Depending on how much you like your hobbies, you'll be prepared to spend a good deal of cash on them. Think you'll like flying drones? $2000 for a DJI Phantom 3 Professional and you're set. Think you'll like snapping photos? Prepare to drop a couple of grand on a good DSLR or mirrorless camera and a couple of grand more on lenses. In that context, Razer's pro-grade podcasting and Twitch streaming mic seems affordable. At $399, it's pricy, but you get what you pay for.
What Is It?
The $399 Razer Seiren Pro is a standalone desk microphone, with that vaguely old-timey condenser capsule look that you'd know from footage of radio announcers or boxing ring MCs. You can also buy it in a $469 bundle where the $69 shock mount and $69 pop shield are included to save yourself a few pennies. It has a perfectly vertical, balanced design -- its stand sits below, rather than behind it -- and its grille hides away three microphone capsules capable of picking up frequencies as low as 15Hz and as high as 22,000Hz with a 114dB signal to noise ratio.
There are a few controls distributed across what you'd generally think of as the front and the back of the Seiren Pro Underneath is where you'll find the miniUSB connector (a long braided cable is in the box), a balanced XLR jack (XLR to stereo XLR adapter is in the box), a headphone jack (for your cans, an adapter cable is in the box) as well as a high-pass filter that can be switched to cut out anything below 100Hz (reverberations, background hum and the like). In the middle is a tripod-esque, 1/4-inch screw thread adapter to which you can hook up the Seiren's pop shield, any compatible desk mount and any other appropriate accessory.
That little one-line display on the Seiren Pro's front is a multipurpose one -- it'll show you microphone volume, headphone output volume, and the microphone's recording pattern. That's because the Seiren Pro's mic can pick up audio in any one of four different polar recording patterns -- cardoid, bi-directional, stereo, and omnidirectional -- as suited to the scenario you're using it in. In the centre of a small table in a small room, you might use the Razer Seiren Pro in bi-directional mode for a professional interview, in omnidirectional mode for an impromptu podcast (although with more than three or four people, you might be better off with a couple of microphones or more).
For the vast majority of testing, I connected the Razer Seiren Pro to my PC and my laptop using the (excellently sturdy) USB to miniUSB cable, and just used it across a couple of weeks of tasks. I ran it through some Skype calls and Google Hangouts video chats, I used it to record general audio and phone interviews using my voice and my phone's internal speaker, I gave it a test drive using a hacked together version of Cortana on Windows 10 and my best American accent -- the kind of stuff that a regular user might need. Setup is incredibly simple; Razer's Synapse firmware update software installs automatically, but doesn't have a great range of features to adjust -- you can change the mic's recording bitrate and that's about it.
What's It Good At?
Compared to any regular mic -- whether it's a headset, or the tiny internal microphones of the smartphones and tablets we use every day, the Seiren Pro is just nek level. To test that, I lined up five different devices -- my trusty Aorus X5 gaming laptop,my little 12-inch Apple MacBook's internal mic, the in-line microphone of my Plantronics Backbeat Sense headphones, the boom mic of my Sennheiser gaming headphones, and the Razer Seiren Pro. With all recording the same 10-second spoken phrase with around a metre's air-gap -- just a regular snippet of text you might find here on Gizmodo -- here are the results (in order):
As you can hear, the difference between these normal, regular, run-of-the-mill microphones hidden away inside their tiny capsules and a much larger and more recording-focused device like the Seiren Pro is massive. Not massive in the sense that clarity is greatly improved, but the staging of the sound is a lot more natural. Audio recorded with the Seiren Pro doesn't feel canned in the same way that the MacBook's microphone -- itself probably the best mic you're going to get on a notebook -- does, and there's much more of a sense of the room that you're actually in. Similarly, there's none of the pops and sibilance you hear from the boom mic.
The Seiren Pro is so well built, too. The metal base, which has a foam pad on its lower side, is wide and low and does an extremely good job of holding the microphone capsule steady on a table and insulating it somewhat from any lesser bumps and taps that might occur. You won't need that base if you're using the shock mount, obviously, but that's beside the point. The microphone itself is incredibly sturdy, and its control systems which will be a pleasant surprise to anyone who has been around fragile audio equipment and its easily-dented faux-protective grilles.
The fact that the Seiren Pro has an integrated USB digital audio converter -- basically a high-end sound card -- is excellent, too. The 24-bit, 192KHz DAC is one that you'd easily pay a hundred bucks for if it were a standalone USB sound card from a reputable audio company, and its 130mW audio output to >16ohm headphones is perfectly adequate for the vast majority of users and their equally high-end cans. You get audio passthrough from the mic, too, so you can monitor audio levels as you're recording if you so wish. This inclusion adds a genuine value element to Razer's pro-friendly, enthusiast-focused podcasting mic.
What's It Not Good At?
The control scheme that Razer has decided to go with for the Seiren Pro is interesting. That's not to say it's not great, because it's perfectly adequate -- you can, obviously, change the mic volume and headphones volume and alter polar patterns on the fly, and monitor all that on the fly through the integrated one-line OLED screen -- but it's just a bit strange to be changing headphone volume at the front, then reaching around the back to change microphone gain. The beautiful light-up Razer logo, too, is hidden away (unless you're vodcasting!) from view.
It's a bit odd, too, that Razer isn't selling a desk-mounting arm or stand or the Seiren Pro, because it's already selling the shock mount to attach the mic to just that kind of system. With the professional feature-set and high-resolution audio recording -- hell, this thing even has a XLR jack -- that's a puzzling omission. The majority of users will, like me, probably remain perfectly happy with the Seiren Pro plus its pop shield, sitting on the desk off to the side while there's some gaming or casting or podcasting going on.
It's worth mentioning, too, that the difference between the Seiren Pro's four different recording modes is only minimal. Sure, you'll notice a small difference when you switch between cardoid and bidirectional, but the difference between bidirectional and omnidirectional is small at best. This isn't a bad thing, but it's worth keeping in mind that the Seiren is not a directional mic and will pick up ambient sound no matter what. That said, microphonics and the reverberation of the room you're in will have a more severe effect on the way your recordings sound and how the Seiren Pro performs.
It's also really expensive. You can find it on significant discount if you shop around in Australia, but at RRP you'll be spending $399 or $469 to pick up one of these. When you're a hardcore gamer, that's a significant bunch of cash towards a new rig, or even a new bunch of RAM or graphics card on its own. This isn't something you're likely to buy if you want good team chat, but it is something you might buy if you're an avid Twitch streamer or an amateur podcaster or backyard radio producer. It all depends on how committed you are, and how m,uch you're willing to invest in what is still a niche product.
Should You Buy It?
The $399 Razer Seiren Pro microphone is a very niche bit of tech, to be absolutely fair to it. You're not going to want this unless you're running a podcast, or doing some serious Twitch streaming, or maybe if you wanted to buy an external microphone for your competitive online multiplayer gaming and you wanted the absolute best-of-the-best option available. It's made for genuine hardcore studio work, and as such it carries an appropriately serious price tag with it -- whether you're willing to pay that premium is up to you.
Because of its professional aspirations, it has some inherent limitations beyond its price. It's very big for a PC microphone, especially considering that it's competing with much cheaper and smaller headphone-and-mic combos. The omnidirectional mode isn't as great in its pickup of audio from different directions as cardoid is from one. But it does a good job of faithfully, accurately recording sound -- that's its job. Oh, and it has a beautiful design, and an equally beautiful box, more than you'd expect any mic to be or have.
As a microphone, it's great. As a desk prop, it's amazing. I mean, look at it -- it's a stunning piece of hardware, with beautiful industrial design that makes the Seiren Pro both look and be rugged. While treating any microphone roughly is never a good idea due to the intentionally incredibly sensitive hardware inside, this one looks like it could take punishment. The fact that it has an onboard DAC for connecting a pair of headphones is just the cherry on top of an already delicious and very well constructed cake.
If you're picking up some gear for your backyard podcast, with one to four attendees, you can't go wrong with Razer's studio mic, and picking up the pop shield and shock mount accessories is probably a good idea too if you're planning on getting serious. The Seiren Pro becomes our benchmark for microphone quality. Everything we try out from here on in, whether it's a smartphone mic or a headset or a little digital camera mic, will be judged against it. It's likely -- but not at all surprising -- that they'll be found wanting.