Rating: ★★★★☆

Portable speakers, eh? How about that. It’s been years since I first started reviewing hardware and tech, and this is the first set of portable speakers I’ve ever tested. The Razer Ferox is certainly a neat little bundle to start with, but what’s the point of portable speakers? As I pointed out in our first look, having speakers can be more comfortable than headphones. As someone who travels around often for work, I need a break from headphones, but does the Ferox make or break the case for this new type of audio equipment?

The Ferox is a set of stereo speakers that are formidably small and conveniently packaged. For $60, buyers get the two omni-directional speakers, a connector and charging cable and a carrying case to keep everything neat. And neat it is. The Ferox is remarkably simple. There are no buttons, no batteries to replace, nothing but plugging them in and listening. Forget cavemen, it’s so easy your cat could do it.

Once out of the perfectly designed zipper-opened carrying case, setup is a one step process. Plug the included micro-USB cable into both speakers (there is no right or left speaker, the split cable determines which side is right and left) and pop up the panels atop the speakers, and voila! A ring of blue light shines out the bottom showing that the speakers are on, and with any audio source with an auxiliary (3.5mm) input, you’re good to go.

The saucer-like speakers have a similar minimalist design, using a cylindrical cone-like structure to take up the least amount of space without compromising stability. The base has a thick layer of rubber to stay in place and the “back” has the micro-USB port. What else need there be on a speaker system?

What really makes the Ferox excellent for travel is the omni-directional sound design. This essentially makes sound blast in every direction, whereas most speakers face one specific direction to hit a sweet spot. Like the Razer Mako pro-grade speakers (which I use daily and love), it makes almost no difference which direction the Ferox speakers face. This means finding the sweet spot is much easier to find because it only involves moving the speakers into place, not aiming them.

I especially like the pop-up on/off, where the top of the Ferox speakers pop up and down, revealing the actual speaker and opening the air path for sound to exit, thereby activating the speakers. It’s so simple and brilliant. It’s even enjoyable to just watch the top open up entirely, which takes about four seconds.

Intelligent design is behind every aspect of the Ferox and included parts. The speakers don’t turn on if there is no micro-USB cable connected to them. Each speaker is a separate piece, so users can use just one if desired for listening in mono. Instead of using disposable batteries, rechargeable batteries are built into the speakers and last about 12 hours per charge. A ring of light shows when the speakers are on, glowing blue, and blinks red when power is below 10%. Finally, the included cable both connects the speakers to an audio source and acts as a charging cable for the batteries when they run low.

This level of great design is uncommon, and I was pleasantly surprised as I used the Ferox. Even the carrying case, made specifically for the Ferox, can be used for anything thanks to a removable middle Velcro wall. My only concern is how short the included cable is, only three feet between the two speakers and one foot from the speaker base to the audio source. Even using the set in a hotel, with my laptop the speakers with just enough distance, there should be a little leeway for the cabling. I was forced to move around the speakers or audio source, specifically my iPhone or iPod, uncomfortably to accommodate the short cable length.

Audio quality from the Ferox speakers is decent. Bass is lacking, which doesn’t come as a surprise considering the size (though the recent SteelSeries Siberia headset I tested has excellent bass). This is partially because the Ferox only supports 150Hz-20kHz, probably to help conserve power. However, higher-pitch bass is also weak. Mid-tones are accurate, though the sound lacks definition and richness. Sounds tend to be flat, though soft. High-tones differ somewhat, with some sharp tones and occasional static. In the lab, I wasn’t impressed with the audio quality.

The Razer Ferox, sitting atop the Razer Mako speakers

However, testing sound and actually using the speakers day-to-day are very different, and the Ferox is undoubtedly not meant for DVD-quality audio. Listening to most modern music, streaming at 192kbps or lower, the Ferox proved more than adequate at reproducing accurate audio. Bass is still problematic, and some high notes are still too sharp.

Some other problems occur with volume: the Ferox speakers can get very loud, but they begin to suffer above 75 decibels. Since they rely on the audio source to control volume levels, using the Ferox on your PC will require some basic volume changes to ensure you have reasonable volume levels. Most media applications have their own volume controls, and the computer itself has a master volume control. Application volume should never exceed 100% or there will be static and sound fragments. The same applies to your computer volume if using on-board audio, which shouldn’t exceed 85%.

Yet after hearing the Ferox, my final question came down to general happiness. Was I happier wearing various headsets and earphones, ranging from $50-$350 in price (and all generally good products) for a few hours, or using the Ferox speakers? The best way to describe it is a line graph where over time, the Ferox is a better solution. Speakers are always better than headphones, even if they don’t offer the same audio quality. Having to wear another peripheral – especially hours on end – takes its toll. The Ferox succeeds in every aspect of convenience: they’re small, light, simple to use, have great battery life, and are easy to store. For the low price of $60, I’ll take the Ferox over headphones any day of the week.

You can buy the Razer Ferox speakers from Amazon for $59.99.

Summary

Pros:

  • More convenient than most headsets for travel audio
  • Brilliant design
  • Good battery life and easy charging solution

Cons:

  • Sharp highs and muffled/muted bass
  • Connecting speaker cable too short



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.