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CNN  — 

Gaming peripheral manufacturer Razer is practically synonymous with its RGB lighting-enabled keyboards and mice, and now it’s leveraging the tech to literally illuminate its latest Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds. The Bluetooth buds are the company’s third attempt to crack the surface of the saturated market, but they’re the first to incorporate its signature Chroma RGB tech.

While the three-headed snake logo glowing beneath your temples kinda steals the show, the Hammerhead is also packed with other features, from active noise cancellation (ANC) to a dedicated gaming mode that promises to reduce latency. With the headphones residing in my ears for the better part of two weeks, I put all their bells, whistles and colors (not all 16.8 million options, mind you) through the paces to see if they’re a worthy investment or just an eye-catching novelty.

Gaming focused earbuds
The Razer Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds have gamers in mind right from the get-go. Thanks to their dedicated, low-latency gaming mode and RGB customization, the Hammerheads stand out from the competition.

The who, what and how:

Who’s it for: The $129 Razer Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds’ RGB lighting and low-latency mode definitely have gamers in mind, but they also pack enough standard features — and iOS and Android app support — to make them a great fit for anyone seeking a quality pair of wireless buds that won’t break the bank.

What you need to know: The implementation of customizable RGB lighting immediately makes Razer’s latest earbuds stand out from the pack. But beyond the flashy effect, they also feature a secure, comfortable in-ear design, above-average sound quality and good battery life. While their touch controls can be a bit finicky and the ANC spotty, they’re still a great option that shouldn’t be dismissed as a gimmick.

How it compares: If RGB lighting is tops among your feature list, there’s no comparison — the Hammerhead is the only game in town, and a good one at that. In terms of overall sound quality and ANC — while the Hammerhead earbuds more than get the job done — audiophiles may want to pony up for the superior Apple AirPods Pro or Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. Within the $150 or less range, however, the Hammerhead is easily on par with the competition.

The eye-catching elephant in the room

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The implementation of Razer’s Chroma RGB tech could serve as either a key selling point or superfluous feature, depending on where you stand. If you fall in the former camp — valuing style as much as sound — you’re in for a treat. The RGB works great, looks cool and will definitely get you noticed if it’s enabled during a dark subway ride.

And with a rainbow-shaming palette of 16.8 million colors, you shouldn’t have any problem finding a hue that fits your style. Color selection and customization is done simply through Razer’s dedicated Chroma RGB app, available for both iOS and Android devices.

Within the app, users can select between Spectrum, Audio Meter, Breathing and Static modes, the latter two of which can be customized. Breathing was my favorite, as it slowly, soothingly pulsed in and out with my chosen colors. Of course, unless you’re looking in a mirror, these modes can’t really be fully appreciated — they’re primarily meant to make a style statement, or “flex,” according to Razer’s marketing. In this way, I wish the app offered some sort of visualization of the selected mode, something that reflected the light show everyone else can see. I would have appreciated the opportunity to see the “Breathing” mode, for example, via an in-app presentation of the chill effect.

This is also a good place to mention the Chroma RGB app is an entirely separate app than the Razer Audio app, which handles all the earbuds’ other functions. Swapping between the two isn’t a huge deal, but it does seem like an unnecessary inconvenience, one that could be easily addressed by integrating all options into a single app. On the plus side, the RGB offers a couple of unexpected by-products, like illuminating a bud you maybe dropped under the couch or serving as an extra safety measure when walking the dog on a dark street.

Game without audio lag

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The Razer Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds are clearly aimed at gamers who may already be loyal to the company’s RGB peripherals, but that’s not the only way they’re targeting the demographic. The headphones also sport a dedicated gaming mode that cuts audio latency when activated. Keep within Razer’s recommended 2 feet of your device, and you’ll enjoy synced, lag-free sound.

During several extended sessions with Lego Star Wars Battles on my iPhone, the feature worked as advertised, surpassing the occasionally laggy performance of the Cleer Allly wireless buds I’d been using for gaming. John Williams’ iconic score immersed me without a hiccup, and the colorful toy bricks always “clicked” right on cue. My marathon sessions spent saving the galaxy also highlighted the Hammerhead’s comfort. The in-ear, long stem-style design is lightweight, while the middle size (of three included silicone tip options) offered a perfect fit — comfortably snug but never irritating.

As someone who’s regularly burnt by my Xbox Series X controller batteries dying mid-multiplayer match, I also appreciated the buds not dying out during my game time. My tests were pretty consistent with Razer’s advertised battery life, with a more than respectable 30-plus hours of play from a combined earbud and case charge. Of course, mileage will vary depending on RGB and ANC use. My mobile gaming typically takes place at bedtime, so unless I’m attempting to impress my wife or cats, I’m not worried about using the former while playing. That said, even with RGB and ANC activated, you’re good for 20-plus hours.

Quality sound, finicky controls and a cord you won’t lose

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Between the flashy lighting effects and low-latency mode, Razer’s latest wireless earbuds might sound like a great fit for gamers and gamers only. But as the Hammerhead’s sound and non-gaming-specific features prove, they also fit the bill for anyone in the market for a new pair of midtier, under-$150 buds.

In terms of sound quality, they delivered crisp, clear audio across various genres and mediums, from the crunchy guitars of my favorite ’80s playlist to the dialogue-heavy exchanges — and mood-setting music — of Netflix’s “Midnight Mass.” The delicate tightrope walk that comes with delivering a game’s music, ambient sound effects and character dialogue was also spot-on, offering noticeably better balance and differentiation than my Cleer Allys.

You also have the option to tweak the audio via the Razer app. There are various options, such as Enhanced Clarity, Enhanced Bass and Vocal, as well as a customizable equalizer for those who wanna get wild. It’s pretty standard stuff — and, again, disappointingly separate from the RGB app — but it serves its intended purpose with a simple and intuitive interface.

ANC generally gets the job done but isn’t entirely without gaps. While it adequately squashed the sound of my squeaky ceiling fan, it was no match for my rumbling air conditioner. Outdoors it was similarly spotty, with laughing kids looking like they were starring in a silent film, but louder vehicles pulling me from my metal-fueled vibe. And for what it’s worth, Ambient Mode, which is supposed to let in more outside noise, didn’t offer a drastically different audio experience.

These modes are turned on and off with touch controls, which are nicely accompanied by an audio confirmation. Quickly tapping an earbud to kick off a workout playlist is simple and satisfying, but the controls can also be a bit finicky. Many features, like volume control and game mode, require various combinations of taps and holds. These can not only be difficult to remember, but don’t reliably work on the first attempt. The touch controls will always get you to your destination, but the path can often feel clunky.

These issues are somewhat mitigated by the app, which allows control remapping. Still, you’re likely to end up with a few functions — even if they’re ones you hardly use — that are navigated with less-than-elegant inputs.

While the controls will occasionally find you emitting an exasperated sigh, you’ll experience no such frustration when it’s time to plug in your buds for a recharge. Thanks to some subtle, green accents on the USB-C cable, you’ll never misplace the fabric-covered wire. This might sound like a perk not worth mentioning, but as someone who seemingly spends half his life digging through tangles of identical charging cords, I really appreciated this thoughtful inclusion.

Bottom line

The Razer Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds have gamers in mind right from the get-go. Thanks to their dedicated, low-latency gaming mode and RGB customization, the Hammerheads quite literally stand out from the competition. While I would’ve liked to see a few more frills from the RGB app — and have it combined with the audio app — the feature impressively brings something fresh to the cluttered wireless earbuds market.

Evaluated without the gamer-focused features, the Hammerhead loses some of its edge but still offers a solid choice within its $130 price point. They’re comfortable and offer above-average sound quality and respectable battery life. The ANC’s pretty on par with the similarly priced competition, and the touch controls leave a bit to be desired, but overall, Razer’s latest wireless earbuds feel more like a welcome addition to the crowded landscape rather than another inferior contender to the AirPods throne.