Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Written by Soon Kai Hong
Razer has been in the gaming peripheral scene for the longest time, and audio is a key aspect of their portfolio. So here’s what Razer claims to be the peak of the Kraken headset lineup, the Razer Kraken Ultimate.
To cut to the chase, this is a really nice looking headset that delivers quite the impressive sound while remaining comfortable during long gaming sessions, albeit at a price point that’s a little too high for our liking.
And of course, if you’re a fan of Razer, you’ll certainly be happy with this pair of cans. But for the more avid of our readers out there, let’s get slightly more in-depth, shall we?
Design & Comfort
If you’re familiar with the Kraken series of headsets from Razer, well, the Kraken Ultimate isn’t all that different. It does feature a slight facelift, however, and in truth, it does make it just that much cleaner.
The headset is mostly made up of steel and aluminium, and it does make it much more durable compared to most other headsets while also giving off a more premium feel. It does, however, make it slightly weighty, coming in at 390g.
The ear cups are large, pretty much a design trait of the Kraken, which means for most people, their ears will sit in comfort inside the circumference of the ear cup with the leatherette-finished cushions clamping down on the side of their head rather than on their ear. In my opinion, this actually makes it more comfortable, especially for long gaming sessions, and if you’re wearing glasses, the pressure is more or less alleviated.
The cushions themselves are also fitted with cooling gel underneath, which help to keep ears slightly cooler. In our experience, they do actually work to a certain degree, lasting for a good 30 minutes or so before you start to feel the heat accumulate. But perhaps that’s also partly due to our hot and humid weather here in Singapore. The effect definitely lasted a little while longer when wearing the headset in an air-conditioned room.
The headset is adjustable with individual clicks for the headband to accommodate different head sizes, and the underside of the headband itself is also made up of soft foam.
Honestly, the Kraken Ultimate is one of the most comfortable gaming headsets we’ve ever had the experience with. Oh, and of course, there’s RGB lighting on the side of the earcups, courtesy of Razer Chroma, which is fully programmable through the use of Razer Synapse 3.
Nothing much here to be honest. You get a volume wheel and a THX Spatial Audio toggle button on the left ear cup, more on the latter in a bit, as well as your standard retractable mic. One cool thing is that the mic mute button is integrated on the mic itself, something we’ve never seen before.
Simply squeeze on the mic and the small LED ring on the end will light up red, indicating that your mic is now muted. Squeeze again to unmute it, it’s that simple. This might perhaps just be the most ingenious way of implementing this feature to date. A pleasant surprise to be honest.
Features & Audio Performance
One thing to note is that to access the full feature set that the Kraken Ultimate provides, you need to have Razer Synapse 3. Honestly, it’s a love it or hate it when it comes to Razer Synapse. For us, it was all right… I guess?
First and foremost is THX Spatial Audio, and the Kraken Ultimate is actually one of the few headsets out there that support this technology. Though I guess it doesn’t come as a big surprise considering that THX is under Razer’s umbrella.
In simple terms, THX Spatial Audio is a form of virtual surround technology, albeit an upgraded one. On Razer’s site, they even claim that it surpasses traditional 7.1 surround sound, and truth be told, there’s actually some truth to that!
In our experience, THX Spatial Audio offers a more precise and fuller experience compared to traditional 5.1 and 7.1 setups, especially if you’re comparing it to the Tiamat 7.1 headset from Razer as well.
Enabling THX Spatial Audio does widen the soundstage, but also retains the intimacy of each effect and voice. The most glaring difference, however, is that you’re able to accurately pinpoint which direction each individual sound is coming from.
This makes it much more immersive for movies, but in particular, games, especially first-person shooters. More so than immersive, it might actually make you a better player as well, as it makes the sound of footsteps nearby or gunfire from across the street much more prominent in games like Modern Warfare.
In what way you might ask? Here’s a scenario, let’s say you’re up against the wall in a room, and you hear enemy footsteps approaching from your left. On standard stereo, you’ll hear him from your left. Pretty simple, and enough to give you an early warning. With THX Spatial Audio however, you’ll be able to somewhat discern the direction of left that he’s coming from, perhaps from your 3 o’clock. In that sense, if there are multiple entry points to the room you’re holding in, you can more accurately guess where he would enter from.
But it’s not all bells and whistles. Depending on your game, it might also affect other sound effects such as voices, or the clang of metal on metal when you reload your weapon in Modern Warfare or even just some of the background effects in Black Desert Remastered, making them have more of an echo effect or just sounding a little different due to the software trying to recognize the direction and space of that particular sound.
All in all, THX Spatial Audio is the way to go when playing games.
But for other types of entertainment such as music, movies, or even just binging on YouTube, these things are all mostly tuned to a standard stereo setup, and enabling THX Spatial Audio will ruin the experience rather than enhance it.
This is where Synapse actually shines.
Each time you launch a new program with Synapse running, Synapse will add that program to a list under the Mixer tab of the Kraken Ultimate. This allows you to toggle between THX Spatial Audio or standard stereo for each and every individual application. It’s that simple.
So you can have music playing on Spotify in standard stereo, but when you Alt-Tab back into your game of Modern Warfare, for example, it’ll switch to THX Spatial Audio. We believe this is a great implementation of user customization, instead of having a single toggle for a blanket switch.
Within Razer Synapse, you can also adjust certain enhancements, such as Bass Boost, Sound Normalization and Voice Clarity, while also giving you access to the Equalizer, which has 3 included presets apart from the standard Default. Game, Movie and Music, with one last tab for your own Custom settings. You can also link profiles with individual software for the EQ, so you don’t have to switch every time you launch the program.
In general, we found that leaving it at the Default setting was usually the way to go, but to each their own.
As for how the Kraken Ultimate sounds for general day-to-day usage, it’s actually pretty great. The 50mm dynamic drivers provide ample power, and vocals were mostly clear and a little forward. Given the size of the headset and how the ear cups encompass the entirety of your ear, you’ll also be able to notice the subtleties in music such as light strings, or the patter of raindrops.
It’s not audiophile quality, but definitely more than good enough for anything you might want to use it for.
Microphone Audio Quality
Apart from the audio experience, a good headset has to also provide a great microphone experience, especially so for the other person on the other side of the line.
As mentioned, the Kraken Ultimate features a retractable microphone located on the left ear cup. The sound quality of the microphone itself is great, no doubts about it, especially if you’re just using it for voice chat for casual gaming. In fact, the microphone is actually Discord Certified, which we guess is pretty nice? Well, in short, your friends can pretty much hear you just fine, and they won’t complain about it.
There are actually a few options you can enable with the microphone, the first of which is actually touted as a stand-out feature by Razer themselves, and that’s the Active Noise-Canceling feature…
Don’t use it.
It’s just not great of an implementation. Compared to the standard setting, your voice will sound much more distant, airy and even a little muffled. We’ve even tested it in front of a running fan blowing directly at the microphone, and though turning ANC on does remove it, leaving it on standard wasn’t all that different.
We repeat, just don’t use the ANC for the microphone.
The same goes for the other settings as well, just leave them all off. The microphone works and sounds the best as it is out of the box.
Of course, not all is great with the Kraken Ultimate, and there are some things we wished could be improved on.
One thing we wished was included was another physical control wheel for chat mix, though granted, it can be manipulated using software. But a physical button does make it really easy.
Another thing to note is that the Kraken Ultimate is a USB-powered headset. This means you can’t really use it with your smartphone or audio player, it’s strictly meant to be a PC gaming headset, which is fine by us.
But the thing about it is that, because the cable is not detachable from the headset itself, you can’t leave the wire plugged into the back of your system, and keep your headset elsewhere when it’s not in use. More often than not, you’ll be forced to use the front I/O of your desktop should it be located anywhere other than beside you on the desk.
But for you laptop gamers out there, this probably won’t be too much of an issue.