Competition in the headset arena has gotten pretty fierce the past few years but, for many gamers, Astro is still the name they trust the most. However, while the company’s reputation for high-quality gear has earned it plenty of fans among PC and console players, folks who prefer to go mobile have been left out — after all, not everyone wants to wear a chonky headset while playing Fortnite on their phone or Animal Crossing on a Switch. In that spirit, Astro is stepping into the world of earbuds for the first time with its $50 A03 In-Ear Monitor.
The A03 IEM isn’t the first or only earbud set aimed at gamers, with both HyperX and Turtle Beach selling wired earbuds for console and mobile players. Astro is casting as wide a net as it can, touting the A03’s usefulness with phones, the Switch and even with PS4 or Xbox controllers. To achieve this wide-ranging compatibility, the A03 uses a 3.5mm plug. This isn’t particularly ideal if you’re using one of the many flagship device that have eschewed the headphone jack, forcing people like myself to go scrambling around for a dongle.
The in-ear monitors use a metal bullet-like form factor, so they’re sturdy and sleek, but also not very secure in your ear canal. I wore them while washing dishes only to have one fall completely out, so these won’t be very good for any kind of physical activity like jogging or even just a brisk walk. Let’s hope you aren’t prone to moving about wildly when you’re in the middle of a match.
As a pair of earbuds dedicated to gaming, Astro built the A03 slightly differently, packing two drivers into each ear: one for bass, and the other for mids and highs. In games like Fall Guys and Persona 5 the music was perfectly balanced, with the bass present but not overwhelming. However, the tangle-free cord generates a lot of noise when it brushes against something, which carries to your ears. All wired headphones have this to some degree, but it seemed louder than usual with the A03. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s still something to be aware of if, again, you’re moving around a lot.
The cord is, of course, packed with a built-in mic and in-line controls. The three-button control panel is made of plastic and feels a bit cheap not only in contrast to the aluminum ear pieces, but also in comparison to some of the plastic headsets I have on hand. It’s still perfectly serviceable, but it doesn’t feel as premium as it could.
And how it feels will matter, given that wired earbuds are becoming increasingly passé when true wireless sets are getting better and cheaper. Even Razer sells a pair for $100 that it claims has low latency for gaming. But still, Astro’s A03 IEM is a good first try for the company, offering high-quality game audio in a pocketable package. It’s available today in red or purple color schemes for $50.