Astro A50s – Battlefield 4 edition

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Astro A50s – Battlefield 4 edition
Astro A50s – Battlefield 4 edition

I’ve had the wired equivalent, the A40s, since fall of 2011.  A bit pricey (the MLG edition at the time went for around $280, if memory serves), but the level of build and audio quality of the set is fantastic, and continue to be two years later.  I decided to get the wired pair and skip out on the A50s because I just didn’t “trust” that there wouldn’t be some interference or inconsistencies with the audio.  So, getting the opportunity to review this package offers the extended comparison I’ve wanted for a while.

Unboxing was quite the simple task, with a sliding “sleeve” covering a two-fold design.  The first “level” has the well protected headset with the patented Mixamp Tx resting in the middle.  Lifting that encasing accesses the rest of the contents: quick-step guide, two USB charge cables, a 1 meter optical audio cable, an Xbox LIVE chat cable, a display stand, and a code for in-game BF4 Astro dog tags.  The headset generally follows the usual A40/A50 mold: a plastic arch head rest with a comfy cushioned center, two “side bars” fashioned from metal, and over-the-ear cups that support Dolby Digital 7.1 sound.  The biggest fundamental difference in design from the 40s and 50s is the mic construction.  The one for the wired set can be hooked up on either side, with in-line mute controls.  The 50s fix the mic to the left cup, and is muted by turning the boom in the full “upward” position.  I had my hesitation about the flip up and down design; didn’t think I would grow accustom to it from years of the other philosophy.  That was until the other day, when I was using my 40s and could not figure out why no one in my LIVE party could hear me speak.  Chat cable?  Check.  Mixamp powered up?  Check.  I even tried other headsets with the Mixamp and all was good.  WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON????????  Oh yeah, I forgot to unmute the QD (Quick Disconnect) controls.  Even with just a few days testing, I had become completely dependent on just flipping the mic down on the 50s, eradicating years of learned behavior.

The “look” of this set is really attractive.  The standard black motif is used here, but the trim color is switched from red to “true” orange with “Battlefield” adorning the right and left sides.  Maybe the most impressive design aspect, considering the wireless functionality, is the weight of them.  Barely tilting the scale at under a pound (.81 lbs.) is crazy when factoring in the lithium-ion battery.  These did feel a bit more “snug” to wear compared to the 40s, but I think that has more to do with that whole subconscious “comfort” level.  Cord-less ergonomics give visions of them just flying off one’s head during a quick head turn, particularly so with them weighing almost nothing.  Even during rage fueled FPS tirades, there wasn’t any jostling of their position.  Additionally, the online manual claims it can complete the Kessel Run in under 12 Parsecs, placing the set on par with the Millennium Falcon.  The Mixamp is also rather “trimmed down.”  The Tx model doesn’t have the audio control duties that the original Amp does, so the design is much simpler.  The front offers two buttons: power/sync and Dolby Digital on/off.  In the back are all of the necessary ports: USB power in, USB power out, optical audio in, optical audio out, and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack (for .mp3 players and cell phones).  Perhaps the coolest part is that optical out port.  This affords the ability to hook the Amp up seamlessly with a home theater system that uses optical to pump out the digital surround signal.  So the nightly cable shuffle becomes a thing of the past.  Very cool.

One hallmark of Astro products is simplicity.  An even amongst the most technical of audio delivery, the Battlefield 4 A50s employ this sentiment.  The set does not come charged, so you will have to allow the five hour 0%-100% charge process to occur.  The prescribed way to make this happen is to utilize some device with USB, plug a USB into the power port on the Tx, then run a USB from the power out slot to feed the charge to the headset.  For 360 owners, conveniently the Xbox’s USB in the back is “on” even with the machine itself powered off.  Once the waiting game ends, the set affords solidly eight hours of “drive time.”  Now, it’s time to sync.  Holding down the power button on both the Tx and the ‘phones makes the lights blink white.  When they are solid white for three seconds, then return to the normal red, the process is complete.  It took me a few tries initially, but that was probably more operator error than anything.  And to this point (six test days), the sync is still cached, even through power cycles.  The Tx allows for three additional sets to be synced simultaneously, but only the first in line gets chat functionality.

The “magic trick” of the A50s is of course them receiving and sending signals wirelessly (with only Xbox 360 mic input creating the need for cords attached to the headset).  Astro uses a solution called KleerNet, developed by a company named SMSC.  The tech rides the 5.8GHz wave, putting it on a “higher end” of the personal wireless audio spectrum.  Latency tests place the signal at less than 20ms, good enough for Dolby certification (according to this webpage).  On paper, that’s all fine and good.  But how does all that jargon equate to practical use?  Incredibly well.  First,  there hasn’t been an instance where the ‘phones lost signal from the Amp.  Even up to roughly 20 ft., the return was strong.  Second, I didn’t get the sense that I was “loosing” any information over the “air,” so to speak.  Through all the different things I tried, it all was just as rich and solid as it is with the wired A40s.

To extend the value of this rather pricey accessory, the 50s feature three pre-set EQ settings: one for “Media” like music and movies, the second selection tuned to accompany the “single player” gaming environment, and the last, listed as “Pro,” for competitive online play.  Again, I was skeptical to this as well, and again those worries were laid to rest.  A bass boost for Media is the real deal, and would rival any other premium headset that prides its audio on crushing low tones.  The Core mode sets all the levels even, allowing the engineered sound straight from the game to come through as intended.  Pro heightens the higher frequencies while avoiding that dreaded “tinny” sound.  Shooters show Pro off quite well, where the sounds of fired rounds and footsteps ride above the loud bangs of explosions and crashes.  The little selector switch is located at the rear of the right cup, just up from the main volume wheel.  This side also houses the game/chat volume level-er.  The outside of the cup acts as a rocker.  Tapping or holding it forward adds more game sounds, and pushing it back favors the voices of your fellow gamers.  The ‘phones have “beeps” that let you know when either has 100% and when it’s a 50-50 split.

So let’s get to the nitty-gritty.  How do they sound?  I’ll save the phrase perfect, because nothing is perfect.  But that’s really the closest applicable descriptor.  The soundtrack to The Last of Us, oddly enough, was the first thing I listened to.  The Tx and A50s blended the elements of each track phenomenally well, not letting anything overpower something else.  Then, to test the “Core” mode, I played Arkham City.  That, too, was awesome.  The eeriness of the game’s music shined through amongst the chorus of inmate chatter, fist smacks, and Mark Hamill’s sterling VO work.  Keeping with the Cape Crusader theme, my movie test was The Dark Knight Rises.  When I shifted into Media for this portion, the “center speaker” sound came through astoundingly well and didn’t seem “quiet” like it can in other “stereo” scenarios.  This validates the 7.1 advert.  The most pleasant surprise was that great bass I brought up earlier.  The scene where Bruce seems “cornered” by Gotham police after chasing down the League of Shadows following their raid on the stock market was the best exercise.  When the Bat Wing cranks up and hovers over their brigade of interceptors, it put out so much low tone force that the 50s tickled my ears and upper jaw.  All this, though, without distortion.  The only complaint I have about the audio quality of my 40s is that sometimes those heavy low moment create instances of “harshness,” to suggest the speakers can’t quite handle those levels.  The two years between the ’11 edition A40s and this years’ A50s have fixed that.  Great, great work.  I might meet some scorn for my next statement, but in the spirit of Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?”  The best sounding shooter on a pair of Astros is HaloHalo 4 sounds just as good on these as my 40s.  Better, even, with the advent of the Pro EQ setting.