The Razer headquarters are located in Carlsbad California. They consult with gamers to develop cutting edge-edge gaming peripherals.
Razer is all about gaming. Their products range from special mice and their equally special pads to glide across, through to keyboards and speaker systems.
And also according to Razer; their reputation for being a class leader in their field is seen in all of their products. Today we put that to the test as we look at their Megalodon 7.1 surround gaming headset product and see if it's any good.
Headsets that claim to provide 5.1, let alone 7.1 surround sound from a couple of speakers is a novel idea and rather interesting, but let's see what Razer has for us here.
Package and Contents
Right then, let's take a close look at the contents of the package and see what's included.
One nice touch is the solid travel case provided with this headset, which reminds me of the case provided with the wireless ASUS headset that I tested at the start of the year. The sample I received came with quite an exciting package design, featuring a nicely laid out box made of a good quality cardboard. The top of which is adorned only with; "put sound in its place"
What do we get inside the package? Well, inside the Razer Megalodon package are of course the headphones themselves, along with a separate control station for the headphones.
The high-quality cable the Megalodon come with is nice to see too, it almost reminds me of the cable you might see on a wetsuit or something or the sort.
Next in the package is the product manual, a small catalog of other Razer products and a sticker for your case. Also included are a quick start guide and a certificate of authenticity. Which about the latter; can I say... pales in comparison to the gold bound test report ASUS provided with the Essence STX.
Overall a very impressive packaging scheme, though. It has certainly had a lot of time and effort put into it and intends strongly to be noticed amid other products on the market.
Speaking technically, let's start by looking at some specifications.
Frequency response:20 - 20.000 Hz
SPL@1kHz, 1V RMS:102 +/- 104 dB
Frequency response:50 - 16.000 Hz
Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
Sensitivity (1V/P@1 kHz)-37 dB +/-4db
Okay, on closer examination we can see that the Razer Megalodon have been provided with a frequency response figure of 20 Hz - 20,000 Hz, which is very good indeed - perhaps though, a little too good. 20 Hz, as I have said before, is very difficult for something as small as a headphone driver to handle. Overall though, these headphones should pack some good acoustic punch judging by the specs we can see above.
Sound pressure levels generated are given at a healthy 102db at 1 kHz, which will be ample for generating more than enough gain to satisfy most users, I would say.
Now given that these are USB headphones, I'll make a quick mention that there can be some conflicts with certain versions of Windows. Without getting too involved here, I'll say that there is a good chance that if you're using Windows XP or below, you will find your Windows volume level muted while these are running. Not a huge concern more of a little bug, if anything. So be warned here. If, however, you are using a newer version of Windows like Vista or Win7, it should be smooth sailing.
Talking about the Maelstrom audio engine, aside from not really giving anything away by the name, it is much like a slim version of EAX found on Creative products in the role that it fulfills.
In short this allows the user plug into just about anything that will play a game these days and provide that user with portable surround sound - seems like a good idea to me. The following two technologies are the force behind Maelstrom.
Interaural time difference is the use of spatial distancing to send sounds to the user's ears at varying rates of speed to create a phantom surround experience.
Simulated ear refraction is a pretty way of referring to the onboard reverb FX that is part of Maelstrom. It adds the first and second order reverb when and where it's needed to again create an artificial 7.1 environment.
Theoretically because this technology relies on software rather than hardware, you could have an unlimited amount of simulated 'channels', 10.1 15.3 and so on. It's just an algorithm that handles data in a certain way - the number of channels is incidental because they are not being individually reproduced by actual speakers. It's just software playing a trick on our ears.
Overall though the specs look good, they feel very rugged and strong to touch and the packaging is a great 'lure-in' for the product, so I expect them to perform in keeping with some of the other top notch headsets that I've tested.
Setup and Installation
Once the headphones themselves are taken out of the box and connected to an empty USB port, there really is not a whole lot left to do.
All that's remaining is to locate the small control centre on your desktop and place the headphones on your head.
Once this has been done, the next step is to set the master volume for the headphones using the in-line volume control.
Given that this system is USB plug and play, it really could not have been any easier. I had them up and running in the time it takes to plug in a USB device - very easy and well done in this department to Razer.
To everyone out there with a lovely sound card waiting to be used with these mighty looking headphones, I'm sorry but it's never going to happen. Razer has gone a very stubborn route here which both boasts about how sure they are in the audio materials and shows clear intent towards ease of use.
The headphones are ready to rock and roll, so let's get them fired up.
After taking into account the impressive specifications of the headphones themselves and also taking into account the above average build and construction quality, I feel that my test results are going to fair quite well.
Before I get into testing too much, I'd like to firstly mention that for this review I will be featuring test results for Mac OS X as well as test results using Windows XP Professional 64-bit.
Whether you're a gamer, music lover or movie buff, it's important that the high frequencies are kept intact as much as possible. Unfortunately while headphones have many benefits that can aid in providing a robust high-end, there are also some limitations and size is a big one.
Due to the limited space there can often be tradeoffs and if you think you can see where I'm going with this, then you're right, but it is not all bad news.
I will mention first though that the high-end (unlike the low and mid frequencies) never really gets going. I mean, it's there and it does not cause any unwanted abuse to your ears, but it just never conveys that intensity felt by a good tweeter. It just feels a little bit flat, but not the good flat relating to even frequency reproduction.
Middle of the road
The mid-range frequencies are important in the roles that they play when reproducing drums and other percussion instruments and also the human voice largely. Listening to the mid-range frequencies reproduced by the Megalodon is an enjoyable experience under most conditions. I found drums, particularly the snare drum, had that all important "thwack" that is only present when the mid-range frequencies are both rich and full sounding with a good timbre to the sound.
I think that the large drivers chosen for use in the Megalodon has really proven to be a good move when listening to instruments which fall in the 4-12 kHz range, which is vital to the performance of a speaker simply because so much information ends up in this bracket.
My first testing session ended up lasting four hours. I was beginning to be thoroughly impressed by what I was hearing.
The mid-bass frequencies manage to maintain their integrity without sounding over exaggerated or boomy.
The low-end of the Razer Megalodon headset is one of its stronger points again akin to the mid-range; the low-end is benefited by the use of the quite large drivers in either earpiece.
The 40mm drivers handle the job pretty well for just about all the material I threw at them. Bass frequencies were rich and present and did not seem to be too overdone, which is a good thing, considering this is a gaming headset and most gamers love bass for all their FX and explosions.
Mac OS X Testing
Since these headphones are marketed as a 'USB universal' product I thought it would be a good move to fire up my Mac with the Megalodon plugged into a free USB port and see what happened.
Well, the first thing I noticed is that OS X does not instantly recognize these headphones and enable them like XP does. Instead they must be selected in the settings menu, but once this is done, everything is fine and they come to life instantly.
During my testing I actually did quite a bit under OS X and I never had an issue with this headset. I'm happy to conclude that this headset is quite the universal companion from what I've seen.
Games and Movies
From the get go, these headphones are targeted at gamers, especially those who want flexibility by being able to connect their headphone to just about any device he or she wishes.
Boasting the ability of the Maelstrom engine discussed earlier, these headphones are able to create surround sound out of any signal you send to them, although gaming is what this algorithm is designed for.
Now I have heard about there being a serious amount of compatibility issues with these headphones playing the latest games. I hear you asking, "what have they got to be compatible with, they are headphones?"
Well, according to some reports, they worked pretty well with certain games in providing good quality surround FX and not so well with others. Now I'm not going to get on the bandwagon and start to can Razer. After all, these are a set of cans (mind the pun), and are not exactly going to be given a driver patch to get up to speed with all the newest titles.
My impression of the system is that it's going to provide you with the best surround environment possible given the type of game you're playing as well as how the games audio has being implemented.
I do think that the Megalodon headsets achieve what they set out to do and I think they would be one of the highest quality (in many facets) gaming headsets out and personally I feel that all the positive aspects of the system weigh in far more heavily than any minor compatibility issues you might have with certain titles. Just enjoy the audio quality and don't worry too much about how many 'simulated channels' are being; well... simulated.
Unfortunately since this system does not support decoding of surround sound (standards like Dolby Digital and DTS), I cannot truly evaluate their potential in this area.
However given the benefits of the Maelstrom engine already listed earlier in this article, I would certainly not be afraid to use these headphones for the odd movie session especially because they are so comfortable after long periods of use.
The Razer Megalodon headphones are an impressive piece of technology in many ways. They are very well built utilizing a good mix of different materials and they are also very versatile due to the fact that USB has being chosen for connecting the unit.
The Megalodon have also been very nicely packaged with a tidy black theme carried across right through to the 'Razer' edged manual. They scream of quality through and through and will be a great toy to show off.
But this is where the not so good comes into play. They simply cost too much compared to the competition. If these cans are going to sell really well, there needs to be a price reduction.
I think at around $90 USD and marketed at all gamers including console gamers, these would be a real hit - almost a cult like product - but at $149 USD, it is a hell of a lot in these times and it prevented me from giving them an award and a 90+ score.
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