The Best Budget Gaming Headset: The Astro A10 Revisited
Every so often I like to revisit my benchmark headphones to make sure I still like them, and to see how my thoughts on them have changed over time.
This time, it's arguably the best budget headset ever produced...the Astro A10. Here's my original review from last year.
In an endeavor to not just repeat the info from that older review, this new article will focus on what specifically makes this a great gaming product, and includes a brand new "loud room" mic test!
In my opinion, the four things a gaming headset needs most are long-wearing comfort, audio that's tuned right for gaming, durable build quality, and a great microphone. Hilariously, these are the four things that Astro talks about wanting to get right in the promo videos about the A10. Most headsets fail in at least one of these categories.
In fact, the most common failure in the market is the microphone quality...which is the VERY THING that separates a gaming headset from a standard pair of headphones.
The Astro A10 is a $60 closed-back gaming headset that's available in Blue, Green, and Red colors, and also a special Call of Duty-branded variant that's 10 bucks more. In spite of being branded for Xbox One, PS4, and PC...the actual headsets are identical outside of the color, so you can just get the one you like the look of.
When I first reviewed this, I had the green one...and now for the second look I've purchased the blue one. Nearly a year after its first launch, this is still the benchmark for quality cheap gaming audio.
No one else comes even close.
I think it's entirely possible for audio to be "tuned for gaming," something that ardent audiophiles will disagree with me on. For them, it's neutral neutral neutral all the time
But games and movies often have aggressive, fun mixes...and sometimes you want an aggressive fun pair of headphones to go with them. Sure, you could use EQ to change the tone of your neutral pair...but not every driver responds well to EQ, and not every end user is going to be skilled enough/want to spend the time to learn to properly tweak EQ settings.
And I don't think consumers should have to go through that.
The Astro A10 has a fun, aggressive sound that's perfect for gaming. It has powerful well-extneded bass, slightly shallow mids, and highs that are emphasized just right to bring out footstep noises and other details that help with competitive gaming.
It's a sound signature that seems really odd at first, especially if you're used to a little less sculpting, but your ears should adjust to them quickly.
Most impressively, they have a really wide soundstage. Like, Beyerdynamic DT770 wide. It feels like there's some kind of software trickery going on at times, even in stereo material. This makes the A10 a perfect match for virtual surround software, and also for gamers that appreciate a wide stereo image.
The midrange is a little hollow and the upper mids are a little shouty...but outside of that, I can't complain about the audio here. The bass is really fun and luxurious, without just stomping all over the rest of the sound. The highs are below the fatigue level.
Are they going to render your favorite music tracks with the perfect clarity of a tuned reference desktop speaker system or pair of studio headphones? Oh man, no, not at all. But they still sound great. It's like listening to your audio through a fun movie theater system.
Not all headphones need to be "perfect." The Astro A10's strengths are exactly right for a gaming product. And at 60 dollars, they crush all other comers and even hang with the more expensive options.
A note on amplification: They're a little less sensitive than other low-cost gaming headphones, but still get plenty loud out of my Xbox One controller. Just don't be surprised if you have to turn the volume up one notch compared to what you're used to.
Astro equipped the A10 with two big memory foam ear pads....and a teeny tiny headband pad that somehow defies all natural law and works just fine.
I don't know how they did this.
The memory foam in the ear pads is serious honest-to-goodness memory foam. It's not quite as squishy as the padding in the more-expensive A20 (which is Astro's best padding ever), but it's still great.
And now an anecdote about the padding!
Both pairs of these I've purchased have had totally crushed ear pads inside the box. The headset comes wrapped in a plastic bag, that's then shoved into a molded paperboard tray. For whatever reason, this packaging squishes the pads into a horrific shape even though it looks like it shouldn't.
It's distressing to open a box and see your new product squished into oblivion. However, that's where the memory foam comes in to save the day. With just a little massaging, the pads pop right back into shape. By day two, the rumpling that was evident in the velour pad covers was completely gone.
That's the power of memory foam. It's called "memory foam" because it constantly tries to return to whatever its original shape was.
I'm not the only one who's been struck by this pad- crushing packaging. If you look up unboxing videos on Youtube, you'll see this happens to nearly every pair of A10's. But fear not: they will easily pop back into shape. I'm not sure if Astro knew about this flaw and decided not to worry about it, or if it was just an unintended accident.
But it turns out not to be an issue.
So the ear pads are great and have magical healing properties...what about that tiny headband pad? Well it works. Somehow.
It's perfectly placed to take just the right amount of weight off of your head and keep these comfy for hours. You might get a little pain if you don't get it placed just so, so don't be afraid to tweak it around a bit.
The A10 is the most comically over-built budget headset ever designed. It looks like it's going to be light and cheap-feeling...and then you pick it up and it feels more dense than most other gaming headsets at any price point.
The A10 has a pleasant, hefty feel in the hands that exudes premium build and durability. I've seen other reviews that slam the A10 for their build quality, and I have no idea what those people are talking about.
The headband is a solid piece of aluminum surrounded in a thick rubberized polycarbonate blend. It feels tough, thick, and impressive.
The ear cups don't feel thin or cheap. The headband adjustments are metal reinforced and tremendously well-damped, with a smooth sliding action that feels better than any other budget headset. The titling mechanisms are slightly prone to developing a creak over time, but that's just due to the tightness of the build and not any sort of flaw.
I can't complain at all about the build of this headset. If this headset were twice the price, I'd still be totally happy with how it's built.
The design won't be to everyone's taste, but I like it. The ear cups are the trademark angular Astro shape. The branding is minimal, with light color accents and a mostly-matte finish. The profile of the headset was designed to fit around VR headsets and eye wear, so it sticks out a little further from the head than other regular headphones, but I don't think it's so silly or so angular that you couldn't wear it in public.
You can't detach the microphone, but it's flexible enough that you can tuck it into the side of the frame and it doesn't look to obnoxious. It's one of the only non-detachable mics that I don't feel daft wearing in front of people.
The bottom of the microphone boom contains the only hint of this being a budget product: this little plastic nub that's a result of how they mold the parts.
I think these have a better build than almost every other gaming headset. They're a cheap little tank with lots of nice touches, really good foam, and a great headband.
Oh, and the cable is detachable. That's a feature you usually have to pay at least $100 for, for some reason.
The microphone is the true star of the Astro A10. It's one of the better gaming headset microphones I've ever used.
In my "normal job," I record a lot of audio...and the mic on the A10 performs well enough that I'd happily recommend it for podcasters, streamers, and anyone that just wants a really good-sounding mic. It has a natural tone, and it has background noise cancellation that's essentially on par with the Arctis 3.
This should be the bar for gaming headset microphones at any price point, rather than a weird exception. Some day I'll have to make a list of good mics vs mediocre ones in the gaming space...and the mediocre list will be much longer.
The only downside to the A10 mic is that it's a little over-sensitive to position...but the boom is so flexible that you shouldn't have trouble finding the perfect spot.
Here's my new loud room mic test, recorded in a packed coffee shop with background music and coffee machines and grinders going full speed. I recorded this straight into my MacBook with no additional processing outside of the high bitrate MP3 encode needed to make it work on my web site's platform. I'll be doing loud room mic tests in every gaming headset review going forward!
For the same price as a new game, the Astro A10 offers a well-built gaming headset with a fun sound and a wonderful microphone. And it even comes in three colors. And has a detachable cable.
You can't ask for any more than that. Well, I mean, you could ask for it to be wireless...but then they'd probably be losing money at this price. No one has broken through the $99 price point in a decent wireless headset yet, and I imagine we won't see that until technology has marched on for a few more years.
In the meantime, if you can deal with the wire, the A10 gets you amazing performance and build for an affordable price. It's the benchmark I measure all other headsets against.