Clear, powerful, well-sculpted sound. Comfortable fit.
Slight hissing when the microphone is lowered. No in-headset surround processing.
- Bottom Line
Astro's least expensive wireless model, the A20, is a well-designed and comfortable gaming headset that delivers solid sound quality.
Astro Gaming is known for expensive, high-end gaming headsets, which is why it surprised us earlier this year with the A10. At $60 it was by far the most affordable Astro headset yet, and still managed to offer excellent performance. Astro has taken the premise of the A10 and gone wireless, in the form of the $149.99 A20. Just like the A10 was a scaled-back, less expensive version of the wired A40, the A20 wireless headset is a scaled-back version of the Editors' Choice A50. It isn't quite as premium in feel or sound, but it only costs half the price.
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The A20 headset is a new design that's chunkier than the wired A10, but without the metal frame of the A50. It's a blocky, gray plastic headset with a stark U-shape design and a few trace color accents (green for Xbox One and blue for PS4 versions; we reviewed the Xbox version). The earcups are big and rectangular, and connect to the headband on a flat, straight strut that slides up and down to adjust for size. The headband curves sharply into a nearly flat arc, which gives the headset an almost imposing, uncomfortable look.
Fortunately, that look is deceiving. The harsh angle of the headband is designed to work with the thick, felt-covered padding of the earpads and the dense, rubber-covered padding of the underside of the headband to reduce pressure on the sides of the head. The result is a fit that's quite snug but comfortable, and very stable.
The left earcup holds the boom microphone, a flexible rubber arm with a plastic, mic-equipped head identical to the boom on the A10. The headset automatically mutes the mic when you flip the boom upward. The right earcup holds all the controls and a micro USB port for charging the headset. A volume wheel sits on the lower back corner of the right earcup, with Power and EQ buttons resting higher on the back edge. The wheel is flanked by Game and Voice buttons, which let you adjust the headset's audio mix between game and voice chat sources.
Transmitter and Connections
The transmitter is a black, trapezoidal box measuring 0.8 by 3.8 by 2.4 inches (HWD). A single LED on the top front edge lets you know the status of the headset, though there are no other indicators to give you more specific information than whether it's in Xbox or PC mode (green or white), and if it's currently pairing (flashing). The back of the transmitter holds a micro USB port for connecting to a PC or Xbox One, an optical audio input, a USB port for charging the headset, and a console/PC mode switch. There's no convenient stand or contact points for charging without a cable, as you get on the A50 with its base station transmitter.
Like the switch on the transmitter indicates, the Xbox One version of the A20 can work with the Xbox One or a PC, and the PS4 version can work with a PlayStation 4 or a PC (though the console-specific versions can't work with the opposite console). When connected to a PC, everything goes through the USB port and the optical audio input isn't necessary. Connecting the A20 transmitter to an Xbox requires connecting both the USB and optical cables to their respective ports on the system. A short and a long USB-to-micro-USB cable are included, along with an optical audio cable. That's all you need for hooking up the A20; no wired connection from the headset is needed for use with the Xbox One.
Since the boom mic on the A20 is identical to the one on the A10, it's every bit as capable at capturing sound. Voice clips I recorded came through clearly, though a slight amount of background noise was also picked up using the default Streaming microphone profile. Unfortunately, the mic also produced a slight hiss in testing, even when I wasn't actively recording or communicating. This isn't something you're going to notice when you're actively playing a game and communicating with your party, and you can fix the hiss simply by flipping the mic up to mute it, but it can be distracting if you like having the boom down but you aren't always using it.
The free Astro Command software on PC lets you set the mic to one of four noise gate profiles, adjusting how much outside sound it tries to cut off. After you upload the settings to the headset, they persist when connected to an Xbox One. While this can help improve the microphone's performance under certain circumstances, it doesn't address the hiss.
The A20 is very capable at handling music, with a bass-heavy audio profile typical of gaming headsets. The EQ button switches between a relatively flat-with-high-frequency-sculpting Astro profile, a Pro profile that emphasizes lows and high-mids for gaming, and a Studio profile that boosts the lows and highs for generally the best musical response. You can also make your own audio profile with a five-band EQ using the Astro Command software and assign them to one of the three EQ slots on the headset, overwriting the defaults (which can easily be restored if you don't like your custom profile).
At maximum volume, the A20 played our bass test track, The Knife's "Silent Shout," with appreciable low-end rumble and no distortion. It doesn't reach quite the insane levels of bass as the more expensive A50, but it still fares very well for a gaming headset. The Real Mackenzies' "Chip" shows off the sculpted highs and lows of the sound sculpting, giving the bass drum some solid thump while keeping the bagpipes, guitar, and vocals front and center in the mix. Yes' "Roundabout" shows similar sculpting, giving the slap bass some solid low-end presence while retaining the texture of the strings and other higher-frequency elements of the mix. The midrange response definitely dips compared with the more extreme frequencies, but it's a common trait with gaming headsets, and the Studio profile helps make the most of it.
The A20 doesn't use any simulated surround tricks on its own, presenting a stereo sound field that works well for gaming headsets; any simulated surround comes from the source device, like Dolby Atmos or Windows Sonic on the Xbox One. In-headset simulated surround sound is available on the Steelseries Arctis 7, another wireless headset that shares the A20's price tag and has similar fit and performance, though it lacks an Xbox One version.
Regardless of acoustic tricks, the A20 puts out a powerful, satisfying sound field for games. The whine of engines in Forza Motorsport 7 sounds energetic, and the muffled rumble of wheels thumping across rough road off the track gets plenty of imposing low-frequency power.
Gears of War 4 shows off the A20's strengths, with gunfire and explosions that sound powerful and distinct on the headset. Shotguns and grenades have appreciable low-end rumble even without reaching head-rattling sub-bass levels, and the sculpted high-end adds clarity and punch to every gun's report, making sure it punches through the audio mix when it needs to. Even without simulated surround, the panning of the stereo channels combined with the response of the higher frequencies gives a very good sense of direction when moving the camera, letting you know where the action is.
Like the A10, the Astro Gaming A20 shows off what a gaming headset company known for high-end products can do when it decides to make a more affordable model. The A20 isn't nearly as plush or as solid as the metal A50, and doesn't have as much low-end power, but at half the price it still offers excellent sound. It's directly comparable with the Editors' Choice Steelseries Arctis 7 wireless headset, though it lacks the Arctis' customizable options and 7.1-channel simulated surround sound, and has a minor microphone hiss problem. The A20 is still an excellent choice, especially for Astro fans whose budget falls short of the A50, but at $150 it faces a large pool of competition.
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By Will Greenwald Senior Analyst, Consumer Electronics
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert, reviewing TVs, media hubs, speakers, headphones, and gaming accessories. Will is also an ISF Level II-certified TV calibrator, which ensures the thoroughness and accuracy of all PCMag TV reviews…. More »
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