Razer has been well known in the gaming space for making high end and relatively pricey peripherals. While their sweet spot has definitely been input devices (mouse and keyboard, primarily), they’ve launched their fair share of gaming audio products as well, mostly centered around over-ear headphones that typically look really cool. Between the in-your-face neon green of the Orca and Kraken, the aviator style of the Blackshark, and the futuristic Tiamat, all of Razer’s recent headsets have made a design statement. Unfortunately, none of them have sounded very good. And I really mean none of them, excepting the ambitious and expensive Tiamat 7.1. No matter which Razer headset you look at, you can get substantially better audio quality for the money elsewhere. 

So when Razer told me they had come up with a pair of earbuds that emphasized audio quality, I scoffed. A couple of days later, a set of Hammerhead Pros showed up on my doorstep and I got to test them for myself. The Hammerhead is an in-ear-monitor (IEM) with 9mm Neodymium magnet dynamic drivers priced at $49.95, while the Pro adds an inline microphone for an extra $20. Design and build quality are pretty stellar, with all of the connected pieces being machined from aluminum. There’s some great detailing throughout the design, including knurled aluminum accents and the Razer motto “For gamers, by gamers” stamped into the back of each earbud. Between the black brushed finish of the aluminum and the neon green of the cable, you’re left with a pretty eye-catching set of IEMs. 

Given Razer’s recent efforts in the mobile computing space, their motivation in creating a more portable audio solution is pretty clear. It’s a pretty interesting price point, at the intersection of the low end of the audiophile-grade IEMs and the “fashion” earbuds, popularized by the House That Dre Built amongst others. The Hammerheads are certainly styled well enough to compete with the latter, but my interest was looking at them relative to the best budget IEMs. This includes the Klipsch S4, the Etymotic MC5, and my personal pick for best $50 IEM at the moment, the Logitech Ultimate Ears 600, of which I just so happen to own a set. 

The Hammerhead sound signature is definitely bass-heavy and tonally warm, though the mids are a bit muddled and instruments aren’t particularly well detailed at the top end. This isn’t really an issue if you’re listening to pop, as the bass-heavy nature of the tracks tends to suit the response of the dynamic driver, but for instrumentally-heavy songs, it certainly isn’t ideal. When compared to the UE 600, a very detailed and responsive set of IEMs, the mids and highs really lack a lot of clarity. The UE 600 is interesting because it’s one of the only balanced armature IEMs you can get at this price point, a feature typically reserved for premium IEMs. Balanced armature drivers tend to respond faster and thus have more accurate, if less bassy, sound profiles. In comparison, the Hammerhead’s overall sound signature ends up feeling not particularly refined, though the bass response is quite nice. It’s neither as crisp nor as balanced, though depending on your music selection it can certainly sound better than the at-times mid-heavy UE 600. Run through a Jay-Z/Kanye West playlist, and the UE 600 just sounds thin, while the warmth of the Hammerhead really shines through. Of course, it should go without saying that audio quality is very subjective, and personal preferences may vary when it comes to sound signature.

Comparing against the UE 600 is probably a bit unfair, because that’s legitimately one of the single best in-ear audio experiences you can get for a street price of $50, with an original MSRP of double that. It’s a legitimately premium set of monitors that’s available on the cheap. Relative to urBeats and most other fashion earbuds, the Hammerheads are a distinct step up, and of course, like any set of half-decent headphones, they’re a huge improvement from OEM-bundled headsets like Apple’s EarPod and the HTC One’s surprisingly not-awful earbuds. I come away pleasantly surprised, because I certainly wasn’t expecting Razer to deliver a competitive audio experience at this price point. For anyone whose primary usage will be music, I would still recommend a set of audio-centric IEMs in this price range, primarily the UE 600s or possibly Klipsch S4s, but the Hammerheads are worth a look. They’re visually impactful and well put together, sound decent (if a bit bass-heavy), and aren’t badly priced, either. For the style conscious, it’s an IEM that could certainly strike the right balance. 

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  • EzioAs - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    I really don't see myself buying any Razer peripherals for the foreseeable future. I think their main target is the people who buys things mostly on brand names and looks (like a lot of the people I know who never consider other brands (Logitech, Corsair, Sennheiser, Ducky, etc) ). To me, Razer is just like Beats (by Dre), they look fancy, but pricey and not-so impressive performance. Reply
  • Yorgos - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    I agree with most of the things you stated but not about the looks.
    They are trying to make gamers like the guys in USA with the big rims, neon lights and fluorescent paint jobs on their cars.
    If you can't afford that kind of car, then get a razer product.
    All of the products from razer that my roommate used (deathadder and 2 keyboards - the last one with back-light). Each of those cost him 70$ each, he was struggling with the driver, every product was made out of regular plastic and when we wanted to open the mouse because the left click started to mull-function there was no screw to open it. We started praying that we won't break any plastic pin will we were trying to open it.

    I want to quote this from the article: "The Hammerhead is an in-ear-monitor (IEM) with 9mm Neodymium magnet dynamic drivers priced at $49.95, while the Pro adds an inline microphone for an extra $20"
    best way to market your products. \end of sarcasm
    Reply
  • Arkive - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    To be fair, quote a few gamers (myself included) have tried a vast arsenal of mice/keyboards/keypads/headsets from Logitech to Steelseries. Razer products compete and continue to find a home on my desk for functional reasons - not aesthetic resons. I see what you're saying about their over-emphasis on stylized design, but the bottom line is that a lot of gamers like a consistent look across their devices. Also, having a single piece of software to configure all of your devices is attractive. And while the older Razer software was semi-flaky, the Synapse software has worked without a hitch for me (though I could live without the "cloud" functionality). Reply
  • Xyfaz87 - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    I like their keyboard and mouse. But headphone / headset / iem from Razer... I ditched the orca after I get myself a pair of T50P from beyerdynamic. Reply
  • OrionAntares - Monday, July 22, 2013 - link

    Synapse is still extremely flaky. We bought a BlackWidow recently. Needed to make absolutely certain Synapse was in offline mode and didn't turn its online mode back on (which is did sometimes) to prevent the keyboard from lagging to "update" its settings. And the keyboard itself had issues were if someone just walked past it without tip-toeing it would brown out and reset itself.

    After a month of trying to deal with it we got rid of it can got a Logitech G710+. Have had zero issues with that or the related software for programming it.
    Reply
  • pseudo7 - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    No graphs and charts makes me sad.

    I like anandtech's quantitative analysis as well as qualitative.
    Reply
  • popej - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    I agree, this is not a technical review at all. Just personal impressions.
    Audio quality is measurable, not subjective like suggested here. I would expect rational and scientific approach form Anandtech.
    Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    There is a reason it's listed as "impressions" and not "review." Reply
  • popej - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    It ends with recommendation, doesn't it? Like a real test, which is not. Reply
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    I modeled this after the IEM reviews you find on Head-Fi, which is my go-to source for anything relating to headphones. There's only so much you can test with IEMs unless you're willing to basically deconstruct them for the sake of instrumentation. I just figured giving actual impressions would be more interesting than just "Razer made new headphones, they cost this much, the end." I didn't really make a recommendation, just that it's worth a look in addition to the generally popular/highest quality IEMs at the same pricepoint. Reply

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