Gaming headsets run the full gamut of prices and quality, from no-frills headphones, that just happen to have a mic attached, through to, well, gear like the Astro A50.
The Astro A50 Wireless Gaming Headset — to give it its full name — is a set of wireless cans that have a noise cancelling mic and work in conjunction with the Astro MixAmp 5.8 for a Dolby 7.1 (and 5.1) surround sound experience.
Designed for consoles and PC, set-up was refreshingly simple. Simply plug the optical cable from your PC, PlayStation 3 or Xbox into the MixAmp, which then hooks into your device via USB, which is all the power it requires. Once the headphones are charged up — also USB power, thanks to the in-built rechargeable battery — just turn them on. The headset and the amp are pre-paired, so all you need to do is possibly tweak some settings on the PC or console, and you're up and gaming.
Features and design
We liked the build on the headphones a great deal — these are solid, well made cans that still feel comfortable, even when worn for a long time. The right ear-cup has the volume wheel at the back, in a perfect position for thumb access when worn. Above that is the power button and the switch for the pre-sets. The whole outside of the right cup is a giant toggle switch for voice/game balance — it's nice, but we occasionally accidently adjusted the balance while just trying to re-seat the headphones on our ears.
What is less impressive is the self-assembly stand. A stand to hang the headphones on is a nice idea — one we liked with the Turtle Beach headset. But compared to the rest of the hardware in the A50 pack, the stand is a little plasticy and tacky feeling.
Performance-wise, the A50's were stunning. The wireless technology used is the KleerNet 5.8GHz, which gives a little better range and clarity with less interference — not so much of an issue for the PC gamer, who's likely to have little distance between headset and amp, but good news for the console users who might find themselves on opposite ends of the lounge room from where the A50 amp is plugged in.
We mentioned the pre-set switch before — there are three built in modes: Media, Core and Pro. The first is for movies and music, the second for standard games and the third is aimed at the "professional shooters". In reality, what you game with is up to you. We used the Pro mode for a few MMOs, as we liked the sharpness on some of the effects that the additional treble provided.
Some other touches we enjoyed included the noise cancelling mic — very crisp pick-up — and pushing the mic boom up all the way engages the mute. The MixAmp also has optical pass-through, so you can still use an existing amp/speaker set up, without swapping cables. We were also impressed with the cables themselves — the A50s ship with USB, optical, and even the attachment cable for Xbox voice chat.
In all, this is a seriously excellent device for any gamer, with one big caveat — the price. At $350, you can buy a whole new console for the cost of the Astro A50. However, the fact that they work on PS3, Xbox and PC, and can even be a set of excellent cans for movie watching with the right set-up, we think the price is worth it. If you have the money, you'll be hard pressed to find a nicer headset.