The new Astro A50 is a perfect example of "If it ain't broke, just make it a little bit better." This premium wireless gaming headset retains the superbly comfy design and satisfying surround sound of its predecessor, while introducing the feature-rich Base Station and some neat software tools for casual gamers, streamers and competitors. It even has modular ear cups this time around. Although its microphone and companion app could use some improvement, the Astro A50 is still the best high-end wireless gaming headset you can buy.
Design: Now with more Base
The Astro A50 has a premium look and feel worthy of its $300 price tag. With a curvy headband and ear cups, industrial-looking components, and bright-green (Xbox One) or blue (PS4) highlights, the A50 finds a middle ground between heavy-duty and sleek; between screamingly loud and stylishly subtle. The headset is a bit too ridiculous to be something I would wear in public (not that you can use it that way anyway), but I personally love the look.
Photo: AstroBetter yet, the design is practical. The external MixAmp from the previous A50 has been built right into the right ear cup, allowing you to quickly adjust the balance between the game and the chat audio. Most of the other controls you'll need (volume, power, EQ, surround sound) are in an easy-to-reach spot behind the right ear, though I occasionally confused the power switch for the EQ one.
The latest A50 is powered by Astro's new Base Station, which is a slick piece of plastic that doubles as a charging dock for your headset. Setting up the headset is as simple as plugging the Base Station into your console's USB and optical ports. (On PCs, you just need to plug it into a USB port.) From there, the dock instantly transmits audio to your A50.
The MixAmp is now built right into the right ear cup, letting you quickly adjust the balance between game and chat audio.
Once plugged in, the Base Station displays the headset's battery life and whether surround sound is activated. There's even a 3.5-mm jack in the back that lets you do things such as plug your phone in for background music or output your game audio to a capture card. If you want to use your PS4 A50 on your Xbox One (or vice versa), you can simply buy that console's Base Station for $100 starting this December. It's pricey, but not as pricey as buying two $300 headsets.
Comfort and Mods
Plenty of headsets promise all-day comfort, but the Astro A50 truly delivers it. Thanks to the device's lightweight 13.4-ounce frame and plush, wonderfully soft ear cups, I often forgot I was even wearing a headset while binging on Titanfall 2 for hours.
Photo: AstroIf the default cushions aren't your thing, you can purchase and swap in new ear cups and headbands, thanks to the A50's Mod Kit support, which Astro carried over from the lower-end Astro A40 TR. Swapping out the parts was a breeze; the A50's ear cups attach and detach magnetically, and the headband simply needs to be popped out of a small groove at the top.
Plenty of headsets promise all-day comfort, but the Astro A50 truly delivers it.
Within seconds, I replaced the headset's plush cushions with a set of faux-leather-coated ones, which are sold separately for $40. The pleather ear cups were very cozy and are better for noise cancellation, but they weighed on me in a way that the feathery plush ones didn't. Based on the kits available for the A40, I'm hoping that the A50 eventually gets more mods, including game-specific ones.
Featuring Dolby Headphone 7.1 surround sound, the A50 delivered crisp, immersive audio during my time with it on Xbox One and PC. The headset offers three EQ modes: Astro is the most balanced; Pro doubles down on bass and Studio seems to emphasize treble. All three modes are satisfying, although Studio occasionally overwhelmed me with the low end.
I spent most of my time with the A50 while playing Titanfall 2, which made it incredibly easy to pinpoint the soft footsteps of enemy soldiers and the clackety stomps of rogue robots. That same strong directionality translated just as well into Battlefield 1, in which the deep bass of explosions and the punchiness of rifle shots made me feel like I was truly fighting in the trenches during World War I.
I always appreciate when a headset can make Mortal Kombat X sound appropriately disgusting, and the A50 did not disappoint in that regard. Punches and kicks had a nice oomph to them, and I could hear every cracking bone and tearing flesh of the game's disturbing fatalities. My only gripe was with the Studio preset, which made the action sound unrealistically bass-heavy.
Astro's headset was just as reliable for the decidedly less murderous racing action of Forza Horizon 3. I could clearly hear the satisfying "woosh" of every car and obstacle I sped by, and could make out the finer details of every road I drove on, whether I was racing down pavement or destroying a small forest with my Lamborghini.
The deep bass of explosions and the punchiness of rifle shots made me feel like I was truly fighting in the trenches during World War I.
The A50 also doubles as a dependable pair of multimedia headphones. I was sufficiently immersed in the big TIE Fighters vs. Millennium Falcon chase scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, thanks to how full the film's iconic blaster and ship sounds came across from all angles. When I flipped on the moody alternative rock of Balance and Composure's latest album, I enjoyed rich bass and soothingly crisp guitars.
Unlike the rest of the headset, the Astro A50's microphone isn't a complete all-star. My Xbox Live friends had little trouble hearing me, but they noted that I sounded pretty distant, even though the mic was right next to my mouth. I listened to a recording I had taken of my voice on the A50, and although the quality seemed perfectly fine for game chat, there was a fuzziness to it that would keep me from using the mic for a podcast or stream.
Fortunately, Astro did fix one of my biggest issues with the previous A50 by making chat fully wireless on Xbox One. Despite delivering wireless audio, the A50 previously required you to plug a cable into your controller to talk to your friends. On the new model, however, I was able to chat without any pesky cords.
The A50 promises up to 15 hours of battery life, which seems in line with my testing. After using the headset on and off over the course of two days, it kept ticking with no sign of a low battery warning. The A50's endurance is likely due, in part, to its brilliant built-in accelerometer, which automatically powers the headset down if you lay it down for about 20 seconds, and turns it back on once you pick it up.
Astro Command Center
You can customize the A50 on your PC or Mac via the Astro Command Center, which is an impressively robust app that's also a bit overwhelming. You can toggle and create custom presets for the A50's three EQ modes and sync them to the headset, allowing you to enjoy your settings even when you're not on your PC.
Photo: AstroThe problem is, the presets have labels such as "A50 Mod Kit," "Astro" and "Pro," when I would have appreciated presets for specific genres or use cases. You can fiddle with an equalizer and make your own presets, but the process is more cumbersome than I'd like it to be, especially considering how easy it is to tweak sound on apps such as Razer's Synapse.
Once you get past the EQ settings, however, you'll find a wealth of useful microphone settings. You can toggle among different noise-cancellation settings built for streaming, competing and playing at night, as well as flip among bright, airy and warm voice filters. You can also adjust mic monitoring here, if you want to hear yourself while you speak.
The app's Stream Port tab seems like a dream for broadcasters, as you can easily set a volume balance between game audio, chat audio, your microphone and whatever other audio sources you have plugged in via the auxiliary port.
The Astro A50 retains the excellent sound and top-tier comfort that made previous models great while addressing some of the biggest quirks that used to hold the headset back. Wireless chat is no longer a problem on Xbox One, and although the companion app could use some work, there are finally plenty of ways to customize the headset's sound if you're willing to get your hands dirty. Its modular components could help you keep the headset fresh for years, as long as Astro provides a healthy selection of Mod Kits.
But more than anything, the A50 simply sounds and feels fantastic in a way that simple specs can't express. It's one of a few headsets that I can actually wear all day, and its battery life makes it easy to do so. If you care enough about game sound to spend $300 on a headset, the Astro A50 is far and away your best option.