Audiophilia is a way of life.
The creation of the Astro A50 Headset was in part a request by Best Buy, a retailer so thoroughly impressed by the quality and pre-orders for the A40 Headset during its trial period that they decided to skip right to national distribution. The challenge presented to Astro was to redesign and enhance the A40, which was already a powerhouse in comfort, sound, and usability, such that it would be completely wireless. The result is one of the finest premium gaming headsets for the home theater experience.
To be precise, the A40 is technically wireless as well, though it needs to be tethered to the receiver in order to communicate with the transmitter and control the volume. The A50 removes this complication by embedding the receiver within the left ear of the headset itself and placing the volume wheel along the underside of the right ear. It may be a strange place to put the volume wheel at first, but it practically eliminates the chance that you might nudge it by accident.
Placing the receiver within the headset distinguishes the A50 in multiple ways for better and worse. The MixAmp Pro and MixAmp 5.8 are incompatible with the A50 as they are unnecessary here, while the headset itself weight approximately 0.8 lbs without any cords. This is slightly heavier than the A40, but with the A50's cushioned ear cups, it still allows for comfortable gaming sessions for hours on end.
Like any wireless system, the A50 can be sensitive to interference from other wireless signals, and the microphone isn't detachable in case you want flip sides. Without the wire to the receiver, the headset cannot connect to any device with a 3.5mm port. So if you're looking for a portable headset for your laptop or MP3 player, the A40 and A30 are better choices.
That said, the A50 was always designed for the living room, for a private theatre experience with incredible sound quality. Using Astro's proprietary KleerNet 5.8GHz system, the A50 is capable of delivering clear Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound with enhanced bass and sound isolation. Complementing this is a switch along the side of the right ear cup that can be set on three separate equalizer profiles specifically for gaming, media, and movies. The overall improvement is noticeable enough that even the stingiest audiophile will want to upgrade to the A50.
Players can adjust, along with the headband, the sound balance between the voice and game channels by simply pressing the right ear cap in the appropriate areas. Instead of pressing a button or flipping a switch, muting is performed by putting the microphone in the standing upright position. Although this is slightly unusual, you'll naturally want to put the microphone up anyway. However, there doesn't seem to be a reason why the microphone couldn't have been able to swing around to the other side.
The A50 comes with a display stand with a dock for a transmitter and a built-in rechargeable Li-Ion Battery that lasts close to 12 hours and charges via mini-USB port to the transmitter. Like prior Astro transmitters, it has an auxiliary port for optional music from a PC or mobile phone. The transmitter can also be daisy-chained with other Astro transmitters so that multiple headsets can be used, though you'll want to stick with the A40s for general LAN gaming and voice chat.
To power the transmitter and activate voice chat, the A50 essentially trades a plug slot for a USB slot, which can be disappointing for those owning an older Xbox 360 model. It's already annoying for the Xbox 360 anyway, because of no fault of Astro, chatting requires a wire from the Xbox 360 controller to the a 2.5mm Xbox Live chat port on the headset—it defeats the entire purpose of the redesign. Let's hope the next Microsoft console isn't burdened with this ridiculous complication.
Priced at $299.99, the Astro A50 Headset is among the best accessories you can own for the Xbox 360, PS3, or PC based on sound quality alone. Though it doesn't have some of the fancier features like Bluetooth support or headset colors other than black, all of its newly redesigned features have its place and aren't included for the sake of inclusion. Better yet, Astro will be allowing users and developers to create and download their own equalizer settings, and will be launching its Battery Replacement and Tune-Up program for headsets outside of the optional one-year warranty. Suffice it to say, the Astro A50 Headset will be a part of my home entertainment for years to come.