At first glance, the Razer Kraken 7.1 V2 ($100) looks big and clunky. It could be a relic of the time when gaming peripherals meant low-end products with high-end pricing, jazzed up to look like something a '90s kid would find really radical, bro. First impressions can be deceiving, however.
The Kraken 7.1 V2, though hardly subtle, is a rather elegant device that delivers top-notch sound with supreme comfort for both competitive and single-player gamers. It's bulky and not very portable, and it has few uses beyond PC gaming. But if you need a gaming headset that makes no compromises on audio, this is one of the better options.
Like previous Razer Kraken iterations, the 7.1 V2 is a big, black headset with almost comically thick ear cups and LED Razer symbols that light up with full RGB capabilities on both sides. There are no inline volume controls, but there is a retractable, flexible microphone stashed within the left ear cup. The device connects via USB, and is compatible with PCs and PS4s. (For the latter, you'll almost certainly need an extension cord.)
The 11-ounce Kraken 7.1 V2 is not pretty; there are no two ways about that. It's enormous and gaudy, succumbing to the worst stereotypes the phrase "gaming headset" conjures up. It can take up a lot of room in a backpack, and it would look ridiculously out of place anywhere other than a gaming setup. The microphone is well made, though, and the headset is a lot more comfortable than it looks. Furthermore, because it has no 3.5-millimeter compatibility, you can't really take it on the subway with you. So perhaps, then, its questionable appearance is not a deal breaker.
It's also worth pointing out that although I found the Kraken 7.1 V2 unbelievably bulky compared with most competitors on the market, it's considerably smaller than the Razer ManO'War headset. Maybe Razer just makes unusually big headsets, but either way, this is easily the sleeker of the two.
MORE: Best Gaming Headsets
The Kraken 7.1 V2 is huge — both its profile and its oversize ear cups. With so much material present, I expected it to push down hard on my ears as earlier Razer headsets did. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that the over-the-ear cups make a tight seal without any undue pressure. In fact, the ear cups felt downright soft and light, even compared to headsets with much thinner profiles.
The headband has similar padding, and users can adjust it on either side for a better fit. Although it's not quite as refined as the Velcro headband on the SteelSeries Arctis 5, I was able to wrap the headset around my big hair and glasses pretty quickly, and then wear it for hours at a time without seeing any ill effects.
I gave the Kraken 7.1 V2 to a co-worker, who agreed with my assessment across the board. She said the ear cups felt extremely comfortable and that for such a big headset, it sat pretty lightly on her head.
The Kraken 7.1 V2 makes use of surround sound with Razer's own 7.1 protocol. Although you can turn it off, I never found any reason to. Unlike some other surround-sound systems, the Kraken 7.1 V2 immerses you in sound without adding a weird reverberation effect to voices. After a brief calibration exercise, you can use the Razer Synapse 2.0 software to determine which programs will use the surround sound and which will use regular stereo sound.
I tested Overwatch, StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Marvel Heroes with the Kraken 7.1 V2, to see how it would hold up across multiple genres. Notably, I did not need to deactivate surround sound for any of the titles, which saved me a lot of headaches right off the bat. Both surround and stereo do a good job of balancing audio profiles for gaming, music and other kinds of media.
Beyond that, the audio was excellent across the board. In Overwatch, I could hear enemy gunfire and rush to intercept it with D.Va's shields. Reigel barked orders in StarCraft II, the waves rushed past Geralt as he explored undersea wrecks and Captain America quipped one-liners while taking down supervillains. The headset didn't favor any particular genre; it helped me out in both competitive and solo situations.
There's only one downside to the Kraken 7.1 V2 when it comes to gaming, and it has to do with equalization options. The Synapse 2.0 software allows you to pick a ton of music presets (more on that in the next section), but there isn't a single gaming preset available. Not every game uses the same sound profile, and it's bizarre that Razer expects users to either make their own equalization profiles or ignore those differences entirely.
If you expect a gaming headset to provide great music as well, you're usually setting yourself up for disappointment. But the Kraken 7.1 V2 bucks that trend. With about a dozen various equalization presets — including country, classical, blues, rock and oldies — you can set up the headset to excel with almost any musical genre.
I tested out folk music from Bill Staines, the Romantic-era 9th Symphony from Ludwig van Beethoven, a little Celtic punk by way of Flogging Molly and some good old-fashioned rock and roll from The Rolling Stones. Although changing the presets involved a little more legwork than I usually like when jumping from genre to genre, it made a big difference.
Even if you don't want to mess around with the presets, both music and videos sound good with either the 7.1 surround sound or the standard stereo settings. The performance, however, comes with a sizable caveat: Unless you're listening on your computer, or a PS4 with a very long cord, you can't use the Kraken 7.1 V2.
Razer sells a similar headset, the Kraken Pro V2, which uses standard 3.5-mm jacks, but the 7.1 V2 is USB-only. It doesn't come with an adapter or an alternate cable, and because of the headset's internal workings, you can't just use a third-party solution. This means the Kraken 7.1 V2 is good for your PC and PS4, and nothing else. Having good music performance is worth only so much if you can't use it with your primary music players.
As a USB-only headset, the Kraken 7.1 V2 has access to the Razer Synapse 2.0 software. In addition to selecting presets, as described above, players can use the software to calibrate surround sound, customize the RGB ear-cup lighting, create their own equalization profiles, and tweak other settings for the audio and mic. The lighting is up to Razer's usual high standards, although I still don't see much point in fancy lighting that the player will never see.
Synapse 2.0 is some of my favorite software for calibrating mice and keyboards, but curiously, it doesn't let users create individual profiles for headsets and link them to games. This shortcoming, in combination with the lack of gaming presets, presents something of a problem. You can select to use either stereo or surround sound for applications that you currently have open, but that's not a very helpful feature unless you feel like Alt-Tab-ing out of active games.
Beyond the software, I was very pleased with the Kraken 7.1 V2's mic. The microphone is a retractable, bendable model that you can position just about anywhere near the left side of your mouth. I found that it picked up my voice and broadcast it clearly in just about any position. The only drawback is that it also picked up an awful lot of background sounds, such as my co-workers' typing. It's probably not enough to ruin an online game, but if you have a loud keyboard, that background noise could provide some interference.
If you can get past the Kraken 7.1 V2's bulkiness and lack of versatility, you'll find a surprisingly comfortable headset that provides great sound for both games and music. An $100 price tag is definitely fair, given the high-quality audio. Whether you lean toward the competitive scene or solo adventures, the Kraken 7.1 V2 is well worth a look — that is, if you have a place big enough to store it.