Razer's Blackshark Battlefield 3 edition is an exceedingly well-built set of cans. High-quality rubberised cabling, leatherette ear pads and head band, strong metal construction and well-designed joints exude a feeling of quality.
While the audio cable isn't detachable, the boom mic certainly is, and a metal cover is included to fill the gap once it's removed. The boom mic itself is lovely; not just swing-down, the arm is also articulated in two points and can be slid away or towards the mouth for accurate placement. The mic itself is foam covered, to properly deal with sibilants.
They're also incredibly comfortable, with the horizontally rotatable circumaural ear pads, adjustable headband and soft leatherette making them a pleasure to wear on your head for extended periods of time.
While Razer talks up the isolation, we found that the headphones only cut off some frequencies, making others more obvious. Once the sound starts though, this no longer becomes a concern.
At 29Ω it's quite low impedance — so much so that we had to drop the Windows volume to around 30 per cent to compensate — and there's no in-line volume control, as is often the case with higher-end sets. As a side effect, we learned that the Blackshark is capable of phenomenal volume levels without the sound breaking up.
The 1.3m cable from the left earpiece terminates in a 3.5mm headset jack, which can then be added to by another 1m splitter cable, separating the signal into independent 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks.
Plugging it directly in to a Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Music, we were pleasantly surprised by elements of music coming to the fore, which we hadn't heard before. Then it all went to pot as the comically overpowered bass came into play, treading over everything in its path.
While the Blackshark is capable of very impressive bass that truly pounds the ears, it does so to the detriment of nearly everything else. Karnivool's "Goliath" became a mess of echoey undefined booming, with backing vocals brought forward while lead vocals receded. Guitars that once had bite were suddenly backgrounded to flat and weak tones. This trend continued as we listened to more music, with the bass becoming ridiculous, forward and impressive; an odd mix in the mids bringing forward audio that usually contributed to the pad of a song rather than being featured; and the mid to highs sounding like they were somehow coming from far away, with very little immediacy.
Perturbed, we plugged the cans in to a headphone amp instead. This allowed us to crank the system volume to 100 per cent, and it definitely improved the overall tone — but it still sounded like the song was screaming to get out, trapped behind a wall, below the ever-present, overriding and thumping bass.
Things didn't improve in games, as the bass obliterated everything else in the sound stage. Rumbling explosions were impressive and gunshots boomed, but both lacked any form of sharp bite, and everything else including dialogue simply became a passenger in the quest for thumping your earlobes.
The frustrating thing is that the sound quality isn't bad, even if the bass does sometimes lose cohesion; we've had plenty of examples of gaming headsets where the mids and highs were ill-defined, muffled and lacked any form of sparkle. Its just that the bass level is so much ridiculously higher in volume than everything else that it sounds like the rest of the audio is meekly playing from a separate source outside the headphones, trying to find a way in.
The Razer Blacksharks are some of the most comfortable, well-built headphones we've worn. The sound they produce, however, strikes them completely off our list.