I swear big headphones never used to be cool. They just used to be all people had at the time, then technology got smaller so they fell out of fashion, and now (largely thanks to Dr. Dre I feel) they're very much back in.
So I'm not really surprised that someone on the Tube asked me which company was behind the chopper pilot-esque cups stuck to my ears the other day. I'd broken my tiny in-ear SkullCandy pair, and I wasn't about to brave rush hour without some serious heavy metal, so I picked up my Razer BlackShark headset and headed into town looking fairly ridiculous.
Except, apparently ridiculous suits me.
Of course, the BlackShark headset is not wholly designed for fashion, even if it scores rather highly in that department. Developed originally as a tie-in for Battlefield 3, the BlackShark was purposefully designed to resemble a pilot's headset. Brushed metal, exposed cabling, and simple logo-less aesthetics (save for the Razer symbols etched into the length adjustment knobs) were the order of the day, all presented in the black and orange stylings of EA's FPS.
But feedback was so positive that Razer decided to re-release their popular headset in home colours, swapping out the orange for a little lime green.
The cups themselves are incredibly glossy, and attract fingerprint marks like springtime flowers attract bees, but what's on the other side of them works very well indeed. Putting on the BlackShark is like gifting your ears two soft pillows. There's none of the harsh solidity of Tritton's headsets, and indeed it helps that the cup size is somewhat larger than a number of competitors, making the BlackShark an incredibly comfortable choice. The headset isn't too weighty, and it fits magnificently: snug without squeezing the ears, yet comfy without slipping off.
The earcups are extendable, of course, making the length adjustable to suit varying head sizes, and a little Razer-brand screw sits above each cup, allowing you to lock the earcup arms in place. It's a little feature, but it means that your headset will retain its shape and size when you take it off, and won't accidentally change in length. We found that one of the screws was a little better at doingg its job than the other, with the latter not quite winding up as tightly, but it didn't make any practical difference: the cups stayed exactly where we wanted them.
The earcups also boast vertical and horizontal pivot points for comfort, and the whole thing is rather robust and has thus far survived several weeks completely unscathed in my hands: no mean feat given that I seem to have gone through five headsets (seven if you include music headphones) in the last six months.
Packing a pair of 40mm neodymium drivers, sound quality is, as you'd expect, pretty good. We had no problems with distortion at high volumes, and thankfully the noise cancelling qualities of the fat leather earcups means that you won't have to test that much. The BlackShark works well enough at filtering out the world beyond whatever it is that you're listening to that you won't have to make your ear drums bleed and turn everything up to 11 block out the noise of others in the vicinity. It's not really the best headset for use outside of gaming, though, predominantly because the acoustic balancing certainly favours the deeper end of the musical spectrum. Given the crunching bass stabs that make up Battlefield 3's signature theme, that's not particularly surprising, but it does scoop out the mid-range of certain songs.
It'll be fine for Michael Bay-esque antics in Frostbite 2/3, though.
The microphone attachment is certainly up to task, but do bear in mind that the sensitivity appears to be gated at a higher level than may of the other headsets on the market. I found that I had to place the microphone almost uncomfortably close to my mouth for it to pick me up, though it does a good job of cutting out background noise and eventually carrying conversation with impressive clarity. The microphone, which has two pivots points and is really rather bulbous, can be something of an irritant if you're just looking to use the headset as simple headphones, but it's completely removable. You then just stop up the attachment port with a little magnetic plug.
The 1.3m cable runs down to a single 3.5mm jack for the combined audio ports that you'll find on predominantly portable devices such as smartphones, tablets, and ultrabooks. However, there's also a splitter cable that extends the lead length and provides for PCs that have individual ports for headphones and mics. It's a shame that there's no USB interface option, but the real dealbreaker is the complete absence of an in-line remote, with no options on the headset or its lead for volume adjustment, nor for mic muting. Everything has to be done on the connected device itself, which is seriously inconvenient.
It's an expensive item too. The £80-90 price tag is pretty steep for a wired headset with no remote, no USB option, and no virtual surround sound feature. The tradeoff between noise cancellation and overheating rears its head at times here too, and I found that prolonged sessions, whilst comfortable in terms of physical proximity thanks to the deliciously welcoming leatherette earcups, also led to my ears needing a break every hour or so due to overheating.
It's an impressive mic in terms of aesthetics and comfort in the short term, and the noise cancelling cups do a good job. But when it comes downn to it, we're not sure if we wouldn't go for the Sennheiser PC323D or the slightly cheaper R.O.G. Vulcan. Actually, we wouldn't. We'd almost certainly pay a little more, go fully wireless, and plump for the Corsair Vengeance 2000.
- Leatherette earcups are very comfy
- Helicopter pilot look is pretty awesome
- Limits background noise very nicely indeed
- No in-line remote
- No virtual surround sound
The Short Version: It's a good looking and good sounding headset that sits on the head very well and is incredibly comfortable. But some slight overheating issues, the lack of an in-line remote, and a high price tag for good-but-not-great audio might encourage gamers not in love with its curves to look elsewhere.