Mako

Review

posted 4/10/2008 by Dan Keener
other articles by Dan Keener
Multiple Pages Platforms: Multiple
Usually when people hear the names THX and Razer, their thoughts turn to movie soundtracks, audio certification and high-quality PC gaming accessories. But what would happen if the two were to get together and develop a product? What kind of product would it be? What would it look like? What kind of quality would it have?

Mako

Well, the companies did combine on a joint venture and the product it spawned was the Razer Mako 2.1 multimedia system. And as one would expect, it includes cutting-edge audio technology, sleek styling and high-end performance.


The Specs

Model Razer Mako 2.1
MSRP $399
Total Watts 300W RMS (50W Satellite, 200W Sub)
Freuency Range 25-20,000Hz (+/-2.5dB 40-18,000Hz)
Control Pod Touchpad
Inputs 3.5mm minijack, RCA
Outputs 3.5 mm Headphone minijack
Weight (lbs) 10.8

Out of the Box
When the lid pops open, it is easy to see how well the unit is protected in its box. Not only are the sub and satellites encased in foam, but all three are protected in soft foam bags as well. All the accessories and cables were individually bound and bagged, and the power cable had a protective cap on the tips of the prongs. The remainder of the box contents (in addition to the sub and satellites) include twin Cat-5 cables, the Control Pod, Power Cord, 3.5mm line level cable, Manual, Introduction Booklet and a pair of Razer logo stickers.


Aesthetics
Let me say that the Razer Mako is simply pleasing to the eye. The black matte finish and the spherical design create unobtrusive lines and almost instill a sense of calmness, until it roars to life when it kicks on. The Razer logo is stamped into the top of the sub and each satellite, which is some of the only markings you will find on the visible portions of the unit. The speaker wire is a touch bulkier than normally found on a unit this size, but can easily be hidden.


Command Center
Let me start off by saying that the control pod for the Razer Mako is by far and away the most cool command center I have used on any desktop speaker package. It is 100% touch sensitive, and allows for control of several functions with the gliding touch of a finger. Toss in another line level input, back-lit display and amplified headphone jack, and it is sleek, sexy and very functional.

There is a small learning curve that accompanies a touch-sensitive control, which essentially amounts to taking the time to read the manual. The touch-sensitive portions of the pod are limited to certain areas (seen in illustrations), and if your finger misses them, the response of the pod can be affected.

The level meter uses a blue and red illuminated scale that will display either the system volume or bass level depending on which touch area has been is selected. This meter on the outer edge of the Control Pod also doubles as the touch area where volume and bass are either increased or decreased by moving up and down the scale. Normal operating levels are represented by blue, and the upper level of volume or bass are reached when the red bars are lit. The other touch functions include Line 1 (3.5mm), Line 2 (RCA), mute and a power button. The power button is dead center on the pod, right under the Razer logo. It takes a couple of tries to get the hang of getting the functions to operate, but once you do it responds better than a laptop touchpad.

Setup
When I started connecting everything to subwoofer of the Razer Mako, something really grabbed my attention. In all my past reviews of audio products for gaming and Home Theater, I have never seen any speakers connected via Cat-5 (generally used for computer networking) wiring as the Razer Mako utilizes. As we found out in our interview with Dr. Mark Tuffy, the Cat-5 wire was used to create a simple connection for the bi- amplified satellite speakers.

The rest of the connections were very straightforward, as the audio connections are either analog RCA cables or a 3.5mm mini-jack on the back of the sub or on the Control Pod. Maybe it is due to size and cost constraints, but the Razer Mako does not include a digital audio connection for external devices such as cable/satellite receiver, Gaming console or an MP3 player. You have to use the analog audio inputs, and let it handle the sound accordingly. However, the great thing about the connections it uses are that you can hook up anything that has not only RCA out, but a 3.5mm headphone jack. This includes iPods, Laptops, Handhelds (PSP and DS) and more. There are plenty of accessories available that connect via 3.5mm jacks, RCA or 3.5mm to RCA.

The placement of the satellite speakers is extremely important due to the THX Ground Plane and Slot Speaker technology. In order to create the omindirectional soundfield the design allows for, the satellites need to be properly placed to allow the technology to function. The suggested location for placement is on a desk surface with at least 6” of open space all around them. However, it is always best to experiment with the placement using some sort of audio playback that you are already familiar with. This really helps with fine-tuning placement and maximizing the audio experience.

I tested the Razer Mako with a variety of devices, with each configuration using a unique setup. For gaming on the Vista Desktop PC, I found the best placement for the satellites was located on the desk flanking the monitor, which placed them at ear level. For the Laptop, again a placement of flanking the laptop, about six inches behind and outside the front edge which put them at chest level. When hooking them up in the test lab to the Xbox 360, they were placed on flat surfaces at knee level about seven feet in front of the main seating area. In all cases, the subwoofer placement was right at the feet of the primary seat, but it can go anywhere within its cable length.

During setup, there were a couple other random things I noted. The Cat-5 wiring and the control pod wiring are definitely long enough for any desktop set-up, but may come up short if used it in any larger home theater configuration. In addition, while hooking the Razer Mako up was not terribly complicated, the instruction manual and Introduction Booklet were easy to understand and contained extremely helpful illustrations. Something that isn’t always included in today’s electronics.

Mako

Audio testing
In order to test non-gaming audio capabilities, I decided to focus on music and video playback. For music, I used both CD and MP3 playback through Windows Media Center on the Xbox 360 and direct playback from a laptop. For video, I used a satellite feed, off-air antenna, HD-DVD and HD downloadable content from Xbox Live Video Marketplace.

One of my standard benchmark tests is Queensrÿche’s “Real World”. This song touches almost all aspects of the music spectrum, including Orchestra, thundering drums, Hard Rock and more. The Mako had absolutely no difficulty reproducing what I expected to hear throughout the different phases of the song. It was especially impressive during the thundering drums and bass that slowly lead back into the orchestra near the end. This part has tripped up many speakers and headphones I have tested over the years, so I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Razer Mako delivered the rapid-fire low notes.

Another song I like to use for testing is the opening sequence to Korn’s ‘Got the Life’. This portion of the song really puts the pressure on audio systems to handle rapid fire bass, guitar and vocals at the same time. Not to mention the hard-hitting bass sequence that is scattered throughout it. I have come to find that the ability to accurately hit the deep-bass notes during this song tends to separate the better quality systems from the pretenders. Once again, the Razer Mako’s subwoofer delivered a flawless rendition, delivering a deep, concise bass hit when called upon.

After hitting my usual benchmark songs, I hooked the Razer Mako up to my laptop to play through a slew of MP3 songs to test its general playback functionality. There are simply too many test songs that I used, but I can say they covered the complete music genre including (but not limited to) Folk Rock, Hard Rock, Country, Classical, Kids and even some Gangsta Rap. Never once did the Mako fail to meet my expectations.

I did want to touch on songs that use more vocals than music, as I have always had a special place in my music tastes for groups that harmonize. So I really wanted to see how this system, with all its advanced technology, would handle some of the classics of yesteryear. After listening to several songs from groups such as The Who, the Eagles and Crosby, Still and Nash, I was even more impressed. Many of these songs such as ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘Southern Cross’ have unique underlying instruments or backing vocals that normally get lost in the mud. However, with the Razer Mako these underlying layers of the audio track were brought to life and made the songs sound as they were intended.

In order to test the audio playback for video, I watched a variety of movie trailers, TV shows and HD-DVD movies using the Razer Mako as the audio setup. Basic audio from off-air antenna and DirecTV sounded as expected. The one exception being NASCAR races on Fox HD. The Mako created a very impressive audio experience to accompany the 92” projected image of race cars screaming around the track. Fox has a “Crank it Up” segment a couple of times each race that has no commentary, just raw audio from the cameras. The Razer Mako really helped foster an illusion of sitting in the stands watching the race while delivering its omindirectional soundfield.

Overall, non-gaming audio on the Razer Mako was superb, regardless of the source or whether it was a song or audio from a video feed. The key is that never once did the sub falterer and fail to delivering clear, concise bass, something that doesn’t happen very often with 2.1 systems. I was also surprised at how well the sound filled the different rooms where testing took place. While it will never deliver ear-drum rupturing loudness, it easily generated a top-notch soundfield that hinted at a full 5.1 digital surround system. About the only true negative I could find with the audio playback was a small “dead spot” in the back of the satellite speakers where the cables connect. Basically, if you walk behind the speakers (probably a rare occurrence) there is about a four-foot window (depending on placement) where the highs do not sound a bright as when you are directly facing the fronts of the satellites. This is not a major issue, and the speakers still sounded great, but it something I could audibly detect with my ears.

Game Audio Testing
I hooked the Razer Mako up to my Vista machine and took it through a couple of shooters to get a feel for how it would handle gaming on the PC. As soon as I kicked off the test games, it was clearly evident what the Mako was designed for, with the game audio just jumping to life as I played. While I expected the normal game soundtrack to sound fantastic, I was pleased with how well all the background noises stood out. I specifically noticed the ricocheting of bullets and the footfalls in Gears of War and how clear the audio soundtrack to Shadowrun (with the command voice) was. These are just a couple of specific examples, but there were small nuances in just about every game I played that many times end up blending into the background.

Despite the fact the Razer Mako appears destined as a desktop audio system for computers, I decided to put some emphasis on how it would handle console play. It is touted as a Multimedia system, so I hooked it up to the Xbox 360 in the lab to see how it would handle a bigger stage. I decided right off the bat that there may not be a better game to test an audio system on than Rock Band. I played through the first two tour stops on drums and was very impressed with how the Razer Mako delivered the games musical soundtrack, as well as all the background audio. Despite being in a large room (the test lab is an open 19’x24’ area), the volume was loud (with room to spare) and the soundfield was excellent.

After jamming for awhile, I switched over to Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat and hit up the multiplayer maps and campaign. Once again, the Razer Mako seemed to bring alive the different sounds on the battlefield that were just “there” before. Background sounds seemed more audible, and the action on the screen was clean and concise. Much like Gears, footfalls and bullet noises among other noises seemed much more pronounced. Another game that provided similar results was Burnout Paradise. It was a very impressive performance for a product that is usually found in an office or bedroom.

Mako

Miscellaneous Items of Note
• Soundfield is excellent
• Utilizes Cat-5 cables to simplify connection of bi-amp speakers
• Touch pad very responsive
• No digital inputs
• Sound input levels may vary by source


Pros Cons
Gorgeous Design A bit pricey
Easy to set up No Optical Input
Picks up detailed audio Small audio "dead spot"
Bass response  


Testing Methodology
Items utilized in the testing of the Razer Mako 2.1 system included, but not limited to:
Xbox 360 Elite, Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, Compaq Presario Notebook, Off-air antenna with HD source, DirecTV Satellite feed, Windows Vista PC


The Conclusion
The Razer Mako is simply the finest desktop audio system that I have ever tested or used. Everything about it oozes quality, class and innovation. While the $399 price tag may seem steep for a desktop 2.1 system, the Razer Mako is more than capable of providing a fantastic multimedia experience for gaming consoles and even TV. The soundfield is not only rich and deep, but very attentive to even the smallest audio detail. I hope that Razer and THX continue their relationship and deliver more high-quality products on an even bigger scale.




A
While there are a couple of things with the Razer Mako that could have been improved upon, you will find them to be little more than nitpicking on my part. The patented design, sleek lines and touch-sensitive control pod only make it look fantastic, while the sound it produces clearly sets it apart from the competition.