When you go out shopping for a gaming headset, you'll immediately be greeted by a swarm of pricey headphones, all competing to see who’s designed the edgiest aesthetic – and the Astro A50 is leading the charge.
We've seen several iterations of this headset at this point, and they do get better every year. However, there's only a small subset of gamers that will be willing to drop the $299 (£349, AU$489) required, even if the market for ultra-premium gaming headsets is much more robust these days. Not only are there gaming cans with excellent sound quality, like the $329 (£299, AU$440) SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless with its included DAC, or the $200 (£200, AU$250) Razer Nari Ultimate that literally vibrates.
So, the biggest question here is: does the Astro A50 still stand out in the premium gaming headset space? With a smaller charging station and a sleek new all-black design, it just might. Still, that steep price tag means high expectations.
One look at the Astro A50, and you’ll know it’s a gaming headset. There is a recent trend with gaming headsets these days to make them a little stealthier – the idea being you can wear them out in public without turning heads or inciting snickers. However, the Astro A50 wears its gaming design like a badge of honor.
Still, the garish multi-colored design of years past is gone, replaced with a more modern all-black design. There is still plenty of branding, however, as well as those weird measurement markings along the side of the headset – presumably to let you measure how big your head is?
At the top of the headband, there's a really flimsy feeling piece of plastic that houses the padding for the top of your head, alongside an Astro logo. It can pop out easily, and while that makes it easy to replace it without hassle, we can also see the headset being dropped and this part going missing.
On the left ear cup, you'll find the mic. It's neither removable nor retractable – instead, it rotates upwards for when you want or need it out of the way. It works fine in practice, but it does mean that you'll always have a rubber mic sticking out somewhere on your head.
Over on the right side are all the Astro A50 buttons and dials. On the ear cup itself, there are two buttons marked 'game' and 'voice'. When you connect the Astro A50 to your computer, it will actually register as two USB sound devices, and these buttons allow you to adjust the sound balance between them: you can balance the sound from your game and your friends talking on Discord.
You'll also find a power switch, a button that turns on Dolby virtual surround sound, an EQ button and volume. On the bottom of the right ear cup, you'll also find a micro USB port for charging – although we typically just use the charging station for that.
One of the best parts of this headset is its removable ear pads. The default ear pads are more than comfy enough, but if you want to buy the synthetic leather A50 Mod Kit, you just need to pop off the magnetic ear pads and pop in the replacements. It’s very easy, and we wish more headsets would work in a system like this.
Finally, you have the USB charging station. Not only does this let you wirelessly charge your headset, but it will show different statuses of the headset – that includes battery level, whether its connected to your PC or PS4, Dolby status and EQ preset. All of this information is visible at a glance. Unlike a lot of gaming headsets, you don't have to deal with that existential dread of wondering when your battery is going to be depleted.
This charging station also houses most of the ports, which the Astro A50 has plenty of them. Around back, there’s also a USB-A pass through for charging, optical audio in and out, Aux in and a Micro USB, which you use to connect to your PC. Lastly, there’s a switch that alternates between PC and PS4 mode. If you plan on using it with your Xbox One, there's another model of Astro A50 that's compatible with that console.
We might not be the biggest fans of the Astro A50's design, but we do love the sound quality this headset delivers.
But first, let’s get this out of the way: this isn't the loudest headset ever, and it doesn't have the best seal – we can still hear our coworkers in the office during slow gameplay moments. If you’re after something with a lot of rumbling and a very effective noise-cancellation, you might not be satisfied with this headset.
However, if you’re more concerned about the sound quality, then you’ll be pleased to know that there are very few gaming headsets with this good of audio balance. You see, a lot of the gaming headsets on the market are extremely bass heavy – some to the point where especially potent explosions will produce an annoying crackling sound. But, these don't.
Wearing the Astro A50 while playing through the beginning sections of Gears 5 feels like we're watching a movie, with the clear and accurate audio pairing with the gorgeous visuals. Thanks to the Dolby Virtual Surround support, the Astro A50 delivers an extremely immersive gameplay experience.
It shouldn't be too surprising, however, that the Astro A50 falls a little flat when listening to music. Listening to Ezra Furman's "My Teeth Hurt," a lot of the details in the higher range is lost. This headset is meant for more cinematic uses, after all. We continue to dream of a headset that's just as good for music as games – maybe it will never exist. But in Astro A50’s case, turning the surround sound off help a bit.
The wireless signal is also even more reliable this time around. In some older Astro A50 models, we ran into some issues where the audio would intermittently cut out, making using the device a little annoying and a tad inconvenient. With the 2019 model, however, this issue is completely resolved.
Essentially, the Astro A50 performs with the best of them, even if the aesthetics are a little behind the times. If you can live with its very 'gamer' look, you'll fall in love with the excellent audio performance in games. Just don't expect it to impress an audiophile when it comes to music.
The Astro A50 has always been one of the most expensive gaming headsets on the market, and not much has changed in that regard. And, these days the competition in the premium headset sphere is a lot more robust, which means that the Astro A50 needs to offer a lot of value for its cost of admission.
The good news here is that Astro A50's audio performance is still definitely there, and you can get a lot of mileage out of it. The sound quality itself, though not audiophile level, is excellent and immersive. And, that wireless signal is much improved this time around.
If you're looking for a sleeker headset that you can wear outside, you might not love the way it looks. This headset wears its gaming aesthetic with pride. However, if that’s something you can forgive, you will love the Astro A50.