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Razer BlackShark gaming headset

October 18th, 2012
Razer military-style gaming headset

When gamers want more from their experience, they typically go one of two directions. Those wanting to improve their chances will go for high-end equipment in the hope that it will help them react faster than their opponents, usually through gaming keyboards and mice or other high-specification computer parts. Others will want to immerse themselves in the game further, typically through using themed equipment that may have some connection to the game being played, such as headphones that wouldn\'t look out of place in a war-zone. Generally, gaming hardware manufacturers shy away from combining the two areas, but Razer are certainly attempting it with the BlackShark.

The BlackShark is a gaming headset that takes its cue from military-style aviation headphones. Consisting of a metal headband coated with a leather-like cushion and “exposed cables,” the headphones are much heavier than the plastic-only headsets we\'ve used previously. The metal-based design does however give a number of advantages over those constructed from plastic, despite the weight increase.

Above each earcup is a thumbscrew for adjusting the size of the headband itself, which means that once you take them off, they will stay at the same settings as you left them. The earcups also have a vertical and a horizontal pivot point for comfort, both of which appear to be fairly robust. The included microphone arm, complete with its own multi-pivot design, also uses the metal and exposed wire design to good effect, staying wherever it was positioned and not being too tough to move into another.

The attached and rubber sheathed cable measures just over four foot and terminates in a combined 3.5mm audio and mic jack, which would be fine for use with a mobile phone, but not for the usual gaming PC you would expect to use them with. An extra three-foot extension cable that also splits down to separate audio and mic jacks is also supplied, giving the BlackShark a considerable range. The lack of an in-line control system for volume and muting is noted, but considering previous headsets we\'ve used become faulty at the in-line controls, the omission is welcomed.

Though the headset will work with a portable devices, it is unlikely that you\'d want to wear them in public. While the BlackShark lacks most of the usual branding found on gaming headsets, save for an embossed Razer logo on the thumbscrews and the general green color the company is known for, the vast amount of metal on show would put off all but the least self-conscious. Even after removing the microphone and replacing it with the metal cap, it is still a bit too ostentatious to be caught wearing outside the house.

It is claimed that the BlackShark has excellent noise isolation, and we mostly agree with the sentiment. A good seal around the ear by the memory foam earpads with their leatherette covers helps block out most unwanted sound, with the leaks most likely stemming from a small slit manufactured into the top of each earcup. Although comfortable to wear for long periods, the combination of well-positioned earcups and form-fitting earpads does seem to get a bit warm, and while seemingly large on the outside, they left little room for air around my ears.

Strangely, the BlackShark shuns virtual surround and discrete surround sound, in favor of a purer stereo experience. It uses the same 40mm Neodymium magnet-based drivers as other high-end headphones, though the copper-clad aluminum voice coil gives it an edge over others.

Initially, with the sound card\'s equalizer at default settings, the BlackShark were only slightly bass-heavy. The headphones are marketed as having “enhanced bass,” but this is far less than we were expecting. Generally speaking, gaming headphones are usually bass-heavy, to the level that even equalizer tweaking will not solve the problem. Here, the bass needed to be turned down by only a small amount before it was found to be satisfactory.

The first part of testing involved playing a wide array of music from iTunes, namely classical music, metal, dance, and dubstep. When compared with two other cheaper headsets, the BlackShark was heard to be clearer overall, even during the quieter sections of Carl Orff\'s O Fortuna. During gameplay, the BlackShark came out on top again with extremely crisp audio playback, even when having to cope with sudden loud sound effects.

The microphone, though clear and completely usable for Skype calls and in-game communications, seems to be less sensitive than cheaper gaming headsets. It has to be positioned closer to the mouth than normal for speech, which the articulated microphone arm certainly helps with, but when the windshield is accidentally rubbed against, the metal construction rings slightly and transfers its noise to the left earcup. Annoying when it happens, but the number of occasions when it does occur could have been reduced if the mic was more sensitive.

The BlackShark is a pretty serviceable pair of headphones in its own right, even when not using it in gaming situations. While the microphone is adequate enough for most cases, if a bit quiet, being able to detach it from the rest of the headphones to lose weight is a nice touch that helps rather than hinders. At $120, it is marginally cheaper than others in the Razer audio range that offer surround sound, but the fairly solid metal construction seems to be a decent enough tradeoff. Just don\'t wear them in public.
Very clear sound
Strong construction
Distinctive style Cons
Heavy weight
Microphone lacks sensitivity