While gaming headsets in the $100 range tend to marry good sound quality to attractive designs, those that cost between $50 and $60 always seem to sacrifice something. The Razer Kraken X ($50) is no exception to this rule, with subpar music performance and an inconvenient microphone.
And yet, when you consider how much the headset gets right, $50 is hardly an unreasonable asking price. The device sounds great in a game, with a fitting focus on trebles and voice work. Furthermore, it's extremely comfortable to wear for hours at a time and lightweight enough to make you forget how oversized Razer's other headsets tend to be. If you need a cheap gaming headset that sounds pretty good and works with everything you own, this is an easy recommendation, even though it's not quite yet a definitive one.
Save for one vexing flaw, the Kraken X is probably the best-looking headset Razer has ever produced. Unlike the extremely bulky ManO'War and older Kraken designs, the Kraken X looks much more traditional — and much less silly. The headset measures 7.5 x 6.5 inches and weighs only 8.8 ounces. You get an all-black plastic chassis with subtle honeycomb designs and Razer logos on the ear cups. There's a padded headband on top and notches to customize a fit on the sides. It's all pleasantly no-nonsense and elegant.
Then, you get to the left ear cup, where most of the extra features live. There's a mic-mute button and a volume dial — both good, although the volume dial is a little slimmer and lower down than I would have liked. But then you get to the mic, and one of the headset's biggest issues rears its ugly head.
High-end headsets tend to have removable or retractable mics. Low-end headsets often have boom mics that you can slide up and out of sight when you're not using them. The Kraken X has a flexible mic that doesn't come off, doesn't retract and doesn't fold upward. It's basically going to be somewhere in your peripheral vision whenever you use it. As such, it can get pretty distracting, unless you fold it up in a very specific conformation. Of all the possible solutions to the mic conundrum, Razer picked what was possibly the least intuitive one.Beyond that, though, the Kraken X is very versatile. By default, it connects to everything via a single 3.5mm audio cable. However, the headset also comes with a splitter for those who prefer to separate the mic/audio inputs for a gaming desktop. The default cable is rather short; with the splitter cable, the reach is much longer. (Each cable measures 4.3 feet.) Gauge your distance requirements accordingly.
Thanks to its size, weight and ear cups, the Kraken X is one of the most comfortable headsets Razer has ever made. The padded leatherette headbands and ear cups press down very gently, even if you're wearing glasses, and it's easy to get a tight seal around the ears.
Another one of my co-workers tested out the Kraken X for a few hours and agreed wholeheartedly with my assessment. He said the headphones were very comfortable, and he wore them successfully for the better part of a workday without ever needing to take them off.
The Kraken X is compatible with gaming PCs, the PS4, the Xbox One, Switch and mobile phones (those with a headphone jack, anyway), and games on every platform sound excellent. I spent most of my time with the Kraken X trying it out with various PC games, including Overwatch, StarCraft: Remastered, World of Warcraft and Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition.
The headset excelled with voice work, such as the character quips in Baldur's Gate, as well as music, like StarCraft's driving background beats. Just be warned that this headset is a little light on bass. Directional sound in Overwatch was functional, but the gunplay sometimes lacked a certain oomph.
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Likewise, the Kraken X delivered high-quality sound on portable platforms, whether I was exploring the forests of Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition on the Switch or probing the dungeons of Dragon Quest III on Android. The sound isn't quite as deep or nuanced as what you'd get in a more expensive headset, but the Kraken X more than holds its own against competitors like the HyperX Cloud Stinger ($50) and the Roccat Renga Boost ($60).
The Kraken X connects via 3.5mm jack rather than USB, so there's not much software functionality to speak of. Purchasing a new Kraken X gives you access to Razer's proprietary surround-sound software, which you can use to enable digital 7.1 surround sound. This is simple enough to set up, but having to install separate software from Razer Synapse, which controls all other Razer peripherals, is a pain. Furthermore, there wasn't a significant difference between surround and stereo performance in my testing.
That pretty much just leaves the mic, which is passable, but not great. When I recorded my own voice with it, my words came through pretty clearly, with only a minimum amount of fuzz and feedback. However, a lot of background noise came through loud and clear as well, including my co-workers' conversations a whole row of desks away. This mic is fine for casual multiplayer, but I wouldn't trust it too far beyond that.
Because of the obtrusive mic, you couldn't really use the Kraken X as your everyday music headset — although it doesn't play music all that well, either, so it's a moot point. I tested the Kraken X with music from Old Crow Medicine Show, Flogging Molly, The Rolling Stones and G.F. Handel to see how well it tackled various genres, and it didn't do all that well.
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First off, while a focus on treble is good for gaming, it doesn't do music any favors. While vocals came through clearly enough, bass was almost nonexistent, particularly in punk and classical pieces, where it's arguably needed most. The sound scape felt flat and unbalanced, making music feel a little lifeless. The Kraken X will work in a pinch — music doesn't sound fuzzy or far away, like it does on a lot of comparable headsets — but it's not great.
The Kraken X is hardly perfect, due to its unimpressive music performance and unremovable mic. But for $50, it's an extremely solid headset, providing good in-game sound and a comfortable fit for hours on end. Its design is attractive and much more restrained than some of Razer's other audio peripherals.
For around the same price, the Roccat Renga Boost is a little better all around and the Corsair HS50 ($50) is at least worth a look. Otherwise, the Kraken X is one of the better gaming headsets in the $50 region — and hopefully, a sign that the category can improve even more in the future.
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