Razer Barracuda HP-1 Gaming Headphones Page: 1
Introduction

A question that I'm often asked is "what makes a good online gamer?". My answer, lots of practice, a passion for whatever you do, oh and decent hardware! Make no mistake, hardware plays an integral part to how you perform in the "online battlefield" and companies now have capitalised on this by focusing their efforts on e-sports (electronic sports).

There is a lot of choice in the market these days, so gamers are in the fortunate position to tailor their set up in line with their own specific preferences. But what are the most important elements aside from the computer itself? Well a decent mouse and decent headphones are always top of my list! Having recently reviewed Razers "DeathAdder" I remain mightly impressed, so when asked if I wanted to review Razers new 5.1 headphones, I agreed without hesistation!!

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Main Pic

Razer made their name in manufacturing mice, but have since branched out into other areas of gaming hardware to capitalise on the e-sport generation. Their new headphones, the "Razer Barracuda" are the first set of headphones Razer have made; and with their past track record in creating successful mice, there are high hopes for this 5.1 surround sound headset!


Specifications

The following specifcations have been taken from Razer's website..

Overview
Razer Fidelity™ gaming audio engine
Eight discrete drivers (six for mid-high frequency, two for sub-woofer)
Six-channel analog input
Individual volume controls: front, rear, center, bass and master
Detachable uni-directional noise-cancelling microphone
Razer High Definition-Dedicated Audio Interface™ (HD-DAI™ connector)
2m cable

Headphones
Frequency response: 50~20,000Hz
Impedance: - Front speaker: 64Ω - Rear speaker: 32Ω - Centre speaker: 64Ω - Sub-woofer: 8Ω
Total power rating: 330mW RMS

Microphone
Frequency response: 50~16,000Hz
Sensitivity: -58 ± 2dB
Impedance: 2.2KΩ

The specification on these headphones is impressive, with excellent frequency response from both the headphones and the microphone. However I would expect this from headphones of this quality, as the Barracuda's are priced at the higher end of the audio headset market.


Razer Barracuda HP-1 Gaming Headphones Page: 2
Packaging

As with all Razer packaging, it is always an occasion to open it. Razer really do think about the presentation of their products, aiming to create anticipation and excitement when opening for the first time. The packaging on the Barracuda's does not disappoint and upon opening the box, you're greeted with the traditional "Razer window". This is a simple but very effective method, as many other manufacturers simply place their products in a plastic casing, removing some of the excitement of unwrapping your latest purchase!

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Box Front Razer Barracuda HP-1 Box Open

I have to admit that the packaging did impress me. Razer have taken the minimalist approach on the front of the box, showing only a large picture of the headphones along with the Razer and Barracuda trademark logo's.

Around the back of the box is where specification junkies will find their fix, with a wealth of information available in a whole host of languages.

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Box Back Razer Barracuda HP-1 Box Side

At the side of the box you will also find endorsement quotes from two gamers (who I've personally never heard of). This seems to be the normal marketing approach to esports gaming equipment nowadays.

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Contents

Contained within the box are the following items:

• Razer Barracuda Headset
• Razer "Certificate of Authenticity"
• Razer "Quick Start Guide"
• Detachable Microphone
• Audio Cable Splitter (for use with normal 5.1 soundcards)
• USB to Firewire cable


Razer Barracuda HP-1 Gaming Headphones Page: 3
Appearance

My first impressions were how big the headphones looked. I currently use a set of Sennheiser PC150 stereo headphones and in comparison, the Barracuda's dwarfed them. However this is to be expected as the Barracuda's are packing four speakers per earpiece!

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Razer Barracuda HP-1 Side

Upon holding the Barracuda's, you realise how study and solid they feel, excellent for transporting around if you're into LAN gaming! My feelings were that the headphones were very robust and would withstand a lot of punishment if required. The foam ear pieces were exceptionally comfortable and the covering over the earpiece felt quite thin, hopefully aiding clarity.

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Warning Razer Barracuda HP-1 DVI

Razer Barracuda HP-1 DVI Adapter Razer Barracuda HP-1 Connector

Connecting to the Barracuda's is a fairly large plastic block that contains a three way button to turn the amplifier on or off (with or without the glow light), a master volume control and separate volume controls for bass, centre, front and rear speakers. Personally, I found this a little "clunky" and although it is great to be able to tweak the sound balance, I would have prefered to have a pre-set option enabled so that I did not have to "fiddle" around with the sound levels. Additionally, the volume wheels did not click into place, but instead slid into position. This I found a little difficult to get on with purely because it was easy to knock the one of the volume settings after spending too much time getting the balance just right. However I appreciate that gamers might want to change these settings in game and therefore this is in-line with Razers "On The Fly" approach to their gaming hardware.

You're also greeted by a number of wires and a DVI looking connector, which is in fact Razers own HD-DAI connector. Thankfully a bright orange label warns you not to connect it to your "video graphics card". The HD-DAI connector plugs straight into Razer's own soundcard which I've no doubt would give impressive sound quality when combined together. However, do not fear, you can connect the Barracuda's into a normal 5.1 soundcard by using the supplied adaptor.

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Ear Razer Barracuda HP-1 Headband

Not only did the Barracuda's feel good to hold, but the comfort in wearing them was also impressive. They fashion a very effective elastic headband which moulds to your head removing the need for constant adjustment! Even when moving my head about quickly I could not get them to fall off or slip, something you don't want to happen if you're in the middle of a gun fight!!

Razer Barracuda HP-1 Microphone Razer Barracuda HP-1 Microphone

I particularly liked the detatchable microphone and the fact that it was fairly small and un-obtrusive. However, being detachable and small does beg the question of how easy would it be to lose?

Overall, the fit and finish of the Barracuda's was very impressive proving them to be a quality product!


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Testing Method

To fully put the Barracuda's through their paces, I tested them out on three soundcards and a range of games and music. The soundcards used were the Creative Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS Gamer, the Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer and the Abit AB9 Pro On-Board soundcard. All of these soundcards have 5.1 capabilities and each were using the latest drivers in Windows Vista.

My software tests included the following:

- Counter-Strike: Source
- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent
- CD played with Windows Media Player 11
- DVD played with Windows Media Player 11
- Teamspeak RC2 and Ventrilo (gaming communications)

My main focus would be with the gaming performance of these headphones as this is what they have been designed for. I chose Counterstrike: Source and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell for a number of differenct reasons. Firstly, Counter-Strike: Source requires pinpoint accuracy in which to seek out your opponents footsteps. Therefore I would be looking for exceptional directional clarity, impressive depth and range combined with a solid balance between bass and treble (bass for the firing guns and treble for the tinkle of shells dropping to the floor). With Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, I would be looking for clarity and depth in not only the sound effects but the audio performance from characters walking and talking combined with the overall ambiance created.

For the music testing, I focussed on around 10 songs, all from different genres from rock, to classical, to R&B. This allowed me to listen for the clarity and depth in the range compared to my current Sennheiser headphones along with picking up any distortions in the sound quality. I also tested the Barracuda's with a scene from the film "Blade" which I've always found great for testing surround sound.

Finally the microphones performance was tested in both teamspeak and ventrilo for in-game communications in order to establish the clarity and performance of this rather small microphone.


Gaming Results

The first game to test the Barracuda's was Counter-Strike: Source and my impressions were somewhat mixed. The directional sounds were impressive and there was a new level of depth that my current headphones could not match. Picking out footsteps on walkways above me become a lot more easier as not only did the surround sound pinpoint the area in which the footsteps originated, but also, the distance and angle away from my position. Most impressive! However the reasons for my mixed feelings came down to the apparent lack of bass. Compared to normal stereo headphones, the bass felt quite empty leaving quite a "tinny" feel to the whole experience. This however did improve when using the headphones with the Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer soundcard, so this made me think about what the Barracuda's would be like when using Razers own soundcard, the AC-1.

Counter-Strike:Source

However I must point out at this stage that it would be unfair to compare a 5.1 headset to a stereo headset. Having used Speedlink Medusa headphones in the past which are also 5.1, I can confirm that the Barracuda's were superior!

Next was Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent. This did sound better than Counter-Strike: Source with great spacial depth and clarity. Footsteps, ambient sounds, speech and gunfire all felt very realistic and immersive. Again the bass was not as strong as my normal stereo headphones, but the 5.1 raised the gaming experience leaving me feeling pleasently pleased with the Barracuda's.

Splinter Cell

Overall, the Barracuda's delivered good surround-sound although bass was lacking somewhat. No matter what I did in tweaking the various balance levels, I couldn't get the thumping bass that I wanted. This left me feeling slightly frustrated as the surround sound did work well to a certain extent but I could just not get that "perfect" feeling when in game. Perhaps the Razer AC-1 sound card will implement some HRTF functions, audio delays or sound coloring to make sounds from the rear drivers sound like they're behind you and the front drivers like they're in front of you, as I struggled to get a perfect balance. However I appreciate that these are headphones which cannot replicate the effect a 5.1 speaker system would offer as the speakers are so close to your ears.


Music Results

Using Media Player 11 along with CD's (as I did not want to test MP3's due to differing bitrates) I proceeded to test out a wide variety of music. Now this did sound good! I'm assuming due to the size of the ear cups, the sound did seem to spread out more and the treble clarity was very impressive. Bass was improved a great deal over the gaming experience, although still not strong enough for my liking. However, in testing a wide variety of music, the Barracuda's really were "on song" (excuse the pun!). There was no apparent distortion even when they were turned up to the highest volume and in tweaking the volume balance between speakers, you could clearly hear the depth and position change of the sound - it was much more apparent than in games.


DVD Results

My DVD choice for testing surround sound is always Blade! There is a scene where Wesley Snipes throws a boomarang type blade around a room, which does a full circle. This is always a very good test when using surround sound as you can hear the blade circle right around your head. So how did the Barracuda's do? Well very well indeed, especially for a set of headphones. The experience was extremely immersive and the sound did travel all around the room, or so it seemed, so very impressive! Also the clarity of the speech was excelent along with punchy bass. For a gaming headset, I found it's performance most impressive.


Microphone Results

When purchasing a headset for gaming, it is imperative that a microphone is included for in game communications. Thankfully Razer has provided just the thing! As previously mentioned, the microphone itself is rather small and detachable (not good if you have a habit of losing things). With this in mind, I'm interested to see how it performs compared to other microphones (namely my Sennheisers). Well it's on par with the Sennheisers without a question, which for a small microphone is impressive.

When using Ventrillo or Teamspeak2, speech was clear and easy to understand which is all I require from my microphone. I did however find the clarity was at it's best when using the Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer soundcard and can only attribute this to the technology used in this card. Overall I had no gripes with the microphone performance and was more than happy with it for gaming use.


Razer Barracuda HP-1 Gaming Headphones Page: 5
Conclusion

So where does this leave us? Well as a product, the Barracuda's are built to last. They are extremely durable, strong and above all comfortable. The 5.1 surround sound does work well, but is no substitute for proper surround sound speakers. However for headphones, they are the best surround sound units that I've used. When listening to music or watching DVD's they perform well and their in game performance brings depth and a spacial atmosphere that stereo headphones cannot match.

However the lack of bass was the only real thing that I found disappointing and no matter what I tweaked, I could not get that balance right. This certainly seems to be a problem for surround sound headphones as a whole, as it is very hard for their reduced size subwoofer speakers to match the performance of a good set of stereo headphones. Perhaps using the HP-1's along side the Razer AC-1 soundcard would have produced more favorable results, as no doubt the AC-1 card is tweaked to get the most out of the HP-1 headphones. But as it stands, the Barracuda's lack the all-round frequency response that I have become accustomed to with a good quality pair of stereo headphones, and being somewhat of an "old school" gamer, I think I'll be sticking with my stereo headset for the time being.

The Razer Barracuda HP-1 headphones are available from Komplett for a rather eye watering £89 (20/06/07). This is significantly higher than most other 5.1 headsets on the market at present, but then Razer products always do tend to be at the higher end of the price scale due to research and quality that goes into their products.

Komplett


Pros
• Very comfortable
• Good clarity and depth
• Detachable microphone

Cons
• Poor bass.
• Very expensive compared to competitors.
• Too many options to tweak the sound balance.


Recommended Award


Thanks to Komplett for providing the Razer Barracuda's for review. Discuss this review in our forums.