Astro Gaming A50 Wireless Headset & Base Station Review
The year was 2012, and the original Avengers were storming theaters. “Call Me Maybe” was witnessing immense popularity and Astro had just released its first wireless headset, the Astro A50 Wireless.
For the last seven years, the A50 remained the prime product in the category of Astro’s headsets. Though technology has greatly evolved in the years the A50s have not gone through a lot of changes. Its sound quality is remarkable, build quality is better than many of its competitors, the software is not that impressive, and its price is still astounding.
There are several minor modifications in the A50s we see today as compared to their previous versions. For example, its latest version sported a new base station, a 2.4GHz connection is there, and the device drivers are improved. But does all this justify the high price this product has, at a time when we are about to see the next generation consoles?
Astro A50 + Base Station – Design and Features
The A50s has two color variations- a sleek black & gray for PS4 & black and gold for Xbox One. The only minor variation between the two is a small branding on the headset and base station. It is more elusive than preceding versions that had neon piping. These headphones are still associated with gamers, but they appear to be designed for some audio engineer’s use.
It is made of dense plastic. I feel that a headphone that costs so high should have an elegant look and feel. I once had a headset that cost me a similar price and that was made of metal and Italian sheep leather. The headset was very elegant and comfortable to use. The A50s are manufactured fairly well. Its ear cups are flexible enough to be easily twisted or flipped and the microphone is bendable.
In a nutshell, apart from the superficial variations, the latest A50s are almost the same as their previous versions.
The size of the oblong base station has been greatly reduced, which makes it suitable for small gaming desks and TV consoles. The headset’s size is reduced, too. There are some changes to the button’s layout. A slider is introduced for power, a button for Dolby Atmos, and another button to cycle through EQ modes. The A50s also relegate a substantial volume of information to a tiny LED on the base station.
Remarkably, Astro has placed a large amount of information on a tiny LED strip when it built the Astro A40 TR and Mixamp to facilitate gamers to navigate dials without ever requiring looking away from the game.
Sadly, Astro has not revamped the most confusing part of the A50s: the built-in MixAmp. For those who have never used the A50S, the MixAmp operates like this: By holding the rear of the right earcup, you can make changes to your mix to have more of your voice in it. By pressing the front side of the right earcup, you can make changes to the mix. But if you have learned all that, what if your voice is too loud? You will find it difficult to manage that.
I have always disliked the design, and it is still irritatingly difficult to use. To me, the controls, microphone, headphone, and the voice are placed at points that make no sense and it makes the A50s an odd device.
No memorization techniques or forced repetitions can make me comfortable with the design and use of the A50s. It is the PS4 power button all over again. When I am trying to power down, I end up doing eject functionality. A major alteration in the design is required to make it usable.
Astro A50 + Base Station – Software
The free Command Center software is there in case you want to get a different sound. With the help of the Command Center, you can make fine adjustments to almost everything.
The software experience has never been exciting and very few changes are made in it since its inception. The app is still not customized for retina displays, and with every update, it requires you to re-download the software, and it contains a lot of bizarre setup issues.
I faced a lot of issues when I tried to set up my A50s for the first time. Even after downloading the latest software, I was unable to connect the A50s to my computer. After trying so many tricks to solve the issue, with no success, finally, the Command Center identified that there is a need for a supplementary firmware update for the A50s.
The software was always problematic, and little has changed in this regard.
But the actual software abilities are still remarkable. If you need more emphasis on the low range, you can adjust the slider. If you want to listen more of your voice when you speak, a quick tuning to the noise gate will be sufficient for the purpose. The EQ mode can be swiftly created, saved, and synced with the headset. It also has an option for streaming, which allows a user to alter the game, chat, microphone, and auxiliary audio.
The software is really powerful, but its use is a bit difficult. I have used it several times, but still, I have difficulty remembering the functions and placements of the sliders. There is an advanced settings option but that is of very little use.
Astro A50 + Base Station – Performance
Even shoddy software cannot conceal the reality that the Astro A50s are a glamorous gaming headset. This year, Astro has switched to 2.4Ghz radios. In principle, this is to be considered a downgrade because the 5.8GHz ensures improved speed and reduced interference. But in reality, 2.4Ghz is a more dependable connection and it has an additional advantage of using a smaller amount of battery charge. This has enabled Astro to reduce the battery sizes, which in turn is facilitating Astro to deliver a headset that is comfortable as well as less bulky.
During the testing, the headset never got disconnected and it never faced interference because of plenty of other 2.4GHz connections in the place.
In reality, 2.4Ghz is a very reliable connection and it uses less battery power.
The battery’s life is exceptional. This year, after several tests, the A50s were praised for maintaining the battery charge for a long time. It provided more than 15 hours of playtime. But the batteries take a very long time to get charged. Luckily, the Base Station has a more powerful magnetic connection, which enables users to easily plug in the headphones.
But the new buttons make the experience worse as they are difficult to use. Its three-button layout is good, but the hierarchy is strange. The top button is on a slider, the Dolby Atmos button performs no functionality at least on the PS4 model, and the EQ button is to be repeatedly pressed to change desired settings, and then it requires a glance at the Base Station. It is less productive and usable than a manual dial, such as the one on the A40’s newest MixAmp.
But the new drivers are a good addition. They provide clear sound irrespective of the type of sound. Dolby Atmos support is a big plus, too. It can place audio in a 360-degree radius by utilizing the game’s metadata. This results in good sound quality. Games like Overwatch can be played, and it would be a more joyful experience. Your game has to support it if you are an Xbox One fan. On PlayStation, Dolby Atmos is only supported on PS4 Pro. It is more easily usable with a gaming PC, as it nicely fits in and the LEDs are flawlessly observable.
If you have not activated your Dolby audio, you may notice that manipulating the button can disturb your PC’s audio quality. After mistakenly activating it, I was shocked to find it puzzling mid-tones and highs and at the same time, pointlessly underemphasizing the bass. Though I do not believe one should purchase a headset, because of Dolby Atmos support but is certainly an addition to the features. Spatial sound is considered as a new dimension in the gaming world, and though I do not believe in that idea, I certainly believe that it can do some good to the gaming experience in some cases. Particularly in games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, it can produce a more immersive environment for gamers.
Battery life is, as always, stellar.
The EQs are of different quality. Astro’s default EQ still sounds very good. Pro boosts highs so you can listen to footsteps further evidently. The media provides a more balanced profile but feels a bit flat. The difference is enormous, even at low volumes. Which is fortunate, because the A50s’ over-ear cups block out plenty of noise, but they can offer much louder sounds.
The Astro A50 is a fine-quality gaming headset with excellent sound, reliable long-life battery, and a range of customizable options. The newly introduced Base Station is a smart device, and the latest device drivers provide better sound quality. But there is no guarantee that the A50s will be compatible with the new consoles, which are going to be introduced next year, the software seems quite outdated, and these devices are as costly as the consoles.