This year has seen a lot of headphones being released, and we’re looking at a wide range of them this holiday season. Up today is Razer’s Kraken 7.1 surround sound headset, which we first got to sample during August’s Gamescom convention. After extensive testing, here’s what we thought of the final product.
The Razer Kraken 7.1 is essentially a follow-up to the Kraken Pro headset released earlier, with the obvious inclusion of surround sound technology being the main difference here. There are other subtle difference that we’ll focus on later, but 7.1 surround has been the focal point of our testing process. To achieve this feat, Razer is using software-based virtualization technology to power what is essentially a pair of stereo headphones. Though “7.1” may sound daunting in terms of what to expect in terms of hardware, each earcup just contains a single 40mm driver – as opposed to the four driver you’ll find in Mad Catz’ Pro+ headset that we reviewed earlier. We should also mention Razer’s excellent mic technology, which is a big leap forward both in terms of technology and usability. Audio quality from the mic is top notch, and turning it on and off is extremely intuitive due to an on/off button and on/off light located conveniently at the tip of the mic. A solution that’s as simple as it’s brilliant.
While virtualization (a topic we touched on years ago when talking to Sennheiser scientists) offers a vastly different approach than ‘real’ surround sound in terms of hardware, the end result is remarkably similar and thus impressive. Razer’s representatives at Gamescom were showing demos of the headset using Metro: Last Light, and we fired up the same game to see if the results would sound just as impressive in our own test setup. Thankfully, they did, even if some of the credit belongs to the audio design in the game itself. Surround sound, no matter which game you use, benefits greatly from game design that keep the technology in mind. Metro is one such game, with atmospheric visuals and audio complementing an already immersive game. As such, the Razer Kraken was able to add an extra layer of immersiveness to an already excellent game – no small feat from a headset that retails for under $100.
On the technical side, the headset can deliver frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20kHz and is powered by a USB connector cable. While this makes for an easy setup process, it limits use of the headset to PC systems running the dedicated Synapse software suite. The earcups are circumaural in design and the headset sits comfortably on your head, even during longer sessions. As an added bonus, the closed design of the earcups and soft layer of padding offer some passive noise cancellation – but you might want to air your ears a little during intense gaming sessions.
We didn’t limit our gaming sessions to Metro – the headset performed equally well in Battlefield 4 and F.3.A.R. Not all games provide extra enjoyment through surround sound though, so don’t expect radically different things from Civilization V. We also tried out watching movies using the Kraken’s surround sound technology, which works very well but doesn’t come close to replacing the real speaker-based experience. Still, if you’re on the go or have limited means of setting up a speaker system, this is a great alternative when watching by yourself. Lastly, we tried out several high quality music files using 320kbps stereo files and 1510 kbps DTS tracks. This is where the Kraken’s audio range comes into effect, as the headset performs very well for music no matter if the track relies on highs, lows of midtunes. We’ve been extremely spoiled with amazing headphones like the Philips Fidelio L2 recently, but for a PC headset that focusses on gaming rather than music, Razer’s offering doesn’t disappoint.
The Razer Kraken 7.1 is a completely different beast than the Pro+, though both focus on surround sound gaming. The Kraken lacks some versatility because it’s a PC-only headset without any console or mp3/phone connectivity, but makes up for it in terms of convience and an attractive pricing model. For less than $100, this is a complete surround sound solution that’s ready to go using just a USB connection (and the included software, which offers plenty of functionality to tweak your sound). Both the sound and build quality are excellent and the added dimension in audio is well worth it in games that support it – multiplayer gamer will also enjoy the work that went into innovating the mic function for the Kraken. If you can live with the product’s connectivity limitations, we highly recommend the Kraken 7.1.