Razer Ferox Mobile Gaming and Music SpeakersPlatforms: PC | Android | Nintendo 3DS | Sony PS Vita | iPad | iPhone | Windows Phone 7
Sometimes in the magical worlds of gaming and technology we as the end user, the consumer, are not always looking for a gap to be filled. It’s the way many companies work and sound as it is, it’s all based on science and data-driven. It ignores the flair of creativity; the single-mindedness of the artist and their vision. Not ignoring such beats allows for an alternative way of innovating. Develop something good enough, so astoundingly capable and you will create the need. Whichever way you choose to innovate, the execution is what’s key. Deliver a great design poorly and it’s not great anymore. Deliver a fantastic design brilliantly and reap the rewards. With the Razer Ferox mobile gaming and music speakers the latter methodology has been adopted. The question is then, will there be rewards to reap?
The gap here is betwixt and between the home speaker setup and the headphone based alternative reality for some. If you tend to spend your gaming time out and about on a handheld device, or if you have multiple options for music and games then the Razer Ferox is a suitable option. Whilst headphones may also be seen as suitable not everyone is comfortable wearing such things either because they are self-conscious or because to get the requisite quality (i.e. over the ear) the headset is too big and or heavy when worn or transported. What we have here is a pair of identical pear shaped speakers with a glorious industrial design which can be used with PCs, PlayStation Vitas, Nintendo 3DS' and more without the need for additional software or tuning, presented with a useful carry case ensuring that if on the move you need find space for little more than two glasses cases sat on top of each other.
So in terms of size and weight the speaker set is arguably smaller than many over-ear headsets (for example the Trittons reviewed here) and takes no more space in a bag on the train. In the shape and size regard then this package has an advantage over the traditional portable sound transportation methodology. In terms of product performance and usability the first challenge you’ll come across is the short cabling. The speakers are each connected to one branched cable by USB connection. The other end of the cabling has a traditional USB plug as well as a 3.5mm audio jack. The universal nature of the connectivity ensures you can use these speakers with a myriad of gadgets but the USB connector is also the way they get charged. And as such charging itself needs to be done by a PC. If you have speakers plugged into your PC it seems logical to use them. This is where the short cabling becomes an issue. If you have a traditional desktop setup it’s unlikely the speakers will be placed as far apart as you would hope to have them. If you are using a laptop you would have no problems placing the sound units either side of the screen but with a 24” display it wasn’t possible (with the PC tower below the desk). This is only a minor issue in the grand scheme of things but one that would negate us using these speakers as a desktop solution - purely laptop or other portable hardware.
Once plugged into your device of choosing switching the speakers on is a thing of beauty - you depress the top of each device and it slowly rises up revealing a metal mesh similar to the head of a microphone, opening the resonance chamber to enhance any bass output. The base of the device is lit in striking blue signifying all is good and then assuming all is set correctly with your device, a surprisingly delightful sound is heard.
The speaker’s technical specifications stand up surprisingly well given the size and portability of the devices, with a frequency response range broad enough to give multi-dimensional sound (150Hz to 20KHz) all driven by 30mm neodymium magnets, so the equipment is of a high quality and we’d expect that anything larger would increase the size of the speakers. Given the overall performance in comparison to other portable audio devices it seems a successful compromise. The output of each speaker is three watts which might not sound like much but is more than sufficient unless you want to deafen yourself and folks around you. The batteries once charged last a fair while (twelve hours quoted and achieved, at least at first) but let you know when they’re running out of juice thanks to the blue LED lighting turning to red. If you happen to be away from a power source for a very long time you can use one speaker at a time and double your usage.
So, to sound quality and its variation across devices. We tried our desktop PC, a laptop, a PlayStation Vita and a Nintendo 3DS. Taking the two portable gaming devices first, the result was excellent. Listening to sound through the Vita or 3DS’ speakers is a moribund affair, with everything sounding very flat and one-dimensional, with no variation and effectively a tinny sound. Plugging the Ferox in changed that immediately. Suddenly the sound was nuanced. You could hear changes in tone, or multiple strands of audio from the foreground and background. You could more easily hear low level spoken dialogue or background noise that otherwise was lost. It was a revelation compared to what the handhelds themselves can deliver. Compared to a set of good over the ear headphones there is little difference in the quality but the delivery of course is. The positioning of the speakers was important here as to get stereo you want them far enough apart - and here the cable length wasn’t an issue - but you need to be aware about the Z-axis too because the speakers are omni-directional, and sound comes out in 360 degrees. With headphones the sound will come out directed at your ears but here some will, some won’t and your position relative to the speakers will affect what you hear exactly. It’s a little off-putting and over time the feeling remained. There was no perceptible noise with either device and in both cases the speakers were able handle treble and bass effects well too, such that they were clearly discernible when expected as per onscreen action.
With the desktop and laptop PC we had a similar story. The sound quality was excellent but the placement of the speakers was key and as mentioned before, a fundamental problem for our desktop setup. An added issue here was that noise was noticeable, and variable at normal levels and above, something we don't have with the same system powering other speakers. This might be an issue with our review unit but is something to be kept in mind in case it affects all pairs. Clearly not an artefact of the speakers given the above, but something to be aware of depending on the quality of soundcard you have. Regardless the overall benefit was obvious for the laptop compared to the internal speakers (similar delta as with the handheld consoles) but for a desktop you would really want to look at a bespoke speaker solution that will get the right positioning and a better sound given the extra size and fewer constraints.
Ultimately we’re resolute in our recommendation of the Ferox, but only with certain conditions. They are designed for a portable device and should be used only for such things as otherwise the benefits are not truly realised and better options exist. For portable technology they provide one solution for all devices, are easily movable and they look stylish alongside anything you pair them with. The problems are the variable reception dependent on positioning and the need to charge them via USB periodically - something that negates the portability if you only have space for your Vita and these. Given this our preferred solution is a set of headphones. If you demand the highest quality then you need to go over the ear, yes. If that’s a problem, these are a good alternative, if in the end, a very niche one. So in answer to our opening query - in creating a product to fill a gap Razer have only partially succeeded and therefore struggled to persuade us that these speakers are something we need.