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A good product that falls short of greatness.

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Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro review
Image credit: Billy Steele/Engadget

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    Image credit: Billy Steele/Engadget

    Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro review: Sound over everything

    An AirPods Pro competitor with THX audio that's in need of polish.
    Billy Steele
    December 16, 2020
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    I’ll be honest: Razer blew me away with its Opus headphones earlier this year. Based on my experience with the company’s gaming headsets, I knew it had some decent audio chops, but I wasn’t expecting it to build a nearly complete package for $200. Now Razer is bringing some of the features that made the Opus so great to its true wireless earbuds. With the Hammerhead True Wireless Pro ($200), the company packed in active noise cancellation (ANC), THX sound and a low-latency gaming mode. There are a lot of features here, but they lack the fine-tuning needed to make them truly compelling. 

    Gallery: Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro review | 14 Photos

    Razer introduced its first true wireless earbuds last fall. The Hammerhead True Wireless are affordable at $100, offering audio latency as low as 60ms. However, the key issue was battery life. In late 2019, four hours on a charge was quite disappointing, and a year later, it’s near the bottom of the bin. With the new Pro version of these earbuds, Razer has updated the design and added a host of new features that almost make the pricer version a worthy AirPods alternative. 

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    Key

    Pros
    • Great sound quality
    • Customizable options
    • Comfy fit
    • Great assortment of ear tips
    Cons
    • Limited battery life
    • Polarizing design
    • Gaming mode can be hit or miss
    • No on-board volume controls
    • No wireless charging

    Summary

    Razer’s first noise-cancelling earbuds also pack in THX-certified immersive audio and a gaming-specific low-latency mode. The stick-bud design isn’t for everyone, but the company has included comfy Comply foam tips on top of the usual collection of silicone. A few annoyances keep these from being a compelling, and complete, package.

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    Design 

    Razer’s first noise-cancelling earbuds also pack in THX-certified immersive audio and a gaming-specific low-latency mode. The stick-bud design isn’t for everyone, but the company has included comfy Comply foam tips on top of the usual collection of silicone. A few annoyances keep these from being a compelling, and complete, package.
    Billy Steele/Engadget

    Aesthetically, the Hammerhead True Wireless Pro are similar to the Hammerhead earbuds that debuted in 2019. Razer kept the AirPod-like stickbud design, along with the company’s signature black-and-green color scheme. The biggest difference is that the Hammerhead Pro employs a collection of silicone ear tips where the original model was just plastic, not unlike AirPods. There are three sizes of “SmoothComfort” black tips with a “softer, smoother finish,” according to the company, plus three sizes of “SecureSeal” tips that have a “more rigid, grippier” exterior. Lastly, Razer threw in one set of “Comply” foam ear tips that expand in your ear canal for better passive noise isolation. 

    Another new element you’ll notice is a microphone grille on the outside of each earbud. Those “feedforward” mics monitor environmental noise as part of the Hammerhead Pro’s ANC setup. Razer also relocated the charging pins from inside of each earbud “stick” to the bottom edge. Because of this, the Pro buds sit upright in their charging case where the first version laid flat. The case is still very compact, though — not much larger than a box of Tic Tacs. 

    Inside, Razer opted for smaller 10mm drivers on the Hammerhead Pro. The original Hammerhead earbuds packed in 13mm units, but the company promises the same 20Hz-20KHz frequency response as the previous model. There’s also a feedback microphone inside each earbud to catch any unwanted noise that might sneak past the external ANC mics. A circular panel on each side handles touch controls, and they’re both adorned with Razer’s snake logo. Lastly, the Hammerhead Pro is IPX4 rated against splashes, so they should easily withstand sweat during a workout. 

    Setup and use

    Billy Steele/Engadget

    When it comes to the initial pairing process, Razer made things easy. All you have to do is flip open the case and the Hammerhead True Wireless Pro will appear in your Bluetooth menu. You don’t have to mess around with putting the earbuds in pairing mode first. The next time you flip open the charging case to remove to the buds, they’ll pair with your device automatically. By the time you get them into your ears, you’re ready to play music or a podcast. The company has already released a firmware update for the earbuds, and the companion app alerted me to install it from the jump. In less than 10 minutes, the process was complete and I was ready to go. 

    Speaking of apps, Razer has different software for the Hammerhead True Wireless Pro than for the Opus. That’s not really a problem unless you own both. If you do, things could get a bit cumbersome; it’s one more thing to juggle on your phone when most companies have one app that works with all their models. Inside you’ll find battery percentages for each earbud, custom EQ and the ability to remap the on-board controls. To tweak the sound profile, you can select from Razer’s collection of presets: THX (default), Amplified (increased low and mid frequencies), Vocal, Enhanced Bass and Enhanced Clarity (more emphasis on mid and high frequencies). There’s also a custom option that gives you total control of the EQ curve. The app saves your work there, and if you ever need to start over, there’s a handy “Set to flat” button. 

    Razer’s first noise-cancelling earbuds also pack in THX-certified immersive audio and a gaming-specific low-latency mode. The stick-bud design isn’t for everyone, but the company has included comfy Comply foam tips on top of the usual collection of silicone. A few annoyances keep these from being a compelling, and complete, package.
    Billy Steele/Engadget

    For the touch controls, Razer allows you to reconfigure every gesture the earbuds will accept. In other words, you can totally remap single press, double tap, triple tap, long press and a triple tap and hold. That final, more involved option is set to activate the low-latency gaming mode by default. The other actions include play/pause, skipping tracks, stop, voice assistant and ANC/transparency mode. Razer also allows you to set a gesture to “nothing” if you see fit, and it will also let you rejigger the controls for calls. The default options are mirrored on both sides, but they don’t have to remain that way. The one key item that the company doesn’t offer is on-board volume control, so you’ll need to reach for your phone or trust your voice assistant to make that change for you. These earbuds do pause automatically when you remove at least one of them, so that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about. 

    Speaking of automatic pausing, the Hammerhead Pro will turn off after a few minutes of inactivity. And what’s even handier is that the earbuds automatically turn on again when you pick them up off your desk and put them back in your ears. You don’t have to dock them in the case first, or press and hold on both earbuds. It’s quick and easy, and it’s super convenient. 

    In use, the touch controls are mostly reliable. The one weird thing I had to reprogram my brain for was the single press, which is set to play/pause by default. Where a lot of earbuds are headphones make this a single tap, it’s a longer press here. The Hammerhead Pro won’t do a thing if you try to get away with a quick tap; you have to leave your finger on the panel slightly longer. It’s frustrating at first, but I eventually got the hang of it. It still feels strange, though, especially since the double and triple tap gestures are the quick sort of thing I’m used to.

    Due to the assortment of ear tips, and the fact that the Hammerhead Pro earbuds don’t go all that far into your ear canals, I had no issue wearing these for hours at a time. I start to notice a hint of discomfort after about 45 minutes with most earbuds, but I never encountered the same pressure here, whether I was using the silicone tips or the Comply foam option. Razer’s companion app also includes a fit test, so you can get a second opinion after you’ve made your selection. 

    Sound quality

    Razer’s first noise-cancelling earbuds also pack in THX-certified immersive audio and a gaming-specific low-latency mode. The stick-bud design isn’t for everyone, but the company has included comfy Comply foam tips on top of the usual collection of silicone. A few annoyances keep these from being a compelling, and complete, package.
    Billy Steele/Engadget

    Like the Opus, Razer has built a well-tuned set of earbuds with the Hammerhead True Wireless Pro. There’s enjoyable punchy bass that swells and drones when it needs to accommodate drum machines, synths and driving beats. There’s also nice clarity in the highs and mids, which produces crisp vocals and allows details like textured guitars and gritty samples to come through clearly. 

    On Mike Shinoda’s remix of Deftones’ “Passenger,” there are easily identifiable layers. A booming, pulsing bass line with keys, synths, guitars and percussion are stacked on top of each other. Same goes for the Purity Ring remix of “Knife Prty,” although that track is a bit more open and atmospheric — as is most of the band’s music. The THX audio here isn’t the most immersive experience I’ve had on true wireless earbuds, but it’s pretty damn close. Simply put, these are a joy to listen to. 

    And it’s not just the intricate or detailed stuff that sounds good, the Hammerhead True Wireless Pro performs well across a range of genres. The chaotic, grungy metal of Every Time I Die comes through just as good, with frenetic guitar riffs, drums and screaming vocals standing on their own in the mix. You can also hear the texture in the distortion, it’s not just noise. Ditto for the finer details of acoustic instruments on Sturgill Simpson’s Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2. Again, guitars, upright bass, mandolin, fiddle and banjo have ample focus — almost as if you’re in the room where these songs were recorded. 

    Billy Steele/Engadget
    Image credit: Billy Steele/Engadget

    You don’t really need it, at least in my opinion, but those audio presets and manual EQ are available in the app for fine tuning. As was the case on the Opus, the default or THX setting is hands-down the best — and I left the earbuds set to that basically all the time. All of the other modes felt compressed or muffled in one way or another, keeping the Hammerhead Pro from delivering the big, open sound it’s capable of. 

    As good as the overall sound quality is, the noise cancellation is just okay. Razer gives you the option of having ANC on, ANC off or transparency mode. Choice is nice, but much of the competition allows you to adjust the level of noise cancellation and/or ambient sound. And the Hammerhead Pro, the ANC only goes so far in blocking voices or running water while doing the dishes — which in today’s work-from-home environment is crucial.

    With the earbuds at a comfortable volume and a podcast playing, I could still hear the occasional word during someone else’s nearby conference call. I could fully drown them out with more volume, but then the music is uncomfortably loud (and unhealthy). These do well blocking out consistent droning noise like the dishwasher or dryer, but they’re not keeping the world completely at bay. You might want to look elsewhere for that sort of granular control. 

    Gaming mode

    For mobile gaming, even the slightest lag can be a real buzzkill. To help with this, Razer included a low-latency mode on the original Hammerhead earbuds, and the feature returns on the Pro model. To be clear, I don’t have the proper tools to definitively check the company’s claims of 60ms, but I did use a few online options and the typical use case of lots of streaming video with people talking and live concert footage. And, of course, games. 

    With videos, I found things got out of sync with gaming mode on. The mouths of singing musicians and the constant swings of drummers were spot on in live footage. Ditto for any audio/video sync tests I tried. When I turned on Razer’s feature, though, things were obviously off. For games, it does actually help. Even with less intense titles like Sneaky Sasquatch, you can tell the difference when gaming mode is off. The sounds of footsteps don’t exactly stop when your character does, for example. With games like Sonic Racing, I couldn’t tell much of a difference, so your mileage may vary. Razer’s sync tool won’t fix all of your problems when it comes to latency, but it might help with some games. 

    Battery life

    Razer’s first noise-cancelling earbuds also pack in THX-certified immersive audio and a gaming-specific low-latency mode. The stick-bud design isn’t for everyone, but the company has included comfy Comply foam tips on top of the usual collection of silicone. A few annoyances keep these from being a compelling, and complete, package.
    Billy Steele/Engadget

    The promised battery life wasn’t great on the first-generation Hammerhead earbuds, and it’s not much better here. Razer says you can expect up to five hours of listening time on the buds themselves which is just an hour more than the previous model. I was only able to manage 4.5 hours with ANC on, half an hour less than advertised. The included case offers three extra charges for up to 20 hours of total use. Razer doesn’t mention any quick-charge features (also absent on the Opus headphones) and the case doesn’t support wireless charging. When the time comes, you’ll need to reach for a USB-C cable to fuel up. 

    The competition

    Due to the design, the AirPods Pro are the first — and perhaps most obvious — comparison that comes to mind. Apple’s premium earbuds also offer ANC and spatial audio, plus hands-free access to Siri and quick pairing with iOS, iPadOS and macOS devices through iCloud. Now that they’ve been around for a year, you can find them for less than the original $249 asking price. We’ve seen them as low as $190 in the last month. 

    Another option that also has some age on it is Sony’s WF-1000XM3. Still the leader in the clubhouse as far as I’m concerned, these earbuds are big and bulky but they pack an incredible punch. The combination of sound quality and noise cancelling abilities is still the best, even after a year and a half. There’s also a ton of customization, especially when it comes to ANC, and you can even choose to let the 1000XM3s adjust to movement and location automatically. These earbuds were $230 when they debuted in the summer of 2019, but the going ratee is around $170 these days.

    If you’re in the mood for something more recent, Jabra’s Elite 85t are worth a look. These earbuds check all the boxes, including adjustable ANC, wireless charging and a comfy fit. There were some noise issues at launch, but Jabra has already fixed those with a firmware update. And while they debuted at $229, they’re currently down to $200.

    Wrap-up

    Razer has understandably given the Hammerhead True Wireless Pro some gaming chops, but the earbuds are versatile enough for general use. Like it did with the Opus headphones, the company has created a great-sounding audio accessory that offers well-tuned and customizable sound. The on-board controls cover nearly all of the bases and the convenience of automatic pausing and power on/off makes this Pro model a joy to use. Of course, the stick-bud design won’t appeal to everyone. If you’re looking for an AirPods alternative, these aren’t superior, per se, but they do have some redeeming qualities. I just wish they were slightly cheaper than $200, which would make them much easier to recommend

    All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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