Razer has a new addition to their Kraken family—The Kraken 7.1 Chroma. As you've probably already guessed, it has virtual 7.1 surround sound, and the logo has customizable RGB lighting options. Don't you love it when a product does exactly what it says on the tin? Actually, this headset is identical to the Kraken 7.1, outside of the custom lighting. And it's at the same price, so there's no reason not to get your peacock on. It works with both PCs and Macs, as well as PS4s, which will require you to plug it straight into your console since the Kraken 7.1 Chroma uses a USB connection. In fact, it has a gold plated USB—which doesn't do anything other than let you say you have a gold-plated USB connection. But admit it: If you're considering picking up something with Chroma lighting, at least a little bit of vanity has already entered into the equation.
Before we go into too much detail, let's take a look at the specs from Razer's website:
When I first saw the headset, I thought the ear cups looked too small. But after I put it on and adjusted the headband, they fit just fine. The thick padding on the ear cups makes them extremely comfortable, if a bit snug, but that ensures they isolate you from outside noise. When I set an alarm for myself while I was playing, I had to set it to vibrate or else it would take me a minute to even realize it was going off. The ear cups are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, but the headband is another story. The headband is lightweight plastic with some leatherette and mesh cloth wrapped around it, and after about an hour and a half the mesh started to chafe my scalp. But my hair is really fine and dry, so your mileage may vary.
If you don't read the instructions before plugging the headset into your computer, you're going to have a five-second panic attack that it's broken and doesn't work. This is because if you don't go into your audio setting and designate your Chroma as the default audio device, they won't work at all. But after you adjust your computer's settings, they essentially become plug-and-play headphones, since your computer will revert to its native speaker system while the headphones are absent. You'll just need to keep this in mind every time you plug them into a new computer. If your computer doesn't automatically prompt you to download Synapse 2.0, you'll need to go to Razer's website and download it—this is an absolutely vital peripheral software. Synapse is basically the settings menu for your headset since that's where all the customization options are, and it's a great program. You use it to set up the 7.1 surround sound, mess with the audio and microphone sensitivity and presence, and customize your EQ and lighting settings. It almost makes the fact that you only have a USB connection worth it. But that is both the Chroma's biggest strength and glaring weakness. The USB connection lets you do a lot of cool stuff with Synapse, but at the cost of being able to use your headset with devices other than your computer or PS4. If you have a USB-to-3.5 adapter, you might be able to plug it into other devices—but I wasn't able to test this out since the headset doesn't come with an adapter, and I don't have one lying around.
The 7.1 Chroma's Virtual Surround Sound is amazing. I completed my first playthrough of Bioshock: Infinite while I was wearing them, and when "God Only Knows" played over the final credits it was like I was being flanked by a barbershop quartet. It was amazing. While I was playing the actual game, I was even able to find some vending machines and enemies by following the sound of their voices. I decided to see just how accurate the virtual surround sound was by finding a growing Nirnroot in Skyrim and dancing around it. As I circled the plant, it's angelic ringing traveled around my headset, reflecting it's in-game position. A+, good job Kraken.
The Kraken 7.1 Chroma has amazing range. The bass rumbles in your eardrums, the treble dances in your canal, and everything in the mid range stands out far more prominently than it does in my stock PC speakers. The Chroma's sound quality is all-around top notch, and if you like to fine tune your audio, you can always mess with the EQ settings in Synapse. You can move around the sliders as you see fit and save them on the Custom channel, or choose one of the several presets that come in Synapse that are labeled as genres of music. Although it's worth noting that for gaming purposes, I found that the default setting works just fine.
Like the vanilla Kraken 7.1, the microphone is concealed within the left ear cup when you aren't using it. When you pull it out you'll find that it has a slim, pliable stem that lets you bend it in any direction and leave it there. It's got a unidirectional microphone, which makes sense since you're the only person that's going to be using it, and it gave me really good recording with the out-of-the-box settings. The mic is a bit hot, so you might want to adjust the sensitivity a bit if you're looking to record a Let's Play with it. But for general use, like talking with your teammates, as long as you keep it out of the direct line of fire from your mouth or nose, you won't get a whole lot of hissing or any wet mouth noises and clicks. If you want to hear the mic in action, I did a short recording of myself talking while playing Skyrim:
I'm a fan of the Chroma's aesthetics. They aren't bulky turtle shells that go over your head, or overly futuristic Lobot-laurels. They have a simple headband, and deep, comfortable ear cups with glowing logos on either side, and the microphone neatly conceals itself in the left ear cup. You use Synapse to choose the lights' color—with 40 preset colors to choose from—or you can use a color scale to create your own. It's a lot of fun to play around with the color scheme, although it's hardly the 16.8 million colors the package boasts. The Chroma lighting does really well with primary and secondary colors but struggles with subtler colors like brown, silver, and magenta, reverting to orange, gray, and purple respectively. But maybe I'm being too nitpicky. There's still a whole rainbow of options to choose from, and you can just set them to cycle through the color wheel if you don't really care. The one thing that truly annoyed me was the fact that you can't change the color of the light on your microphone. It's the only part of the headset you can see while you're wearing them, so why can't you customize the color to be something other than white?
Overall, the Kraken 7.1 Chroma is a great quality headset with just a few things keeping from being perfect. The sound quality you get in the headphones and out of the mic are excellent, and the comfortable earcups would be ideal for marathon gaming, but the mesh cloth on the headband started to chafe my scalp after about an hour and a half. Synapse is a great program that allows for a lot of tweaking and customizing options, but unfortunately, the headset doesn' t have any volume controls, so you can't adjust it mid-game. Also, since the headset only has a USB connection and doesn't come with an adapter, you're pretty much limited to using the Chroma with your PC or PS4. But if you're planning on using these as a dedicated gaming headset, then that shouldn't pose much of an issue. And although the Chroma lighting on the logo isn't quite as versatile as you would think it would be with 16.8 million colors, it looks pretty cool to have them cycle through the color wheel on your desk when you aren't using them.
If you're looking for a dedicated gaming headset with virtual surround sound and just a little bit of flair, the Kraken 7.1 Chroma is a really solid choice. The sound quality is top notch, the microphone quality is great, and Synapse is an easy to use program that gives you plenty of options. What keeps it from being the perfect choice is the fact that the headset doesn't have any hard controls to let you adjust the volume mid-game, and the USB connection prevents you from using it with anything other than your computer or PS4.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've spent an embarrassing percentage of my life planted in front of a screen. I'm pretty sure I know the layout of Planet Zebes better than my own home town, and most of my social life in high school revolved around Halo 2 and Super Smash Brothers. When I wasn't on a console I was playing every ROM I could get my mitts on.
These days I spend most of my time with games made by small studios, because they tend to make what I'm interested in playing. I love developers that experiment with new mechanics, write challenging and immersive narratives, and realize that a game's aesthetics are more than it's graphics. So long story short-you'll see a lot of posts from me about Kickstarter campaigns and Early Access debuts.