Tech Review: Razer Kraken Mobile Headphones

If I’m being completely honest, Razer aren’t the first brand that leaps to mind when I think about headphones I’d like to use with my mobile device. Known for producing similar peripherals for use with consoles and gaming PCs, the leap to mobile — particularly with a pair of over-ear cans — represents a bit of an odd one for the company.
The Razer Kraken Mobile’s arrived right before I left on a recent two-day trip to Cairns for a press event. Seeing a perfect opportunity to test them out while in transit, I packed them into my carry-on. This was made easy due to the way the headset folds its mid-sized ear cups neatly into itself for stowing. Considering travel would be high up on the list of “things you’ll probably be doing while using these headphones,” its interesting then that this design features a rather heavy set of cans. Their weight isn’t immediately noticeable when you put them on but after two-and-a-half hours in the air from the Gold Coast to Cairns, my ears had begun to ache a little.

In truth, part of that ache may have come from the volume I had the headphones at for most of the trip and that’s on me. These things can get loud. Surprisingly, even when cranked up to “pressed against the front barrier at a metal festival/3am cat battle” levels of noise, the Razer Kraken Mobiles held their own in terms of sound, keeping distortion to a minimum. The sound these cans can produce is surprisingly good for a gaming headset in its price range.  As a gaming headset, it gives you everything you want: reliable 3D sound, big volume, a reasonable level of outside sound deadening, enhanced bass and drivers that will make the cans shake and rattle. In this regard, the only problem for commuters is that there is a considerable amount of audio bleed which means if you have them cranked, everyone‘s going to know what you’re listening to.

However, the fact that it is a gaming headset first and foremost may be the Razer Kraken Mobile’s greatest challenge as a value proposition. After struggling to think of mobile games that would really push the headset (and again, perhaps this is a personal failing), I put some time into the mobile version of Hearthstone and the headphones acquitted themselves quite well, the game’s cartoony sound effects and voices bouncing around pleasantly.

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The thing is, when I’m plugging headphones into my mobile, aside from compulsively checking Avengers Academy which I tell myself I’m playing for a story, I’m mostly planning to use them for music or podcasts. This is where you may well begin to call me an insufferable audio snob and if so, go with my blessing. The sound balance in these the cans means that while bassy musical genres like hip-hop and EDM are well served, just about everything else comes through a bit cluttered. Again, it didn’t become apparent until I was able to listen for a longer period but I found that higher range sound and vocals could become a bit obscured. If backing vocals weren’t towards the front of the mix already, they would become a little lost in the bassy din. I was listening to the Hamilton cast recording on the way up and, for a record that is all about the vocals, the chorus were nearly inaudible more often than they weren’t. Again, if you’re not listening to vocal-heavy music, or you aren’t a picky audiophile like me, then your mileage may vary.  Like I said, EDM in particular sounded genuinely amazing through these cans.

All told, I found the Razer Kraken Mobile’s to be a bit of an odd creature. Neither a fish nor a fowl, they nevertheless acquit themselves well when asked to perform. The challenge to find something on your mobile device to really put them through their paces may be a hurdle but there are plenty of people who simply won’t care when they sound this nice.

Review Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Sleek design; Great sound for games
Lowlights: Feels a touch heavy after a while; Some musical genres ill-served by bassy EQ
Manufacturer: Razer Inc.
Platform: iOS, Android (cable sold separately), will work with your PC or Mac just fine