A few months ago I put ASTRO Gaming’s A40 + M80 MixAmp Xbox One edition to the test, and boy was I impressed. Now it’s the turn of their prized headset, the ASTRO A50, but will the 7.1 Dolby Pro Logic IIx headset live up to its £250 price tag?
Like the A40, the A50 comes exquisitely packaged in a high quality gloss box that is clasped shut by magnets and wrapped with a cover sleeve. Within the box the contents are proudly displayed in molded plastic, but like the A40, there’s no hard case included, however, the A50 does come with a neat stand that, although tricky to assemble, looks great, proudly displays your A50 and houses the Tx MixAmp neatly beneath it.
The headset is of the same quality build and style of the A40, with soft touch plastic, shaped cushioned earpads and unidirectional swivel meaning the headset can be adjusted for maximum comfort, giving my ears that same feeling of being “hugged”.
The non-removable mic boom is attached to the left ear and when in the upright position, the mic is muted. The left side is also where the charge and audio cables connect; unfortunately the A50 isn’t completely wire free. A micro USB (that’s included) can be connected to charge the non-removable lithium-Ion battery, although the cable is rather short, perfect in length for charging when stowed but not so good should you run out of power mid-game – during which time I used my Xbox One controller play and charge cable. When low on power, the headset will give you several warning beeps before cutting out, with the battery life at around 8-10 hours – considerably less than the awesome battery life of ASTRO’s A38.
For voice chat, you need to plug the audio cable into the left earcup and connect the mic puck to your controller. Like the A40, the wire connecting to the back of the puck is at a slight angle and should it need replacing, you can swap it with the official Microsoft adaptor. The connection into the headset is well positioned and unlike the A40, it doesn’t catch against my shoulder when I turn my head.
The mic fidelity is double that of the A40, and at 48MHz you would expect it to perform far better, and it does, although I did find that I needed to position it closer to my month to be heard more loudly. The clarity of the mic is superb, with no static surrounding my voice and very little background noise coming through – my friends could tell when I was using the A50. The moment I stop talking, the mic cuts straight out, whereas with some mics there is a pause of white noise. My only criticism is that if you are in a party chatting with a friend with no audio playing, the headset won’t recognise there is any audio and turn off to save power.
The right earcup is home to the A50’s audio controls, with a nifty rocker switch built into the earcup plate that allows you to adjust your sound in favour of game or voice – there’s a helpful audible beep when you hit 100% game or voice volume, or the optimum 50/50 split. The right earcup also has a small dial that allows you to control the master volume, and a switch that can be set to one of the three EQ settings – Media, Core or Pro.
Like the A40, I ended up favouring the Pro EQ setting, which boosts high frequencies – ideal for hearing someone sneaking up behind you. I also favoured this setting more than the others because the A50 is rather heavy on the bass, switching off the Dolby Digital sorts this, but you lose all of the enhanced depth that the Pro Logic IIx gives. With this in mind, and having used a similar headset from a rival brand, I must admit to being slightly disappointed that there isn’t an option to customise your own unique EQ – what a feature that would make if you could use the ASTRO app to control each EQ level!
I also found switching between EQ settings rather tricky, particularly as the switch is so close to the headset’s power button. The rest of the audio controls however are perfect – particularly the ability to mute the mic just by flicking up the boom, but by having the audio balance control as part of the right ear plate and a non-removable mic on the left, it does mean that the A50 isn’t compatible with ASTRO’s speaker tag system, which is a real shame, but there are several colour combinations to choose from, all of which look really smart, particularly the Halo 117 edition!
The audio magic happens within the A50’s tiny MixAmp – the Tx. The USB powered box connects to the Xbox One via an optical cable and can also be used on a PC via USB. The unit itself simply has two buttons – one for power and one to turn the Dolby Digital on/off. Unfortunately the unit doesn’t power down/up automatically when you turn the Xbox off/on and I would have liked the option to control Dolby Digital as part of the headset – not all games sound great in glorious 7.1 virtual surround sound. Telltale’s Game of Thrones was one such game that sounded better in stereo, you just need to get off your backside to see whether you prefer stereo or surround sound for each game you play.
As with the A40, the stereo sound is incredible but once you hit that Dolby Pro Logic… wow… the depth to the sound is incredible – audio swirls around your head – when switching to stereo you can certainly hear how the sound changes to be more direct, coming in straight to your ears rather than sounding like you’re engulfed in it. The clarity that the A40 introduced me to suddenly opened up, giving my audio a depth to the space it filled, immersing me even more in the sound. Rather than being able to point at enemies left or right, the sound that the A50 pumps out gives greater accuracy to directional sound and it works superbly well. My audio was alive, it felt real – living in its own space, almost like I could reach out and touch it.
The A50 has given me a whole new experience to my audio, everything from menu selection sound effects to how a gun sounds as you unload a clip into an enemy, ambient noises in the world of Tamaria to the hustle and bustle of a busy Los Santos street corner. I’ll be honest, some sounds actually made me jump because I wasn’t used to hearing them behind me, hats off to ASTRO and the virtual 7.1 surround sound because it works a treat!
I’ve even begun to play my music through Dolby Digital, which gives it a nice spatial depth, making the stereo option almost sound flat in comparison – both options are of course great, with a crispness and presence to the sound.
If you are after quality and an audio experience that you won’t be disappointed with, then I highly recommend you look at ASTRO Gaming’s range of headsets – but which one should you go for? The A40 or the A50? It’s difficult to recommend one pair over the other because they are both such great headsets, it really comes down to personal preference – do you want the depth of Dolby Digital, the bass of explosions and to be able to pinpoint sounds to a higher degree of accuracy or do you just want a high quality stereo headset – I would be happy with either!
So what’s next for ASTRO? On my ‘would like’ list would be the option to create my own EQ settings, and after using the A38, I’d love to get the noise cancelling technology into my gaming headset for the ultimate immersive audio experience.