The Astro A50s Are Good Headphones With A Great Wireless Station

Image: Kotaku/Alex Walker

Let me tell you about one of the best gaming moments of last year.

Like most gamers, I like to fiddle with things. I have a stress ball and a cricket ball in the office for the very reason. It gives me something to play with; it gives me order. And now I have something just as good: the magnetic wireless dock of the Astro A50s.

If you've watched any console esports or console streams on Twitch, you'll have seen the Astro brand plenty. They're famous for their headset and MixAmp combo with their A30 and A40 headsets.

The best offering in their product line, however, is the latest generation of the A50s. And that's because they come with this wonderful wireless station.

Image: Kotaku/Alex Walker

But let's get to the basics. The A50s come in two models: a black and blue-themed model for the PlayStation 4, and a green-skinned version for the Xbox One. Both versions are compatible with PC and Mac, and you toggle between the two by flicking a switch located on the side of the wireless dock. Either model is available locally starting from about $460, although availability may differ (some stores I checked, for instance, only had the PS4 version in stock).

The biggest drawcard is the docking station, and it comes with plenty of functionality. Like the previous generation, the A50s support optical audio, optical passthrough and an auxiliary input if you want to connect another audio source.

Charging is done via a set of magnetic connectors on the base of the left and right earcups, although occasionally it can take a little bit of jiggling before the headphones sit properly. The headphones themselves have plenty of knobs as well: the exterior of the right cup acts as a massive button for adjusting the balance between chat and game audio, while the bottom of the right cup has a wheel for adjusting the overall volume. There's a button to toggle Dolby surround sound, and another button to select one of three equaliser presets.

The EQ settings are customisable through a separate app, downloaded from the Astro website. On the left earpiece is a flexible microphone, which automatically mutes whenever its flipped back. The headphones will also automatically turn themselves off whenever you take them off your head, and the whole charging station is powered via the ubiquitous micro-USB.

Image: Astro

The base station is by far and away the best feature. Apart from the fact that you can just pop the headset up and down all day, it's well designed. There's a small light readout on the front right hand side telling you how much charge you've got left, whether surround sound is enabled, and whether console or PC mode is engaged. (That's indicated by a change in colour, which is really neat.)

The unit itself is small, looks neat either on a TV stand or your PC desk, and is powered by the same cord that looks after your Android phone and Xbox One/DualShock 4 controllers. It's quite light, which is nice if you want to carry the station around to LANs or to/from work.

The battery life is fantastic. While anything with a battery will lose its charge over time, the A50s out of the box will keep their charge for about 14-15 hours on end. That was my testing, incidentally, although it matches up with what Astro themselves have quoted. That's a substantial improvement on the first-generation A50s, and about the right amount of time you want for any wireless headset.

The wireless distance is particularly short, though. My kitchen is several metres from my living room and bedroom (both of which have consoles and PCs plugged in). That's too far for the base receiver though: the sound and microphone both start to drop out as soon as I'm more than a few metres away. Given that Astro's site quotes the wireless range at 30ft, or just over 9 metres, it's a bit disappointing but not a dealbreaker.

The surround sound isn't the best. The main problem with gaming headphones is that they're often optimised to sound good in video games, but a little lacking when it comes to music and movies. That's the case with the A50s too. The surround sound is a little wooden and enclosed, and I ended up running mostly with the surround sound off for a clearer, cleaner experience.

Images: Astro

The microphone is flexible, but it's not great. The audio out of the mic is compressed, which is a bit disappointing for a key part of a product costing more than $450. It's serviceable, but irrespective of what preset you use it'll never come close to the quality of a standalone mic (like any of the offerings from Audio Technica, RODE or Blue).

That said, the microphone automatically mutes when flipped up which is a great quality-of-life addition. It also naturally lines up along the side of the headset, instead of angling towards your mouth. That means it never gets in the way if you want to have a drink, something all gamers can appreciate.

Switching from PC to console is a bit trickier than it seems. If you want to have the base station hooked up at all times, the base station has to be close enough so that the optical cable can reach to one while the micro-USB plug reaches to another. The optical and micro-USB cables are only a metre long, which isn't a great deal to begin with. That's not the only quirk though: if the PS4 is turned on and you're trying to use the A50s through the PC, you won't be able to get surround sound (even if the base station is switched to PC) until the PS4 is set into sleep mode.

The earcups are magnetic and replaceable. All headphones suffer from wear and tear over time, and one of the first items to fray is the earcups. Fortunately they're easily replaceable via a small notch at the top. They clasp on magnetically, and you can get replacement earcups that are more encapsulated if you don't like the furry softness of the default pads. You can also get a replacement headband,

The headset is on the heavier side, but still very comfortable. Your mileage may vary, but I've grown up with a lot of oversized headphones and headsets. The A50s are on the larger side, with my ears fitting completely inside the headset. It's fairly comfy though: even after around 8 hour sessions of Destiny or Final Fantasy, I had no issues at all.

The price will be too much for some. As much as I've enjoyed the A50s, be under no delusion: you are paying for convenience. It's certainly the nicest gaming headset I've listened to in a long while, and the wireless charging station is fantastic. But that doesn't mean it's worth nearly $500, especially if you're an audiophile. You can get cheaper wireless headphones as well - like the Sennheiser RS120 II - and have plenty of money for a separate microphone and stand.

That convenience, mind you, is pretty damn good. It just depends on how much you're prepared to pay. I know some gamers who won't spend anything more than $200 on their audio, standalone speakers, headphones or headsets. I can understand the frugality, but it's a bit nonsensical: if you're going to spend hundreds of dollars on a PC or a console, and you game on it regularly, you should be prepared to spend at least the same amount of money on the unit that reproduces the sound.

It's a basic rule of thumb that applies when purchasing TVs, and it's a good yardstick to keep in mind for gaming. If you don't mind the hassle of cables, you can save a lot of money - but then you won't get that sexy charging station, and you don't get to do this all day.


Comments

    Just a word of warning - I own a set of astro a50s (earlier model than these, as they still have cable charging for the wireless not a dock). They have been one of my most regretted purchases, as they come with a critical bug - sometimes once charged they cannot be turned off. There is no kill switch, they just need to run until drained. Once this happens the volume (which runs separately to your computer volume) cannot be changed, so good luck if it's too low or high, you've got 10+ hours of an unusable device.

    Mine do this at least once a week and I'm far from alone. astro have done little to fix it other than offering replacements to those still in warranty and there's a chance the new pair will do it too. Maybe they've fixed it in this iteration, but buyer beware - when getting these keep your receipts & warranty info.

      I have the same earlier model and agree they are one of my worse purchases. Same problem as you mentioned where they will get stuck on and not function properly meaning they need to go flat to be turned off. A massive over sight.

      Ive also had this on and off issue where one ear wont work and requires turning them on and off untill it works.

      When they work they are pretty great, I use them for gaming on my consoles and pc as well as late night music/movies but they are in no way worth the insane price.

        I've go a pair of Astro A50's and had very little trouble over the few years I've had them, that is until about a month ago. Until then I only had the occasional hiccup, at worst a re-pair was required.

        A month ago the left ear stopped working. When it first happened I tried re-pairing and it'd work for 1min then stop again, but after a couple re-pairs it just stopped altogether; and nothing I have tried since has worked. :(

        Last edited 12/01/17 4:18 pm

      Got the same earlier model with the same problem. I've reverted to using the crappy little mobile phone ones provided with the PS4.

      The A50s are really good when they work..

      I mean, sound quality is still the same average stuff you see in gaming devices. Decent, but not justifying the $350.00 price tag. Mic is very clear though.

      I like the passthrough, as I run a cable through my amp to my headphones to allow me to listen to stuff from my computer.

      Not my most regretted purchase as I've gotten a lot of use out of it, and the durable design means they've lasted a long time. (I purchased it when I had a PS3, still works with PS4). The Playstation Pulse headphones lasted about 6 months when the flimsy joining plastic arms broke revealing the electrical cable innards.

      I really liked the internal microphone buried in the cups on those though.

      Last edited 12/01/17 1:22 pm

      Fortunately, I've never had this problem and I've been using the previous generation A50's with PC for the past two years. Out of all of the headphones I've had, I found these to be the best sounding and most comfortable to wear. I'd like to try the new version, but as the tune of nearly $500, I can't validate that kind of purchase.

    I have the a40 or 50 I can't remember. it's about 3 or 4 years old it cost me 360 dollars(Australian) so I got my moneys worth. I ran it on optical through the mix amp that it can with back on ps3, loved it but the amp battery died so I just plug it into the ps4 controller now. Was a fantastic purchase and I'm now considering buying this when mine eventually dies.

    Worth noting that this version of the A50 (xbox version) has wireless xbox one chat capability (without the controller tether cable), which is awesome because that cable is annoying and seriously if you are going to have a cable running to the controller why the hell would you need a wireless headset, may as well just use a corded one would work the same.

    But what i don't understand is why the xbox version wouldn't work with the ps4, as the ps4 just uses usb audio like the PC mode does. Couldn't you just use the PC (usb) mode for the ps4 on the xbox version?

    I have the previous version A50 xbox version and have the usb hooked up to the PS4 and works fine with both consoles.

    I have to say though that the microphone sucks on the previous a50, constantly got complaints from people in chat that the mic was soft and kept dropping out, i had to keep unplugging the tether cable to get it working again. Stopped using it and reverted to a basic one ear corded mic setup.

      Different chat protocols is the official answer. It's not a problem if you're transmitting it over a wired cable, but when you're doing it wirelessly it is.

      I haven't had any issues with the microphone being too soft on the A50s; you can always check the levels in the system settings to make sure.

        I've had a lot of complaints about the mic with my older set of A50's too.

        To soft and somewhat muffled, no matter how much fiddling with settings and positions, I could not get it any better.

        Yeah with the old ones its wired usb from the ps4 to the a50 transmitter, then the transmitter sends the audio through to the headset - the ps4 just picks the transmitter up as a usb headset - same with the PC.

        I tried firmware updates and still got constant complaints about my mic quality, people couldnt hear me properly even when i had it turned to max and bent right up against my face

    Astro's are great so long as you don't have a screw have its head sheered off, at which point you are fucked because Astro has bar none the least useful support (both online and on the PAXAUS floor) I have ever dealt with.

    Me-I need to know what the size is of the screw that sits in the head clip, so that I can replace a headless screw holding the head band together.
    Support-I don't know sorry, but what you can do is purchase the repair kit that has spare parts for your headphones.
    Me-Does that kit include screws?
    Support-No, it includes replacement clips and pads.
    Me-*Stops replying to emails*

    Other than that the headphones were great.

    I've got A50s from a few years back; was really pleased with them at first, but after about two years I now only get a few hours battery life (maybe 3?), and since Astro refuse to sell replacement batteries, the only solution is to buy a new pair or send them to Astro in America for a replacement battery at about $200USD. In addition, my volume dial is now really flakey and just doesn't operate half the time.

    Definitely would not recommend based on this (the battery in particular).

    I picked up this model at launch, and could not be happier with them, tbh.

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