< Astro A50 Halo Headset Review

I’ve always been disappointed with gaming headsets. The price tags are usually high, and the sound quality is usually average at best. I think if you want excellent sound for your games and movies, you need to shell out for a 5.1 speaker setup and get your room acoustically padded.

Despite its looks and excellent build quality, I’m sorry to say that the Astro A50 Headset for XBox One hasn’t quite changed my mind. It’s the most money I’ve ever spent on a gaming headset, and the sound these cans deliver is… eh, OK if I’m being generous.

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The speakers in these headphones don’t sound anywhere near $400+ worth. Audio generally sounds foggy and distant. Turning up the volume to get “closer” just makes things overbearing. There’s plenty of bass and body to the sound, but it’s very loose and poorly defined. The bass resonates much too high up as well, producing a big hump in the mid bass that’s borderline irritating. The mids is where these headphones shine the most — there’s a pleasing amount of emotion and depth despite a few shrill harmonics. Listening to some slow sensitive Jazz I was actually quite pleased and found myself listening to more than I planned. Moving further up, the whole mid to high treble range is very weak, leaving a lot of clarity to be desired. Not at all helpful when you want to feel the world you’re in and be aware of everything in it.

Oddly there’s something I enjoy about listening to music with these. The sound although flawed is deep and fat — it has an almost analog character to it that I find intriguing and nostalgic. If Astro was shooting for immersion here, they actually did very well despite the flaws. Digitally mastered music usually sounds flat and sterile, but significantly less so through these headphones. It’s kind of bizarre.

I’m an audiophile. I love sound, and to be fair I’ve heard much worse than this. If you want decent sound with plenty of bass, you’ll get it here with a surprisingly open mid range. But that bass is often a mess, and the top end is almost nowhere to be heard. To me, it sounds like I’m at a concert with plugs in my ears. Ordinarily that’s enough for a gaming session with friends, but at $450 Australian dollars? I’m not nearly as impressed as I should be. I’ve spent similar figures on good AKG’s and Ultrasone’s.

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Forget about the Dolby Surround Mode. It seems to do nothing but add a large room reverb to give the illusion of space. It can be an almost pleasing experience when listening to music, and some instruments do take on a certain presence in front of you, but for localising sounds in games it’s a total gimmick. The mode also sucks away quite a bit of detail and texture as if the speakers aren’t lacking in that department enough already. If you want to experience surround sound, let me tell you this isn’t even close. Best to play with this mode turned off.

The two EQ modes just seem to dip the middle, increasing perceived bass and treble. But that hump in the mid bass is untouched, sounding even worse when the middle is pulled down. I can’t recommend either of these modes.

Sound takes a fraction of a second to reach the headphones from the transmitter. When outputting sound to both my speakers and the headset, there’s a very noticeable delay between the two. Not a huge issue, but something worth noting. I can imagine this increasing perceived input lag for sensitive players.

When listening to a recording of myself speaking into the mic, I sound like I’m coming through an amateur radio. The frequency range is very limited, and the audio is riddled with distortion and crackling. What on Earth were they thinking putting this mic in a $400+ headset? I could buy a better microphone from Jaycar for $20. Or better yet, I could just mount my Kinect to a boom stand near my chair.

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The thumbs up I give this headset are for looks, comfort and build quality. I’ve liked Halo since its debut on the first XBox, and the look and feel of the A50 Halo edition is fantastic. The matte green chassis, 117 tags on the sides, golden adjustment rods and black honeycomb shells will tantalise even the most diehard Halo fans.

Buttons are simple and very easy to use while wearing. I especially like the huge button on the right headphone for balancing game audio with voice. Wonderfully ergonomic.

The display stand is a damn nice addition. It proudly hangs the headset in mid-air and also houses the transmitter in the base. The stand put up a fight when I tried to assemble it — I had to apply so much force in clipping the plastics together that I was convinced they were going to snap.

The headset is also supremely comfortable to wear. The ear cups are large and padded enough that I can wear them with my glasses on without any issues or discomfort. Build quality is superb — the whole headset is solid and very weighty. It demands your care and respect the moment you pick it up. Usually these things are light and creaky, but here you feel like you’re holding a fine instrument.

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It’s a real shame. I hate knocking this package because for the most part it is outstanding, but in its most critical department I think the asking price is ridiculous. If Astro put as much of their budget into sound quality as they did into look and feel, this headset would be worth every dollar of its massive price tag. As is, I think it’s worth half at the most. If you’re looking for sound and voice quality, you might want to strike this one from your list.