Yesterday, Razer decided to reveal a new add-on to their Synapse 2.0 software, Razer surround. Today, I’ve been playing about with it. Here’s my thoughts, in what I’ve titled a ‘Razer Surround review’, but it’s more my impressions; it’s kind of a strange thing to have to try and review. Besides, you can try it yourself for free at the moment. 

02

Bringing surround to your stereo headphones.

That’s essentially what Razer Surround is; a piece of software that uses some kind of algorithm in order to replicate the perception of surround sound within standard stereo headphones. It’s similar — I assume, because it may as well be voodoo in my understanding — to the ‘virtual surround’ you’d find on some gaming headsets. The big difference, however, is that it’ll work on any soundcard and with any headphones or headset.

You don’t need to own a single Razer product in order to make use of it, so I made that point by testing it out with my SteelSeries Diablo III headset. It’s a USB headset so is recognised by the PC as a different sound device to my sound card, but it made no difference in the eyes of Razer Surround.

I plugged the headset in, opened the software, and the headset was right there to choose in the drop-down box. From there, I just put the headset on and performed a short and simple calibration. Within probably 90 seconds I was listening to a helicopter fly-by sound test, then a much more sound-filled demo (it’s basically a bunch of gun-fire and shouting and loud vehicles, think any modern military shooter).

So, does it work?

01Yes, is the simple answer. There are obviously limitations, and sound is a very subjective thing, but it definitely sounded more directional then usual. With the helicopter flying around in a circle, I could certainly determine front from back, left from right, and some range in between those four points. It’s by no means full 360-degree sound, but is significantly more directional than Stereo.

The lone circling chopper is a very obvious one to notice the limits, though. With the overwhelming audio of the <insert FPS here> sounding demo playback, I didn’t notice the ‘dead points’, so to speak, anywhere near as much — and another helicopter sounded as though it flew right over my head, in a very convincing fashion, amongst the audible chaos.

I gave it a quick test run in a couple of different games. It acts as a virtual sound device, so you simply select Razer Surround as your device in the game and choose the 7.1 surround option. The results were similar to the demo, really. I also couldn’t help but notice that it made everything louder, so I corrected for it with the computer’s volume to see if the surround effect was lost — and it wasn’t.

The pricing model and bundled nature are a little odd, though…

Firstly, it’s a bit strange to bundle some software that you’re planning to sell eventually with the Razer Synapse software. It means you have to register for an account, yes, but I think it could also just confuse people into thinking it’s just for Razer headsets. Perhaps never even considering that they could make use of it.

Then there’s the unusual pricing decision. The software will cost $19.99 USD from January 1st, 2014. Until then, you can download it for free (along with the choice to make a voluntary donation to the Child’s Play charity). The charity thing is obviously a nice move on Razer’s part, and I imagine the free period is because it’s the kind of thing that people will have to physically try themselves to see how it performs.

If, after time, people do see the benefit over stereo, I can see a fair percentage of PC gamers running Razer Surround on their machines in the future.

It was a little confusing to me when I first heard about it, so hopefully people will get past this in order to actually try it out. If people do get the gist of it, I can’t see any reason they wouldn’t want to run it while gaming, particularly in games such as first-person shooters where it’s most beneficial. I did get a little frustrated switching between sound devices when I didn’t want to use it, but I do have three different sound devices in my PC — and if you use a headset with a jack connection, it’ll be the same device whether using headphones or speakers, so you can just close the software. I did try it this way too with different headphones, yielding a very similar result to before.

Personally, I’m going to keep using it for a while longer to get a real idea of how beneficial it might be during gameplay. I’m also keen to hear what other people make of it. It certainly does what it’s supposed to, to the level that I expected — and the ability to work with any stereo headphones is really pretty awesome, and shows that laptops and tablets aren’t the only products that Razer are branching out into.

If after time, people do see the benefit over stereo, I can see a fair percentage of PC gamers running Razer Surround on their machines in the future. There’ll be some that object, perhaps preferring a full surround sound speaker setup, but I can definitely see a market for what they’ve made here — so long as people actively try it out, and Razer make it clear that it’s not just for use with their products.

You can try it for yourself at RazerZone.com/surround. If you do, I’d love it if you shared your experiences in the comments, as I really do wonder if others will share my thoughts.