A50 Wireless Headset Takes The Audio Crown
A couple weeks ago I reviewed the Skullcandy PLYR 2 Wireless Gaming Headset. As an entry-level device, it was pretty good. Getting into the wireless headset arena, cutting your cords with your computer, and experiencing good sound for $129 is not a bad deal.
Almost as an afterthought, I was also sent the Astro A50 Wireless headset to review as well. Skullcandy bought Astro, so I suppose they wanted me to look at their entire product lineup.
Like the PLYR 2, the A50 is wireless and can attach to either a PC, PS3 or 360. The setup for the consoles is a touch harder than the one for the PC, though not by much. It’s just that on the PC all you need to do is plug the A50 earphones into the amplifier block, which is also the wireless transmitter, to charge up the unit, and then plug that block into a free USB port. If you happen to have a free power-over-USB port I would use that, since the headset can charge while the computer is off. Otherwise, you will need to have your machine on before it will charge back up. On the console there are a couple extra wires to attach, and you have to tell the console to use the A50 as the default audio device.
The A50 looks really good. It even comes with a cool little stand that you can build. The earphones look great hanging on the stand, and it’s a nice way to incorporate them into your gaming setup while keeping them out of the way.
Now for the really good stuff: performance. You have to understand that I was perfectly happy with the PLYR 2. Far Cry 3 sounded pretty good. I could hear the crack of gunshots and people screaming, all the stuff you want in your games. I thought the audio was pretty good, if slightly flawed and a touch tinny.
Boy, was I in for a shock. Placing the A50s on my head was like waking up out of a muffled dream. Suddenly, Rook Island’s jungle came alive with sound. It went from sounding like a pretty good simulation of a jungle at night to actually being there inside one. The difference was that striking. Suddenly, everything I did sounded real. I could hear tigers growling off in the distance. Something moved in the underbrush near me and I panicked and emptied a full clip into a hapless tapir that I never would have even detected before. After one rolling firefight, I noticed that the back tire of a truck I was driving had gone flat. I could actually hear it making funny noises on the road. I got a flat before and didn’t even know until I got out of my jeep sometime later. But now, with the A50 engaged, the tire was flapping so badly on the road behind me that I knew it was time to procure alternate transportation.
Many other games were the same way. Environmental noises like wind or birds chirping, or even a musical track played at a really low volume could be heard. It was like unlocking extra content for a game by simply adding a high-end audio device. After a few weeks with an A50, I guarantee that you won’t want to play games without it. Even going back to the PLAR 2 headset was a hollow experience after the joys of the A50.
The wireless transmitter also functions as an amplifier. Called a MIXAMP TX Transmitter, there are two buttons. One turns on the power and the other activates the Dolby Surround Sound. I would recommend playing just about any game with Dolby enabled.
Almost every headset I’ve ever tested, both wired and wireless, were flawed in some way. Mostly, they didn’t have very good bass. It was almost like the bass was suggested rather than really being there in a game. The A50, especially with Dolby enabled, delivers thunderous booms and clear lower tones. How it does this without sacrificing anything on the upper end is beyond me, but it works. I was in Skyrim during a thunderstorm and it actually made me a little nervous hearing the rumble of thunder all around. Just like in real life, I started to think I might get struck by lighting and quickened my pace to find some indoor shelter. Again, just by adding the A50, you can make just about every game better. It’s much closer to what the developers intended for their players to experience in terms of sounds and soundtrack with a headset like this.
The A50 comes with microphone that can be lowered to talk. The flexible material is easy to position. I did a few conference calls with it and everyone said I sounded great. Those people who knew me in real life said my voice sounded just like it did in person, without any hint of distortion. Needless to say, it will work well for all your multiplayer team speak needs as well.
There aren’t really any notable flaws with the A50. They are a little bit heavy, but this is negated for the most part by the fact that the foam-like substance that cups over your ears and lines the top of the headset is extremely comfortable. Around your ears, the cavern the padding makes is big enough that for me anyway, my entire ear could fit inside each one without really touching the sides. It’s like your ears get their own little space inside the A50 so it doesn’t feel like you are wearing a headset at all.
I suppose a slight negative is that the A50s tends to block out all outside sounds when a game is running, though this could also be seen as an advantage. They headset itself tends to silence a lot of external noise. With an audio track playing you can’t hear anything outside of a game. My wife was screaming that dinner was ready from the other room, but I didn’t hear a thing. I didn’t even know it was dinnertime until I smelled it.
The biggest barrier to most gamers getting an A50 is going to be the price. At $299, you have to be a pretty committed player to invest that kind of cash into a headset. But that said, this is likely the best sound gear on the market. The fact that the A50 practically unlocks audio content in games that you are almost certainly missing without them should also be considered. Assuming they last forever, how many games are you going to enjoy more for having them? Believe me, I was ready to condemn them for the price, right up until I put them on. In truth, they are probably worth a little bit more than they’re selling for, especially for people who play a lot of games.
The Astro A50 Wireless Headset is simply the best that I’ve heard. I know the price is high, but when was the last time you could acquire the best of something in a market for $300? You’ll be hooked as soon as you put them on. For being the best of the best, the A50 earns a perfect 5 GiN Gem rating, and our highest recommendation. Go forth and hear what you’ve been missing.