Razer Nari Ul­ti­mate: This hap­tics-en­abled gam­ing head­set lets you lit­er­ally feel the groove

In­cred­i­bly com­fort­able and aided by cool­ing gel in the ear cups, the Razer Nari Ul­ti­mate is a hap­tics-en­abled head­set that doesn’t feel like a one-off gim­mick.

PCWorld (USA) - - Reviews F- Secure Freedome - BY HAYDEN DINGMAN

There’s one area where PC gamers get con­sis­tently over­looked: hap­tics. Hap­tic feed­back (or rum­ble, in the ver­nac­u­lar) has been a main­stay of con­sole gam­ing for al­most two decades now, and for good rea­son. Smart us­age can both in­crease im­mer­sion and pro­vide in­valu­able feed­back to play­ers, e.g. let­ting you feel the mo­ment dig­i­tal tires lose trac­tion on slick as­phalt, or warn­ing that an enemy’s shoot­ing at you.

There have been a few ex­per­i­ments, like Steelseries’s Ri­val 500 ( go.pcworld.com/ r500)— a mouse with built-in hap­tics. But it’s hard to make a mouse with rum­ble be­cause it’s bound to af­fect your aim, and key­boards

are too large and heavy to ef­fec­tively pro­duce the ef­fect.

That leaves us with head­sets. Razer’s the lat­est com­pany to ex­plore this space, this week re­veal­ing the new flag­ship Nari Ul­ti­mate. Get ready for sound that rat­tles your bones, quite lit­er­ally.

FLOAT ON

As I said, Razer’s not the first com­pany to ex­plore this hap­tic head­set space. I ac­tu­ally re­viewed one such head­set a few years ago, the GX Gam­ing Cav­i­manus ( go. pcworld.com/gxgc), and once upon a time Mad Catz also dab­bled in sim­i­lar ideas with the FREQ 4D.

It’s a pop­u­lar gim­mick. What bet­ter way to make bass feel more in­tense than to lit­er­ally vi­brate your skull, right? Feel the ex­plo­sions. Feel the gun­shots. Feel the rum­ble of that V8 en­gine.

The Nari Ul­ti­mate might be the first to make hap­tics feel like more than a gim­mick though, for a num­ber of rea­sons.

First and fore­most, Razer made a comfy head­set. The Nari Ul­ti­mate lifts de­sign cues from a num­ber of Razer prod­ucts with­out fully match­ing any. It uses the Thresher’s float­ing head­band de­sign, two me­tal arcs above an­other wrapped in both leatherette and sports mesh (on the in­side edge). The earcups are sim­i­lar to those of the Razer Kraken ( go.pcworld.com/rkra), gen­er­ously padded and with cool­ing gel on the in­side. And it’s a wire­less head­set, so the Nari Ul­ti­mate du­pli­cates the on-ear con­trols from the Razer Man O’ War ( go.pcworld.com/ rzwr) of course.

It’s Razer’s most com­fort­able head­set. Like all float­ing head­band mod­els, it can feel too loose at times—tilt­ing my head for­ward or back re­sults in no­tice­able slip­page. But I can (and did) wear the Nari Ul­ti­mate all day long, no prob­lem.

The cool­ing gel is fas­ci­nat­ing as well. Like built-in hap­tics, Razer isn’t first to this idea ei­ther—i know Tur­tle Beach did some­thing sim­i­lar a few years back, and I wouldn’t even swear that was the orig­i­na­tor. The ef­fect is sub­tle, but when you first don the Nari Ul­ti­mate the ears are no­tice­ably cooler than

the usual leatherette or sports mesh sur­face.

Un­for­tu­nately the ef­fect doesn’t last long. You’ve got maybe 15 or 20 min­utes be­fore the ears heat up to your skin tem­per­a­ture; tak­ing the head­set off for a brief pe­riod rapidly cools it again. Those ded­i­cated to cold ears can also take the pad­ding off and throw it in the fridge for a bit. And maybe you should, be­cause if I have one com­plaint about the Nari Ul­ti­mate, it’s that once it heats up, your ears re­ally sweat.

Aside from its heat-trap ten­den­cies though, the Nari Ul­ti­mate’s a smart lit­tle de­vice. It even copies over one of my fa­vorite tricks from the Man O’ War, which is that you can store the USB don­gle in the bot­tom of the right earcup when not in use. As some­one who’s lost quite a few don­gles over the years, I’ll never stop be­ing grate­ful for this small cour­tesy. The vol­ume wheel rounds out the right ear, while the power but­ton, Mi­crousb charg­ing slot, a 3.5mm jack, mic mute, and chat-mix are found on the left ear.

Note that you can use the Nari Ul­ti­mate with a 3.5mm aux ca­ble un­pow­ered, though ob­vi­ously you lose the hap­tic ef­fects. Keep it in mind re­gard­less, as bat­tery is one of the other weak points—hap­tics and light­ing re­duce the Nari Ul­ti­mate to a pid­dling eight hours of run­time. (It’s “up to” 20 with both fea­tures dis­abled.)

AIN’T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD

But the hap­tics. That’s why we’re here, right? Sure it’s com­fort­able, and sure it’s got cool­ing gel in it, but those aren’t the fea­tures to jus­tify spend­ing $200 on a head­set. Cer­tainly not one by Razer. Even if you think Razer’s au­dio qual­ity is worth $200 (ques­tion­able), you can

un­doubt­edly get that same sound from Razer’s re­cently re­freshed Kraken lineup or the lower-price Nari vari­ants, all of which lack hap­tics.

Razer calls it Hyper­sense. It was de­signed by Lofelt, a com­pany ex­per­i­ment­ing in hap­tic ef­fects for VR, phones, head­sets, and more. Hyper­sense dif­fers from pre­vi­ous hap­tice­quipped head­sets in two key ways: It op­er­ates across the en­tire LFE range of 20Hz to 200Hz, and it’s pro­cessed in stereo.

What that means for you, the wearer, is nu­ance. A lot of hap­tic de­vices are bi­nary, ei­ther on or off, but a few (like the Xbox One con­troller’s trig­gers) are ca­pa­ble of more so­phis­ti­cated feed­back—so you can for in­stance, as I said in the in­tro, tell when your dig­i­tal tires have lost trac­tion. The Nari Ul­ti­mate is the first head­set I know of to fall into this camp.

I find it eas­i­est to no­tice in mu­sic, where there are a lot of eas­ily dis­tin­guish­able el­e­ments. You’ll get a thick oomph of hap­tic feed­back for the kick drum, a rum­ble for any low-end synths, and maybe a bouncey bit with some hap­tic re­verb for the bass gui­tar. And the Nari Ul­ti­mate’s driv­ers are so­phis­ti­cated enough that it can layer all these dif­fer­ent rum­bles on top of each other.

Jump­ing over to games then, maybe you drive around Forza Hori­zon 4 ( go.pcworld. com/fzh4) in an an­gry-sound­ing dune buggy, tires rum­bling over dirt roads, and with the lush EDM sound­track blast­ing above the din. Again, you’ve got three dif­fer­ent sounds all con­tribut­ing to the Nari Ul­ti­mate’s hap­tics in tan­dem. And as I said ear­lier, the Nari

Ul­ti­mate works in stereo.

That’s an im­por­tant as­pect to sep­a­rat­ing out the var­i­ous el­e­ments as well, and one that’s not so preva­lent in mu­sic (be­cause lowfre­quency in­stru­ments are usu­ally mixed in the

cen­ter). So in Hori­zon you might feel the kick of the sound­track’s bass drum in the cen­ter, and prob­a­bly the en­gine most of the time. Turn to the right how­ever, and you might feel that tire rum­ble slide in that di­rec­tion—or vice versa, if you swing wide.

It also comes into play in shoot­ers. If you’re get­ting shot from the left, ex­pect to feel a small kick on that side of your face. In­ten­sity de­pends on the amount of bass, so a grenade go­ing off will field a slightly larger kick usu­ally, and so on. It’s a neat trick, and one I haven’t seen in other hap­tic-en­abled head­sets.

My big­gest is­sue is that the in­ten­sity of the hap­tics is de­pen­dent on vol­ume. The louder the head­set, the more in­tense the vi­bra­tion—and Razer ap­par­ently wants you to go deaf. If you lis­ten to the Nari Ul­ti­mate at nor­mal, safe lev­els you will barely no­tice the hap­tics ex­ist. Call me an old man, but pro­tect­ing your hear­ing is im­por­tant. There’s an op­tion to crank the in­ten­sity in Razer’s Sy­napse soft­ware and I sug­gest you do so im­me­di­ately. In my opin­ion it should de­fault to a higher level, or at least not roll off the hap­tic ef­fects so sharply as you de­crease vol­ume.

As for the ac­tual au­dio qual­ity? It’s pretty solid. Razer’s sound pro­file isn’t my fa­vorite, and the Nari Ul­ti­mate is cer­tainly heavy on bass—prob­a­bly to be ex­pected, given the hap­tic ef­fects. But both mu­sic and games sound rel­a­tively clear, with the mid-range and low-end com­ing through nicely. There’s a bit of a hol­low feel to the cen­ter chan­nel at times, but like the Man O’ War, the left/right stereo play is fan­tas­tic, and in games I find that’s usu­ally a more im­por­tant fac­tor. Re­gard­less, Razer’s slowly but surely clos­ing the gap be­tween it and com­pa­nies like Hyperx and Log­itech.

The mi­cro­phone is sur­pris­ingly de­cent too. Voice re­pro­duc­tion is good, as is noise iso­la­tion. I miss the ded­i­cated mic vol­ume wheel from the Man O’ War though, and the mute but­ton’s too small by half.

VER­DICT

The main stick­ing point is the price. The stan­dard Nari (no sur­name), the mid-tier en­try, runs for $150 and in­cludes ev­ery fea­ture from

the Ul­ti­mate ex­cept the hap­tics. Is a bit of face-rum­ble worth $50? And for that mat­ter, does the stan­dard Nari com­pete with de­vices in its price tier like Log­itech’s G533 ( go. pcworld.com/lg53) and Steelseries’s Arc­tis 7 ( go.pcworld.com/sts7)?

I’d an­swer yes and no, re­spec­tively. The $150 Nari is a tougher sell, and I think you’re prob­a­bly bet­ter go­ing with the G533 or even the Arc­tis 7 (or a wired head­set for half the cost). But the Nari Ul­ti­mate’s hap­tics are se­ri­ously neat. Still a gim­mick? Sure, maybe—but one I could see tak­ing off. The PC is des­per­ately in need of some hap­tic de­vices that aren’t as goofy as the var­i­ous vests and so-on out there. The head­set seems like a smart place to start, and ev­i­dently a bunch of other man­u­fac­tur­ers have agreed in the past.

The Nari Ul­ti­mate is sim­ply the first one that has the tech to make it stick. Feel­ing the rum­ble of a tank in the dis­tance or a fat ol’ synth kick in—it’s com­pletely un­nec­es­sary, even out­right dumb at times, but adds a lot to the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence all the same.

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