So, in a really weird twist of fate, I’ve been asked to review a couple of things for NAG Online. “A couple of things” actually is quite a bit so I’ve been very busy over the last few weeks putting all of the gadgets you’re going to see here through their paces. First out of the gate is the Razer Carcharias, a set of stereo headphones that Razer markets for gamers. However, there’s a twist to this that I think my editors have forgotten – I’m deaf. In the same way that Conan ‘O Brian is possibly the least qualified person to review games (because he’s a perv and doesn’t play the games for fun), I’m possibly the least best pick for someone to check out a set of headphones. My hearing disability aside, I’m a big lover of music and consider myself somewhat of an audiophile, so lets see how I take to these puppies.
“Can you hear me up at the rack?”
When I say I’m deaf, I’m not totally deaf. More hard of hearing, even though that’s a silly thing to say. Hearing sounds isn’t actually difficult because it’s a sensory input your brain automatically responds to, but that’s enough of my pedanticism. I was born, after a large amount of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, stone deaf. The extent of my hearing loss wasn’t immediately apparent and it was only a little later that it was discovered I had fluid in my ear canals. After that was taken out at an early age, I was found to be deaf on the right ear and had most of the hearing range of my left ear intact. Over time, my ability to hear certain pitches has diminished, but I’m still able to hear quite well, if only in mono.
In the graph above, you can see my right ear is dead. Those hits over there are the maximum range the machine that was testing me is capable of. If I had to block my left ear completely, I wouldn’t be able to hear a jet taking off, much less any normal conversation that occurs at about 30 decibels. Moving to the graph on the right, my left ear hears some sounds at their regular pitches, with the exception of a few tones where I need extra volume to pick them up. 250Hz is the regular volume for hearing things like male voices, the hum of a fan or sounds like dropping a small, light object onto the floor. I can hear it, but only if it’s at 30db or more. Below that, the sound may as well not exist as far as I’m concerned (cue trees-falling-in-forest-with-no-one-to-hear-them jokes). 2KHz to 6KHz is the pitch range for various sounds like the twanging of a guitar or the opening and closing of the wastegate in a turbo’d sports car. 8KHz is the whine of a turbo. Maybe because I hear it properly is the reason why I’m so addicted to that particular sound.
So I can pick up sounds accurately, they just have to be a lot louder in my case. It’s a little difficult picking things up like speech when I’m listening through a speaker system, hence why I used to use a hearing aid daily and why I use wireless headphones. So for any review I will do in the future, when it comes to headphones and anything that produces sound, it only gets to me if it’s at a higher volume. In a way, that’s actually a little better because if audio clarity is still preserved at higher volume levels, then you, dear reader, will be in for a treat even at low levels. Anyway, onward with the first set of high-quality headphones I’ve used.
Oooooooh, shiny! Don’t break it…
The Carcharias isn’t particularly heavy, so right off the bat you’ll be able to use these daily without them putting too much strain on your neck. I’ve used headphones before that were too heavy and it wasn’t such a good experience. You can’t headbang with these on, but there are very few sets that would allow you to do that. Razer packs the Carcharias in with a minimal amount of paraphernalia: there’s a product manual, a quick-start guide, a letter from the Razer team and two stickers. The box, the pamphlets and plastic are recyclable, a bonus to those of you who prefer not to the keep the packaging outside of a year of owning the headset. The cable connecting the set to the sound ports is braided and has just the right amount of flex to get things into place. Its also roughly 3m in length, giving you lots of leeway to fit it in with your desk setup.
Picking up the actual headset, the padding on the headband feels soft and a little stiff at the same time, providing just enough cushioning. It’s not a restrictive headset either, with the speakers themselves only gently resting on your ears. They do fail the headbanging test though, coming off very easily if you tip your noggin forward with the force required for a perfect headbang. But then again, this is a headset for gamers! We rarely move from our spot once we’re comfortable. The material used for the ear cushions are the same as the suede grips you see on racing steering wheels, only a bit softer and with a bit more fluff. It begins to feel a bit itchy after the first two hours or so of use, so those of you with sensitive skin may not enjoy the sensation. There’s a big bonus with these though – twist them to the left and they pop off, ready to be washed in a regular cold cycle.
There’s quite a bit of flex on the headphones and the plastic used for the headband isn’t very strong – I’m pretty sure that with minimal force, it could be snapped in two. The surface is also soft-touch as well, so it picks up scratches very easily. That said, the slight weakness of the headphones is a trade-off for comfort. The rest of the headset is likewise made of a mixture of glossy plastic and some metal for the adjustment bars and the speaker covers. The gloss surfaces pick up grease and fingerprints way too quickly. Are you one of those guys/girls that consumes copious amounts of Doritos and Cheetos while playing? If so, these need a wipe-down every week or so to keep them looking clean.
The microphone isn’t very flexible and does have some weak spots. It can move up and down and has a slightly angular design to better pick up your voice. Part of the arm is rubberised so you can grip it. If you’re the type of gamer with sweaty hands, you’ll be able to do this easily. The mike can actually rotate 270° and this would have been useful if you were a (spoiler!) possessed Professor Quirrel or if you prefer having the mike on your right instead. For the latter scenario, you would have to adjust the speaker setup in Windows to make sure you don’t get confused.
The in-line volume controls are easy to find and include a clip to affix it onto your shirt or jacket. There’s a conveniently-placed mute button for the mike and the volume control moves easily. It’s a little bit hard to get right, though, because Razer has put a lip over the adjuster to make sure you don’t change the volume by accident. I think this can and should be remedied by removing the lip and having the adjuster move with a little bit of force applied, as opposed to how it works now, with little to no resistance offered.
Testing, testing… one… two… three…
This isn’t a surround sound headset – only stereo. It’s not what you’d expect of a product priced at a premium, so it’s a little disappointing that this wasn’t a design goal for the Carcharias (or indeed, a hardware revision of the Carcharias, as Razer could have done). There is a definite trade-off between sound clarity and volume from the Carcharias and considering this won’t always be plugged into a discrete sound card, it’s potential is slightly wasted. The entire pitch range is available and sounds good from about 30% volume, but there’s no real difference moving up to 50% volume. Most owners will sit at the 50% or 70% volume levels as this is the most comfortable level without introducing any distortion.
I’ve got a varied music taste, so I went with Marylin Manson’s “Lamb of God” for testing, encoded at 192Kb/s in the MP3 format. Going up to 100% volume does retain good treble levels, but the bass begins to distort and occasionally the cymbals don’t crash, they merely sound like a high-pitched rattle. Bass levels are deeper than what I’m used to from my Phillips headset, but they’re not as deep as I’d like.
Perhaps that’s a side-effect of MP3 encoding, however. I really should move to FLAC sometime. The sound in movies was really good. I played back a few trailers for Skyfall, Wreck-it Ralph and God of War: Ascension and everything sounded clear. Bass was still lacking, sadly, although it can be improved a little.
I later discovered that the headset does sound and respond much better when you’re working with high-fidelity music and movies, even on a crappy Realtek on-board solution. I whipped out a few 320Kb/s FLAC rips of Linkin Park’s “In my remains” and Maroon 5’s “Moves like Jagger” and they sounded a lot better. With the FLAC rips bass was deeper and there was more dynamic range especially at low volume levels. At higher volume levels there’s still noticeable distortion, but it’s lower than what I experienced earlier with the lower-quality music rips and I was able to raise the volume a bit higher while retaining clarity.
As far as media and music go, this kit does pretty well once you tinker around a bit. Using a proper sound card here would also be to your benefit, but the stereo speakers would be holding it back. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to use these with 64KB/s MP3s and crummy WMA movie files, though, because this set of cans does show you how the other end of the equation – the source audio can have a huge effect on the end result pumping into your brain.
Pew pew, boom! Vreeeeeeem! Ring ring!
In games, I found the headset’s performance to range from adequate to very good. I can’t hear enemies’ footsteps near to me in Crysis 3, although that may be my fault rather than the set’s. Crysis 3 is a mind-bending experience and I suspect the only way you’d be able to truly experience it is with a surround sound setup or headset. Even then, I know I’m not getting the whole package with a stereo headset. I did enjoy my time with it in Crysis 3, however.Voices in-game were clear and there’s a massive difference in the range that my Phillips wireless headset produces compared to these puppies. Being drawn into Prophet’s world was an enjoyable experience.
Borderlands 2 pretty much sounds good (better, even, than my regular Phillips wireless), although some things are different, like my sniper rifle which sounds somewhat distorted and my character, Axton’s voice. Claptrap’s voice also sounds a bit more tinny. I know everyone secretly hates his verbal diarrhoea, but it definitely doesn’t sound the same as some of the other, arguably better headsets I’m currently testing. Granted, this might not annoy everyone else as much (certainly everyone seems to love the annoying Wall-E cousin), but I’m picky about what I’m listening to.
With more game companies putting in some amazing sound details, like Crysis 3‘s movie-like cinematics and score, to the ear-loving orgasm that is Bastion, it’s becoming more beneficial to invest in a good headset. They’re just capable of a lot more things in the right environment compared to a surround sound speaker set.
Skype calls were clear and free from background noise thanks to the noise-cancelling feature. Both in conversation and hearing recordings of my own voice, belting out a sad rendition of Passion Pit’s “Take a Walk”, there wasn’t any distortion and it sounded clear enough for my needs. I wouldn’t rely on this to capture your mix tapes for that demo you’re going to hand over to that music label guy you met at the party last night while infused with Tequila and Spiced Gold, but it’s enough for good clarity for Youtube and voice calls. All in all, the microphone here actually steals the show for me. Its good enough right out of the box, no tinkering needed.
You’d be buying these headphones because other review sites on the internet have noticed that the 40mm drivers, ear cups and basic design is pretty much ripped from the Razer Megalodon. The Megalodons perform much better because Razer bundles it with an external, virtual 7:1 sound card that includes an amplifier and manages to extract as much performance from these cans as possible. There’s not much you can do to improve the performance of the Carcharias when you’re dealing with onboard sound, aside from using higher-quality music and movie rips. Games perform well here, but the sound isn’t what I had expected after hearing what the FLAC rips revealed. A good sound card is going to be to your benefit here, especially one that can amplify the sound going to the headphones. You’re still stuck with stereo sound, though and that’s something that can’t be easily fixed.
In terms of competition, the Carcharias is really prey to its own siblings if you have no use for the microphone. The much cheaper Orca strips off the mike and preserves the rest of the chassis and internals, while the even cheaper Electra uses plastic that isn’t as weak, but doesn’t look the business, along with eschewing the comfort levels and the ease of adjustment. The biggest boon here is the comfort and that’s the Carcharias’ main selling point – after a few hours of meleeing my way through Pandora with Law and Order equipped, I didn’t have any pressure on my ears or head. People with heads larger than mine will be equally comfortable and the soft ear cups really help with the ownership experience, itchy as they are.
In the same price range, there quite a few alternatives: ASUS has the Orion 50 and the Vulcan ANC, Razer’s own Tiamat 2.2 is the replacement for the Carcharias and even Steelseries has the Spectrum 5XB and the wireless 7XB. If the Carcharias was available for around R800, it would be a better value-orientated product and would find more buyers. As things stand at over R1000, the biggest selling points don’t contribute to a higher score, which is a bit unfair considering the relative age of the product – the Carcharias was actually available in late 2010. Had I been looking at this two years ago, I might have been taken to them a little differently.
Can you use this headset with a hearing aid?
Yes, you can. And it fits nicely if you’ve got an over-ear hearing aid. Inner-ear ones would be even better, although I’m not sure if they’d be able to handle the amount of sound coming in. With the over-ear design I’m currently using there’s a slight loss of clarity because the microphone is placed on the back of the aid, although I could still hear what was going on. If this was a 5:1 or 7:1 headset, where there’s more, smaller drivers angling the sound properly, this would work even better. The experience with and without the hearing aid is more or less the same, as my hearing loss isn’t as significant as others.
Can you wear it for hours like that? Maybe, maybe not. The cups don’t go completely over and there’s going to be a bit of noise leak to annoy the other people around you, but it’s good so far. The fact that there’s no pressure on your ears is great because as any person wearing an aid will tell you, these things take forever to get used to.
What about if you wear glasses?
The lack of head pinching here does wonders and it feels completely normal. What about glasses and the aid? Again, it’s pretty comfortable. If you’re like me and wear one or even two hearing aids, you might like the Carcharias. If you don’t need a mike, you can even settle for the near-identical Orcas and save a bit of cash.
Note to Razer, then: There’s an entire market of gamers who are deaf that aren’t being serviced. Do your part and increase the size of these cups and drop the price.