Astro Gaming USB TX Preview/ A50 Review
Astro Gaming recently revealed the USB TX, which serves as a simplified solution for wirelessly connecting the company’s A50 wireless headset to a PC. Utilizing Advanced Kleernet 5.8 Ghz technology, this minuscule device completely eliminates the need for the standard TX receiver, while allowing gamers to take advantage of Dolby 7.1 Digital sound – even up to 15 meters away.
The A50’s normal base receiver is relatively small, but creates some wire clutter with the optical and USB wires that need to be plugged into it. The USB TX is a tiny plug-and-play device that allows the same functionality as the standard receiver, including voice chat, in-game audio, sound profiles, and 7.1 surround sound, while maintaining an impressive 15 meter wireless range. The USB TX is currently exclusive to Windows PC, but will eventually be available for Mac. Currently being offered at a $40 price point for the beta version, the USB TX will be $50 upon release of the final retail unit (the beta version can be traded in towards the retail version or Astro store credit).
If you’re wondering why you would want to purchase another receiver for the PC when the Astro A50 already works with it, the answer is convenience. It’s almost the size of a USB flash drive, but it has a tiny wire attached for some unknown reason. This could be so that the USB TX’s width doesn’t block neighboring USB ports on a laptop with a compact design. The A50’s headset controls allow the same functionality one would get from the standard MixAmp. On the bottom of the USB TX is a pairing button, which I had to utilize quite often as the A50 headset would often get confused when going back and forth between console and PC gaming. It’s a simple process though – simply hold down the pairing button until the Astro logo flashes on the USB TX, and then hold down the power button on the Astro A50 until its light turns white. As far as design, the USB TX is stylish, with a matte black finish and extremely angular design, along with an illuminated Astro logo. It certainly doesn’t look like a beta product, but I’m told that the USB TX will see more drastic changes in its final retail form than the A38 Wireless Headset did.
As soon as you plug the USB TX in, it’s ready to go, but you’ll need to install a driver from Astro’s site if you want the 7.1 surround sound functionality to work. And you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the surround sound, as it is a definite ace in the hole when competing in online multiplayer or other frantic, fast-paced gaming sessions that require twitch reflexes. The directional sound feedback really helps with understanding enemy positions (through footsteps, gunfire, etc.) as well as adding hugely to a game’s atmosphere – things like wind, background chatter, ocean waves and more feel much more realistic. Things sound like they’re actually behind and in front of you, as opposed to just to your right or left. Even music sounds great with the USB TX and A50 headset – I kept it on the flat EQ for this purpose, though.
One thing I would have liked to see is customizable sound profiles via the USB TX driver application, which currently just allows you to switch 7.1 surround sound on or off. Also, I found the beeping noise for “max loudness level” or “auto-shutoff” extremely loud and annoying. If you’re wearing the A50s and no audio is coming through your PC for a few minutes, you’ll be met with this awful sound. Another thing that I hope is improved on for the final release is the packaging. While the clamshell case works fine for this device, it is very difficult to get the USB TX back in its case without bending the wire in a way that concerns me. I was also a bit surprised to not see a smaller zip-up case, similar to the one packed with the A38, which would improve the device’s portability while keeping it protected.
I tested the USB TX with the standard Astro A50 headset, and the sound quality of both the wireless technology and the headset speakers is very impressive. At roughly $300 US, the Astro A50 works on all consoles as well as PC. The Astro A50s sounded absolutely fantastic on every game, movie and TV show I threw at them. This headset sports balanced, accurate sound and tight bass – a sufficient amount that’s not overbearing, with variable EQ settings. The A50 features a frequency range of 20Hz to 20 kHz, which is quite impressive.
The Astro A50s are in essence a combination of Astro’s mixamp and the A40 wireless systems in one streamlined package. There’s a display stand, a flip-up mute functionality on the microphone, EQ modes, a volume wheel, a game/ voice balance function, as well as a 7.1 on/off button on the mixamp. You set the A50s up by plugging your PC or console’s optical cable into the back of the transmitter. The receiver is powered by a USB connection that works on all consoles and PC, which then wirelessly transmits the audio to the headset. On Xbox 360, players will have to use an included cable from the headset to the controller, but other consoles and PC can simply hook up via USB and select the device from the settings menu. A USB out on the headphones allows them to be charged when not in use. As I mentioned before, if you have the USB TX, there’s no need to use the standard TX receiver on PC.
The Astro A50s feature a closed-back design, which seals in the audio, preventing leakage. This is especially important for those playing loud games like Destiny at night while people are trying to sleep – explosions and chaotic gunfire will be restricted to your ears only. Similarly, the microphone works very well and picks up your voice even when speaking softly – also great for late-night gaming sessions. The headphones themselves are well-designed, with a bold, sleek look that’s definitely eye-catching. The only real fault I could find is that the headset is not technically wireless on Xbox 360, since the mic cable has to be connected to the controller for chat. Also, while the headset is pretty comfortable for most gaming sessions, it began to hurt my ears a bit after more than an hour of so of playing.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my time with the Astro USB TX, and found it to be a great, simple solution for using the fantastic Astro A50 with a PC (especially my laptop). The device’s advanced Kleernet 5.8 Ghz technology and full 7.1 Dolby Digital surround sound support makes for one hell of an awesome, convenient listening experience, whether you’re playing a game, watching a movie or blasting music. It uses less power than the standard TX receiver, while retaining all of its features and losing the optical connection. If you own a pair of Astro A50’s, the USB TX is a no-brainer purchase. You get enhanced portability in a power-saving design, with no noticeable sound compromises. If not, the Astro A50 is definitely a worthwhile investment for those looking for top quality in a wireless gaming headset. If you’re interested in checking out the USB TX beta for yourself, check out Astro’s website.