Style vs substance. Function vs flair. The balancing act between how a product looks and what it’s designed to do can often be a tricky one. Too much bling can be seen as a camouflage to conceal a products failings. Razer’s premium wireless headset, the ManO’War has flashy lights which -in my opinion- add a hint of “Look at me, I’m a douchebag” to the wearer. But ignore the bling and you’ll find a well-built headset with audio quality that’s sure to blow you away.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like a lot of bass. At concerts, I revel in the sensation of my internal organs vibrating in my abdomen. In my car, the low range is turned up to one notch before distortion ensues and my home theatre system has two active twelve inch subs which are both on maximum volume at all times.
Coincidentally my neighbours hate me.
Headphones — especially those designed for gaming — often lack the rumble that I crave so much. Not this time. The ManO’War delivers deep audio that feels thick and heavy with very little sacrifice to the higher range of the spectrum. The eight band equaliser built into the Razer Synapse PC application allows you to quickly and easily fine tune the audio to suit your precise tastes so even if you do prefer extra clarity in the high range you can adjust it accordingly rather than being restricted to a few presets. The ManO’War also features a huge soundstage, perfect for immersing yourself in the action of titles featuring epic cinematic set pieces. Audio feels as though it’s filling the room you’re in rather than just being delivered directly to your ears.
The virtual 7.1 surround sound contributes to this while providing the spatial awareness you need for FPS titles and shines above all else when used in survival horror settings. Whilst playing the latest Resident Evil there were many instances of chills shooting down my spine at the sound of someone… or something, behind me or around the next corner. That being said, virtual surround sound in headphones is not the equivalent for a fully-fledged 7.1 surround speaker system in your house. The ManO’War certainly comes close though.
If you care about the quality of the audio when playing games on your PC, you would be hard pressed to find another headset more suitable and flexible to most applications.
For communication the ManO’War has a unidirectional boom mic which reproduces your voice clearly without also picking up too much ambient household noise. Friends did report the occasional sigh as an opponent scored a cheap goal in Rocket League but try as I did, my man-flu induced mouth breathing bothered nobody. Further to this, the ManO’War subtly sends your own voice to its own speakers which prevents you from unknowingly yelling into the microphone. Much to the joy of my sleeping significant other this worked very well and only took a few minutes to get accustomed to.
A clever feature, but one of many I can’t help but feel is a bit unnecessary, is how the mic can retract inside the left ear cup. The boom itself is short enough that it never sits in your line of sight, nor does it encroach whilst smashing Barbeque Shapes between rounds. Further to this, at the end of the mic is a red LED which indicates when the mic is muted. This might have been useful if you didn’t have to strain your eyes downward to see it.
Whilst on the subject of lighting, as you’ll see in the images provided the ManO’War has some pretty lighting effects on both ear cups. Perhaps I’m just being a grumpy old man but the lighting effects present the guise of this device falling into the dodgy swap meet market stall category. Which is a shame because all other aspects of the ManO’War’s appearance are quite attractive. A combination of piano black, matte black, speaker grille and leather make it look almost sophisticated if not for the colour changing Razer logo on each ear. Chose one of the advertised 16.8 million colours and three cycle variations or just earn yourself some extra hours of battery life and turn the lights off all together. Considering you can’t see them whilst they’re on your head, there’s only one logical conclusion when faced with the choice between lighting effects and extra battery power.
On that note, the ManO’War claims a battery that lasts between 14-20 hours depending on your lighting choices and to date this claim has proven accurate. After several battery cycles, using various lighting setups and in different usage applications the battery lasted between 16-21 hours. Much more than was expected given the powerful audio these things produce for your ear holes.
Excellent audio aside, and ignoring the gimmicks, there were a few small annoyances with the ManO’War that I struggled to see past. Muting each sound source is frustrating as it requires clicking the applicable volume dial, left ear cup for chat audio, right for speakers, which isn’t as intuitive as it sounds. Further to this the aforementioned ability to retract the microphone is redundant in its current form, whereas if retracting the mic were to also mute it the feature might have at least had some function behind it.
That’s not to say it’s all bad though. The tiny USB wireless dongle has its own little spot inside the right ear cup to prevent accidental loss whilst travelling with the headset. Just click it in and out as necessary and you’re good to go. The included USB extension cable allowing to use the headset while it’s charging or to keep the wireless dongle in close range is also a nice addition and a must for PC Gamers who often have their rigs under their desk.
At an official 375 grams — or 377 grams according to my digital scales — it may be a little on the heavy side but the ManO’War is still very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The weight distribution between the crown and the ear cups is perfectly balanced and there’s only the slightest hint of squeezing just below the ears. The leather wrapped padding of the ear cups not only holds the ManO’War nicely in place but also allows the area beneath to breathe comfortably resulting in no gross sweatiness even after 4 hours of destroying n00bs. The crown also has leather wrapped padding which, for this user, means easy cleaning of dried hair gel. The ear cups independently twist roughly 5 degrees forward and a whopping 90 degrees backwards to fit the shape of almost any skull allowing for a nice seal around the ears to prevent excessive sound leakage. Unfortunately though, removing the unit and hanging it around the neck results in the rather large ear cups uncomfortably pressing into the jaw… a minor annoyance at most.
One matter which I feel is very important to bring to the attention of prospective ManO’War buyers is that it is advertised to be compatible with PlayStation 4. The use of the word “compatible” is quite a stretch. Technically speaking, plugging it into your PS4 will result in the consoles audio flowing through those speakers. But that’s all that happens. Your equaliser settings from PC use do not transfer over so you’re stuck with somewhat flat audio. The volume dial on the ear cup is rendered useless forcing you to manually adjust the volume via the console’s dashboard and while the mic mute function works, it doesn’t retain its setting between power cycles. This resulted in me having several conversations with my wife during which I also unknowingly sent goodnight kisses to my teammates much to their entertainment. Of course this would be less of an issue if I could have easily seen the lack of a red LED on the end of the microphone which was retracted at the time.
I fear that consumers that play games both on PC and PS4 might be lead to believe the ManO’War will be a great all round headset for use with both devices when this is simply not the case. Rather than advertising it as compatible with PS4, a more accurate representation would be “Designed for PC, kinda works with PS4, but not really”. Interestingly Razer marketing material for the ManO’War clarifies that only one LED cycling option is available when used with PS4. Contrary to this, I found that lighting settings used on PC stayed current when using with PS4. It’s disappointing that the equaliser settings don’t follow suit.
If you’re exclusively a PC gamer, the Razer ManO’War is certainly worth trying out. While it’s weighed down by a few flashy gimmicks, if you see past those and focus on the excellent audio produced by the 50mm drivers built in and the features available only to PC gamers then you will not be left disappointed. Don’t be scared off by the fact that the Razer website sells it for $329.95 AUD. You can pick it up for more than $100 less at several well-known Australian online retailers. $229 AUD is a much more palatable price tag, even if some of your hard earned dollars are going towards the purchase of flashing lights.