Unmasking Razer's BlackShark V2: A Suspicious Review

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Razer's BlackShark V2 Series: A Comprehensive Review

Introduction

Making a bold claim, I've never been particularly drawn to Razer gaming audio products—until now. Today, we're delving into the intricacies of two new gaming headsets, the Razer BlackShark V2 and the BlackShark V2 X, offering a unique perspective on gaming audio. Priced at $99 USD and $59 USD respectively, these headsets aim to make a mark in the competitive gaming audio market.
Razer V2X vs Razer V2
Razer Blackshark V2 
Razer Blackshark V2X

Segment Entry and Community Engagement

Razer's foray into this segment is noteworthy, and it becomes apparent that they've done their homework by considering community feedback. The eSports gaming headset arena is highly competitive, and Razer seems determined to address the specific needs and desires of gamers.

The Competitive Landscape

The $99 price segment is a battleground with contenders like the HyperX Cloud 2, Sennheiser GSP 300, Logitech G Pro, and SteelSeries Arctis 5. Despite this saturation, the BlackShark V2 manages to stand out. Its competition is fierce, but Razer appears to bring a serious contender into the $99 price category.

Excitement for the V2 X

Surprisingly, the focus shifts to the more affordable BlackShark V2 X priced at $59. This becomes a highlight, as it's anticipated to become the most popular sub-$60 headset on the market. A clear distinction is made from the $10 cheaper Razer Kraken X, emphasizing the value proposition of the V2 X. The anticipation is palpable, and in this review, we'll thoroughly explore the build quality, comfort, sound quality, microphone quality, and the features embedded in the USB sound card.

Design & Build Quality

Design Philosophy

The design of the V2 follows in the footsteps of the original BlackShark, resembling a helicopter or small plane headset. However, the magic lies in how they look when worn. The low-profile design ensures that they sit comfortably on the head without being overly wide or protruding.

Aesthetic Differences

The V2 X introduces some aesthetic changes, notably a matte black finish and a subtle alteration in the Razer logo color from green to black. The matte black design serves a dual purpose, enhancing aesthetics and minimizing the visibility of fingerprints. The V2, with its Razer green logo, exudes a cool look but tends to showcase fingerprints more prominently.

Material Choices

Both models feature memory foam padding, but the V2 employs a different fabric for enhanced breathability. However, the fabric, while intended to be ultra-soft, might remind some users of the texture of a bathing suit lining, which might not be universally appealing. In contrast, the V2 X opts for leather material on the ear cushions, providing a different tactile experience. The breathability of the material on the V2 X, coupled with effective passive noise isolation, proves to be advantageous.

Build Quality Exploration

My initial impressions of the build quality were mixed. The headsets, particularly the V2, are exceptionally lightweight, contributing significantly to comfort during prolonged use. The sensation of wearing the headset is such that it almost disappears on your head, a commendable feat in terms of comfort.

However, upon closer inspection, certain aspects of the build quality raise concerns. Both models exhibit hollow ear cups, and the size extension mechanism, though functional, varies in user experience. The V2 X, being even lighter, boasts a smoother adjustment due to a more refined rail system. Interestingly, the V2 X demonstrates superior overall build quality, emphasizing a level of premium craftsmanship not immediately evident in the V2.
### Build Quality Contd.

Green Cable Concerns

An intriguing design element is the exposed green cable on each side, adding a distinctive Razer character. However, there's a potential drawback as extending the headset to its maximum stretches the cable along with it. This raises apprehensions about the cable becoming a potential point of failure over time. This trade-off is somewhat expected given that these headsets aim to be the lightest in the $99 gaming headset space, competing with the likes of the G Pro, GSP 300, Arctis 5, and HyperX Cloud 2.

Comfort vs. Build Quality

Despite certain reservations about the build quality, the comfort level these headsets provide cannot be overstated. Wearing the headset for extended periods, up to 6 hours, doesn't introduce any pressure points, making it ideal for prolonged gaming sessions. The lightweight nature ensures that the headset "disappears" on your head, offering a comfortable gaming experience. However, users are advised to exercise caution when handling the headset over time, especially considering the exposed green cable and potential variations in build quality.

Buttons, Dials, Switches, and Cables

User Interaction

Both headsets share a design with a volume dial on the right side and a mic mute switch at the back. The volume dial is particularly noteworthy for its smooth operation, providing tactile feedback at the midpoint, making it easy for users to discern when they've reached the 50% mark.

Cable Differences

Diverging in their approach, the V2 features a Speedflex cable, a notable inclusion known for its ability to mute out nearly all cable noise. The V2 X, however, opts for a standard rubber cable. The green color, while tying in with the design, comes with a drawback—it generates slightly louder cable noise when brushing against clothing.

Microphone Flexibility

A practical consideration is the removable microphone on the V2, providing users with the flexibility to detach it when not needed. The V2 X, on the other hand, lacks this feature. However, a clever addition to the microphone design is a small icon indicating its optimal orientation, ensuring users achieve the best audio quality.

Feature Disparities

One notable feature disparity emerges—the V2 comes equipped with a USB sound card, a premium addition absent in the V2 X. Razer aims to deliver best-in-class microphone and audio quality with the BlackShark V2 headsets, and the USB sound card is a testament to their commitment to achieving this goal.

Sound Quality

Unexpected Sound Signature

As we delve into sound quality, the BlackShark V2 surprises with a sound signature that deviates from the typical Razer style. Contrary to expectations set by previous Razer gaming audio products, the V2 offers a pure, natural, and balanced sound signature. This departure is particularly notable, considering the contrasting characteristics of the Kraken X, known for its blown-out mid-range, harsh high-end, and muddy bass.

Shared Drivers, Subtle Differences

Both headsets share the same TriForce 50mm drivers, with the V2 boasting TriForce Titanium drivers as an additional feature. While the difference is audible, the foundation of a balanced sound is consistent across both models. The V2 leans slightly towards emphasizing the high-end, ensuring clarity without causing harsh distortion even at 100% volume.

V2 X's Audio Richness

The V2 X, priced at $59, stands out with a slightly richer or more emphasized bass. Despite this emphasis, the high-end remains clear, showcasing a surprising level of balance. At maximum volume, the audio doesn't induce the harsh distortion often associated with intense treble. The USB sound card, when utilized at 100% volume, delivers a loud output, though a more comfortable listening experience is achieved around 80%.

Gaming Applications

The sound quality of the V2 X makes it a compelling choice for competitive gaming, especially in titles like CS:GO and Escape from Tarkov. Its performance rivals more expensive headsets like the G Pro X, providing a similar sound experience at a significantly lower price point. While the GSP 300 offers a slightly wider soundstage, the V2 X competes favorably in terms of bass and high notes.

THX Spatial Audio Advantage

One distinctive advantage of the BlackShark V2 is its built-in THX spatial audio, providing a subtle soundstage expansion. This feature is not to be confused with traditional surround sound modes; instead, it enhances the environmental immersion without compromising the original frequencies. The V2 X, lacking this spatial audio feature, positions the V2 as the premium choice for users seeking this additional dimension in their gaming audio experience.

Microphone Quality

Unpacking Microphone Performance

Transitioning to microphone quality, a crucial aspect of gaming headsets, the BlackShark V2 series showcases promising capabilities. Starting with the V2, the audio quality is commendable when plugged into its USB sound card with default settings. However, there's a noticeable compression effect on the higher-end when speaking loudly.

USB Sound Card Bottleneck

Despite the high-quality microphone capsule utilized in the V2, the USB sound card proves to be a bottleneck in unleashing its full potential. Interestingly, bypassing the USB sound card and directly plugging into the motherboard reveals a significant improvement. This highlights the untapped potential of the microphone, showing better resolution, improved low-end pickup, and reduced compression on the high-end when freed from the limitations of the USB sound card.

Consistency in the V2 X

Switching to the $59 BlackShark V2 X plugged directly into the same motherboard, with identical settings, results in nearly identical audio quality. This consistency is remarkable, positioning the V2 X as a compelling choice not only for its price but also for the microphone's performance. While not removable, the microphone on the V2 X holds its own, providing users with an impressive audio input at an affordable price.

Comparative Analysis

Comparing the $59 Razer microphone to the $99 Sennheiser GSP 300, the V2 X exhibits a similar or even better performance. The V2 X's microphone, being slightly more sensitive, eliminates the need for gain boosting. This unexpected outcome suggests that, in terms of microphone quality, the V2 X outshines its higher-priced counterpart.

USB Sound Card & Software**

Enhanced Control with Razer Synapse

As we conclude the microphone test, the USB sound card steps into the spotlight, offering additional features for both microphone and audio quality. Within Razer Synapse, a plethora of settings opens up, providing users with enhanced control over their gaming audio experience.

THX Spatial Audio Configuration

Upon entering Razer Synapse, users encounter an "Action Recommended" prompt, nudging them to select THX Spatial Audio as the default source over the USB sound card. This initiates an interesting choice for users—stereo sound through the Razer USB sound card or spatial audio without navigating back and forth within Razer Synapse. The flexibility allows users to seamlessly switch between these modes based on their gaming preferences.

Microphone Settings

The microphone settings within Razer Synapse present an impressive array of options. Beyond basic microphone gain sensitivity adjustments, users can delve into microphone boost and sensitivity, essentially controlling the noise gate. Fine-tuning these settings allows users to isolate background noise, ensuring the microphone focuses on the user's voice when desired.

Volume Normalization and Vocal Clarity

Two notable features, Volume Normalization and Vocal Clarity, contribute to the overall audio experience. Volume Normalization aims to equalize volume levels, allowing users to whisper or yell without drastic changes in listener perception. Vocal Clarity, while intended to enhance voice clarity, can introduce a highly processed sound. Some users may prefer to disable this feature for a more natural audio experience.

Ambient Noise Reduction

The Ambient Noise Reduction option adds an intriguing dimension. While it slightly suppresses the user's voice, it effectively eliminates environmental noises. Striking a balance between minimizing background noise and preserving voice clarity, this option enhances the overall microphone performance.

Sidetone Setting

An appreciated addition is the sidetone setting, operating in real-time without latency. Users can control the volume of sidetone, providing an immediate sense of environmental awareness without compromising the gaming audio experience.

Microphone Equalizer Settings

Rounding off the microphone settings are various equalizer presets, with the Broadcast quality preset standing out. Users seeking customization can explore the custom option, allowing tinkering with each setting to achieve a personalized audio profile.

Sound Profile Enhancements

Navigating to the Enhancement tab reveals sound profile options. Users can enable bass boost, sound normalization (reminiscent of Volume Normalization for microphone settings), and vocal clarity for incoming audio. These features cater to diverse preferences, enabling users to tailor their audio experience based on specific scenarios.

Mixer Tab Flexibility

Within the Mixer tab, users can choose between auto and manual modes. Auto mode often proves effective in expanding the environment, particularly in Game Mode or Movie Mode. Manual mode, while more granular, allows users to allocate specific outputs to different applications, providing a nuanced control over audio distribution.

THX Spatial Audio Evaluation

It's crucial to emphasize that the THX spatial audio feature, often dismissed as a gimmick, proves to be a valuable addition. Unlike aggressive implementations of surround sound, THX spatial audio offers a subtle soundstage expansion. Engineers at THX create game-specific profiles, considering materials and the game world, resulting in an environmental enhancement that doesn't compromise original frequencies.

Conclusion

Anticipation for the BlackShark V2 Series

In summarizing this extensive review, it becomes evident that the BlackShark V2 series is poised to make a significant impact in the gaming audio market. The anticipation surrounding the V2 X, priced at a mere $59, stems from its identical microphone and audio quality, coupled with what appears to be even better build quality than its $99 counterpart. For users who prioritize a USB sound card dongle and advanced EQ flexibility, the V2 remains a solid choice. However, a notable observation is that the microphone quality seems to suffer when using the USB dongle, raising questions about the overall trade-offs between premium features and raw audio performance.

Audio Quality Met Expectations

At the $99 price point, the BlackShark V2 delivers on audio quality expectations for a newly redesigned 2020 gaming headset from Razer. The departure from Razer's traditional sound signature to a more balanced and natural profile is a welcome surprise. The V2 manages to rectify the issues present in the Kraken X, presenting users with a refined audio experience.

Blackshark V2: Buy Now

Blackshark V2X: BUY NOW

V2 X: The Budget Headset to Beat

However, the true revelation lies in the BlackShark V2 X, positioned as the budget headset to beat in 2020 and possibly beyond. Priced affordably at $59, it successfully competes with more expensive headsets in both audio and microphone quality. The decision to forgo a removable microphone might be a minor compromise for an in-home gaming headset at this price point.

Final Thoughts

As users navigate the myriad options in the gaming audio market, the BlackShark V2 series stands out as a compelling choice, offering a blend of affordability, impressive audio quality, and thoughtful design. Razer's commitment to addressing community feedback is evident, resulting in headsets that not only meet but exceed expectations.

The landscape of gaming audio is evolving, and Razer's BlackShark V2 series positions itself as a frontrunner. Whether it's the premium features of the V2 or the affordability and consistent performance of the V2 X, these headsets present users with a nuanced choice based on individual preferences and priorities.

For those looking to make a purchase decision, the BlackShark V2 and V2 X are available directly from Razer, ensuring a seamless acquisition process for enthusiasts eager to elevate their gaming audio experience.

In conclusion, the BlackShark V2 series, with its innovative design, commendable audio quality, and strategic pricing, emerges as a commendable player in the gaming audio arena. As we look toward 2021, it remains to be seen how these headsets will shape the evolving landscape of gaming peripherals and redefine user expectations in the coming years.

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