Before I get started, I really want to thank Skullcandy
for getting in contact with me and giving me the chance to review the SLYR, as well as the A40+Mixamp 2013 Edition, and A50s on their Astrogaming
side.... They have been very communicative, and understanding. Can't thank them enough.
The Astro A50s. The first venture into fully wireless headsets for Astrogaming. Prior to the A50's inception, Astro released the discontinued, rare, and very sought out Mixamp 5.8. The Mixamp 5.8's main selling point was that any standard headphone or headset terminated with a 3.5mm plug could be attached to the Rx unit (receiver), essentially making them wireless. As you guys may know, I'm a humongous fan of the Mixamp 5.8, and it remains as my main gaming device when using my audiophile headphones. While it wasn't truly wireless (you still have your own headphone's wires to deal with), it did remove the tether always necessary between the console and yourself in wired setups, making it a more elegant, and cleaner solution than anything else before.
Unfortunately, Astro didn't find the Mixamp 5.8 to be a big seller, and sought out other solutions. This is rather unfortunate, as with more improvement and functionality, future iterations of the Mixamp 5.8 could have been a huge success in my eyes. Ah well, them's the breaks. So now Astro steered their focus away from the 5.8 and towards fully wireless headsets, the first being the Astro A50s.
Upon opening the freshly designed package, you are greeted with the A50, the transmitter (that shares the same body as the Mixamp 5.8's Tx unit, though different inputs/functionality), parts of a headphone stand (which is VERY nice of Astro to supply), and the necessary cables (which I will edit into this review later, as I have a mess of cables from 3 products at the moment).
Now onto the headset itself. Upon first listen, I was immediately attacked by a relentless assault of bass. Seriously, it absolutely surprised the hell out of me. My prior experience with an Astro headset was the first gen A40s, which was anything but bassy. For a $300 headset, I EXPECTED a well balanced, competitive oriented headset with nowhere near as much bass as the A50s have. In truth, I was quite put off by it.
The A50 has 3 presets:
Preset 1: Media (Bass enhanced)
Preset 2. Core (Balanced/flat)
Preset 3: Pro (Enhanced details in the mids and treble)
In reality it sounded more like:
1. Boomy, muddy, and completely useless.
2. Boomy, and veiled
3. Bassy with extra detail
No, I'm not kidding. I found the only preset worth using was the Pro Preset, which wasn't bass light to begin with, but at least I could actually hear the details, and it was quite decent sounding, though ultimately catering more towards fun than competitive, and not exactly sounding balanced. It's honestly not even worth mentioning the other two in this review past this point, because quite frankly, they're quite terrible sounding. In my future review of the Astro A40s (w/Mixamp 2013 Edition), you can see Astro's presets CAN be useful and maintain some clarity. Just...not here.
I'm not even sure whether to fault the presets, the fact that it's wireless, or if it's the A50's drivers themselves. I plugged in the transmitter to my PC in which the transmitter functions as a USB dac/amp (as well as microphone). The presets as well as Dolby Headphone are disabled, allowing you to hear the drivers work at their most natural state. Well, it seems to be the drivers. They are quite bassy. I am quite literally confused as to why Astro decided to use such bassy drivers for their most expensive gaming headset.
The A50s weren't down for the count yet, though. While 2 of the three presets left a really bad taste in my mouth, I still had one functional preset. Firing up CoD4 (and later on MW2) revealed that the A50s were decent gaming performers albeit on the disappointing side in terms of sound quality. It does perform fine when getting down to the nitty gritty, with a little more bass than I'd prefer out of competitive gaming cans. While the audio quality isn't great, positional cues and details were decent to good. The problem is that it's a closed headset, and everything sounds congested. The A40s sound more open, airy, and balanced, even with the speaker tags on. As far as the wireless capabilities, I find it to be great, where it takes quite a bit of distance for the A50's to drop the audio. I didn't notice and snap, crackles, or pops, nor did I get any hiss until you crank the volume quite a bit past the point where I'd say it's humanly necessary.
I'll get to the specifics in the break down.Build Quality
: The Astro A50 shares the same body and aesthetic design of the A40s, which is to say, they look/feel great for a headset. There are a few key differences from the A40s.
1. The microphone is permanently affixed to the left earcup. The A40's is removable.
2. The cups are closed, and unlike the A40s, can't be removed for a semi-open design. They are now fully closed.
3. The right cup can be pressed on the sides to adjust voice/game volume, similar to the Mixamp's voice/game knob, with the exception that it's two hidden buttons you press, not turn. Once you go completely towards the game or voice side, a chime will play, letting you know you're at 100% game or voice.
4. On the rear of the right cup is where the power button, preset slider (EQ), and volume adjustment is placed.
5. On the rear of the left cup is where the mini usb input (for charging), and the 2.5mm controller input (for the 360 controller) is placed.
Build-wise, I felt the parts used were pretty high quality. Astro made a pretty reliable looking headset here. Nothing looks or feels cheap. The plastic used looks high-grade, and looks like it can take a beating. I'd still handle it with care, however. The only area of 'weakness' that I'd be wary of, is the headband padding piece which sort of 'floats' in the center of the headband. Doesn't look like it'd be a problem, but it's the only area I can see that would probably be the first to give out with rough treatment.
The A50s swivel inward, so you can lay them flat if you need a breather. I find them very comfy letting them rest on my shoulders/neck area, which is rare compared to the vast majority of audiophile headphones which have huge cups, won't swivel, etc.Comfort
: I must have a ginormous head, as I have to wear the A50's fully extended. That, or they don't have enough give. On the opposite side of the size spectrum, the PC360 has enough extension to fit the head of a giant. I wish more headphones allowed that much freedom in size. The A40/A50 is comfortable, but they are at their limit with my head. It could use just a bit more extension, in my opinion.
The pads are made of cloth/velour-like material, which is to say, they are quite comfy to my ears, and won't be heat building/sweat-inducing like typical pleather. I've felt better, but they do their job well.Microphone
: While I'm not too experienced with microphones, I didn't have any issues with my tests. It picks up my voice well. The microphone is long, pliable, and one of the better mics I have used. I don't see anyone having issues with this mic. The microphone is muted when placed upright,m similar to the PC360. Much better than having to press a button.Accessories
Headphone stand: also has space for the Tx unit.
Tx unit (transmitter): optical input, optical output (passthrough), USB input (to pair and charge the A50), 3.5mm auxiliary input (for for future accessories, mp3 players will not work.)
Cables: Optical cable, 2 mini USB cables. One for powering the Tx unit. This one will also feed the voice chat from the PS3 (has to be hooked up to the PS3 directly). The other is for charging the A50s. 2.5mm male/male for Xbox 360 voice chat capabilities, and the only cable you will need to constantly have attached if using voice chat on the 360.Isolation/Leakage
: In terms of letting sound in/out, I find the A50s to perform...decently. I do hear a fair amount of leakage, so I wouldn't crank these loudly if someone is near me sleeping. As far as keeping external noise out, I found that while using the A50s, it did a decent job overall. I wasn't truly bothered by external noise, though it's not particularly great at it. I blame the cloth pads, which sacrifices isolation/noise leakage protection for extra comfort/less sweat inducing.Bass
: As mentioned earlier, the bass is overly emphasized and boomy for a high-end headset. It's enjoyable on the bass light preset, but ultimately too strong to truly make this headset compete with the other, more balanced headsets like the PC360, SLYR, AX720, and Astro's own A40s. On the flat and bass heavy presets, the bass is loose, boomy, and sloppy. It mucks up the detail quite heavily, making these presets worthless. I'm seriously wondering if the default presets are causing this extra boominess, but I feel that if/when the custom presets become available, a lot of bass reduction is needed to compensate.Mids
: Due to the heavy bass emphasis, mids are drowned out a bit. The mids are distant, but not lost. For the purpose of gaming, the mids are fine, but ultimately not forward. The Pro preset brings out the mids a bit more, which is helpful. For the other two presets, the mids are heavily recessed.Treble
: With the good preset, treble is crisp and bright. It can get sibilant, but not many instances where I see treble being problematic. Again, the Media and Core presets place too much emphasis in bass, drowning out everything that isn't bass.Soundstage
: Somewhat closed in. It's not going to win anyone over based on size.Positioning
: Due to the closed sound, and not so large a soundstage, positioning isn't great, but it's not bad. It's passable, and sometimes even good.Clarity
: To repeat what I have already mentioned, clarity is decent on the Pro preset with sparkly details, albeit somewhat artifical sounding. Clarity is just plain lacking on the Core and especially Media presets. The sound turns overly warm and bass heavy, and all details are sucked out.Amping
: No possibility of being amped, as the transmitter can only take a digital signal, with no way to attach an amp. The A50 is fairly sensitive in either case.Value
: This one isn't hard. It's $300. That's a hard number to swallow. The main benefit of the A50 is that it's wireless. You do get everything you'll ever want in one headset, but sound quality is clearly lacking. I prefer the sound quality of the SLYR, A40, AX720, PC360 by a considerable margin. The A50s are left behind on sound quality. If sound quality is important to you, I'd advise you get something else. It's that simple. In good conscience, I can't recommend the A50s based off it's sound quality. For the purpose of worry-free wireless gaming, the A50s are good enough on the Pro preset if being untethered is absolute top priority, though you will be making some sacrifices for the benefit of going wireless.Final Impressions
: The A50's quite honestly make a better stereo headset than a Dolby Headphone one. I find it enjoyable for music off my PC, but not so much for gaming w/Dolby Headphone. Whether it's the drivers, or the internal amp in the headset, or the presets, the A50s put out bass oriented, and muddy sound for gaming.
Fun: 6.5. Very decent. While the bass is strong, the only preset worthy to be used is the Pro preset, and ends up sounding heavily processed, which detracts from enjoying non-competitive games to their fullest extent. Bass adds to the immersion, but when you can't hear details, it sucks away from the fun factor, so I don't recommend the other two presets even if just for fun.
Competitive: 6.5. Very decent. Again, the Pro preset brings out the detail which helps quite a bit, but the headphone is still on the bass heavy side which detracts from focusing as much as I'd personally like. The soundstage and positional cues aren't great, and the sound overall feels closed in, but for most gamers, the A50s would be at least, passable.
Comfort: 7.5. Very good. A pretty comfortable headset all around. No problem wearing them for hours on end, with just a few occasional times of re-adjusting them. My only complaint is that it could use a bit more extension for larger heads, as I have to wear it fully extended.