When you go out shopping for a gaming headset, you'll immediately be greeted by a swarm of expensive headphones with an edgy aesthetic – with the Astro A50 at the forefront. We've seen several iterations of this headset at this point, and while they do get better every year, there's only a small subset of gamers that will be willing to drop the $299 (£349, AU$489) required.
The market for ultra-premium gaming headsets is much more robust these days, too. 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, but the high price tag means high expectations.
Take a look at the Astro A50, and you'll know its a gaming headset. There is a recent trend with gaming headsets to make them a little more stealthy – the idea being you can wear them out in public without ridicule – but the Astro A50 wears its gaming design with pride.
Still, the garish multi-colored design of years past is gone, with a new all-black design. There is still plenty of branding, and these 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, along with an Astro logo. It can pop out easily, and while you can replace it without much of an issue, we can totally see the headset being dropped and this part going missing.
On the left ear cup, you'll find the mic. It's not removable and it doesn't retract into the headset – instead you'll just rotate it upwards when you want it out of your face. 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 – though we typically just use the charging station for that.
One of the best parts of this headset, by the way, is the 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 the others in. Its extremely 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. 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.
The charging station also houses most of the ports, and there are plenty of them. Around back you get 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. You'll also find a switch that alternates between PC and PS4 mode (there's another model of Astro A50 that's compatible with Xbox One.)
We might not be the biggest fans of the Astro A50's design, but we love the way this headset sounds.
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 – but there are very few gaming headsets with this good of audio balance. You see, a lot of the gaming headsets we run into 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, the clear and accurate audio pairing with the gorgeous visuals. Thanks to the Dolby Virtual Surround support, the Astro A50 provides 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 detail in the higher range is lost. This isn't too surprising, as this headset is meant for more cinematic uses, but we continue to dream of a headset that's just as good for music as games – maybe it will never exist. Turning the surround sound off does help a bit, though.
And, the wireless signal is extremely 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. With the 2019 model, however, this issue is completely remedied.
So, basically, the Astro A50 performs with the best of them, even if the aesthetics are a little behind the times. If you can live with the very 'gamer' style here, you'll fall in love with the excellent audio performance in games. Just don't expect to impress an audiophile when it comes to music.
The Astro A50 has always been – and still is – one of the most expensive gaming headsets on the market. However, these days the competition is a lot more robust.
Astro's audio performance is still definitely there, and you can get a lot of mileage out of it. But, if you're looking for a more sleek headset that you can wear outside, you're going to have to keep looking.