The Astro A50 headset has that authentic gaming headset aesthetic, and you see this from the first time you lay your eyes on it. These days, though, there’s been a trend where manufacturers are trying to make their gaming peripherals a bit stealthier, trying to make headphones that can be worn in public without it inciting snickers or turning heads. But, the Astro A50 headset wears its gaming design-style with absolute pride. That being said, its showy, obtrusively bright and multi-colored design has been done away with, and has been replaced by a modern-day, all-black one. Yes, it still has a lot of branding going on but not that much. Furthermore, it also has these weird measurement markings designed to measure how big the user’s head is.
On the headband’s top side, there’s a plastic material, which feels a little flimsy, which houses the soft padding which covers the top of the dome, accompanied by an Astro logo. Users can easily pop this out, however, while that helps make replacement almost effortless, it also means that it can easily get lost as well when the headset accidentally drops. The microphone, that’s neither retractable nor removable, is attached to the left-side earcup. When you need or want it out of your way, you’ll need to rotate it upwards. In practice, this concept works just fine, however, it means that you’ll have to contend with a rubber microphone sticking out somewhere.
On the right earcup is where you’ll find all the A50’s dials and buttons. There are two button features on the earcup specifically marked ‘voice’ and ‘game’. When the headset is connected to the computer, it’ll actually register as 2 USB audio devices, and these two buttons allow users to adjust the sound balance of both. Both the audio coming from when you talk to your friends on Discord or the in-game sounds can be balanced. On this same earcup, there’s also a volume dial, EQ button, a button which is for switching on virtual Dolby surround sound and the power switch. At the bottom of the earcup, there’s the microUSB port feature for charging, although most people tend to prefer using a charging station to do that.
One of the best things about the Astro A50 headset is the removable earpads. Yes, its default earpads are comfortable enough, however, if you want to use the A50 Mod Kit (which has synthetic leather), all you’ll need to do is remove the magnetic default earpads and then pop in your replacements. In fact, it’s a bit surprising why more gaming headset manufacturers haven’t started using this concept as well.
Finally, it also comes with a USB charging station. Not only does this allow users to wirelessly charge the head piece, but it’ll also show the headset’s different statuses, which includes EQ presets, Dolby status and the battery level, whether the headset is connected to PlayStation 4 or PC. Unlike most gaming headsets out there, with this one users won’t have to constantly be wondering when the battery is going to die completely.
The first thing you will notice when you open the Astro A40 package is that there are very many parts and wires. First comes the headset itself, of course, which features 2 reasonably-sized fabric earcups, a detachable, 3.5mm audio cable, a flexible, removable boom microphone attached to the left earcup and a strong, plastic headband. The headset’s fit can be customized by sliding its headband both upward and downward a metal tube located on both sides, with notches that have been clearly demarcated. It also has swappable earcup plates, most for aesthetic value, and a mute-mic button located around halfway down the audio cable. It’s generally an overall solid design that has managed to stand the test of time.
Next is the headset’s MixAmp, which has been seriously redesigned and is considerably different to what was there in the last generation’s model. Oh, and this is the 4th-generation MixAmp by Astro by the way. Anyway, instead of the vertical rectangle shape with one tiny button and one huge dial, the new one has more of a horizontal layout accompanied by a handy diagonal incline. Yes, you still have two dial features; one for chat/game volume and the other for overall volume, however, this time, its chat dial is way bigger, which helps make it a bit easier for users to gauge their levels. Between these two dials, there’s one button feature at the top that allows users to switch between stereo and surround sound as well as another one at the bottom that they can use to switch through for equalization profiles. Not only is it easy to use but it’s quite intuitive as well.
The Astro A50 might not be rocking the best design on the market, however, it does deliver some great sound quality. Okay, truth is, it’s nowhere near the loudest gaming headset out there, neither does it have the best seal because you can still hear what’s going on around you. Which means that, if you’re in search of something that has very effective noise-cancellation functionality with a plenty of rumbling, then this might not be a headset you’ll be satisfied with. However, if sound quality is your main priority, then there are few gaming headsets in the market that have better sound balance. Most gaming headsets you’ll find are often incredibly bass heavy, to the extent where some loud sounds will lead to the production of this annoying crackling sound. However, the A50 head piece doesn’t do this. Games will sound like you’re watching a movie with these things on, with the gorgeous visuals of the game pairing sublimely with the accurate and crystal clear sound. Thanks to the Astro’s Virtual Dolby Surround sound support, the headset provides its users with a very immersive gameplay experience.
However, it shouldn’t surprise you too much that it doesn’t perform so well in the music department. In the higher ranges it loses many details. In fact, this headset is generally designed with the more cinematic uses in mind, as is with most gaming headsets. Though it’ll help a bit if you switch off the surround sound feature. Although, this time around, it has a wireless signal that’s way more reliable, which is unlike some of the other older A50 models. Some of the older models would intermittently cut out the audio, making using them a tad bit inconvenient and even a little annoying at times.
In spite of the headset’s kind of awkward overall setup, the Astro A40 shines a great deal once you start using it for your gaming needs. It has an immediate and rich soundscape, sweeping orchestral chords with nuance and balance, a proper line of dialogue and fills every laser beam. It provides remarkably consistent results both on PlayStation 4 titles and PC games. Zerg’s guttural cries in StarCraft, the Mediterranean dialogue scenes in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the whooshing sword strokes in Sekiro all sound absolutely fantastic.
Furthermore, the Astro A40 is among the few gaming headphones that really nail this surround sound thing. A lot of headphones have great stereo, however, the surround sound usually feels a bit too distant, hollow and quiet. That’s not something you’ll find with the A40. The surround sound in this headset is just as vibrant and clear as its stereo counterpart. Okay, of course we know not every title is optimized for surround sound, and you’ll probably have stereo on quite a lot, however, at least you have that option.
Anyway, the one department which the Astro A40 really shows its worth is how well the headset handles music. Thanks to a robust soundscape and subtle equalizations, most songs played on it sound wonderful, from the Old Crow Medicine Show’s bluegrass beats to The Rolling Stones’ rhythmic rhymes. You can listen to everything from 2 Pac’s “Dear Mama” to Coldplay’s greatest hits, almost all genres music sound lifelike and crystal clear. The only downside here is once the headset is unplugged from its MixAmp, music performance drops back to being just average, and if you intend on taking it with you on a plane or bus, then you’ll have to live with subpar music performances because you’ll probably have to use it without its MixAmp. Yes, it can be plugged directly into a Nintendo Switch or smartphone, however, it won’t sound nearly as good. This is somewhat of a bummer, especially considering the fact that not only does the headset have a pretty sleek overall design-style but the removable mic also makes it perfect for everyday travel.
Astro’s Command Center is both an efficient and easy-to-use support program that works incredibly well with this particular headset. But, it misses a few useful features. That being said, it contains a fantastic graphic equalizer that can be used the EQ button found on the right-side earcup. This feature allows you to pick between different saved presets. Although, unfortunately, the mic’s frequency can’t be controlled like how it could on the 3rd generation A50. Furthermore, there’s still no option to either disable or extend its gyroscope auto-off feature, which can prove really frustrating at times. In addition to this, it also doesn’t have a true button mapping or surround sound effect menus beyond the default EQ presets.
Connecting headsets that use optical cables to a PS4 console is usually way more complicated compared to their plug-and-play headset counterparts. Furthermore, even though you follow all the steps correctly, sometimes it’ll still be a bit inconsistent. Unfortunately, the gen 4 A50 doesn’t have wired connectivity, even if done through the microUSB to USB cable, which is their only to charge the device. It’s also not Bluetooth compatible. That being said, Astro claims that their headset product can hold a steady connection from even 30-feet out, which is pretty accurate.
For the average user, the most important thing will probably be the headset’s optical audio ports and USB. When attaching it to a PC setup, you’ll need to connect the USB cord to the MixAmp from the computer, then another audio cord to the headset from the MixAmp. However, it gets a little more complicated when you want to use the headset on a PlayStation 4 console. In this scenario, you’ll need to attach the optical audio cord to the back of your PlayStation 4: connect the USB cord to the front your console, and then connect both these cables to the MixAmp’s rear end and, finally, a headset audio cord at the front.
Though, this isn’t the only thing that’s a bit complicated. Managing the headset’s software isn’t a walk in the path either. The biggest problem here is that if your PlayStation 4 is in the living room, then you probably won’t have a very practical overall setup. Yes, it’ll still sound great but the positioning will be something else. For starters, you’ll have to remove the console from the entertainment center to attach the optical audio cord. Then, both the USB and optical audio cable will have to come out all the way up to wherever the MixAmp, which will most likely be the coffee table. From the MixAmp, you’ll need to run another wire across the living to the couch wear you’ll be sitting while you play. This adds up to 3 long cables scattered all over you living room, just waiting for an unsuspecting child, spouse, pet or housemate to come trip over them and, eventually, drag everything to the floor.
Anyway, on the bright side, a lot of the Astro A40’s features are in the hardware itself. The equalization switching, the chat/game balance and the surround sound. Its equalizations settings are quite robust and are just begging for users to create their own unique profiles themselves. By default, the headset’s MixAmp device allows users to pick from among Tournament, Balanced, Flat and Astro equalization modes. However, Astro’s Command Center software can also be used to customize equalization settings. It doesn’t take that much time nor is it a complicated process, and once you’re done the equalization settings you’ve created will save directly onto the MixAmp; so even when the headset has been disconnected from the PC, the profiles that have programmed can still be used.
It also has a wide array of microphone settings to choose from, including sensitivity and side tone. The Command Center software also has a ton of handy microphone pickup options, which include Night and Home modes, which will dictate how loud users must talk in order for the microphone to pick up the vocals. This is an incredibly useful feature for the tournament gamer, who needs to be able to effectively communicate in loud surroundings, as well as the everday night owl that wants to talk to their teammates without having to wake up the whole house. The microphone itself is fantastic, transmitting clear and crisp sound without much fuzziness or distortion. Okay, it’s not ideal for podcast recording, however, it’ll allow you to effortlessly communicate with your teammates online.
The Astro A50 headset has always been among the priciest gaming headphones on the market, and not a lot has changed in this department. These days, the competition going on the premium gaming headset realm is way more robust than it used to be, which means that the A50 really needs to put its best foot forward to be able to justify a high price-tag. The good news, though, is that it does actually keep the high audio performance standards it has always been known to have, and provides excellent and immersive all-round sound quality.
The Astro A40 is somewhat of an expensive headset. It doesn’t sound great without the MixAmp and it doesn’t blend in well with living room setups. Nonetheless, it provides out of this world gaming performances. As much as it isn’t well suited for the living room setup, tournament gamers and streamers will absolutely love this head piece. In fact, Astro seemed to have this people in mind when they were manufacturing this particular product. Truth is, both these headsets will require to break the bank, but they actually do accomplish what they set out to do.
When it comes to performance, it’s really hard to separate the two. It really comes down to a couple of things, which is basically battery life, wired/wireless and price. Yes, the A50 is slightly more expensive due to its wireless feature, but if that’s something you hold in high regard then that’s probably what you need to be looking at. That being said, choosing the A50 will mean that you have limited battery life, even though it’s long. Though, when all is said and done, we’re moving into times with less and less wires, and the wiring the Astro A40 puts people through isn’t at all enticing. Tripping over wires is so 90’s, and that’s why we pick the A50 in this case.