Game controllers and phones have been able to rumble for years, movie theatres have seats that will shake the shit out of you—so why not headphones? And I’m not talking about getting a little more thump from turning the bass up, but some real brain-wobbling tremors.
Editor's note: Sorry, friends - no Aussie pricing yet.
Well that’s exactly what Razer is attempting to do with its new Nari Ultimate headset, which adds a whole new dimension to games and movies. Yes its silly, but it’s also lot of run, and even a little scary at times.
Using what the company is calling Hypersense technology—powered by intelligent haptics from a German outfit named Lofelt—Razer’s new headset delivers serious stereo vibrations to both sides of your head. And unlike the rumble you get on a lot controllers, which often seem to only have two levels of shake (low or high), the Nari’s haptics cover 20hz to 200 hz and everything in between.
What’s even better, is that because the Nari’s haptics don’t require any extra software or programming, they are essentially plug and play and work with any sort of audio, including music, movies, and games. This puts the Nari in contrast to something like the Nintendo Switch’s HD Rumble, which offers noticeably higher fidelity than what you get from a PS4 or Xbox One controller, but requires game developers to specifically code their software to support the feature. On top of that, the Nari Ultimate supports both wired playback via an included 3.5mm cable or full wireless audio using an included USB-A dongle, so you pair the the headset to pretty much any device.
So what are the Nari Ultimate Actually like to use? I started by setting them up in wired mode while listening to Carpenter Brut’s Turbo Killer, and right away the headset proved it was different kind of beast. First came the song’s faint hiss and cracks of simulated vinyl which caused the headset to pop off in little bursts. Then the beat picked up and shortly had the headset seamlessly switching between short, heavy pulses, and long, rolling vibrations, before breaking into all out calamity. It’s not just heavy bass, it’s like being at a concert where you can feel the music pass through your entire body, just localised strictly around you head.
Next, while gaming in wireless mode, the the headset’s haptics added extra impact to explosions and all sorts of other low tones, although I wish Hypersense did a little bit more to enhance high-pitched sound effects like laser beams or broken glass, which don’t trigger Razer’s haptics to quite the same effect. Razer says it is working with game developers to potentially build Hypersense support in games to deliver a more tailored experience, so it’s possible that could be improved in the future.
There is a downside to having all that rumble though, because as much fun as haptics are while gaming or listening to music, when I used the Nari’s to listen to the Oculus Connect 5 livestream, feeling Mark Zuckerberg’s voice literally reach out touch my ear drums made me feel violated more than the any data breach ever has.
As for the rest of the headset, the Nari’s new automatically adjusting padded headband and plush earcups with built-in cooling gel are supremely comfortable. Though if you wear them long enough or outside on a warm day, their closed back design means your head will still get a little sweaty. On the bottom of the headset, there are two handy scroll wheels that control volume and voice chat/game audio balance, along with a dedicated mute button, power button, 3.5mm jack, micro USB for charging, and a little cubby for storing the wireless dongle.
Unfortunately, because I was using a pre-production unit prior to its launch, I wasn’t able to test out any of the Nari’s more advanced features that are tied to its integration with Razer’s Synapse software, which allows to to customise how much rumble you get, turn on THX Spatial audio, or play with the headset’s built-in RGB Chroma lighting.
Finally, with a price tag of $US200 ($277), the Nari Ultimate aren’t cheap. I’m not saying they are overpriced, because putting unique haptics, wireless audio, RGB lighting and some of the most comfortable earcups I’ve used recently into one headset is quite a package, but it’s not for everyone.
Thankfully there are actually three versions of these headphones, the $US20 fully loaded Nari Ultimate, the standard $US150 Nari which includes all of the Ultimate’s features aside from the Hypersense rumble, and the $US100 Nari Essential, which retains THX spatial audio and wireless audio, but drops most of the Ultimate’s fancy extras such as Hypersense, RGB lighting, and the game/chat balance dial. The standard Nari goes on sale today, with the Nari Ultimate and Essential arriving sometime later this year.
Look, with gaming companies already having saturated the market by stuffing RGB lights into anything you can think of, it’s time to move on to something else, and putting rumble in mice, keyboards and headsets is the sort of dumb fun I can get into.