The A40 headset from ASTRO Gaming has consistently been my favorite headset since my original review (on Tom's Games) back in 2008. Updates have come over the years, with a mic tweak here, some new foam inserts there, but ASTRO has largely kept to its original formula for what many consider the best headset in gaming today. Well, ASTRO Gaming is bringing a brand new around-the-ear headset to market soon, and it's called the A50.
The most major changes in the A40 system have been with the MixAmp, which started wired (now called the MixAmp Pro), with a shift to wireless with the MixAmp 5.8. The A50 takes those changes to their natural conclusion, including a wireless MixAmp in the headset itself. The A50 has a non-removable rechargeable battery, which powers the wireless functionality. This built-in MixAmp (all of which is housed in the headset itself, so no more 5.8 transmitter dongle here), has three EQ modes (Media, Core, and Pro), which cater to specific uses: Media for movies and music, Core for casual gaming, and Pro for the more competitive types (hearing footsteps and such). Pro lowers the bass and brings the highs up, which helps with enemy position placement, while Media kicks up the bass for those epic battles in whatever crappy summer movie you're watching this afternoon.
While the design cues are largely the same, the A50 system is just as light as the A40, which ASTRO attributes to re-examining all of the materials used in the design. The one A40 favorite that isn't part of the A50? Speaker tags, as the A50 uses the space where tags once lived for volume and voice/game mix controls. Speaking of which, all of the controls are housed in the headphones, including EQ choice, volume, mix, and inputs for USB (charging) and the Xbox 360 controller voice cable (note: wireless voice for the 360 is still a Mad Catz exclusive, hence the use of the cable).
The wireless receiver for the A50 looks familiar, its because it looks very similar to the A40 version. You have Optical in and out, micro USB for charging the headset, another USB port, and an auxiliary port for connecting iPods and the like. This receiver can be stuck next to the Xbox, or placed in the base of the A50 stand (pictured) which makes charging the A50 pretty convenient.
This is a premium, mufti-purpose product, so a high price tag - $300 - is to be expected. It's a lot of money, but this can be used with your PS3, Xbox 360, and any PC with the proper connections, so those three Benjamin's go a long way. And if our final verdict on sound quality (expect a full review within a few weeks) is anything like that for the A40, this is money well spent.
The A50 is and isn't an update to the A40 at the same time. It's a wholly new product, and won't be replacing the A40's on the ASTRO website, but you can be 50 feet away from the A50 and immediately tell where it draws its inspiration from. ASTRO's position on the two headsets is simple: The A40 is for the hardcore, competitive gaming crowd, while the A50 is meant to be a cornerstone in your home theater setup.