Astro has been a big name in gaming headsets for years, generally catering to the needs of professional gamers. Working on transitioning from competitions to living rooms, Astro is starting to work their way into retailers. The newest entry to this line is dubbed the A50; I demoed a set while talking to Aron Drayer, Marketing Director for Astro. “Gaming, for me, has always been a part of life, and I think it’s that way for everybody else now, too,” he said. Working to break the stereotypes that many people have about gaming, Astro is aiming brand itself akin to Burton snowboards or Nike, a brand that goes past just the hardware being used. To do that, they’ll have to make their way into homes with some quality hardware. With an MSRP of $299.99, the A50s are an attempt to take technology from the pro circuit and bring it into the living room.
“This product is about taking everything we’ve learned in the last five years in the pro gaming space and bringing it home for people to enjoy,” Aron says. Astro is well-known for its 7.1 mixamp, which can be used to bring surround-sound quality sound to any of their other headsets. The A50s take mixamp technology and store it directly in the headset. “We took the A40 silhouette,” he said while holding up the A50, “essentially took this (mixamp) here, jammed it into one ear, took a 5.8 Ghz wireless transmitter and jammed it into this ear here…we feel this is the most complicated wireless headset on the planet, gaming or otherwise.” But regardless of how complicated the headset is on the inside, the outside looks simple in comparison.
With a small number of buttons and switches compared to other headsets, the A50 shoots for efficiency in its layout and design. “To me, the ultimate failing of a wireless headset is when it has to be taken off of your head to be used,” Aron said. “You can run this in a million different ways, but the interface is clean and streamlined.” Instead of having tons of different audio settings, the headset integrates the mixamp into a switch with only 3 different audio switch settings. Calling the switch positions “Astro audio modes,” the headset comes with 3 positions, one for pro gaming, one for Dolby surround sound, and one for movies and music. They also have plans to release software by the end of the year to customize those audio settings, allowing you to have custom profiles for individual games or gaming environments.
The internal technology of the A50 headset is some of the newest on the market. The A50s are the first headset to use 5.8 Ghz Kleernet wireless technology, allowing you to effortlessly pair the headset with any other device using that same tech without any additional adapters or other hardware. Some models of HP laptops are already being made with Kleernet; there are also plans it into TVs and other new devices. Kleernet can pair up to 4 headsets with one transmitter, each headset having its own chat stream (PS3 will only be able to run two headsets with one transmitter). They’ve also refined the earcups to keep more of the sound in, allowing you to crank up the volume without disturbing the people nearby. All of this translates to great potential for Astro, but it wouldn’t mean much if the headset didn’t sound good during play. I put on the headset and listened while Aron took on some terrorists in Modern Warfare 2.
The time that I got with the A50s was impressive. I cycled through the three audio settings, and though they were all crystal-clear, each of them seemed to be strikingly different and very functional. This was a big change from the 12 settings I’ve used on the headset I have at home, many of which feel pretty useless on a regular basis. The bass was receptive and rumbled well, but didn’t drown out the voices or treble effects. Also, even though there were plenty of wireless devices in the area, cell phones and the like, the A50 headset didn’t relay any interference. Not only did the A50s have no interference, but they also seemed to have no lag, two of the largest downfalls of most wireless headsets. They felt light and easy on the ears, and I feel like I could have worn them for a couple hours with little fatigue. Overall, the A50s put on a fantastic performance.
Astro is already working on transitioning its entire line into Best Buy stores. When the A50 headset launches it will initially only be available on the Astro website, though plans are to have the headset available at both Best Buy and GameStop in the fall. Companies like Turtle Beach and Tritton have been in the home headset market for a while, but Astro’s looking to take a pretty dominant share of the market with technology like that in the A50. The Astro A40s were the second best-selling headset over $100 last year even though they were only available on the Astro website, so they’re really expecting to take over more of the market when they enter into gaming retail space. “There’s a demand for high-quality headsets, not toys,” Aron closed. At $299.99, the A50s aim to bring gamers a truly wireless headset with premium audio and great design.