EDGE by Oregon Aero Omega Plus A50 Upgrade Kit
- Street Date:
- June 3rd, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- February 4th, 2015
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Oregon Aero
- Oregon Aero
Omega Plus A50 Upgrade kit reviewed using an ASTRO A50 Xbox One Edition.
Founded in 1989, Oregon Aero is a company that makes aircraft parts, and it would follow that aircrafts parts are a world away from gaming. There is a connection however, as Oregon Aero has always had a focus on making headset cushions for both military and civilian pilots. With pilot comfort in mind, the company has done serious business when it comes to pilot seating systems, and often provided solutions for existing hardware. Recently, the company decided to take all of that aircraft product knowledge and use it to establish a line of Extended Duration Gaming Equipment (EDGE). Chief among the EDGE offerings is the Omega Plus Headset Upgrade kit, which is meant to give the user a headset feel that is comfortable for hours on end. The kit is available for headsets made more than dozen headset makers, and that includes the popular ASTRO A50.
Ok, so I'm not a competitive gamer, and when it comes to the competitive gaming circuit, I'd never think to do more than spectate. Even so, when it comes to gaming headsets, I've got a lot of experience. Some days I use headsets around the clock, and that means during work and play. There have been plenty of times when I am online gaming when the sun goes down, and still there when sun comes up the next day. Suffice to say that I know something about wearing headsets for extended periods of time.
Like most people, I expect a certain level of discomfort with a headset under these conditions. As long as it's not distracting during play or too bad after quitting, I figure a headset has managed to be comfortable enough. (Earbuds and smaller on-ear headphone designs are much worse in my experience when it comes to long hours of wear.) The trouble spots for me are any pinching that might happen on my earlobes or any pressure on the soft spot on my head. In some cases, it's not pain that's the issue, it's removing a headset only to find alarming red marks on my ears. Those marks might not be bothering me sensation wise, but they can't be good.
These days, headset makers have done a lot in terms of ergonomics, but the final product usually has one or two compromises. Hitting the "good enough" mark when it comes to headset comfort is par for the course for even the best models on the market.
But looking at the problem and going beyond gaming, there are other areas where headset wearers have had to deal with long shifts doing important jobs. One area and industry that completely predates gaming headsets, but still has to deal with these problems, is aviation. Bomber crews have been known to spend upwards of 24 hours in the cockpit for a single mission. While there are many factors that contribute to that astounding performance, the ergonomics employed by companies like Oregon Aero go way beyond what is considered "good enough" for playing games.
Oregon Aero is even responsible for making the seat cushions used in aircraft like the F-22, and the company prides itself on providing maximum comfort "no matter how long the flight," and in turn allowing the pilots and crew to focus without the distraction of pain.
With EDGE by Oregon Aero and the Omega Plus Headset Upgrade kit, the company is looking to provide an aftermarket product for gaming headsets, especially in terms of tournament level gaming.
In essence, the kit replaces the ear cushions and headband cushion on a variety of popular gaming headsets. The company is quite used to producing cushions for existing designs, and at present, they offer Omega Plus kits for several dozen popular gaming headsets. (Even unlisted headset models can be upgraded at a comparable price, but it requires that the buyer get in direct touch with Oregon Aero.)
The ASTRO A50
ASTRO is the official headset of PAX, and at PAX South, not that far from the mighty ASTRO booth, Oregon Aero had a booth setup where attendees could get their ASTRO A40s and A50s upgraded on the spot. I wasn't carrying a set of ASTROS around, so I took an Omega Plus kit home. At $62.99, the kit includes five pieces, the SoftTop, the two SoftSeal Ear cushions, and two thin pads that go with the ear cushions.
It's worth stating that the three cushions that are included with ASTRO A50 (and likewise, the ASTRO A40) aren't exactly afterthoughts. They are smartly designed to provide a reasonable level of comfort while being tough, and easy to remove for either cleaning or replacement. At the same though, these cushions are part of an on-ear design and part of overall design that tries to keep the headset simple and light. The headband cushion does just enough to keep the headband from touching the user under good conditions. Naturally, what the Omega Plus tries to do, is to augment the existing A50 design with Oregon Aero's own know-how and materials.
Here's a look at the ASTRO pads next to the Omega Plus pieces:
A Matter of Materials
Oregon Aero describes what's inside their ear cushions as a "Heat Activated, Visco-Elastic Foam Core." The effect of handling the cushions is a bit simpler, however, as it's clearly a kind of memory foam. I'll get to how it feels in place further into the review, but just handling the cushions on their own, and it's a very premium feel. It's not super-cushiony, there resistance seems to build in a steady manner with compression, but the bounce back is equally as graduated.
The SoftTop is a very different story. The nylon and Velcro on the top are very military style, while the leather-backed sheepskin is not like anything I've seen used in a head set. It's like something made from the same realm as saddles and bomber jackets, but there doesn't seem to be anything done for the sake of style. The SoftTop is all about practical application.
Taken together, the kit appears to be aerospace garb through and through. The black that exudes all the pieces is very military, but if it were white, it could be taken as NASA grab without a second look.
Omega Plus Install
The Oregon Aero people might be pros, but my installation was tougher than I expected. The factory headband pad is glued to a big plastic piece, and that plastic piece has to be detached. There are two plastic tabs that need to be located and dealt with, and it's really important to pop the big plastic piece off without breaking the rest of the headband. These tabs are a trouble spot whenever removing the headband, and the key is to be restrained when applying force.
Once the original headband pad and plastic piece have been removed, attaching the SoftTop is easy. It just wraps around with Velcro. I tried the SoftTop with some other headsets, and it worked well enough in spite of the different designs for me to consider picking up some extra SoftTops.
Removing the original earpads is easy. ASTRO designed them well, like a fitted bed sheet. Just untuck and remove.
With the original earpads out of the way, it was time to install the SoftSeals. They use the same fitted sheet design, and getting them on and tucked in just takes a little care and patience. The A50's have a spot on the inner bottom of both ears that is a little awkward, but the new earpads tucked in fine just the same. The pads that need to go between the new ear cushions and the headset are likely to bunch up during install, but these are very easy to smooth out and correct once the new ear cushions are in place.
With everything installed and in its proper place, I found that I needed to adjust the headset's fit. Basically, where before there was room for a much larger head than my decent sized head, I'm now using nearly the full extension. Anyone already maxing out the A50s head size wise might have some trouble here as the upgraded pads take up some room.
New pads in place, and the headset has a different feel. It's not just more pads and more comfort. The new earpads change the design from an on-ear to an over ear design. Some might argue that the A50s are already an over ear design, but with the upgrade, my decent sized ears completely fit within the new earcups.
Where earlier I was wondering about the SoftSeal's memory foam construction, the idea is now more clear. Since the earcups go around the ear, the degree compression required is very different from an on-ear design, and by going around the ear there's no pressure being put on the ear cartilage or lobe.
This change not only makes a huge difference when it comes to comfort (no more red marks), but it also means my full ears are available for hearing the headset. As such, the sound isolation characteristics of the headset have changed. Outside noise is quieter and the new sound pocket makes for an amazing improvement. Tournament players might feel differently, but the increased degree of passive noise cancellation is excellent for my needs.
A Personal Touch
When thinking about to explain the upgrade process to users like myself who generally prefer to keep things original, I thought of all the different considerations that go into a headset's earpads. There's durability, feel, weight acoustics, cost, and all of these can affect the comfort level. Eventually, it made me think car tires and all of the considerations that go into them. It's not a perfect analogy, as tire durability is at odds with everything else, but where it makes sense is in terms of personalization.
Before I get completely lost talking about cars, there is something that happens when the owner elects to upgrade their tires. It may be for better racing grip or for off-roading or for looks or for performance in all weather. Either way, it makes the car feel more personal as it now sports something different and (hopefully) improved from the stock design. When it comes to the A50s, the feeling is similar. These A50s now have excellent aftermarket earcushions. Though I won't use them for tournament conditions (even all-night, all-weekend sessions aren't considered tournament conditions), I think of them as more tournament ready than a stock pair.
I've spent several days with them now in this upgraded condition. I've put time in on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and I show no sign of slowing. Before starting and even as I was doing the install, I wondered if I would be uninstalling them later. At this point, the upgrade has seriously grown on me, and the thought of uninstalling seems laughable.
However crucial, headsets are a gaming accessory. The Omega Plus Headset Upgrade kit is like dropping in upgrade, but the idea of upgrading an accessory is like to make many users skeptical. For me, upgrading a set of ASTRO A50s was a one-way street, and for good reason. (It helps that there is enough room in the A50s for the upgrade and my head size.) The Oregon Aero SoftSeals and SoftTop enhance the existing design in a way we don't usually get to see in consumer electronics. Not only is there a major comfort upgrade, but the larger earcup design allows the ASTRO A50 sound to be unencumbered. It's the kind of upgrade that will make the user love their favorite headset even more.
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