Esports performance on a budget.
Razer hasn’t been on my list of go-to buys since the early days of the Deathadder. The switch to a login based software requirement for keeping DPI settings on a mouse just didn’t sit right with me. Since then, they’ve reintroduced onboard memory and a DPI switch In their most recent mice. This piqued my interest. But their audio hasn’t really appealed to me. Then one day I learned they acquired THX.
You could say that if I’m passionate about gaming mice, then I’m fanatical about good audio. I was once thoroughly unimpressed by gaming headsets from every company for the longest time. In recent years we’ve started to get some quality options from HyperX and Cooler Master. But Razer hasn’t had any huge breakthroughs on the audio front. At least nothing to get me excited. They did have a funky looking aviator headset that I liked the look of called the BlackShark.
Fast forward to the present and a new BlackShark model has been announced. The Razer BlackShark V2 comes in two models:
- Price: BlackShark V2 X $104.95 AUD RRP (Reviewed Model) / BlackShark V2 $174.95 AUD RRP
- Type: Closed Back Dynamic with Microphone
- Drivers: Razer Triforce 50 mm Drivers
- Microphone: Razer HyperClear Cardioid Mic / Unidirectional
- Weight: 240 grams
The design of the BlackShark V2 looks great. It takes the original and adds modern touches while still paying homage to the classic aviator style. It’s largely flat black with accents of trademark Razer Green. The earcups are a decent enough size that my ears fit comfortably inside. The headband assembly is about 75% cushion so you barely feel it resting on the top of your head. And at a mere 240 grams, you can easily forget that you’re wearing a full-sized headset.
The large cups and comfortable earpads are designed to passively isolate outside noise. As long as you aren’t expecting active noise cancelling levels of silence, they are actually as good as any closed-back I’ve tried when it comes to keeping unwanted noise out.
The drivers are a new patented Razer Triforce design divided into three separate tuning areas.
Here I measured their frequency response on a MiniDSP EARS unit with a custom calibration*:
The left and right drivers are very well balanced.
Here is how their frequency response compares to the Cooler Master MH752 and the Sennheiser HD58X:
*Note: The MiniDSP EARS is not a professional grade measurement tool, but can be a good indicator of relative performance.
The frequency response graph line for the BlackShark V2 probably shows a side effect of the triple driver split. First, a big bass thump that extends down quite low and can be felt. Then there’s a clear dip at 300Hz separating the lower mids. Followed by another hump in the main midsection then neutralising as it enters the upper mids at 2KHz. There is a big chunk sucked out of the vocal presence at 4-5KHz. In practice, this doesn’t seem to affect it too much, but I did notice that on voices this had the effect of making people sound like their noses were pinched. There is a peak at around 9K that can help with detail pickup. That area is highly dependent on the outer ear so it can be perceived as overly sharp depending on your own ear shape. I lean towards bright headphones for gaming so it didn’t present any issues for me.
If you have the higher end model then you can manipulate the frequency response to your liking using the EQ on the included THX Spatial Audio App. You get a lot of control with the configuration options of the surround sound and a nice mixer to select whether specific apps are affected by spatial audio or left in stereo. Using the USB sound card, you also get access to a growing list of predefined optimised sound profiles for games to take advantage of spatial audio.
If you opt for the slightly more wallet-friendly BlackShark V2 X, you won’t get access to the USB sound card’s game profiles. But you can pick up the App on Razer’s website for an extra $19.99USD to access the EQ and spatial audio customisation. If you aren’t worried about all the customisation but want surround sound, you can skip buying this as the X variant does come with the legacy Razer 7.1 surround software.
Surround sound uses binaural audio queues to help your ears locate positional cues more naturally. Where a footstep to your right might come through on your stereo headset exclusively on your right ear, the Spatial Audio app sends a corresponding distanced sound to your left ear to create triangulation for a more accurate location like you would hear normally.
The HyperClear Microphone is another big feature. In its stock form, it does a great job of isolating your voice and you sound clear and intelligible, and just a tad bit nasally. Definitely a great all in one mic for the price.
Here is a sample compared to my usual Rode NT-1 desktop.
As you can hear, it definitely isolates your voice well, and it does accentuate the vocal presence regions a fair bit. Not as neutral as you’d get from a larger capsule desktop mic but for gaming where clear communication is all that matters, it does a hell of a job.
The Triforce drivers are a nice idea, and they do isolate the bass, mids and treble for custom tuning as intended. Using the THX app, you can smooth out the frequency to your liking. With a $19.99 USD price tag for the app, the premium version that already includes it and the USB sound card with game profiles are worth the $70 AUD RRP difference. If those extra inclusions weren’t enough, you also get an upgraded cable, upgraded pads, and the microphone is detachable!
Razer’s THX acquisition means that they have reinforcements in the audio field. While I’m uncertain of the amount of input they had on the hardware side of things, the THX Spatial Audio app is above and beyond what I’ve seen in a gaming headset up to this point. The headset itself is built well, looks great, and the microphone is clear and precise.
I’d only recommend going for the X version if you really aren’t able to save up that little bit more for the premium version as the extras and upgrades are worth more than the difference. Either way, you’re getting an extremely comfortable, surround sound capable, Cross-Platform compatible headset that you can game competitively with. For the price, it’s more bang for your buck. I still dislike that their software requires a login, but now that their mice can switch DPI without it, we may be on the way to a login free Razer experience… maybe one day.
The RAZER Blackshark series launches on August 3rd 2020. Razer provided a sample unit.