Good headphones are hard to come by. Audio equipment is especially difficult to buy because it requires a level of personalization not necessary for so many other peripherals. It has to sound right, feel right, look right, fit for hours at a time, connect the right way…the list goes on and on. Other things, like mice, keyboards, monitors, and even stereo speakers can be good enough. Headphones have to work on so many levels, or we’ll throw them in the corner to collect dust.

That’s why I was very surprised with Razer’s Blackshark. It doesn’t follow any of Razer’s previous lines of headphones, and it isn’t a surround-sound set. In fact, it’s only available because Electronic Arts wanted a headset specially branded for their biggest release of last year, Battlefield 3. And the two companies make that very clear with the entire design, not just the logo plastered on the top of the headband. The Blackshark looks like it belongs on a helicopter pilot while he’s shooting missiles at enemy combatants. Orange wires stick out in an organized fashion that provide great contrast to the silver and black frame. A metal band connects the two cans, and Razer intentionally let it show for that very real, very grit look.

These over-the-ear headphones come with extremely comfortable leather-covered cans. They’re the most comfortable gaming headphones I’ve ever worn, even more comfortable than my Logitech G930s. The leather is plush and thick, and just feels like it melts onto your ears. At first glance the Blackshark looks like an on-ear set, but once you feel just how thick the leather is, you see how much room there is. This absurd level of thickness also provides excellent sound isolation. The Blackshark is one of the few gaming headsets I’ve tested that does as good a job with audio reproduction as it does with blocking outside noise. It works so well that when worn, without making the volume loud (I hate playing games too loudly), I could completely block out screaming in the next room over.

Don’t ask.

Audio quality is also top-notch, whether it’s for games or music of video. Tones are very accurate, sound is soft but clear, and the Blackshark is thoroughly enjoyable to wear for just about anything. Because it is a stereo headset, it connects via 3.5mm auxiliary jack, and like so many devices uses one cable for both incoming audio and the microphone. This means the Blackshark can work with most phones for gaming or calls (some models I tested with, like the iPhone, didn’t pick up the microphone). The relatively small size and thick cups also make the Blackshark suitable for use in bed, for those who enjoy such luxuries.

The microphone boom is also detachable, and can be replaced fully by a slight knob that attaches magnetically. This makes sense because the microphone is fairly large, and while it provides excellent sound quality, if you aren’t using it, it can block your view. The included knob seals off the connector and snaps into place very easily.

My original concern was the cable, which starts from the left can and circles around the headband to the right can. It gives the Blackshark a very distinctive look, but also leaves the set to a damaged cable over a much larger area. In my use I never ran into problems with the surrounding cabling getting caught or in the way, but I did find two other ruffles in this otherwise excellent headset. The first is the strength of the frame, or apparent lack thereof. The earcans twist too loosely, and two screws that keep the height of the cans don’t ever get strong enough for user confidence. The thinness of the frame doesn’t help either. Suffice it to say after two weeks of use the Blackshark is still in excellent condition, even after being thrown around a bit (for testing purposes, of course).

The second is with troubled heat dissipation. Many pairs of headphones that offer decent noise cancellation suffer from poor ventilation; it’s a common trade-off, sound security or cool ears. After 15-20 minutes the Blackshark becomes warm on the ears, and by an hour I needed a break. There are tiny slits on the top of the cans for heat to escape, but no slits on the bottoms for cool air to enter.

I’m very impressed with Razer and the Blackshark. In the past Razer headsets have been good, but not great, and have generally missed two or more of the major areas that headsets need to get right to be a safe purchase for prospective buyers. The Blackshark hits all of those marks. It only really suffers in two areas, heat buildup (which, again, is a trade-off for noise cancellation), and price. Asking for $130 for a stereo headset for gamers is very tough, especially when your company puts out a 7.1 set for only $50 more. Take my word for it though, stereo headsets offer as much, if not more to gaming because of better quality audio, than most surround sets. And even though heat buildup was a problem, if you live in a noisy environment and need to get rid of that noise, the Blackshark is the best set you can buy.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★★½

Excellent

Bottom Line: The best and most comfortable stereo gaming headset I’ve ever tested.

Pros:

  • Very comfortable
  • Visually appealing
  • Excellent audio quality
  • Great sound isolation

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Has a lot of heat buildup, which is a trade-off for noise cancellation










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.