Razer is well known for coming out with a wide range of very similar gaming headsets, so it should come as no surprise that the company’s newest, the Razer Kraken Ultimate, is a little hard to distinguish from the myriad other Kraken-branded offerings. This looks to be the premium offering in the Kraken product line, with colored LED lights and surround sound.
Does it do enough to justify the price bump?
Editor’s note: This review was updated on November 25th, 2020, to reflect changes in pricing and to add a poll for readers to vote on.
Who is the Razer Kraken Ultimate for?
- PC Gamers who want a full featured gaming headset they can sync up to their LED riddled gaming setups.
- At-home workers looking for something lightweight and comfortable for sitting through the endless conference calls of an office that recently shifted to Zoom-based interactions.
What’s in the box?
Not a lot comes with the Razer Kraken Ultimate—it’s just the headset and a brief quick start guide manual.
What is the Razer Kraken Ultimate like?
To be frank, if you’ve used a Razer Kraken before, you already more or less know what it’s like to use the Razer Kraken Ultimate. It’s not that there’s nothing new here, just nothing that so radically alters the experience to make it feel really new. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This headset is built basically the same as every other Kraken headset. It’s got an aluminum frame, with a foam cushion along the headband. The headphones are large, with thick ear pads filled with cooling gel and foam, and covered with leatherette on the sides and soft fabric on the top (where the headphones touch the face. The retractable microphone sits in the left earphone. Basically, it all feels very familiar, and very comfortable. Oh, and it lights up now too, if you’re into that.
The headphone pads are thick and soft, so achieving a comfortable seal is easy. The fabric on ear pads doesn’t cause nearly as much heat buildup as leatherette, so your ears and head will stay cool even after wearing this for hours. Gamers with glasses should enjoy this headset as well, as there are hidden eyewear channels carved in the pads to decrease the tension that’s so common, and make getting a decent seal easier. A velour option would still be appreciated, but Razer has used this solution for a while, and it works well.
Using the headset is a pretty straightforward affair. The Razer Kraken Ultimate features a mic mute button placed on the mic—just squeeze the tip to mute. Additionally there’s a volume dial and a surround sound button on the back of the left headphone. The headphone hinges don’t offer a terribly wide range of movement, so it takes a little adjustment to get the fit just right. Overall it really doesn’t take much work to this gaming headset up and running.
However, this particular Kraken works on fewer platforms than most. This is a USB gaming headset, which means it really only works on PC. On top of that, the headset depends on linking up to Razer’s Synapse for its surround sound. That means the button for turning surround sound on and off wont do anything other than light up until you turn the setting on in Synapse. Turning it on is also a little finicky, as many games will still default to stereo sound until you change their individual settings in Synapse.
Gaming with the Razer Kraken Ultimate
Despite the issues I had with Razer Synapse, the Kraken Ultimate offered a uniformly solid gaming experience. Playing games like Dauntless, Doom Eternal, and Overwatch offered no struggle for the headset. The fabric and cooling gel combination in the ear pads made wearing the headset for multi-hour gaming sessions easy. This a pretty lightweight headset, so extended periods of time with it on cause minimal strain.
The Razer Kraken Ultimate brings surround sound using THX spatial audio, which apparently offers 3″60-degree sphere for more realistic audio depth.” Once it was on, the surround sound worked great—though not necessarily any better than other competing standards—especially in Doom, where keeping on the move while surround by a wide variety of enemies is basically the only way to survive. I never had any trouble distinguishing what kinds of enemies were different positions around. I still died a lot, but surround sound won’t make you better at a game, it’s just one more piece of the puzzle.
How does the Razer Kraken Ultimate sound?
The Razer Kraken Ultimate offers reasonably accurate audio for a gaming headset. There’s notable over emphasis of bass sound in the 50-90Hz range, and consistent, though slight de-emphasis across the mid and high range. Nothing about that will make things sound too far out of whack, but frequency response like this creates a risk of auditory masking, where some noises drown out others due to improper balancing.
In music, this means EDM and other genres of music, which feature big booming bass will probably sound great on the Razer Kraken Ultimate. However where prominent bass exists in tandem with mid and high range sounds, it might seem like the vocals or the sounds of some strings and cymbals struggle to keep up.
In the beginning of You Go Down Smooth by Lake Street Dive, the great upright bass line comes through loud and clear, but the sounds of the hi-hat and tambourine a little harder hear should. Conversely, in a song like Kappa Conga Kappa by Danny Baranowsky, the rhythmic bass line drives the whole song and sound just as dominant as it’s supposed to be, while the melodic parts kind of blends in without being totally drowned out in a very pleasing way.
In game, a frequency response like this means the sounds of booming explosions and gunfire will be a little louder than normal, which is fine if you’re playing solo. If you’re playing while voice chatting, you may find game sounds more easily drown out what other people are saying. The under-emphasis of mid and high range sounds, where most speech sounds live, doesn’t pair terribly well with the boosted bass in this regard.
The Razer Kraken Ultimate offers very good isolation for a gaming headset. It’s nothing approaching active noise cancelling, but the headset’s thick and soft ear pads do a good job blocking out the kinds of sound you’d run into at home. This is a PC-only headset, after all—it’s not like you’ll need to block out noisy cafes or buses while out and about.
How good is the microphone?
There’s nothing terribly remarkable about the Razer Kraken Ultimate’s microphone. Like most gaming headset mics, there’s a pretty steep de-emphasis in the bass range, until around 400Hz, and a slight boost in the highs. This means sibilant sounds, (S, Sh, and F sounds) will come through loud and clear, which is important for making speech sound natural. However, people with deeper voices will find they sometimes sound a little like they’re talking into a tin can, as the de-emphasized bass can drain a lot of natural timbre.
How does the Razer Kraken Ultimate compare to the Razer BlackShark V2?
The Razer BlackShark V2 signals the company’s departure from traditional headset design. It features a matte-black finish with minimal branding cues on the ear cups and headband, forgoing the jet-black exterior and RGB accents found on headsets like the Razer Kraken Ultimate. Both headsets are very comfortable, however the BlackShark V2 comes with soft cushioned ear pads layered with mesh fabric and leatherette—providing a level of comfort that makes it feel as if nothing is on your head.
When it comes to sound quality, the BlackShark V2 is much better than the Kraken Ultimate. The BlackShark V2 delivers a neutral frequency response, catering to both gameplay and general content consumption. Plus, the inclusion of THX Spatial Audio and THX-tuned sound profiles for games leads to a more immersive gaming experience, when compared to traditional 7.1 virtual surround sound.
However, one major caveat of the BlackShark V2 is its microphone. It significantly under-emphasizes low-to-mid frequencies, which leads to a loss in vocal clarity. While the microphone of the Kraken Ultimate suffers from the same issues, our tests show that the Kraken Ultimate seems to reproduce mid-frequency sounds slightly better than the BlackShark V2.
Razer BlackShark V2 microphone demo
For a retail price of less than $100, the BlackShark V2 is a worthy alternative to the Kraken Ultimate—especially if you don’t really need any RGB lighting on your gaming headset.
Should you buy the Razer Kraken Ultimate?
If you’re already invested in Razer’s Chroma devices, sure.
There’s a lot to like about the Razer Kraken Ultimate. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and with Synapse it’s got solidly executed—if a bit limited—features. The audio is good, and the mic works reasonably well. The eyewear channels and comfortable headphone pads are great for bespectacled gamers. However, basically all these features are just as good in cheaper Kraken models. The Razer Kraken X is a fraction of the cost, and on PC the only functional difference is its different surround sound standard, plus it works on consoles.
If you’re in the market for a PC headset, a lot of options are just as comfortable and fully featured, and frequently cheaper. The Corsair HS60 Pro Surround does everything except light up for about $40 USD. The Logitech G Pro X offers all the same audio features of the Kraken Ultimate, only it also offers actually useful software with the BlueVo!ce mic features. If you still want into the Razer ecosystem, but you don’t care about the colored LED lights, the newly released Razer BlackShark V2 is pretty a much a superior headset in every other way.
The flashing LED aren’t aggressive here, so they’re by no means a turnoff. However, if you’re not interested in that, and you’re just looking for PC gaming headset, the mark up over the regular Razer Kraken is a little steep.