We've had plenty of good gaming headsets over the past couple of years, but they all share one common pitfall: even the smallest among them is still pretty big.
In a world of pocket-size smartphones and razor-thin laptops, carrying around a bulky headset is a big ask, and that's why products like the Razer Hammerhead Duo earbuds ($60) exist.
Razer's Hammerhead line isn't new, and it's no longer the only big name in the gaming earbud market, thanks to the perfectly decent HyperX Cloud earbuds ($50). Like the HyperX, the Hammerhead Duo is aimed at gamers who need a portable peripheral for cellphones and/or Nintendo Switches. The set is also a solid, agreeable gadget that has a few too many drawbacks to make the leap from "good" to "great."
The Hammerhead Duo sounds fairly good for games, and good enough for music. The device works with pretty much any system, thanks to its 3.5-mm audio jack and decently long cord. But finding a comfortable fit isn't that easy, and the earbud set is a little light on extra features.
These buds are worth a look if you need something light and small to stash in a backpack, but if you're skeptical of the earbud paradigm, this won't be the gadget to change your mind.
The Hammerhead Duo comprises two small earbuds attached to a 4-foot braided cable. The buds are small, black and cylindrical; each has a Razer logo on the outside. Halfway down the right earbud cord, there's a small inline controller with three buttons: volume up, play/pause and volume down. At the end of the cord, there's a 3.5-mm audio jack. That's really about it; the Hammerhead Duo is a small, simple, lightweight gadget.
Unlike previous Hammerhead models, the cable is black rather than green, meaning it'll look pretty unobtrusive if you take it out and about with you. But at the same time, the braided design isn't a perfect upgrade — after using the earbuds for less than a day, my cable had already started to fray around the edges. I don't think the cable will fall apart anytime soon, but it seems a little less durable than a plain, strong cord.
Also worth noting is that while a 4-foot cord is absolutely fine for mobile use (and console use, since you can easily plug the Hammerhead Duo into a controller), it's right on the fence for PC play. If you really love using earbuds and primarily use them when playing PC games, you're probably better off with a set of high-end, wireless music buds.
I should start this section off with a disclaimer: Earbuds generally don't fit me well, regardless of what their other merits may be. I've used cheap ones, fancy ones, gaming ones, music ones — it doesn't matter.
The only earbuds I've ever worn that didn't immediately make me want to tear them out of my ears were the Marshall Mode EQ (opens in new tab) ($100). I'll never quite forgive myself for stashing them in my backpack without a case one too many times, popping one bud completely open.
With that in mind, I didn't think the Hammerhead Duo was especially comfortable. The buds pressed down hard on the inside of my ears, to the point where my upper jaw ached by the end of my sessions wearing them. Unlike the HyperX Cloud, though, the Hammerhead Duo at least stayed in place and didn't constantly feel like it was about to fall out.
It helps that the Hammerhead Duo comes with three different earbud tips: small, medium and large. You'll have to do a little experimenting to find out which one suits your ears best — which is why it's unhelpful that the tips are such an absolute pain to attach to the buds.
Removing the tips requires you to dig a fingernail under a tiny rubber dome, which is not the easiest thing in the world. Attaching the tips was so difficult that, during my first attempt, both of my hands cramped up and I had to take a break before trying again.
You have to extend a teeny-tiny flap of rubber over a much larger nub, then pull the rest of the tip down around the earbud. That may not sound so hard, but the tips are too small to get much purchase with your fingers. Unless you have an extremely patient child handy, you're just going to have to stay relaxed and stretch out your fingers vigorously before attempting to swtich the tips.
While I had my issues with the Hammerhead Duo, I should point out that my experience wasn't universal. I handed them off to a coworker, who claimed that they were some of the best earbuds she'd ever used, and told me that she couldn't wait to get her hands on them once my review was finished.
All criticisms aside, the Hammerhead Duo fulfills its primary purpose very well. I hooked it up to a variety of consoles to see how the device handles gaming sound, and it performed admirably across the board. StarCraft: Remastered on PC came through loud and clear; the peripheral did even better with mobile games.
The music and sound effects in Dragon Quest III on Android came through in all their retro glory. Even better was the fact that Switch games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition sounded nuanced and balanced, particularly the voicework and orchestral scores.
It's worth noting that Razer is planning a Switch-specific edition of the Hammerhead, which will come out in June. The device has silver Razer logos on the earbuds rather than green ones, comes with a carrying case, and has a mic-mute button rather than volume and play/pause on the inline control panel. However, those features are the only differences. If you really need a pair of earbuds for your Switch right now, there's no reason to wait – unless you play a ton of online multiplayer games.
The Hammerhead Duo is pretty light on bells and whistles, especially once you take into account that the volume controls work only for cellphones — you'll have to do things the old-fashioned way on consoles and PCs. The play/pause button can also accept and end phone calls, which is handy if you want to talk to someone without pulling your phone out of your pocket. The inline microphone is also clear enough for everyday conversations, although I don't know how well it would hold up under demanding tournament conditions.
Razer touts the Hammerhead Duo's "Dual Driver" technology, which theoretically surpasses the simpler driver found in the HyperX Cloud buds. In my experience, it didn't make that much of a practical difference. Music still sounded decent, no matter the genre.
I listened to my usual tracks from Old Crow Medicine Show, Flogging Molly and the Rolling Stones; while the bass was a little underemphasized, the treble and vocals sounded clean enough. (I usually listen to Handel as well, but Razer recommended Beethoven instead – the Moonlight Sonata did, indeed, sound just fine.)
On the other hand, the music quality is about what you'd expect from a very small, $60 gaming peripheral. Everything sounds just a little bit indistinct and faraway, so while the audio is fine for listening to tunes while you're out and about, these buds aren't likely to replace your favorite music-focused peripherals.
The Hammerhead Duo accomplishes what it sets out to do. It's an affordable set of earbuds, tuned specifically for gaming and small enough to stash in a pocket, plus simple enough to use with just about any system.
At the same time, the buds can feel pretty sparse, especially compared to Razer's more ornate full-size headsets. Frankly, there's not much to set them apart from a good — and potentially more comfortable — set of music earbuds from a major manufacturer.
If you dig Razer gear and need a set of earbuds, these are as good as any. It's also worth looking into the HyperX Clouds — as well as those Marshall Mode EQs. I miss those.