Test: Astro A50 Wireless Headset (PC / PS4)

The Astro A50 is one of the gaming world’s most talked about headphones. But do they hold the measure? senses.se has hard tested.

Thanks to the fact that we have a solid (Nordic’s largest?) Archive of headphone tests, we at senses.se can happily state that you readers have really taken these to your hearts. We are the first, or unique with, several models to have awarded grades on other tests have been added thanks to your, specific inquiries. Astro A50 is just such a wish test from several of you readers. The American company Astro Gaming (which is now owned by Logitech) has long enjoyed a special place in gaming circles, with a large fan base but also several detractors who have complained about flaws in design and quality. And for the right considerable price tag, the question becomes: do they measure up? senses.se pulls out and gives answers.

Astro A50 – The Look

Let’s start with the obvious – the Astro A50 is, in our book, no beauties. They look large and awkward and come in a package model bauta, which further enhances that first impression. There is a lot of “gaming” feeling around the headphones and it is unfortunately, often, a negative connotation for the design because it gives a little “boy room feeling”. But on the other hand, these lures are 100% focused on gaming and nothing else, so since you should not wear them in town (can not, we explain more below) but sit at home or in the room and play, it does not really play that big roll what they look like. The material is in any case stable, a matt plastic of decent quality surrounds the covers, combined with joints in metal for height adjustment. The ear cushions feel soft and in the frame is a – slightly thinner than we are used to – cushion with memory foam (“tempur”).

astro a50 standing gen 4 headphones
Absolutely OK gaming look, but no beauties at first glance. Photo: senses.se

Wireless connection to base station only

Astro A50 comes in two models – both support computer (PC and Mac) but then differ in the base station itself, which handles and sends the signal wirelessly to the headphones. There is one for PS4 (the one we tested here) and one for Xbox, which has an extra part for the crossbox’s cumbersome handling of sound via USB. The base station on this version (gen 4 as it is called, which was released as an updated version 2019) is quite flexible and is at the same time a doll that charges your headphones. The base station has a display where you see mode (you can switch between PC – computer, also applies to Mac – or PS4), charging and Dolby support. Astro A50 has no support for wired connection. All in all, because they have no 3.5 ″ connection at all. You can also not connect them wirelessly to any other device, such as your phone, because they do not have bluetooth but run on radio waves (2.4GHz) which has its advantages and disadvantages. So this is 100% gaming headphones in the true sense of the word.

For PC and Mac, the connection is straight forward, you connect the dock (base station) via the included USB cable and select the headphones as sound out and sound in (microphone, which you fold up when you want to mute: a), if necessary (switched automatically over with us). The software felt easiest for PC, but also works on Mac and there you can update firmware, which is always recommended that you do first, as it can solve many small problems.

Astro A50 in the base station
The base station provides an overview of settings and how charged the battery is – but only connected to the computer? Photo: senses.se

On PS4, it’s a little more messy; you must (in addition to USB) also connect the audio via the included optical cable (which requires an extra cable on PS4 Slim, as that model lacks an optical port and you have to pay for this cable yourself) but it is easy on the first PS4 and PS4 Pro. Once done, everything adjusted automatically, although Astro Gaming suggests manual settings, below (everything worked fine, even with PCM instead of Dolby Bitstream, as it’s just a matter of where the audio is decoded – felt like PS4 Pro did it best and the sound became “warmer” with the PCM setting). However, optical connection has many years on its neck and limitations, which we return to below.

Astro A50 – so they sound

Since we have now straightened out that the headphones are aimed entirely at gaming, or at least connection at home to a computer or console, the main focus of the test will be how they sound in games. But of course we will also give an opinion about music, because you can drive Spotify through the PS4 and the computer as well.

The first impression of the sound is good. Very good we would reach for. Two 40mm dynamic elements reproduce a pleasant, warm and present sound that fills the covers. Astro has managed to balance the base well, so that it gives body and weight to dialogue and explosions, but at the same time does not feel boom-like and loose. There are three equalizer modes you can switch between and choose the one that suits your taste (hearing) best. The wind, the voices and the music in Ghost of Tsushima created a wonderful and engaging experience, as well as the steps in Battlefield V which was heard distinctly on the PC, with the correct EQ setting.

On PC and Mac, you unlock the full potential of the headphones, as it is pure radio via USB. It just works and it sounds good. We tested the new PC version of Horizon Zero Dawn and it sounded engaging, with a slightly softer soundscape than we might be used to.

On the music front, the A50 also performs well, even if these are not headphones for audio files. If we run Spotify in the best resolution, we got decent sound in most genres – more pop songs, with catchy instruments in the midrange and driving bass sounded the best, while acoustic perhaps lost some space and presence, for example in Simon & Garfunkel’s live gig from 1969. The base is a bit small in Dolby mode, so we preferred the other (marked as a star on the display) and the most neutral EQ mode (1), sounded best overall. But it is worth working on the type and taste of music. You can also select more EQ profiles from Astro App and there also screw yourself on the settings, so here there is good potential for optimization. In any case, the headphones are well approved for listening to music, even if these are gaming headphones so first and foremost.

The package says “Dolby Audio“. You can easily confuse that with Dolby Atmos, but that is not the case. Dolby Audio means that the headphones can convert a digital, compressed bitstream (bitstream) into audible audio (PCM). However, this is not particularly unique, as it usually occurs in slot machines or amplifiers. On PC and Xbox there is a solution to get Dolby Atmos support, but on PS4 you get neither Atmos nor the newer, uncompressed formats Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-Master Audio (where the Atmos coding is often on top of the TrueHD track). This is partly due to limitations in the PS4, but also because optical connection (toslink) is a technology that has been on the DVD since the 90s and became basically obsolete with the transition to HDMI. Optical transmission only supports the old, compressed format Dolby Digital (up to 7.1 channels). This is not a problem as long as you run LPCM, as the PS4 will handle all the decoding, but you will never be able to get some of the higher quality audio tracks via bitstream (although a few PS4 games today have TrueHD or DTS MA audio). There is no super-optimal solution in our book and the question is whether there is really a better solution, wireless, for PS4 at present (maybe SteelSeries Pro? We may return to the question). Plantronics, now discontinued 800HS was seemingly easier with a single, small USB dongle to connect – but at the same time it is impossible to determine which exact sound signal they sent out and the headphones received. And read on and we’ll reveal that we discovered that you do not need the optical cable at all (on PS4 Pro in any case, which we tested on)…

The battery life is about 15 hours and it can be seen as completely OK in that you always put them back in the dock (because you do?) And there are few gamers who have time or energy with 15 hours of play without breaks. But there are several wireless headsets out there with significantly more generous battery life (and easier charging).

The microphone is a bit long but it sounds good and clear, something that the previous generation (gene 3) received a lot of criticism for. Astro Gaming seems active on Reddit and takes in user feedback, which we always applaud at a serious premium company.

Astro A50 – fit and comfort

First impressions can be tricky. The Astro A50 is actually not so large and awkward as they first seem and when you open the huge package you are greeted by a luxurious feeling, even though the design still exudes a lot of “gaming”. Comfort must be described as very, very good, even though the headphones weigh almost 400 grams (380 grams to be exact). The ear cushions are soft and comfortable, without pressing too hard, sitting too loosely or bathing the ears in sweat. The slightly thin memory foam pillow on the frame is excellent, it lies nicely against the crest of the skull.

Astro A50 packaging (gen 4)
Photo: senses.se

Beauty does not always sit in the design, we can state.

Disadvantages and big question marks

There are a few smolks and real oddities with the Astro A50. In addition to the optical solution on PS4 that we already mentioned and, as a minor note, the design, it is also cluttered with instructions and clear information. There does not seem to be a real manual – not even online, but you get a quick overview pamphlet (“quick start”) which is OK to get started with, but no more in-depth explanation of each setting and function. Strange, on such an expensive premium product (the link that Astro gaming states in the pamphlet also does not contain a more detailed manual)?

The charging procedure and the status of this is also slightly unclear. The headphones charge by placing them upright on a magnetic connection in the dock. As long as the base station was connected to PC / Mac, we could see all the status on the display that sits on the front of the dock. But, and here comes a great mystery: In PS4 mode, nothing lights up – unless you switch to PC mode; then you see everything in the same way on the front display as you do on the computer and the sound on the PS4 works magically enough anyway (you still wonder what the switch between PC and PS4 then actually, in practice is supposed to do?). What is even more mysterious is that we were able to completely pull the optical cable out of the PS4 and it became sound anyway, just because the dock was connected with USB to the front. Switching manually between different modes did not give audibly better sound, so it seems that the Astro A50 is after all as easy to drive wirelessly on PS4 (Pro) as the old reference, 800HS. But what are we going to do with the optical cable and another PS4 mode?

If you insert a micro-USB straight into one of the headphones’ covers, they also do not give a sign that they are charging (although they should probably do so)? The dock also seems to prefer an old-fashioned USB-A connection for optimal charging capacity, but where to get the power from is up (USB-C to USB-A did not work) is also highly unclear. Astro Gaming / Logitech has a lot to sort out here and therefore a sensible, in-depth manual would be very helpful (we hope…).

The volume knob on the right cover also feels a bit plastic and sloppy, nothing you expect to get on a pair of SEK 3,500 headphones.

Summary Astro A50

With a price tag of SEK 3,500, the Astro A50 is certainly not one of the cheapest lures on the market. On the contrary. They also offer nothing that is noticeably unique, although the technical solutions work very well. Their two aces up their sleeve are that they sound good, warm and comfortable in games and are just as comfortable to wear during long game sessions. For computer players, it feels like a very interesting alternative, where you can also get support for more modern audio formats such as Dolby Atmos. There are not as good alternatives on PS4, so Astro A50 will be new references, wireless on PS4 – even if we get to return to a competitor in the future (SteelSeries Arctis Pro, which is in a similar price range). Plantronics seems to be increasingly withdrawing from the gaming segment and investing in office equipment (Poly) and the Astro A50 sounds significantly better than their old 800HS, which was certainly also much cheaper.

There are some annoyances; status of the charge, lack of sensible manual for all settings and functions and the slightly wobbly volume button that prevents the headphones from reaching the very highest heights. But the Astro A50 sounds really good and is very nice, so anything other than a warm recommendation would be a misdemeanor not to hand out.

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