While many gamers prefer wired headsets that avoid issues like low battery life and interference, the Astro A50 ($299 on Amazon) proves that a good wireless headset doesn't have to compromise. This sleek, over-ear Xbox One headset delivers rich 7.1 surround sound complete with the high frequencies that competitive gamers crave, and has enough range to be used anywhere in your playroom. Factor in a cushy design that can be worn all day and a battery life that lasts just as long, and you've got a headset that delivers top-level performance for its premium price.
As a headset built for pro-level gaming, the slick, compact A50 certainly looks the part. Available in black or white (or as a special, military-green Halo edition), the headset's slim, soft-touch plastic frame is accented by touches of neon green on the band and outer earcups.
The A50's headband and earcups are held together by small metal bars on each side, which allow you to easily slide the band up and down depending on your comfort zone and reveal the headset's neatly coiled neon wires.
All of the A50's controls and inputs are found on the back of the earcups, with a controller port and microUSB input on the left ear, and a power button, volume slider and mode select switch on the right. The outer left earcup hosts the headset's long and fairly bendable microphone, while the outer right earcup can be clicked for switching between chat and in-game audio.
If you want to show off the sleek A50 when you're not fragging friends, there's an included triangular stand that houses both the headset and the MixAmp transmitter that delivers the A50's wireless sound.
Thanks to the A50's lightweight, 13-ounce frame and cozy construction, it was easy to forget I was even wearing the headset in the midst of a heated firefight. I found the cans to be just snug enough to keep sound sealed in, and the thick layers of plush around the earcups and inner band meant that I could game for hours without getting uncomfortable — or sweaty.
In order to accommodate various head sizes, the A50's band can slide about an inch and a half up or down. I had a co-worker with longer hair and glasses test the A50, and while he considered the band a bit weighty, he agreed with me on the headset's excellent on-ear comfort.
Packing Dolby Digital 7.1 speakers, the A50 squeezed a ton of sonic detail out of every game I tested it on. I traded some blows in Dead or Alive 5 Last Round, engaged in a few firefights in Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and explored Sunset Overdrive's mutant-filled world all with the headset on, and became thoroughly immersed in each experience.
The A50 made every punch and kick in Dead or Alive 5 sound supremely satisfying, and performed just as well when my opponent and I crashed through windows or fell down stairs. During each battle, I was able to easily tell whether my character was performing a combo on the right side of the screen or getting pummeled on the left.
A good headset needs to deliver accurate directionality for competitive shooters, and that's where the A50 shines. When playing Halo: The Master Chief collection, I could easily tell where enemy gunfire was coming from, in terms of both direction and distance. The sounds of grenade explosions were especially thunderous, and I was able to hear each map's environmental ambiance clearer than I ever have.
I enjoyed a similar level of immersion when moving to the single-player, open-world Sunset Overdrive. The A50 allowed me to hear background noises such as wind, birds chirping and radio chatter that I had never noticed before. Once I got into it with a few mutants and enemy gang members, I could clearly tell where each baddie was coming from. As with Halo, explosions sounded awesome.
The A50 offers three usage modes. Media mode delivers enhanced bass for movies and music; Core mode is optimized for single-player gaming; and Pro mode provides boosted high frequencies for competitive play. I initially found the modes to differ mostly in overall volume (with Pro being loudest), but after switching modes mid-game, I noticed that the Pro mode highlights many background noises that are hard to hear on the other settings.
The A50's microphone is ideal for chatting with teammates, though I wish it had better built-in controls. The rubber, flexible mic was long enough to reach just in front of my mouth, and you can rotate about 130 degrees from the top to the bottom. If you flip the mic completely upward, it will lock in place and automatically mute itself, which is a nice touch.
The headset includes a chat cable that connects to your controller so you can talk to friends, but, unlike the default Xbox One headset, the cable doesn't add any headset controls to the bottom of your gamepad. I also found the cable to be a nightmare to remove — getting it out of my controller took just about all my strength, and I was constantly worried I was going to damage either the gamepad or the wire.
In addition to a master volume rocker, the right earcup has a clickable outer shell that lets you balance out your game and chat volumes (click left for louder chat audio, click right for more game audio). It works just fine when you get used to it, but I prefer to have those controls at my fingertips. If you want to make that happen you'll need to pick up a $24.99 Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter and connect it to the A50.
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Fortunately, the A50's mic excels where it matters most: clarity. When chatting with a friend over Skype, she was able to hear my voice clearly regardless of whether I used the built-in chat cable or the Xbox One headset adapter. While the microphone's 6-millimeter multidirectional noise cancelling wasn't enough to drown out my dog's rowdy barking a few feet away, my colleague noted that the noise wasn't nearly enough to overpower my voice.
If you choose to take a break from gaming with some music or movies, the A50 serves as a quality multimedia headset. Pop songs such as Taylor Swift's "Style" packed loud, satisfying bass and clear vocals on the A50, and the big rock guitars and bouncy drums of Taking Back Sunday's "MakeDamnSure" were equally punchy.
Watching a few scenes of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with the A50 on was just as enjoyable. The headset's 7.1 surround sound allowed me to hear everything from crackling footsteps to the thwip of Katniss' bow and arrow with extreme clarity, and the movie's ominous orchestral scores sounded extra full and haunting.
My only gripe with using the A50 for entertainment on the Xbox One is the lack of a true equalizer. While the headset's Media mode comes optimized for music and movies, there's no clear way to specifically adjust parameters such as bass and treble on either the headset or Microsoft's system.
MixAmp and Wireless Range
The A50's audio is powered by the included MixAmp transmitter, which takes just a few minutes to set up. Once the transmitter's microUSB and optical cables are connected to your Xbox One, you simply need to power on the device (as well as your headset, which comes paired out of the box) to start receiving audio. In addition to a power button, the MixAmp has a button for switching Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound on and off.
On the controller end, you'll need to update your gamepad firmware via the Xbox One settings menu and plug in the included chat cable. There's no built-in option for syncing the headset to the controller wirelessly, so you'll have to keep your controller in-hand if you want to step away from your Xbox and keep chatting.
I never lost the A50's wireless signal when walking around the entirety of my small apartment, which measures about 20 feet end-to-end, meaning I could listen to music in my bedroom while my Xbox One sat in my living room. When I came into the office, the headset's signal finally gave out at the end of my 15-foot walk from my cubicle to the vending machines.
A top-of-the-line wireless gaming headset is useless if it doesn't have the juice to get you through a tournament. Fortunately, the A50 is as long-lasting as it is powerful. On a full charge, the A50 lasted me through a combined 8 hours and 30 minutes of gaming, listening to music and watching videos over the course of two days.
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The A50's long battery life is complemented by its automatic power-down feature, which will shut the headset down after a few minutes of inactivity.
The Astro A50 justifies its $300 price tag by offering stellar wireless gaming performance on Xbox One. The headset's 7.1 surround earcups helped me stay extra-aware of my surroundings in competitive games, and fully immersed during cinematic experiences. The lightweight A50 is cozy enough for marathon sessions, with battery life that can get you through a day of play on a charge. While I would have liked better chat controls and more equalizer options, the Astro A50 is a sexy, comfortable and great-sounding headset for serious gamers.