Astro Gaming’s latest headset for Xbox One owners and Windows 10. Here’s my review.
The Astro Gaming A50 Wireless Dolby Headset is the Gen 3 version and successor to the Astro Gaming A50 Wireless headset that impressed for years prior with its sound quality and comfort. This new “Dolby” edition has been beefed up for even better compatibility and improved chat quality. Astro has a rich lineage of gaming headsets with popular models like the A40 and its big brother the A50. I will be reviewing the Dolby A50 for Xbox One, so the subject of connectivity will be specific to the Xbox One, but most common features will also apply to the PS4 version as well.
What’s in the box?
Included in the box is the A50 headset, a base station, a USB A to USB micro cable, and an optical cable.
At first, I was a little disappointed in the new visual style of the A50 headset. I understand that PS4 products are branded with blue and Xbox is branded with green. But a standard black would have been fine with me. I also was not a fan of the ear cup posts that stick up vertically on sides. And there seemed to be a bit too much green, and the shade of green…Whatever, it’s not like you can see them when you’re playing anyway.
But the look has grown on me. The green contrasted with the dark gray have collected compliments and they don’t look as tacky as I had first imagined.
But more importantly than look is comfort. It doesn’t matter how good a gaming headset sounds if it’s not comfortable. In my experience with the Turtle Beach Elite 800x headset, they sounded great, but the tops of my ears would ache after 15 minutes. If not for that fact, I could recommend the 800x headset. They did true wireless chat before Astro Gaming did, thanks to an early partnership with Microsoft.
Thankfully, comfort isn’t a concern with the Axx series, including the new A50 Gen 3 Gaming Headset. If Astro Gaming headsets are known for one thing, it’s comfort. The new A50 headset seeks to increase the comfort level another notch by finally providing wireless chat. This means that instead of running a cable from the headset to the controller, all chat happens wirelessly through the base station. Wireless is comfort. Now it’s just my Astro A50 headset, my smelly Xbox One Elite controller, and me.
Before enjoying the Astro A50 Dolby Gaming Headset, you’ll have to connect it to the Xbox One. This is easy as pie, and I love pie.
The key to connectivity is the base station. The base station has several ports; optical in; optical out; aux in; micro USB (for powering the base); and a full-size USB port for charging devices.
With the Astro A50 headset, you don’t need an A/V receiver, but if you have one you would just pass the optical into the base station and then back out to your receiver.
If you, like me, use HDMI, then connectivity is simple. Connect the included optical cable to the Xbox One optical out, and to the Astro base station optical in.
All that is left is the USB cable, which must be plugged into an Xbox One USB port. Lastly, set the switch on the base station to “Xbox”.
Next to comfort, the most important feature of a gaming headset is sound quality. Fortunately, Astro Gaming has experience in this field.
Music listening sound quality review
My first sound test was to play a few select tracks from the band Twelve Foot Ninja. They have the cleanest electric bass guitar sound I have ever heard. They also have a huge range of frequencies being employed, deep bass, mid-range, snappy high-hats. I use them to try out all new speaker setups.
I was stunned by how well the A50 headset reproduced the low end. So clean!!! I mean looooow and clean. So low, so clean. I’m still impressed, obviously.
If you are going to listen to music on Astro A50s, do yourself a favor and turn off Dolby. It’s really odd with it enabled.
Music sounds great on the A50s. If you’ve ever significantly upgraded your speaker setup, you’ll be able to relate to “hearing parts I never heard before”. And that’s just what happened with the Astros. The music became fresh, yet familiar as new tones came through revealing effects and subtleties that I had missed in my previous hundred listens.
While I wouldn’t claim that you should use a pair of A50s as reference cans for mixing music, they will keep your head nodding between gaming sessions.
Gaming sound quality review
For this test, and any test with new speakers/headphones, I like to set the EQ to flat. This means there is neither boost nor cut to any frequencies. The Gen 3 Astro A50s come with 3 EQ presets mapped to a physical switch on the back of the right cup. I used the downloadable configuration software (Astro Command Center) to blank one of them and make a flat EQ preset.
Next, I started up Battlefield 1 (which has some of the best in-game sound in years) and joined a Team Deathmatch game.
One of the first things I noticed was, even with a flat EQ, how much bass and upper midrange were coming through. I think this has to do mostly with how AAA game developers place sound into their games. They want to emphasize 2 areas:
- Bass – because people like bass and want to show off their bass setups.
- Upper mids – because that is the range where human speech occupies.
(Music has, for various reasons, more balance to the frequencies that you hear simultaneously. Game sound is like “real life, as heard through an action movie”.)
But the whole point of surround sound headphones is immersion. That’s why we’re here right? We want it to sound like we are in the game. And for multiplayer gamers, we want to know where our enemy is, so we can get the drop on them.
Going back to my example of Battlefield 1, I was able to hear very clearly the direction enemies were walking, running, or shooting from. At first, this seems like a sonic wall hack. But it’s not going to instantly give away the exact positions of every enemy on the map.
First, there is the practical issue of proximity. The game’s sound designers don’t want you to hear enemies walking from across the map. So you still need to be within a certain range. This range however is extended with a high-quality surround sound headset.
But this can be a curse as well as a blessing. You also hear your teammates’ footsteps and gun shots. It can be somewhat paralyzing hearing all of this chaos, and not being able to see it, you are left to imagine it. The imagination often offers our most terrifying moments.
But thanks to the Astro Command Center software, you can adjust EQ to boost or cut various frequencies. For example, you can boost the mid and upper mid ranges to boost the sound of footsteps and reloads. There are few greater feelings than hearing your enemy reload in the next room and busting in on him half way through.
All that to say, hearing all of this sound takes some getting used to if you aren’t coming from another set of surround sound headphones or good stereo headphones. But the power and flexibility it adds can improve your K/D along with your immersion.
The Astro configuration software lets you customize your mic profile for different environments. I chose to leave it at the default “home”, because I was in my home.
I was told I sounded “clear” through the new mic and that background noise was reduced from my previous setup. I’m glad that part of my expense can be justified by improving the experience of others. On second thought, maybe I should have them pitch in towards the cost…
Flipping the mic to the “up” position mutes the mic. I quite enjoyed having a mute button on my previous setup, but it’s easy enough to flip up the mic for a moment and then back down to chat. The mic boom is fixed to the left side cup, but feels like it’s made to last. It’s a fairly rigid plastic boom that sits just the right distance from my face to not feel crowded and to keep the chat quality high.
I have had a recurring issue where the mic quality will drop, seemingly at random. Flipping the mic to the up position and waiting for a couple of seconds before dropping the mic back down to my mouth seems to solve the issue. This may be fixed in a firmware update. (update: this hasn’t happened for many months, I’m assuming it’s been fixed.
If the price tag isn’t too daunting. I highly recommend the Astro Gaming A50 Gen 3 Dolby Surround headset. It cranks immersion for First-Person Shooters, flying, racing, and action/adventure games. And it can give you an advantage in competitive multiplayer.
There is a cool battery-saving “auto off” feature. If you set your mic down, like on a table, after a minute or so the headset will go into standby. Once you pick up the headset and put them on, they detect that they are in the upright position and turn back on. Nice!
They sound great and feel great. I hope you found this review helpful.
Even Gena Love is hyped for the Astro A50s. She’s probably just going to play Viva Piñata though.
ASTRO Gaming A50 Wireless Dolby Gaming Headset Xbox One