I've been using Astro's new $300 A50 over-ear gaming headset for the past week and it's one of the ritziest pieces of hardware (outside a VR device) I've ever put on my head.
I've never used an expensive, flashy headset before, so I was keen to see if it would live up to its over-the-top trailer. I didn't even know headsets had trailers, but you learn something new every day.
So, what's it like to use an expensive headset that is so swanky it has its own trailer? Here's how my week went after I put my corded, on-ear headphones on the shelf and gave the wireless Astro A50 a shot instead.
This review unit was provided by Astro Gaming.
Wireless is Super Neat, The Range Isn't
The biggest selling point for the Astro is the fact it is wireless and you don't need to deal with a cord tethering your head to your computer or console controller. In my case, I was using the headset with my PC rather than a console. There are plenty of cords to deal with when you have a PC, so the idea of banishing a cord from my desk has a certain appeal.
Wireless is pretty much as you'd expect: I felt free to move around more, leave my headset on while grabbing snacks or doing chores, I didn't bother my housemates with the noise, and my cat sorely misses playing with the cord.
It's convenient, to be sure. I often found that I got the most use out of the wireless feature when I was doing anything but gaming. Wireless really shined when I was just online to watch a show or chat with friends over Skype/Discord while doing other things. It's really nice to hang out over voice chat while making dinner away from the computer or while folding laundry.
However, even though there wasn't a cord from my computer to my head, there was still now a charging station corded to the computer. I'm sure it's less of an issue for a console resting on an entertainment center, but right now I'm trading a cord for an extra thing on my desk.
Also, while the ability to stay online away from the computer was the best part, the range was just not as good as I was expecting. If I ever got 10-15ft from the docking station, the sound would begin to cut out, even though the headset does claim a 30ft range. So, it took some finagling to be able to pop off to the kitchen in-between matches and not lose touch with teammates.
The Leather Mod Kit Feels Mandatory
As a part of the review kit, I got a 'mod kit' which allows you to swap out the standard cloth padding and ear covers for leather versions.
I'm sure cloth ear covers are standard as a cost cutting measure, and some people might like them - but I personally can't stand using cloth ear covers for more than an hour. The leather ear covers from the mod kit really saved the headset for me and made extended wear so much more bearable. There's nothing worse than ear-sweat.
The mod kit, I should mention, is also extremely easy to install, and that was much appreciated. The ear pieces are held on with magnets and a single plastic tab - lift the tab and the pieces pop right off. It's a small but very thoughtful touch.
I will say, however, as a glasses wearer, no headset is ever going to be totally comfortable for hours on end. The leather made things much more bearable, but even $300 headsets and glasses just plain don't mix. Just, you know, in case you were wondering.
It's Definitely a Luxury Product
There are cheaper headsets out there that get the job done, but the little perks set the A50 headset apart from the rest.
In particular, having the volume in a handy spot on the headset and having a paddle on one ear to adjust voice-vs-game volume on the fly was super convenient. I could turn up the voice chat or the game itself by just tapping the paddle on my right ear. I'm convinced you can live without these features, but they are certainly a treat if you have them.
As far as sound quality goes, the Astro A50 is completely competent, and the sound quality is definitely on par with my corded, no-microphone $120 headphones. For a mic comparison, the mic came up a little bit short in quality to my ~$80 recording microphone, but was still better than I was expecting from a headset. Really though, you should be looking at Astros for much more than the solid sound and a decent mic, because you're really paying for those extras like:
- the voice-vs-game volume control mixer,
- the wireless,
- the console compatibility,
- the 15 hour battery life (double the battery of their last headset),
- the accelerometer that puts the headset to sleep if you lay it down horizontally
If you can afford the hit to your wallet and you know that you'll get a lot of use out of those luxury features, this might be the headset you're looking for.