There was a time, not too long ago, when Astro could easily have been described as the kings of the headset market when it came to gaming enthusiasts and their hunt for the best sound and comfort for gamers. Through podcasts, videos, YouTube personalities and the like, people were constantly exposed to the Astro brand, and if one was to ask someone influential, the verdict was clear: "Buy Astro".
As the years have passed, however, the market has opened up, and over time, Astro has lost its grip of the market. Manufacturers such as SteelSeries now offer Arctic Pro Wireless, Razer innovates with Nari and HyperSense and so, standing out is becoming more difficult.
With this information at our disposal, we decided to give the good old-fashioned Astro A50s a go to see if they hold up to the competition of today. To start off, it's impossible to ignore the fact that the Astro A50's are headset trendsetters visually. When they are one with the included charger they have a persona, a presence, and they also excel in quality. When moving in towards the store shelves with the mission of buying oneself a pair of A50s, you'll find that they'll create a £250 hole in your wallet which is the same price as a set of SteelSeries Arctis Wireless Pros. For the money, you get the iconic stand, the headset, as well as the ability to use optical or micro USB to connect to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (however, you need to buy a specific set designed for one of the two consoles)
The quality of the A50s, however, can not be ignored. The stand, made of hard plastic, is of decent build quality, where one half has a smooth rubber coating and the other sports a glossy finish, and it appears robust and solid. The stand is, of course, the optimal home for your headset when you're not using it, and although you may often have difficulty putting the A50 headset onto its stand as it's a tactile exercise to situate the magnetic plates in the right position, this exercise reinforces the feeling that you're dealing with a complex, quality product.
The same can be said about the headset itself. The entirety of the set is made of hard plastic except for the cylindrical sides of the aluminium bracket. Virtually the whole unit is rubber-coated. What surprises us most is how light the headset itself is. If you're used to either SteelSeries or Razer headsets, a set of Astro A50s is almost feather-light, but we need to note that, despite being as light as they are, and despite them being comfortable during our time reviewing them, they push on the sides of your head enough to make them unpleasant after wearing them for long periods of time.
On one side of the headset sits the microphone, which isn't hidden in the earpiece, but can be lifted up and down. While we prefer a microphone that can be hidden completely out of sight, we also can't deny that the sound from the mounted variety is generally better, and this is also the case with the A50 mic. With the exception of the Sennheiser GSP series, this microphone is quite remarkable with clear, deep sound through both PC and console channels.
However, what impressed us the most during our time with the A50s is the sound. The headset's 40mm drivers do an outstanding job of creating a dynamic and multifaceted sound across different media, from listening in on hostile movements in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 to dimming the music of Nightflyers on Netflix. Moreover, thanks to 5GHz technology, the wearer can get quite far away from the stand before the sound starts to get choppy, and during our test period, the battery lasted for almost the promised 15 hours.
In addition, it's possible to turn Dolby Headphone Surround on, but as we found out, it offered a limited amount of usability. For listening to the audio in a movie or a series, the sound is really dull, as if everyone on screen is talking through a filter. If you're a gaming enthusiast, however, the technology gives you the feeling, albeit brief, of the sound being wrapped around you. So does virtual 7.1 surround work? No, not really. Not yet. But the effect it offers when playing games make it sound like two speakers turning into four or six, and it's actually pretty impressive. The Astro A50, which uses Dolby Pro Logic Iix, offers the best virtual surround sound experience in a headset we've tried so far.
The Astro A50s are certainly worth looking at if you're considering a wireless headset. If you like the idea of having a fixed stand instead of a replaceable battery, then they're a real competitor to the SteelSeries Arctis Wireless Pros, but there are a number of small things that you can get of higher quality elsewhere. The microphone is a bit big and cumbersome, the earpieces should have been lined with more foam for additional comfort, and perhaps the price should have been cut a bit. With that said, however, this is still an incredibly solid headset, and Astro deserves to win back some time in the spotlight.