Posted on August 12, 2016
Razer Surround Review
Hardware mixers and studio headphones carry a hefty price tag that leave most users without the quality of audio they could be enjoying. Enter: Razer Surround, virtual 7.1 surround sound.
This is a “gamer oriented” application that adds on to the Razer Synapse suite of software, though you don’t need Razer hardware to take advantage of this audio interface. This post will give a rundown of my opinion on the software after using it on and off for about a month.
Overall Razer Surround is a great sounding program, promising top of the line virtual surround sound for gaming. Despite this, interest should peak for those enjoying passive media as well since the software can overall adjust sound for music and movies to produce more enjoyable audio.
For Gamers, audio can be a big part of the experience. Whether it be immersion or tactics, improved audio is improved gameplay. The claims Razer makes with its “7.1 Virtual Surround” software are bold, but toggling surround sound on for the first time will yield a difference. Clearing up mids and adding punch to lower frequencies while actively producing virtual surround makes ambient noise in games feel more natural and noises such as bullets whizzing by or footsteps in the next room more distinguishable. While this won’t come close to a full fledged hardware surround solution, Razer’s software still gave a deeper immersion in atmospheric games.
One huge reason this software is so great is that it can be used with any pair of stereo headphones, so my entry level Philips cans still got a lot of boost from the software. It should be noted that this software could have a better effect if paired with higher quality headphones or a pair such as Razer’s own Kraken 7.1 surround headset, which this program is most likely optimized for in some way.
Practicality in Gaming
In the competitive scene atmospheric noise isn’t necessary though surround sound still is useful for pinpointing enemies via sound effects (footsteps, objects, reloading noises, etc.). On this front, Razer’s software surround can improve audio accuracy. It is common, however, for gamers to disable “fluffy” features such as volume regulation and voice clarity filters to gain a more clean sound from a game’s environment. Testing this in Counter Strike: Global Offensive I felt more aware as the thumps of a footstep was more audible even through multiple walls. Whether this was placebo or otherwise I’m not sure, but I did notice a difference when toggling surround on and off during gameplay.
One thing I did find out, as this is a flaw with most software audio solutions, is that there is a slight delay from in-game noise to your headphones. This can be though of similarly to input lag from a mouse to the game. While surround does help in most cases and the delay isn’t anywhere near noticeable, I did have to disable surround while playing rhythm games as the slight disconnect from notes on the screen to the audio was enough to throw off gameplay. However, most rhythm games have an option to set a visual delay to accommodate audio delay, so Razer Surround features can be enjoyed in rhythm games with a bit of tweaking
Passive Media (Music and Video)
Razer Surround does offer features to improve quality of music audio as well as audio experience while viewing video. Surround sound can increase immersion in movies and give a nice feeling to music, and the built in equalizer is a strong feature that works really well. The equalizer is simple enough for ease of use and comes with a suite of great presets. While the genre labels the presets are given can be a useful guideline, playing around led me to find a perfect preset for different artists’ styles and made music listening a more immersive experience. Custom presets can be saved for those inclined to tinker around for the perfect mix. Also, sliders such as bass boost can be a lifesaver for heavy hitting beats that need some extra kick. While a better driver in the headphones makes worlds of difference, the software bass boost and other filters do a great job at adding some energy to favorite tracks.
As far as video consumption goes, it’s about the same as music. Its key is to play around with the equalizer for a great mix, but surround sound alone can make movie watching more immersive. From movies to YouTube the audio improvements offered are welcome and definitely make the audio more enjoyable and create a much more enjoyable experience than a computer’s default sound mix.
While the base software is free, most of the features one would want to play with are included with a “Pro” license. This is where things get weird though. “Pro” licenses are $20 USD which was a turn off for me, but after playing with base features I received an email from Razer with a free code to activate “Razer Surround Pro” on my account. After a quick search I realize many others were dropped a free code automatically for no discernible reason, so you can potentially enjoy the full suite of features simply by trying the free version for a few minutes.
Edit: I do own a Razer keyboard and have been using the rest of Razer’s Synapse software suite for a while now. I’m not positive, but the free pro version might have been simply for using Razer Synapse and other products already for an extended period of time.
The issues with this software are minimal and the suite of features it offers should be greatly welcomed for anyone consuming media and caring about audio. The main and probably only reason I find Razer Surround turned off on my system is my general audio mixing. I’m no audiophile or audio engineer, but I do partake in the occasional recording or live stream so my recording and streaming software do already have a delicate balance for my microphone, voice chat, and gameplay volumes. While this isn’t directly the fault of Razer’s software, having any sort of middleman driver messes with my balance when recording. This type of thing is where a hardware mixer excels, though I still do use Razer Surround a fair bit for music listening and solo gaming.
Some people may also be turned off from Razer Surround because it is accessed through the Razer Synapse software. As someone who uses a Razer keyboard, Synapse is a really cool and useful tool, but for others it may seem like bloat that they would rather not install.
Razer Surround is one of the top dogs when it comes to free software surround sound solutions. With solid surround features to make gaming more enjoyable to precise mixing for general audio consumption, Razer Surround offers a very appealing all in one package that gives you the freedom to tinker with the guidelines to produce great sound. If you are someone who doesn’t already have a surround sound or mixing solution and want to get into the world of improving audio, Razer Surround is the program for the job.