Razer is best known for its LED-packed gaming computers and accessories like mice and keyboards, but the company is also making a name for itself when it comes to wireless headphones. Today the company is announcing an updated version of its Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds that add noise cancellation and an improved in-ear design, plus the company’s signature design feature: color-changing LEDs.
If you’re rolling your eyes at that last feature, which illuminates the Razer logo on each earbud, you’re not alone. On paper it sounds like nothing more than a gimmick to help drum up some extra publicity for the upgraded earbuds, and for the most part it is—the feature isn’t especially useful for the user, who can’t actually see the LEDs glowing while wearing the buds. But the gimmick isn’t a dealbreaker. The LEDs might be mostly pointless (and can be turned off), but the earbuds themselves are fantastic, with high-end features like active noise cancellation and fully adjustable EQ for just $130. Unless you feel beholden to funnel all your money to Apple, there’s little reason to opt for AirPods any more.
Upgraded In-Ear Design With Better Fit
Razer’s original Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds were more or less a clone of the original Apple AirPods, including the half in-ear design that many found impossible to comfortably wear without the buds falling out. For the new version of the Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds, Razer has switched to a design similar to the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro Earbuds from last year, which uses silicone ear tips with three different size options included so users can get a more secure fit as well as an excellent seal that improves noise cancellation.
Compared to the Nothing Ear (1) and the Apple AirPods Pro, the new Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds are some of the larger earbuds out there with an extended stem design, but they’re still light enough that you barely feel them in your ears. I haven’t had any issues with them falling out, even during a jog.
Let’s Talk About Those LEDs
Aside from maybe looking flashier during a Twitch stream, or standing out in a rave (although neither is a situation where you’d actually wear wireless earbuds) I can’t think of a practical reason why Razer included color-changing LEDs aside from corporate branding. But it’s Razer’s thing, and they’ve gone the extra mile to include several different LED effects on these earbuds.
Using the Razer ChromaRGB mobile app on a smartphone—yes, there are two separate mobile apps for configuring these earbuds—you can set the LEDs to a glow a specific color, slowly cycle through the color spectrum, create a subtle breathing effect that shifts between two different colors, and even flash in response to the beats of the music you’re listening to like a graphic equalizer.
I’ll begrudgingly admit that seeing the Audio Meter mode in action is kind of neat, but you can only see it when you’re not actually wearing the buds—only others can, and they can’t hear what you’re listening to, so to them the flashing just appears completely random.
Furthermore (and to its credit, Razer is very up front about this) turning the LED features on is actually detrimental to the earbuds’ battery life. With the LEDs and ANC turned off, the new Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds promise close to 6.5 hours of playback on buds alone, or up to 32.5 hours when paired with the charging case. That’s close to the 34 hours in total that Nothing promises with its $99 Ear (1) wireless earbuds, and much better than the 24 hours Apple promises with the $249 AirPods Pro. With the LEDs turned on, however, you’ll sacrifice a full hour of battery life on buds alone, and you’ll lose five hours of extra playback time when using the charging case. It’s not a significant drop, but it’s a drop nonetheless, and given wireless earbuds already struggle with battery life, I’m not sure who would ever willingly turn the Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds’ LEDs on.
A Bulkier Charging Case
If there was one complaint to be made about Razer’s new Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds it’s that the charging case has gained a bit of bulk. The original version included a smaller case in which the earbuds could lay inside, but the new version is a bit larger to accommodate the buds standing side-by-side vertically.
It’s not the biggest charging case I’ve tried to squeeze in a pocket, but it’s a bit larger than the AirPods Pro charging case, without the convenience of wireless charging. You’ll need to insert a USB-C cable in the bottom whenever you want to charge it up, and while it’s not a major inconvenience, Qi wireless charging is now a feature you’ll find on wireless earbuds under $100.
Smaller Drivers, Wonderfully Big Sound
The original Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds included beastly 13-millimeter drivers but for the new version those have been reduced to 10mm, which is still close in size to what you’ll find inside $300 wireless earbuds like the Master & Dynamic MW08s. Despite the small drop in driver size, the new Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds sound really fantastic with both punchy highs and bass reproduction that truly thump in your ears, but they still manage to deliver a well-balanced and very satisfying sound that also doesn’t distort when you’ve got the volume irresponsibly cranked. They not only sound great for $130 wireless earbuds, they sound almost as good as the premium offerings from companies charging well north of $250 for their earbuds.
I was equally impressed with the Razer Audio app that includes all the features I’ve come to expect from a headphone app, including the ability to turn active noise cancellation and ambient sound boosting on and off without having to memorize a series of taps on the earbuds themselves, and the ability to change what features those taps and multi-taps actually trigger. The app also lets you activate Razer’s ‘Gaming Mode,’ which promises to reduce the latency between what’s happening in a game and the audio being wirelessly delivered to your ears to just 60ms so there’s minimal lag between the two. Razer promises the feature won’t diminish the quality of the audio, although battery life does take another hit.
Unlike the app that’s available for Nothings new Ear (1) wireless earbuds, the Razer Audio app allows you to switch between equalizer modes like “Enhanced Bass,” “Vocal,” and “Enhanced Clarity,” or create your own custom EQ mix using 10 different sliders that each control a different frequency range. I would be surprised to find anyone who had a complaint with how the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds sound out of the box, but with full EQ customizability, anyone can tweak the sound to their own preferences. At this point every single pair of wireless headphones and earbuds with an accompanying app should offer this functionality.
The active noise cancellation on the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Earbuds is solid, and while I put it on par with the Apple AirPods Pro, I think the $99 Nothing Ear (1) earbuds do a slightly better job at cutting out a bit more of the lower frequencies. But that was when comparing the two side by side, and swapping the earbuds in and out. Were I to use the new Hammerheads one day, and then switch to the ear (1) the next, there’d be little chance I could tell the two apart. If noise cancellation is especially important to you, you’ll get much better results with a pair of over-ear headphones. Call quality was also solid, although everyone I spoke to could definitely hear a small difference between the Hammerheads versus talking directly into my phone.
Did Razer really need to stick color-changing LEDs in its wireless earbuds? Of course not. It’s a superfluous feature that, if anything, is a detriment to the performance of the new Hammerheads when it’s turned on. But the other upgrades and improvements more than make up for it. For $130 these are genuinely an excellent pair of wireless earbuds which I would actually recommend over Razer’s Hammerhead True Wireless Pro Earbuds because all you’re really sacrificing is the THX certification, but saving $70 in the process.