If there’s one piece of gaming kit that I’m willing to drop stacks of cash on, it’s a quality headset. I’m no audiophile, but sound quality in games and music is still incredibly important to me…perhaps due to my background in music and radio.
While I have no issues using a cheap set of Skullcandy earbuds while out and about, when I’m sitting at home putting my full focus into a game, I definitely want some quality speakers pumping out the sound to get me immersed. I’ve spent more than I probably should to get a decent surround sound setup going for my television, and for my PC, my SteelSeries Arctis Pro headset is probably the most expensive peripheral attached to it.
What I am still looking for, however, is a quality set of wireless headphones. Sure, nothing really compares to a wired setup for pure sound quality, but wireless is incredibly convenient. The ability to get up and move around my apartment while still hearing audio, being able to play in VR without an extra cord…I can sacrifice a bit of sound fidelity for that.
Along comes Astro with an update to one of their “classic” headsets, the wireless A20. After putting it to use in console and PC situations, the question is: is this the quality wireless headset I’ve been looking for, or just another headset to be disappointed by?
From Many Angles
I’ve mentioned in the past (a few times, actually) that I prefer to have more subdued gaming peripherals. I’m not all that into the RGB craze, or the weird angular designs of so many “gaming” products. Hell, the SteelSeries headset I use right now is just a simple black headset, with a ring of color on the earcups for a little dash of flash.
While Astro’s A20 Gen 2 isn’t what I’d call gaudy, its design is still definitely made to stand out. The bright white frame and either blue or green accents (depending on whether you pick up the PlayStation or Xbox version) aren’t easy to ignore.
The design here is also noticeably angular, with the headband jutting out as a hard rectangle rather than contouring the the crown of my head. I imagine this wouldn’t be as noticeable on someone with hair, but on my shiny bald scalp, it stands out like a sore thumb.
However, looks aren’t everything, and I am very much about function over form. While the A20 Gen 2 looks odd on my head, it is shockingly comfortable. The pads on the earcups are incredibly soft, but not so much so that they sacrifice structure. The padding on the headband is rubberized, but also surprisingly soft. It gets a bit cold after sitting around not in use during this chilly autumn weather, though. The headband padding was giving me a quick thermal shock the first time I put the A20 on each day.
The comfort of the padding, along with how shockingly light the headset is overall, made the A20 Gen 2 a headset that I could easily forget I was wearing…which, really, is one of the best things I can say about a headset. I’d often find myself sitting at my PC for a few hours with the headset on, not even playing any audio – something I can’t even say about my daily driver SteelSeries set.
Pump Up the Volume
Enough about looks, though – how does the set actually sound?
We received the PlayStation version of the A20 Gen 2 to test on both PS4 and PC. One thing we have to note: the main feature of this Gen 2 version of the A20 is its compatibility with multiple consoles. Both respective versions are compatible with next gen consoles – PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S – and can also work cross-console family with a special adapter dongle Astro is selling. We did not receive one of these dongles, so we were unable to test the cross-compatibility functionality.
On the PlayStation 4, my usage of headsets is limited. I don’t often play online multiplayer games, and most games I play are handled well aurally with my surround sound speaker setup. However, there’s one usage case where I break out headphones: rhythm games.
I’ve been seeking the best set of headphones to use with my current rhythm addiction, Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone. Specifically, a set to use with the Gamo2/DJ-DAO Divaller controller, an excellent arcade replica controller that also happens to feature really loud buttons.
Initially, the A20 Gen 2 in this use case worked well. Wireless meant I didn’t have a wire running between me and the controller that I could accidentally hit. The sound quality was excellent – the audio balancing of this headset doesn’t seems to trend toward treble or bass, letting the full spectrum of each song I played shine through. Also, to my surprise, I didn’t get any audio lag using this wireless set.
Unfortunately, this headset doesn’t do a great job at blocking out outside noise. I could hear every strike of my controller as I played, even louder than the music being pumped through the headset. The max volume on the set seems limited as well – even with the volume set to max on both the headset and PS4 software, I couldn’t drown out outside noise.
In games where I didn’t have to worry about noise, though, the A20 Gen 2 was more acceptable. I hooked it up for a few hours of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and immersed myself into the soundscapes of Kamurocho and Ijincho quite easily. Music and dialogue were well balanced and clear, and removing the slight audio lag my surround sound system introduces made using audio cues to dodge and guard in battles much easier.
Moving the set over to PC was easy enough – just plug in the set’s USB dongle into my PC and press a button to switch it to PC mode. I found it odd the dongle didn’t just automatically detect if it was plugged into a PlayStation system or PC, but a quick button press to get it going is no big deal.
Again, on PC, I was impressed with the audio quality of the A20 Gen 2. Audio was still well balanced, across music, YouTube videos, and gaming. I had some issues with audio lag when attempting to play DJMax Respect V, but that seems isolated to that specific game; no other rhythm games I loaded up had audio lag in this headset.
PC usage is where I did my testing of the headset’s boom mic as well. It’s pretty commonly accepted that headset microphones just can’t live up to the quality of a dedicated microphone – it’s just really difficult to fit quality microphone pickups into a tiny headset boom housing.
I currently use the HyperX QuadCast USB microphone as my daily driver, and it’s no contest – the A20 Gen 2’s mic quality doesn’t compare. Joining my FFXIV raid group on Discord with this headset, everyone else immediately commented on the drop in sound quality coming from my mic, as did a number of other friends during casual chats.
However, this doesn’t mean the boom mic on the A20 Gen 2 is unusable. Quality is enough that my voice was clear and understandable to those listening to me, even if they couldn’t pick out all the beautiful nuances of my sultry voice. I had no issues making mechanics calls with my raid group, where others being able to hear me clearly really matters.
Overall, the boom mic on this headset is…passable. I’m not going be switching away from using a dedicated microphone anytime soon, even if being wireless is convenient.
I have to say, I’m relatively impressed with the Astro A20 Gen 2. I had been burned on Astro in the past, with a number of connection issues with their premium A50 headset. Hell, it was the issues with that headset that let me to my current SteelSeries Arctis Pro. I entered this review cautiously hopeful, and I can say Astro redeemed themselves in my mind with this release.
However, when it comes to headsets, I really have to consider bang for the buck. The A20 Gen 2 is currently selling for around $120, and for that price you’re getting surprisingly good audio fidelity and wireless functionality, as well as comfort.
What you’re not receiving is any kind of isolation functionality; outside sound bleed is an issue here. Apparent volume limiting was a personal issue here as well. The boom mic is passable, but nothing noteworthy. Multi-system compatibility is a nice addition, but requires an extra purchase to put to use.
If you’re looking for a headset to use only with consoles, this release from Astro is worth consideration. For a wireless headset in the low-$100’s price range, the fidelity here is shockingly good. If you’re looking for a wider use case, particularly PC usage, I’d suggest saving up your money for a more premium offering.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Featured image courtesy of Astro Gaming. Other images taken by reviewer.