A Sea Monster Refreshed
We check out the 2019 version of Kraken headset
We can thank PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It was in a conversation after a product briefing when a manager at one of the world’s biggest accessory companies revealed the reason for the gaming headset explosion: battle royales. As gamers pushed for every advantage they could find, the value of great positional audio crystalized in the eyes of the mainstream and demand went through the roof.
A quick Amazon search for “gaming headset” today will turn up not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of results. It can be tough for gamers to cut to the chaff and find something that will actually deliver the high quality audio they’re looking for while also staying inside their budget.
Today, we’re looking at the latest Razer Kraken gaming headset. It’s part of Razer’s latest line of budget-oriented peripherals. Coming in at $79.99, it offers stereo sound, plug-and-play setup, and Razer’s iconic green styling. In such a crowded market, does it do enough to stand out? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
- Frequency response: 12 Hz – 28 kHz
- Impedance: 32 Ω @ 1 kHz
- Sensitivity (@1 kHz): 109 dB
- Input power: 30 mW (Max)
- Drivers: 50 mm, with Neodymium magnets
- Inner ear cup diameter: 54 mm x 65 mm
- Connection type: Analog 3.5 mm
- Cable length: 1.3 m / 4.27 ft.
- Approx. weight: 322 g / 0.71 lbs
- Oval ear cushions: Designed for full-ear coverage with cooling gel, perfect for long-wearing comfort
- Frequency response: 100 Hz – 10 kHz
- Signal-to-noise ratio: > 60 dB
- Sensitivity (@1 kHz): -45 ± 3 dB
- Pick-up pattern: Unidirectional ECM boom
Current Price: $79.99, Amazon.com
Packaging and Contents
Beginning as we always do with packaging, there’s no mistaking a Razer product on the store shelves, and even less chance with the Kraken.
The distinctive green and black design always makes them stand out but the bright green design of the actual headset makes it pop even more. As usual, we have the high-res picture on the front and the feature call-outs on the back.
Inside the box, the Kraken is very well presented. It might seem like a small thing, but the presentation of a product is something I pay attention to. It’s part of the “first impression” that validates whether you’ve bought something premium or not. In this way, Razer definitely impresses. For $79.99, they definitely present the headset in a way that feels fairly premium.
Since the Kraken 2019 focuses on value per dollar, they’ve only included the essentials in the box. You have the headset itself which includes a nice 3.5-foot braided cable ending in a four-pole connection, a 6.5-foot extension cable with a split end for connecting to the rear panel of your PC, the usual Razer welcome letter from CEO Min-Liang Tan, and some documentation to get you started.
Design and Features
So, let’s look at this thing. First off, bright green. Not my personal style, but I could see that working with certain setups out there. (Editor's note: while our review sample was green, these are also available in black, a pink finish called 'quartz', and a black/blue finish called 'console'.)
The headset is on the larger side and moderately weighted at 322g. Compared to my Sennheiser GSP 600s which weigh in at just shy of 400g, they feel much lighter and don’t cause the same soreness over time. That said, there’s no mistaking these for anything other than gaming headphones. Even though they actually sound pretty good, I would never wear them out of the house since they’ll immediately get unwanted attention. If you don’t mind the look, the four-pole connection means they’ll work great with your smartphone, assuming it still has a headphone jack.
They are comfortable, though. The headband is well-padded with a leatherette material on top and a breathable fabric underneath. Inside this bit of trim is a metal headband – also green – which can be adjusted to fit smaller folks like myself to mid-sized gorillas without becoming overly grippy. I like that they marked the band too for easy re-adjustment after you’ve stored it away. There’s no creak at all, which is also reassuring for their long-term durability.
Anecdote: last year, I decided to do a “flex test” on a display unit of Razer headsets at a local Best Buy, thinking a headset had a metal band. It didn’t, and rather than creak, it snapped. It was bad and I was embarrassed. So, yeah, I find it reassuring when I see metal band like this one.
I also like that the band extends right down to the yokes, so you have one extended metal bracket making up the frame. Where the yokes connect to the driver housings is completely internal, so even with a good drop I would be surprised to see them break at any of these points. The most common failure points on gaming headsets are exactly these two places, the band and the yokes, and Razer has address both, so kudos to them.
Here we can also see the microphone which slides back into the left earcup when not in use.
Turning to the side of the headset, we see the distinctive Kraken grills complete with the serpentine Razer logo. Looking behind the honeycomb pattern of the grill, you can see that Razer has filled this space with foam, presumably for sound damping and to enhance the bass. Would these still be considered open-back or somewhere in between open- and closed-back?
I’m inclined to lean toward a hybrid designation. The headphones do leak slightly more sound than a completely closed-off headset but at the same time offer better sound isolation than a completely open headset. I was actually quite impressed at the passive noise isolation they offered considering their design. Likewise, the soundstage feels large with good position tracking from left to right.
One thing I really liked about these headphones is the ear cushions. Razer has brought down the gel-infused cushions usually reserved for their higher-end models to the budget price point. Not to be cliche, but it’s a difference you can feel as they definitely feel cool to the touch. They’ve also used a dual surface pad here with a smooth fabric where it touches your face and leatherette on the sides, which I’m sure is a big part of why their passive noise isolation is so good.
As a glasses wearer, I was also happy to find that the headset is designed for people like me. Ask any bespectacled gamer, and they’ll tell you the same thing: headsets and headphones can be downright irritating. Most grip too tightly on the arms of your glasses and push them out of place. Any time you adjust your headset, your glasses get pushed into an awkward tilt. The Krakens, on the other hand, have indents cut into the rear of each pad. When they grip against your glasses, the cushions give a little bit at exactly that point leaving your specks intact. This does mean that you’ll need to take care with how you put the cushions back on but since this will be a rare occurrence for most gamers, it’s an afterthought.
Key features of this headset include cooling gel-infused ear cushions with eyewear channels, an aluminum frame, a retractable gooseneck microphone, a big 50mm drivers. Impressively, the drivers have a wider than average response range. Most gaming headsets focus only on the 20Hz – 20kHz range as this is widely accepted as the normal range of human hearing. The Krakens, however, feature a 12Hz – 28kHz range.
As gamers have become increasingly aware with the rise of “Hi-Res Certified” like the Steelseries Arctis Pro or Roccat Khan Pro gaming headsets, extending this range can have meaningful benefits. On a standard “20 to 20” headset, those figures represent the outer limit of what that driver is able to produce. Like any speaker pushed to its limit, it’s at these points that the speaker is most likely to distort, still within a range you’ll actually hear. By using drivers with a wider frequency range, Razer’s Kraken 2019 is able to push any possible distortion outside of what you’ll actually be able to hear. Everything inside, then, should be clear and pristine.
Compared to the Kraken V2 and its surround sound version, this year’s model offers slightly less sensitivity at 109 dB versus 123 dB, though still gets plenty loud.
When it comes to sound, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Core “gaming headphones” are often over-tuned for bass. Low end frequencies can become overwhelming and distort the rest of the spectrum, leading to a rumbly, if intense, experience.
The Krakens, on the other hand, are much more moderately tuned. They definitely offer a low end push, but it’s actually quite tame compared to what I was expecting. Rather than sounding bombastic, they feel more tactical, clearly articulating the mid-tones of footsteps and high frequencies of far-off sniper fire.
My go-to series for testing gaming headsets is Battlefield. Over the years, the Battlefield franchise has consistently offered some of the best audio engineering of any competitive game on the market. I enjoyed Battlefield V’s new battle royale mode, Firestorm, quite a bit with these headphones. The low end thrust provides an almost cinematic quality to the game’s loudest moments – grenade explosions, housing obliterated by a wall of fire, the roar of blaring engines – but doesn’t mask the smaller sounds hidden in the mix. Callouts from your squad, gunfire over the hill and to the left, the whistle of a sniper round narrowly missing your ear. These are important audio cues and they’re preserved with very good stereo positioning.
I also enjoyed listening to music with the Krakens. I’m not a bass head but I do want my music to sound full. The headphones were able to take Metallica’s Black Album and somehow restrain it. PVRIS’s White Noise from The Empty Room Sessions was open an ethereal, just as it’s meant to be. In listening to music, though, I wasn’t able to pick up on some of the texture higher-end headphones are able to deliver. Despite offering a wider frequency response range, they’re not HiFi headphones. But then, they never promised to be and audiophiles will hardly be looking at them in the first place.
In short, for gaming, they’re pretty darn good. For music, they’re good but not amazing. At this price point, that’s almost exactly what you would expect from a successor headset in an established product line like this.
The microphone, on the other hand, is just disappointing. At best, it’s middling. There’s persistent white noise that comes through the line and the vocal capture lacks all but the barest bass, leaving me sound nasally. It’s almost extremely susceptible to plosives (the bursts of air when pronouncing “b” or “p” words). It’s the kind of performance I would expect from a wireless headset, not a $79.99 wired headset from one of the biggest accessory makers in the world.
That said, if all you’re doing is chatting with friends on Discord or Skype or coordinating over in-game comms, it will get the job done. The microphone will let you be understood, it’s just below what I would expect from a gaming headset in 2019. Hear it for yourself:
The Razer Kraken 2019 is a good gaming headset. It’s well built and is clearly designed to take some abuse thanks to its metal frame. I really enjoyed the tuning Razer applied, toning the the bass while still allowing it to feel full, and the strong mids and highs allowed me to hear my enemies before I could see them. It was also quite comfortable with those gel-infused ear cushions.
For all of that, though, it is a very “no frills” gaming headset. There’s no surround sound. The mic is just okay. The sound quality, despite having a wider response range, doesn’t offer the same level of intricate detail its spec-sheet might imply. If all you’re looking for is a good stereo headset for gaming and don’t mind the bright green, the Kraken is a good option. If you’re willing to spend even $20 more, the options just explode and you can easily find more for your money.