The allure of the perfect surround sound experience is overwhelming; one might even say it’s deafening.
But terrible puns aside, there is something beautiful about the perfect surround sound setup playing your favourite games and movies in all their THX DTS/Dolby Digital glory. But few people have the space to accommodate such a setup in anything other than a lounge or a dedicated TV room.
Humble – and not so humble – gaming computers have had to live with the fact that they are destined to get the short end of the audio stick. Usually a set of budget stereo speakers adorns the flanks of whatever wide screen monster is sitting on your desk, and to make matters worse they are usually powered by an on-board sound card. Sies.
The money ends up being spent on a decent pair of headphones instead that promise to deliver beautiful sound waves directly into your auditory canal.
This scenario is an all too common occurrence due to the fact that trying to set up multi-speaker ensembles is next to impossible unless you start adding in extra cables and burning your fingertips off with a glue gun.
So, is Razer’s Leviathan – a sound bar/subwoofer combo that specialises in providing entertainment audio without requiring that you rewire your desk – the saviour of desktop audio that we have all been waiting for?
Um, no. But it’s not a complete disaster, either.
Under the hood
Before delving into the murky, and somewhat subjective, waters of sound quality it is important to understand how the Leviathan does its job.
The sound bar uses two full-range 63.5mm drivers and two 19mm tweeters to deliver audio over five channels. The audio processor inside analyses the track being played and decides which speaker should play which sound.
That audio processor uses Dolby Digital and Virtual Speaker technology to analyse the input source and up-scale (if necessary) to a 5.1 channel stream before sending it to the drivers and tweeters. This, in theory, allows the Leviathan to take a 2-channel stream and deliver a surround sound experience to the listener.
In practice, however, the results are somewhat lacklustre.
More like sub-boomer
The subwoofer is a monster. The enclosure houses a down-facing 5.25-inch woofer which promises to respond to frequencies from 20Hz to 180Hz.
On a side note, the tweeters and drivers in the sound bar only kick in from 180Hz. That woofer does what can only be described as a kick-ass job, and if cranked loud enough will make nearby desks and windows shake.
Audio inputs vary depending on what you want to do. For those wanting to use the Leviathan with a PC or a console the options are either a 3.5mm audio jack or an optical connection. The Leviathan also includes Bluetooth 4.0 with NFC pairing allowing for near-effortless pairing and playback via phones and tablets. Handy.
Another awesome feature is the inclusion of aptX, a wireless audio technology which promises to deliver CD-like quality over Bluetooth; so far it has failed to get audiophiles excited… that is, until now.
We tested Razer’s sound bar with a mix of High Definition movies with full multichannel audio, standard-def videos with 2-channel audio, a variety of games set to use 5.1-channels and some high bit-rate lossless songs.
What we found was that if you want to play games and watch movies with a 5.1 audio track then the Leviathan is for you. Watching a Blu-ray of Jurassic Park sent shivers down our spine as the raptors screamed and the T-Rex roared, bringing the audio to life in a way that a set of stereo speakers usually don’t.
The Leviathan added to the immersion immeasurably, leaving no doubt that this sound bar is ideal for movies and games.
SD, not so much
However, when watching SD videos with stereo there was a serious lack of the WOW! factor. The audio sounded dull and had me switching back to stereo speakers very quickly to make sure my ears were still working.
The other major drawback presented itself when listening to music, thanks to a deplorable excess of bass (to borrow a line from Jurassic Park). No matter what I listened to, the subwoofer couldn’t help but kick in and drown out the mid-range.
This is not a problem when listening to the latest Iggy Azalea hip-hop track, but if you want to listen to some real music (Queen, CCR or The Who) you find yourself trying to figure out why the backing drums are drowning out Brian May’s guitar (arguably the second best part of Queen).
In fact if you find yourself leaning towards the audiophile side of the spectrum and enjoy experiencing the art of good music as it should be heard, then the Leviathan will leave you in tears, and not in a good way.
So here is my quandary. The Leviathan is bred for gaming; it comes from a company that is arguably one of the biggest names in gaming peripherals. If we are to judge the Leviathan on that performance alone it deserves nothing less than full marks, and if gaming is all you are interested in then you can stop reading right now and order yourself one.
If you want to enjoy movies at your PC and want a surround sound experience without the mess of cables, then you too should be ordering the Leviathan from your favourite online store.
But if you love music, and can’t go a day without listening to it then the Leviathan is not for you. The lack of control means that you have to start playing around with software EQs in an effort to reign in that subwoofer, and that is a lot of effort when you consider the R2,900 price tag.
There are also a handful of design flaws that just serve to frustrate the user, chief of which is the inexplicable need for the Leviathan to turn off when not being used. This is great when you are done for the day but it’s frustrating when you resume your movie after having finished dinner, only to realise that you can’t hear a thing.
Even less forgiveable is that the Leviathan’s EQ profiles are limited to three (game, music and movie), which means that if you want to have more control over the sound you are out of luck.
She’s got the look
The final problem I have with the Razer Leviathan is its looks, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. It’s a problem because it radiates sex appeal that has me contemplating a rather large, entirely unnecessary purchase that my credit card wouldn’t forgive me for, and I don’t care.
That black sound bar sitting under my monitor, that massive subwoofer sitting on the floor in full view of anyone coming into my room and the Razer logo proudly in the centre of both… it’s a dream I can get behind, budget be damned.
Razer’s styling may not be for everyone, but if you, like me, find yourself falling in lust with every Razer product you see then the Leviathan will be no different. One look, and you will want one; play a game with it and you may find yourself inadvertently reaching for your wallet. You’ve been warned.
Ultimately, given the option I’d have the Leviathan for games and movies and a set of decent stereo speakers or headphones for music. To me, that’s the best of both worlds.
2×63.5mm full-range drivers
Frequency response: 180Hz – 20KHz
Frequency response: 20Hz – 180Hz
3.5mm stereo jack, optical connection