Mentioning a product with the word “Ultimate” always feels like tempting fate. After all, “ultimate” technically means “last.” Does this mean that the company will give up the production of future products with the same name? And even if you take “ultimate” in its excellent form, is it the absolute best version of a product ever conceived? I leave those questions to the linguists to sort out, but the Razer Kraken Ultimate headset ($130) is, in any case, a strong argument for the inclusion of the word. This is our Razer Kraken Ultimate Review.
It’s an excellent headset with a comfortable fit, excellent sound quality, and a clear microphone. It’s a bit expensive for what it does, but not priceless, and the lack of a 3.5-millimeter audio option feels limiting. Furthermore, the Kraken Ultimate is one of the best gaming headsets in its price range.
Razer Kraken Ultimate Review: Design
The design of the Razer Kraken gets better every year, slowly but surely. When I first judged a Kraken headset, the ear shells were almost comically large, with a garnish color pattern and a cheap, plastic-like feel. But the Kraken Ultimate feels like a different beast. Although the auricles are still large, they feel much more like an ordinary human head, with lots of plush padding made of breathable foam. So you can use it with a PC, or maybe a PS4, but if you have a desktop, it’s a no-go for living room consoles, mobile phones, or Switches in handheld mode.
Of course, I can’t make the mistake that a PC headset is optimized for PC use. In that respect, the Kraken Ultimate fills its niche well. It’s big (7.7 x 6.9 x 3.9 inches) and a bit heavy (13.8 ounces), but it sat firmly on my head, and the weight seemed evenly distributed. There is a long, braided USB cable to connect the headset to your PC.
With the button, Razer keeps things admirably frugal. There are a volume wheel and a roomy audio button on the left ear cup and a retractable microphone. I couldn’t find the microphone’s mute button anywhere until I realized that the microphone’s mouthpiece is a button itself. This is such an incredible space-saving technique. I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. The microphone itself has a small LED strip that lights up red when the microphone is muted, so you can easily see if your teammates can hear you.
I have a small problem with the microphone, which is that its body is extremely flexible – so much so that you can’t just push it back into the slot with one finger. You have to grab it with two fingers and then push and pull it a bit. This is no problem for video calls and voice chats. However, it is a bit difficult to do in the middle of a heated multiplayer game, if you are the kind of person that distracts a microphone during intense gameplay sections.
Despite the size of the Kraken Ultimate, I found it comfortable to wear for long periods. The auricles didn’t press on my ears, and the adjustable headband with several notches made it easy to search and remember my perfect fit. My only complaint is that the ear cups didn’t form a perfect seal, even when I stretched them to a comfortable circumference, but they didn’t seem to bleed at all. I passed the Kraken on to a colleague, who had a somewhat mixed opinion. He said that the auricles were too tight and too loose, depending on how he adjusted the headband, and that the enormous size of the auricles was to their disadvantage. Overall, however, he found the material comforts.
The Kraken Ultimate runs on the Razer’s Synapse software, with which I frankly have a mixed relationship. But this particular headset works very well on Synapse and offers a lot of possibilities in simple, easily customizable configurations. First, you can use Synapse to activate or deactivate THX Spatial Audio. The Razer Kraken Ultimate is one of the few headsets that work with this technology and is an imposing piece of engineering.
THX Spatial Audio is a form of surround sound, but in my experience, it is much more subtle and precise than traditional 5.1 and 7.1 setups. Instead of making everything sound like you’re in a big space, THX Spatial Audio keeps the soundscape close and intimate but also lets you know exactly from which direction each sound is coming. Think “cinema” instead of “concert hall,” and you’ve got the right idea. This feature is useful for various games, especially for first-person shooters, where sound can help you accurately locate enemies before you see them.
Razer reps, however, pointed out that the majority of things people listen to – music, TV, and most games – are still tuned with a stereo profile in mind. That’s why Synapse makes it simple to specify which programs should and shouldn’t be used. Every time you launch a new program with Synapse open, Synapse adds that program to a list and lets you choose whether you want THX or stereo sound for each application. It’s an incredibly simple, easy way to manage all your software.
You can also switch between several EQ profiles or create your own. Synapse comes with presets for music, movies, and games, as well as modes for bass boost and voice clarity. The standard soundscape is a little too light for my taste, but because it’s easy to customize, I was able to find a comfortable way to listen to just about everything I’ve tested. You can also link profiles to individual pieces of software, so you don’t have to change EQ profiles every time manually.
You can also adjust several options over the microphone, from the background sound pickup to the overall volume. But you probably won’t have to, because the mic sounds great by default. When I recorded my voice, it came through clearly and audibly and wasn’t too loud or too soft. Even better: Even though I had colleagues typing on either side of me, I couldn’t hear any keyboard sounds in the background.
My only complaint about the extra features of the Kraken Ultimate is the RGB Razer logos on the auricles. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: RGB lighting on headphones serves no purpose except to drive up the price. It’s not something you can see, and as such, it’s not something you can use.
Razer Kraken Ultimate Review: Performance
I tested the Razer Kraken Ultimate with Overwatch, the Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, and the Final Fantasy XIV, to get a good feeling of how it dealt with different genres. I used THX Spatial Audio for Overwatch, where I found it very useful to locate enemy footsteps and distant shots, although it did add a bit of echo to my character’s quips and sound effects. The rest of the games sounded better in a stereo environment, where I could hear every battle alarm in the Age of Empires, every sword fight in Thronebreaker, and every sparkling orchestral song in FFXIV.
The soundscape felt nuanced and balanced, especially when I recalled that I had first set the equalization capabilities in the Razer Synapse software to “game” mode. I listened to tracks from Flogging Molly, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones, and G.F. Handel with the Kraken Ultimate. Although the sound quality is not quite what you would get from an audiophile headset, it is more than good enough for everyday use. The vocals came through loud and clear in each song, while the balance of the instruments sounded just right.
My only major reservation would be that you might want to turn on a bass boost if you plan to listen to heavy bass genres (bluegrass and classical, in my experience). My only small remark would be that you can’t take these headphones with you for music on the go, but that’s how the Kraken Ultimate was designed. The headphones would be a bit out of place in the subway or the bus.
Razer Kraken Ultimate Review: Conclusion
At $130, the Razer Kraken Ultimate costs a little more than the SteelSeries Arctis 5 ($100), and a little less than the Astro A40 ($150), two similar headsets in the same price range. Both the Arctis 5 and the A40 can be connected to gadgets via a 3.5-mm jack (next to USB, in the case of the Arctis 5), but neither has the same breadth of software options as the Razer Kraken Ultimate. And neither has THX Spatial Audio.
Despite its name, the Razer Kraken Ultimate is not quite the last word in PC gaming headsets. It’s not as versatile as some of its competitors, and it needs a little tweaking to get the most out of the soundscape. Still, Razer is committed to making an excellent wired USB PC headset, and that’s precisely what he’s done. If you have an affinity with Razer equipment, the Kraken Ultimate is an easy recommendation – and if you don’t, it may change your mind.