The Astro A50 is strong where it counts, and that's in the sound quality department, strong enough that it justifies its hefty build and heavy price tag. The A50 provides all around stellar sound, with the kind of excellent localization that will take your gaming experience to the next level. It's got a good amount of power and bass, but still retains great sound fidelity without undo distortion. While nothing can replaces a true physical 7.1 speaker set-up for watching movies in your home, the Astro A50 comes as close as we've seen at this price point (yes, headphones do get more expensive than $300).
Being a software-simulated 7.1 device, the sound mixing is very high quality. The mix is nice and wide, conveying the large sense of space that's key to games like Battlefield 3. In Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game where localizing enemy footsteps is key to survival, we felt like we had an advantage, but no more so than anyone else with a good pair of surround sound cans. The mix on the Astro A50s is as good as that of the Tritton Warhead 7.1, another device that uses Dolby Pro Logic IIx.
The A50 has three equalizer settings: Media increases bass, Core evens out all levels and Pro turns up the treble for better gunshot and footstep detection while gaming. Media is great for movies and music, providing booming bass without overshadowing dialogue or becoming distorted. Watching Top Gun, we were rocked by the F-14A Tomcats screaming off the runway, but could still make out every lyric to "Danger Zone." While the A50 is a gaming headset first, stereo alternative second, you would not insult an audiophile by making him listen to his favorite album with these cans.
Core, by definition, was a little flat for gaming or music, but was a good balanced mix for general use like watching YouTube videos. Pro was our go-to choice for gaming. It made great use of the very wide mix the A50 provides. Character dialog was still discernable above the din of battle. However, we sometimes struggled to get the voice chat volume to a level that was easy to hear over explosions and gunfire. Chalk that up to the A50's method of mixing game and voice in relation to each other, rather than as two separate channels.
As a wireless device, battery life determines how long the Astro A50 can actually go without being tethered to a USB port for a charge. The charging cable that ships with the headset is only 3-inches long, so when the charge runs out, you're basically done playing, unless you pick up a $7.99 Play-and-Charge cable - sold separately by Astro. You can also use any USB to mini-USB cable of suitable length.
While Astro rates the device's battery life at 12-hours, we found it to be all over the map, sometimes lasting only half that time. Astro reps told us that this is because different devices, as well as use of the mic, drain the battery at different rates.
The Astro gets its best battery life when used with the Xbox 360, where it gets about 10-hours of use. Otherwise, we would say that 8-hours of battery life is a more accurate average, if you'll be using the headset across multiple devices. Thankfully the Astro can charge while in use, but during that time it ceases to be a wireless headset.
Also, the battery is embedded within the headset, and like all things lithium-ion, it will eventually burn out. This will be in a matter of years, but if you keep your A50 that long (at $300 you should), then be prepared to one day pony up for service to have it replaced.