but the entire system still relies on power cables and wires. The A50 does it all without any cables needed, just a connector box that acts as a receiver and transmitter that plugs into your Xbox 360, Playstation 3, or PC through an optical cable. The headset itself has the mixamp built right into the headphones, which on the one hand is huge for the company, but on the other is a feature that’s built into plenty of headsets already.

The key difference between the A50 and other gaming headsets is the quality of audio reproduction. Astro Gaming specializes in high-end audio equipment, and the pricetag on their sets proves it. For $300, they aren’t playing around. Comfort, design, and audio quality are on par or better than the A40, which with the mixamp is also $300, so price isn’t changing but the whole bundle is in just the headphones.

I played around with the A50 and was impressed not just with the sound quality, but with the type of sound. Most headphones, and most devices that reproduce audio (speakers, headphones, etc.) have a certain harshness of sound, which may be accurate (natural sound can be harsh), but that isn’t necessarily something we want from headphones. Now while the A40′s could produce harsh sound, I spent a good 10 minutes testing an A50 at full volume, and I didn’t have any problems. Normally headphones create harsh and painful tones, either because of increased volume, at anywhere form 25%-50% volume. At 100%, the A50 sounded totally solid, fluid, and still excellent.

The A50s are said to have 10 hours of continuous battery life, and charge via USB Micro. Because it’s on the 5.8GHz range, you’re unlikely to have any communication problems since most people still use the 2.4GHz range for home networks and appliances. It should also provide a range of about 30′, through walls. And because the audio is all digital, it works on anything with an optical cable (though if you have a stereo device using a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, there’s a port for that too). Unfortunately, there’s only one optical in and out, so while you can play on any current-gen console with the A50 (not the Wii, but likely the Wii U), only one console at a time unless you have an audio switcher or a similar box.At the same time, you can jump between headphones and speakers at any time.

The Astro A50 is expected to launch this summer, and hopefully sooner rather than later. For A40 owners, the step up may be difficult to swallow considering the identical price and very similar design, but for anyone who’s used wireless gaming headsets in the past, it’s a no brainer. Wireless is the way to go, every time.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.