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Peripherals

The Razer Kraken 7.1 V2 brings precision surround (hands-on)

Razer's new gaming headset offers immersive sound, but a few design paint points get in the way of greatness.

The Kraken 7.1 V2 headset is big. Edge to edge, they measured 27 centimetres when they were on. I had more than one person say I looked like a fly as I wore them. They're not small, is what I'm getting at. The Cronenberg aesthetic aside, Razer's latest USB headset manages to back up with an impressive virtual 7.1 surround sound offering and some nice design elements.

The souped-up Kraken V2 is part of Razer's new "e-sports suite," a range designed with competitive gamers in mind. (The suite also includes the Deathadder Elite mouse and Gigantus mouse mat). And the extra legwork Razer's done in talking to e-sports pros shows in the final product.

Key specs

  • $100 (£80, AU$70)
  • Over-ear memory foam cups
  • 7.1 virtual surround sound
  • Retractable noise-cancelling microphone
  • 50mm neodymium drivers
  • Aluminium headband
  • USB connection
  • 346g (12.2 ounces)
  • Razer Synapse and Chroma compatible
Dave Cheng/CNET

Built to last, build to wear

The huge over-ear cups and unibody aluminium headband give the Kraken a deceptively sturdy feel for the weight, as well a small amount of passive noise isolation. It tips the scales at a very slim 346g (12.2 ounces), especially for the size. The size adjustments come in the form of five number notches on each arm. Each notch locks in with a satisfying click, and it makes it quite easy to find the right setting again.

The Kraken also comes with a very handy moulded channel in the ear cups. Essentially, this gives a tiny bit of extra room for the frames of your glasses, stopping them from pressing uncomfortably into your head. It's a burden I, and many other bespectacled gamers, know well. What this all adds up to is very comfortable long-term use. It's not a headphone you'll find uncomfortable after a five-hour-long gaming session.

In fact, the biggest problem I had was when I tried to take them off -- the beefy cups wouldn't sit comfortably around my neck when I wanted to talk to someone without them on. Something to keep in mind if you're a fellow neckslinger.

Sound where you need it

This is a gaming headset, and that means there are two features in particular worth pointing out.

The first is the 7.1 virtual surround. All the software-side device management is done through Razer's custom Synapse app. That includes letting you set custom colour profiles for the LEDs with Chroma and the usual equaliser tweaks, but the real standout here is the dynamic virtual surround.

Dave Cheng/CNET

Synapse will give you a map of all 7 speaker channels, letting you position them specifically for your own hearing to give you the best possible surround experience. It's a pretty simple process too. A radial map goes from channel to channel and you click and drag until it sounds like it's coming from the right spot.

The second is the mic. It retracts fully into the left ear cup, sits on the end of a flexible arm and can be muted by clicking the tip. It's a very low-fuss, low-profile solution to incorporating the mic in a headset, but the most useful feature here is the active noise cancelling. The mic will filter out background noise, including general chatter of crowds and, in personal experience, the incredibly loud clacking of my mechanical keyboard.

Dave Cheng/CNET

Verdict

Razer's new research-driven design ethos has yielded some very promising results, but the Kraken is a pricey headset. To its credit, Razer has made efforts to bring the price down, but the sound quality itself doesn't stack up too well against other headsets that cost around the same money, and if I'm honest, it was slightly too chunky to be considered portable.

That said, if you're entrenched in the Razer ecosystem the directional audio might be worth the price of admission for some, and there are little quality-of-life design choices like the retractable mic and aluminium headband that speak to a headset designed in response to feedback, even if it's one that doesn't get everything right.

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