It’s Saturday, and it’s time for the headphone showdown!
The new growth market in gaming headsets is the $150 price point.
Let’s take a look at two of the brand new players at this price and see if I can figure out which one is better.
RIG 800 (LX) (Full review here)
The RIG 800 has actually been around for a while…but now has brand new models re-tooled for a $150 price point. There’s one styled for Xbox, with included Xbox USB headset drivers, and one styled for PS4, with an optical audio input on its dongle. If you find the limited edition version of the Xbox model, you get a free code to unlock the Dolby Atmos audio software.
Both versions will work on PC or Mac, and neither requires any special software to get going.
ASTRO A20 (Full review here)
Astro only recently entered the budget headset space, something they basically ignored until this year. The A20 is their wireless model, and like the RIG 800 it comes in Xbox and PS4 versions. Both versions will work with PCs or Macs, and both versions include an optical input on their USB transmitter.
Unlike the RIG 800, you’ll need special software to get full use out of these on a computer.
I think most folks will be more pleased with the sound of the RIG 800…though it has one or two small caveats.
Plantronics’ headset is slightly prone to digital distortion and clipping. This occurs when you pump audio that’s too loud into its transmitter. So, if you’re on a PC you might need to turn down the volume in Windows, and on a console you might have to use the in-game settings to lower the volume one or two notches.
It’s strange that this happens, because most headsets will just account for this so that the user doesn’t have to think about it.
Outside of that one little issue, the RIG 800 provides a luxurious, detailed, wide, balanced sound that’ll probably please even the most picky of audiophiles. It has deep, accurate bass and very crisp mid and high tones, and sounds just as good as I could possibly expect out of a pair of headphones.
And if you’re someone that prefers the amped-up sound signature of other gaming products, Plantronics has you covered with four selectable EQ modes. You can’t customize those at all, but they cover a wide range of possible boosts.
That’s not to say that the A20 sounds bad…I just think the RIG 800 sounds better out of the box. Astro’s product has a slightly more aggressive, “home theater” style sound, with a warmer overall character and a more withdrawn soundstage that’s a little more “in-your-face.” The A20 provides 3 EQ modes, and you can customize them…but only with the software on a computer.
Both of these are exceptional-sounding products for the price. I personally slightly prefer the more balanced, open sound of the RIG 800. And I think that’s enough for it to win, even with its slight quirks and locked-down EQ modes.
WINNER: RIG 800
Thanks to its light weight and suspension headband system, the RIG 800 very nearly disappears on the head. It’s incredibly soft to wear, and has just enough clamping force to stay in place without any pinching or discomfort. The ear cups are nicely deep and shouldn’t run into your ears very much.
Astro’s headset is also comfy…but it’s a bit more noticeable. The headband pad, which is identical to the one on the Skullcandy Crusher Wireless, is decently plush…though it has some little ridges in it that might cause you minor fatigue if you don’t get it placed just right.
The ear pads have perhaps the best memory foam of any Astro product. The cloth coverings are nice…though they’re not vented as well as the fabric on the RIG 800, so they can get a touch warm inside. Also, the drivers aren’t really angled at all, so the insides of the cups might gently touch your ears depending on how big they are.
Both of these headsets are very comfy. The RIG 800 is just a little bit better, thanks to its light weight and slightly better ergonomics.
WINNER: RIG 800
I’ve never been into Plantronics’ headset designs, aesthetically. Their angular, “gamer” look is why I didn’t try any of the RIG products until this year.
The one super cool thing about their design is their modular nature. Most components from one RIG headset can transfer seamlessly into the headband of other RIG headsets, so you can either mix and match, or easily obtain replacements. Although the RIG 800 doesn’t have a detachable mic…everything else pops apart simply if you need it to.
Astro’s A20 doesn’t have modularity…or any replaceable parts of any kind. You can’t take the ear pads off. You can’t detach the mic. You can’t change out the headband pad. Once one part of the A20 dies, it’s done.
But the visual design is much better. Astro is also an industrial design firm, so they know how to make cool-looking products. While their slightly bulky trapezoid-esque ear cups might not be for everyone, I still think the A20 looks much nicer than the RIG 800.
So it’s a toss-up then. The RIG 800 has a cool modular system, which is more consumer-friendly as far as replacements go. But it looks like a weird angled nightmare thing. The A20 has a sleek, classic look…but you can’t even replace the pads.
The Plantronics RIG line is an interesting breed, build-wise. On first blush, they seem disturbingly light. However, I’ve had a lot of usage time with a couple of different models now, and they’re robust in spite of their lightness.
Even the modular connections are impressively solid in spite being made out of plastic. The RIG 800 is almost 100 percent plastic in its construction…but it’s also quite flexible. I know that it’s big to hate on plastic and want metal metal metal everywhere…but if all plastic was done this well, people might back down a little. Plus, the modular nature allows me to rest easy on the off-chance I do have a problem.
Astro’s A20 is also built well…but it was a weird let down because I reviewed the A10 earlier this year. That headset is just $60, and built like a tank. It had an impressive heft thanks to a steel-reinforced rubberized headband, and seemed like I could take just about anything someone could throw at it. If the A10 were in this showdown, it would easily win the build category.
The A20 is still built okay…but it’s less impressive than the cheaper model. And that’s a huge bummer. There’s a little bit of metal in the slider mechanism, but the rest of it is just basic plastic. I know that wireless headsets probably cost more to build than wired ones…but I wish the A20 was built more like the A10.
On first blush, the RIG 800 feels a little thin and cheap…but it turns out it’s just pleasantly light and flexible. And it’s modular nature means I’m not as worried about what happens if something does break or rip.
WINNER: RIG 800
Astro’s headset isolates better, thanks to its thicker foam and cloth coverings.
So if you’re in a noisy environment, and high isolation is a must…the A20 is the better of these two choices.
You’d be best served with leatherette pads, and Plantronics does sell leatherette pads for the RIG 800…and some of the more expensive models even include them in the box. But that’s not what we’re looking at today.
The 800 has some isolation…but it’s definitely a more open feel than the A20.
WINNER: Astro A20
Thanks to its breathable ear cups and more detail-focused sound signature, the RIG 800 has a better soundstage. So if you like to feel like things are coming from all around you, you’ll prefer the 800.
The A20 is more closed-in and analytical. It’s not completely pressed up against your head, but it has a very average sense of space and width for a closed-back headset.
WINNER: RIG 800
Astro is at the top of the wireless category with the A20 mic. It has a natural, non-nasally tone with minimal background noise. Just like the A10, the mic is impressively good.
Now, the RIG 800 still has a solid mic. It’s just a little bit more artificial-sounding than the one on the A20.
Both of them sound better than the unfortunate mic on the recent HyperX Cloud Alpha.
WINNER: Astro A20
In spite of its lack of customizable EQ presets…the RIG 800 still dominates this category.
For starters, it has 24 hours of battery life, as opposed to 15 hours on the Astro A20.
Although the RIG 800 LX’s dongle doesn’t offer an optical connection…it also means you can connect the thing to your Xbox One with just one cable, which is cool. And the PS4 version of the headset does have optical, if you need it. I also got the PS4 to recognize the Xbox version just fine as a generic PC USB headset.
Further, the wireless range of the RIG 800 is much better. Astro opted to use 5Ghz tech on the A20. While this theoretically improves latency and available bandwidth for audio…it also means the signal has a much harder time traveling long distances and going through walls. The A20 started to have trouble once I got to the edge of the room, whereas the 800 would happily work through multiple walls without issue. And I haven’t noticed any major latency issues with it either.
And while it is cool that the A20 has a fully customizable EQ system…I wonder how many people will actually use it more than once? The included presets on both headsets are probably more than enough for most people. I mean, I love this stuff and I hardly ever mess with EQ settings.
I like to use the “Intensify” preset on the RIG 800 to boost the sub-bass a bit, and the “Studio” preset on the A20.
The RIG 800 will save the last preset you used, whereas the A20 will reset to the default.
With its better battery life, better range, easier setup, lack of software requirements, and EQ settings that will cover most users, the RIG 800 easily wins.
WINNER: RIG 800
FINAL WINNER: RIG 800
If someone asked me which $150 wireless gaming headset to buy, I’d recommend the RIG 800 ten times out of ten. And that’s coming from someone that really likes a lot of things about the A20.
Astro’s model has better isolation, a better microphone, and almost the full featureset from Astro’s more expensive A50.
But the RIG 800 sounds better, is more comfortable, has a better battery life, a better range, and a cool modular system. And if you buy the SE version on sale right now, you get a free Dolby Atmos code.
You can’t go wrong with either of these. But unless you’re playing in a really loud room all the time, or need the absolute best microphone, the RIG 800 has more to offer for the same price.
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