Razer headsets are usually good and sometimes great, and yet I don't find myself recommending them over offerings from competitors like SteelSeries and HyperX all that often. At best, Razer headsets tend to refine rather than elevate, and they highlight features that competitors can often deliver just a little bit better.
That's not the case with the Razer Kraken Tournament Edition, though. This $100 headset combines clever design, stellar audio and a comfortable fit, along with some bells and whistles that aren't at all common in this price range. And even though the headset is a bit unwieldy, you can absolutely make it your everyday pair of music headphones, thanks to a widely compatible design and a fairly subdued appearance.
The Razer Kraken Tournament Edition introduces a few annoyances that (ironically) might make it difficult to carry around on the tournament scene. But it's a versatile gadget that delivers gorgeous sound for both games and multimedia.
Razer hasn't changed the appearance of its Kraken headset line too much over the past few years. There are two comically oversize ear cups, each one with a Razer logo in the center. A padded, plastic headband connects the two.
You can get the headset in either green or black; either way, it looks a little out of place while you're out and about, but not egregiously so (provided you get the black model, anyway). There's a retractable mic in the left ear cup and a volume-control dial/mic-mute button halfway down the 3.5mm audio cable.
Interestingly, the audio cable doesn't connect directly to a computer — or, at least, it doesn't have to. Instead, the cable connects to a small, rectangular amp, which connects to a PC via USB.
While I'm not usually a fan of daisy-chaining devices together, the amp is a spectacular idea, implemented well. Thanks to its 3.5mm audio cable, the Kraken Tournament Edition works just fine with PS4, Switch, Xbox One and mobile devices. But the amp elevates the whole package on a PC.
The amp has large, circular volume buttons on its face, as well as one to mute the mic. On the left side, you'll find bass controls, while the right side has a game audio/chat balance toggle. There's also a button to switch between THX Spatial Audio and standard stereo sound (more on this later).
The amp is small and light, and as such, Razer implemented a safeguard to prevent it from flapping all over the place whenever you move the audio cord. The bottom of the amp is sticky, so once you place the amp on a flat surface, it'll stay put. In general, this is a good move, but it does introduce a few difficulties.
Naturally, it means you'll sacrifice some desk space, especially since you'll need to put the amp in a spot where both cords can have a little slack. You'll also want to keep the sticky side free of any dust or lint, meaning traveling with it is going to be a bit of a fraught experience.
Finally, while the sticky material stood up well to a few days of repeated use while I pinpointed the perfect spot, it will eventually lose its adhesive properties. That day is probably a few years down the line, but you will likely have to figure out how to weigh the amp down by itself in the future.
In spite of their size, Razer headsets are often extremely lightweight and comfortable, and the Kraken TE is no exception. Finding and replicating a perfect fit is easy, thanks to numbered notches built in to the headband.
The ear cups themselves come with a layer of cooling gel to prevent overheating, as well as fabric that promotes sweat evaporation. There's an indentation for eyeglasses and memory foam for a tight fit without any discomfort. I was able to wear the headset for hours at a time with no ill effect.
I handed the Kraken TE off to a co-worker who said the headset was extremely comfortable but felt a little hot after a while. I didn't have a similar issue, but perhaps the cooling gel doesn't work equally well for everyone.
One of the Kraken TE's new features is the inclusion of THX Spatial Audio. This is a directional audio-processing technology from the house George Lucas built — and, as you might imagine, it sounds fantastic.
I tested the Kraken TE with and without THX Spatial Audio, and while both modes sounded great, the THX technology gave gaming sounds a notable boost. I especially liked it in games like Overwatch, where I could glide around the battlefield as D.Va, hearing incoming enemy fire seconds before raising my shields to intercept it. Every gunshot, rocket blast and clanking mecha sounded clear and immediate.
Thanks to THX Spatial Audio, every gunshot, rocket blast and clanking mecha sounded clear and immediate.
Thanks to the THX button on the amp, it's easy to turn the spatial audio on and off. You can also adjust surround-sound options in the Synapse 3 software. While it takes some time to mix and match the perfect audio settings for each game, you'll ultimately get sound that's balanced and gripping. I played through StarCraft: Remastered, World of Warcraft and Pathfinder: Kingmaker with the Kraken TE and found that music, voice work and sound effects all came through with admirable nuance.
The amp is the Kraken TE's most remarkable feature, but there are other ways to fine-tune your experience. Once you install the Razer Synapse 3 software, you can also toggle surround sound, create individual profiles for games and set up your own equalization profiles. (The Kraken TE doesn't have any lighting, which I think is fine; after all, you can't see lights on your own headphones.)
Tweaking your preferences is pretty straightforward, assuming that the software installs correctly. Synapse 3 even generates a simple toggle menu, so you can determine, app by app, which programs use stereo sound and which use surround. You can also toy around with volume normalization (which keeps volume consistent across apps), bass boost, individual equalization levels and a lot of other useful features.
It's a lot to manage, but if you'd prefer to not bother, the headset sounds fine in its default configuration. (Also, a few preprogrammed equalization profiles for games, movies, music and so on would have been nice.)
I do have to point out, though, that on my regular test machine, the Synapse 3 software spontaneously uninstalled itself after I poked around in the settings menu and tried to deactivate the program’s autostart feature. I contacted Razer about the issue, and neither one of us is sure exactly what happened.
I have been unable to reinstall the software. But when I installed Synapse 3 on another system, everything worked smoothly. I can't account for the discrepancy and have no way to gauge the likelihood of this error occurring on other users' systems. But most likely, Synapse 3 still has a few bugs to be ironed out.
One area in which I usually expect gaming headsets to fall down is music performance. Something about fine-tuning a system for game soundscapes doesn't always translate well for everyday use. But the Kraken TE sounds fantastic, whether you're using it with all the amp's bells and whistles or just by itself, plugged into your phone.
I tested the Kraken TE with tracks from Flogging Molly, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones and G.F. Handel, and the music sounded balanced and immediate across the board. The bass was audible without overwhelming anything, and the vocals came through clearly above the melodious instruments. Being able to adjust the bass levels on the fly was particularly useful, because not every genre relies on lower frequencies to the same extent.
The Kraken TE is the first Razer headset in a while to take some major risks, and almost all of them pay off.
Likewise, the headset handles streaming content well. Both the dialogue and big action scenes in the otherwise-unremarkable Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series sounded crisp and impactful, as did the subtler music and sound effects in Better Call Saul.
The Kraken TE is the first Razer headset in a while to take some major risks, and almost all of them pay off. Not only does the headset sound great, but it also features an inventive design with some very sensible extras. At $100, it's a much more versatile headset than you might expect for the price.
The SteelSeries Arctis 5 and the HyperX Cloud Alpha are definitely worth considering in the same price range, but Razer has put out a strong contender this time around. The Kraken TE may not give you the skills you need to dominate the tournament scene, but it's arguably the right tool for the job.