Razer Barracuda X First Impression/Review

Long time no blog.

As with the other white-collar types during the Pandemic, I worked from home a lot–almost exclusively now. That’s great for my hour+ commute life, but I had to upgrade my home IT equipment to make things work well. I can probably get deeper into this at the end of this post.

But it’s in this backdrop that Razer drops their latest wireless gaming headset, which comes with this T-shaped USB-C dongle that works with Playstation, PC, Switch and your smartphone, most likely. I think that’s awesome, and I didn’t really try it out on the smartphone, for reasons I’ll explain, but that’s great on paper. For $99 MSRP that’s a nice set of reqs.

In addition, there’s a proper microphone on the stalk that even has L/R directionality. The padding on the ears are memory foam. It provides great passive audio isolation for a $100 headset arguably for gamers. Prior to the Barracuda X, I was using the Logitech G733, which is, uh, way too gamerZ for this old man who is using it to run, uh, raids, the dungeons are called “Quarterly business review” and “customer escalation bridge.” I mean, I do talk to my team every day, we are on vc often, just that we battle using Zoom, Slack, email, Jira, and, well you get the idea.

Razer Barracuda X‘s sound quality is significant better than the Logitech. The mic quality is also better. There’s more isolation. It purports a longer battery life, and is charged in the same way through a USB-C charging cable. Volume control, secondary button (which is mapped to the power button), and a mute button, plus volume, all on headset. The wireless range is on par with the G733. It’s about the same price. The T-shaped USB-C dongle also comes with a USB-C(f) to USB-A(m) cable for sanity’s sake if you have to plug that into a PC or a crowded laptop port.

It all made sense to me, which is why when it was released, I bought it the day of and went right at it for almost a week. Turns out, this product just didn’t quite cut it, for these reasons:

  1. The memory foam doesn’t dissipate heat well, and my ears get warm after an hour. That’s not going to cut it especially in the summer months.
  2. My head is on the large side, and the fit is a little tight. The G733 uses an elastic band to basically double-support the top of my head (think AKG), while the Razer looks a bit like my Sony WH1000X-MK4. I’m happy with the Sony (in fact I flew transpacific with them all the time no issues, back when that was a thing qq). It’s just that the Sony headphones are notably bigger than the Razer, and actually is meaningfully “over ear” where as the Razer is more “on ear.” Without those comforts the heat and pressure become a notable factor in short order.
  3. The microphone stalk has a cover that is symmetric (like a grape), it is also symmetric once you cover up the mic part with the cover. Which means people may not hear you properly if you didn’t orient the stalk correctly given it is a stereo mic. It’s all black and symmetric, so you wouldn’t be able to tell if the mic is oriented correctly unless you 1) figure it out by touch or 2) remove the cover. This got me on a work call, which basically soured me on this headset completely, even if I now know why and can address it. The funny thing is for people without stereo output on their headsets, they’ll hear you fine. Imagine that confusion while raiding. No thank you.

Overall, this is a great pair of headphones and I probably would be able to put up with these pitfalls, but they’re showstoppers versus what’s on the market now. I don’t think there are better wireless PC/gamer headphones than these on spec, however, especially given the $99 starting price. It’s surely going to get discounted, and these would make pretty good work headphones too.

If Razer makes a v2 that address those 3 problems, they have a winner. Actually all they need to do is make a more directionally visible mic stalk that captures the audio correctly (maybe they can also do a software cue), and make these bigger. For now, back to Amazon they go.

PS. Just as a matter of spilling it out, I basically converted my everyday workstation for work purposes. I put a VM on it to do the VPN stuff. I hooked up part of it with OneDrive for work. I drive my apps mostly via old copies of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and a Chrome window doing everything else (like email and stuff I don’t run local). Since I already run 3 monitors, this makes working easier than I had on hand in the office. For audio, at first I ran with my Blue Yeti with a pair of headphones as monitor, and I would run the Zoom audio into the Yeti. This probably sounds great, but I had to be talking into the mic and it’s tiring for long calls, plus the Yeti picks up all the background sounds. I also tried my previous go-tos, like that Fiio bluetooth dongle I used with my wired earphones back when I get to travel more. I also used my WF-1000m3s. Those all worked, but the mic quality were lacking. The BT transmission is not great either, so the range isn’t good enough–not even so I can sneak into the bathroom. That’s when I went to the G733, about a couple months before the holidays in 2020. In short, the G733 fixed all the issues, even if it is not a great headset either, especially in terms of quality. For video, I had this kind-of-old Logitech C920, which worked perfectly fine. I also did not have a shortage of laptop and laptop-likes that had front-facing cams. Only thing that I wish would work better was the action cam I got, which couldn’t quite just work like a webcam straight and required finagling.

Calling to arms for the Attention-driven Tech Industry

With the Incident on the Capitol, the rooster is coming home to roost: It is very likely that US Federal legislation will go on to address some major links in the process that lead to a fascist liar and the party that enabled the behavior, driving a crowd and breaching the legislature building on January 6th, 2021. The link we all are familiar with is Facebook.

But the way laws work, it doesn’t make sense to sue FB or make a law that applies to only FB. After all the whole of the attention-driven economy is partly at fault, including the media. Maybe individual sites could be targeted if they cross over the customary Free Speech lines (all the public sites those protests organized on are probably going to get deplatformed if they resist taking down the content related to the event on 1/6). This means every site will have to bear the brunt of FB’s “negative externalities.” In other words, a powerful tool for humanity is going to get hammered due to one bad actor.

The exact same has already been happening for some time: Facial recognition. Clearview AI is well known in the Machine VIsion industry as unscrupulous shits where profit comes first before anything, being the only major player that enables law enforcement (and others) to do the same things the CCP does to the Uighurs. Thankfully US local law enforcement, as we know, are clumsy bad actors, lacking the technological sophistication and ruthless purpose that emboldens the Chinese government. But in 2020, these human rights abuses of facial recognition has basically started the banning of such uses by local US governments. Amazon is also a big-time no-no here, making one of the most commonly deployed product (Ring doorbells/cameras) tied to unconsented law enforcement use, after making similar mistakes letting any law enforcement at their big data sets.

Ultimately this is about externalities. I think it needs to be extremely clear, if you are doing a large-scale deployment of any new business and tech, to examine externalities. Think of it as risk assessment. It’s one thing to break fast, it’s another to break so fast that you never recover from it. It’s a third thing, unfortunately, that you break it so nobody else can ever touch it again. If the wrong legislation comes down, these technology sectors are dead ends.

It’s really important for big tech companies to be careful and not fuck it up for the rest of humanity. It’s not about starting Civil War 2, it’s about not starting the next Chernobyl (for nuclear power). It’s about not throwing the baby of advanced AI, out, with the bathwater of negative externalities that unethical actors like FB or Amazon is generating.

Sony WH-1000XM4

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my Sony WH-1000X, the OG wireless bluetooth cans with badass sound cancelling–the one that didn’t use SBC! I went from mark 1 (technically they’re just not mark anything, but I’ll call them XM1 to keep it simple) to XM4, so there are actually some big differences. Most of them are probably already there if you got the mark 3s.

For one, I went from a refurb pair to a new pair. My 1000X was $180 refurb back in 2017 holiday season. It’s 3 years later and I went up to about $275 for these. I think that is a stretch, not because the sale was not big enough for me, but because I haven’t had a regular commute to work since March. If I had my usual workday commute, $300 for a three-year investment is well worth it, because these cans are just great all around.

Since I’m comparing the XM4 with the original, it is probably easier to just say what remained the same between the two, and what didn’t.

SAME SAME:

  • Sound signature: still a tad thick overall versus neutral, is what I’d call it.
  • LDAC and AAC support
  • Basically the same form and form factor, with small changes.
  • Still comes with a carry case with the same fold style and shape
  • Still comes with a 3.5mm jack for wired use
  • Same kind of ear pads
  • Still fits my large-ish head comfortably, if on the snug side
  • Still comes in black (I got the black one, but there’s also a silver XM4)
  • Freakishly good ANC
  • Touch control on right can, buttons on left can (only 2 buttons now on XM4)
  • Mic still not great (XM4 is better though)

Differences:

  • XM4 has nearly double the battery life
  • There’s an app. Since XM2 there was an app but the XM4 stuff is pretty wild. It’s the same app for the WF-1000 line (I also own a pair of WF-1000XM3).
  • Seamless pairing thanks to Android advances (not that it was particularly an issue before, just much easier now). Also smooth onboarding that’s more or less automatic.
  • More…bass in the XM4. By a good amount.
  • XM4 is lighter and less rigid than XM1, which addresses the stress tension failure they had in the OG.
  • Multi-point support–it’s barely working but it does work. Only caveat is it only supports SBC/AAC when you enable this feature, up to 2 devices max. Honestly AAC is fine for me, but sometimes I still prefer LDAC with the high resolution stuff.
  • The case is a bit lighter but also a bit flimsier. XM1 case is quite rigid and took a lot of beating (I beat on it a lot, on that note). XM1 case is also a tiny bit more circular and thus a tad bigger. It also didn’t have the little hole in the divider inside to stow the airplane adapter, 3.5mm cable, and possibly your charger cable.
  • Oh, USB-C on these, so I probably will just ditch the charger cable in the case. My XM1 was literally one of the last two things I carry that still used micro-USB. That said I am likely still to carry a micro-USB cable around even when I go to 0 micro-usb items just because I have some packrat tendencies. [The other micro-USB thing is a BT audio dongle/DAC.]
  • I think the USB-C port on the XM4 actually has data, where as it’s just power on the XM1, correct me if I’m wrong here.
  • The XM4 also is $50 more on MSRP, but this is the kind of thing you would never buy MSRP, so not a big deal. I got mine for $278 plus tax minus some credit card promo. Not bad for newish hardware on a Black Friday sale, as the XM4 came out in August 2020.
  • XM4 sound is more delicate than XM1, but I think this is just a general improvement on Sony’s part.

Overall I think once the ‘rona stay-at-home vibe is over I will be working these hard. I find these headphones teetering more and more towards “need” than “want” over time, even if obviously I don’t need them. It’s just such a nice luxury. Also my XM1 is heading towards physical breakdown due to the headband stress fracture issue. It’s not beyond repair, that said, so maybe they’ll make as great backup or a hand-me-down.

Midnight in the Box with the Electoral Schrödinger’s Cat

As I write this, the clock just struck midnight on the US East Coast as the calendar turns the page to November 5th. It’s been over 48 hours since the clock struck midnight on the US East Coast as the general US election began on its constitutionally mandated date of November 3rd. Thousands of elections and ballot initiatives have ended with a winner or a Yea or Nay, but a bunch hasn’t yet, including the biggest one of them all: the US Presidency.

The news cycle has been on overdrive ever since Donald J. Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and it never has really let down given the regular dose of outrage, dog whistling, gaslighting, and outright lies coming from the Mouthpiece In Chief throughout his presidency. A tired and elated electorate tries to move on from a generally horrible year of 2020 for the United States.

The odds of Trump’s reelection, as predicted throughout the 2020 campaign period, was not great. The toll of coronavirus plus just his general performance was mixed at best. But as the polls close when the sun rises on November 4th, the truth is that we are at another junction like 2016, the electoral vote path shrinks through a few battleground states with very close vote counts. The added stress of moving many votes (with a heavy Democratic lean) from the usual polling process and moving it to mail-in voting further protracts the canvassing process, and gives room for Trump and the Republicans to play the voter suppression gambit, and undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process.

But while vote counters work and results trickle out, we are in a zone where the real-time tally collected by major news outlets lag behind the reality of votes in the bag, giving us real time, non-stop TV coverage since early Tuesday. States with leads from one candidate change into the other as the later-counted mail-in ballots make it into the tally.

If you follow the pre-election coverage and predictions, there will be some swing states that are the tipping point, which makes or breaks a candidate’s bid for the White House due to the cross-state electoral correlation and the weight of its electoral college. During this period of time, the public sentiment for, say, Georgia, might be entirely different than what we thought a few days ago, when it’s a known battleground this year but always had low odds as a tipping point. Pennsylvania and Florida, huge tipping point states in 2016, may play a very small role this year if Biden retake Wisconsin and MIchigan, and take Arizona back for the Dems–piling up to 270 without those big classic turning point states.

But that’s just me writing late night, which might change in another few hours as the votes come in. In the face of uncertainty, we can doomscroll until the sun comes up, which some might have done, but it’s also a weird zone of impermanence. It is a weird piece of peace in the endless horseracing talk of presidential electoral politics.

[Updated because I forgot to mention the first go-around]

This US General Election, with the very heavy use of the mail-in ballot, is a perfect example of what a quantum state means. Fact is, by the time polls closed on 11/3, the voters have already spoken. The results were collected–the collective, final count unknown at the time–and it has been the same this whole time. The counting went on but the truth was established days ago, if not earlier. The horserace-like coverage pinges on the vote counting, not the actual voting. When ballot processing and counting occurs, the collective whole of humanity was in the act of observing, measuring this system. In reaction to that, the system collapses into a known and measurable state.

The people doing math prior to the election are the folks trying to calculate the quantum state of the thing without directly measuring the thing. The use of mail-in ballots merely exaggerates the measurement and lets us take time to observe the observation and collapsing.

Galaxy Watch3 Quick Impression

I ordered the Galaxy Watch3 on launch. I think I ordered it on August 6th and got it on August 13. After mulling over a bit and not able to find any detail specs after the announcement (and I was pretty busy that day) I went with the 41mm black/silver combination. That smaller 41mm one was definitely sold as a “women’s watch” IYKWIM. As you may know my biggest gripe about smartwatches are how big they are. They are chonk. They are thicc bois. So I went with something smaller, based on my experience with my current smartwatch.

A bit of background here–I used to wear a watch all the time, a pretty pedestrian Casio was my last watch but ditched it after I got fully on board on the smartphone revolution (Nexus One babeee). It wasn’t an immediate thing, but it made sense after a while so I went without it for a few days. It felt fine and segue easily into the lifestyle where I carry a smartphone on my person all the time. Which I still do.

Fast forward like, 10 years? Now, I ask Google Assistant what the time is sometimes. I’ve been rocking a Pebble Time Steel for the last 5 years. It’s a great watch but it is getting a bit long in the tooth in terms of the feature I would like. It is also, as I would find out, less comfortable to wear than modern Android watches with their teardrop backs. There are other drawbacks of the Pebble Time Steel, but it is a compromise I can live with given its long battery life and decent look. The gold watch can confuse some onlookers as if it’s the high end Apple watch when they first rolled out the line but not anymore.

Prior to the Pebble Time Steel I had a normal Pebble, being a backer from the original Kickstarter. Other than that, I’ve seen other folks’ fitness devices and smart watches. My mom actually likes them so she wears them pretty much since they became affordable. Ticwatch is great…back in 2017. Other relatives use Apple Watch. I studied it a lot and would have gotten one if I am going to upgrade from the Pebble. There is definitely a vacuum of smartwatches for non-iOS users. That’s nothing new.

So I think I agree with Engadget’s headline saying the Watch3 is the best Android smartwatch. The core Tizen/Exynos 9110 combo does great and for the most part surpasses most WearOS combinations on Qualcomm. The industrial design goes the way of a chonk watch, which is at least a watch thing, not the “device” thing Apple Watch is. They are sort of competing schools of thought but you would think the freedom of the Android ecosystem allows different companies and OEM design drastically different looking smartwatches. That makes them like, well, watches.

I decide to return the rather-expensive (it came to over $420 after tax) Watch3 today because after using it for a couple days, I think I can opt for the slight bigger (by 4mm) and slimmer (by 1mm) 45mm version. If I tried for the titanium version it would even be almost 6g less heavy. But that one is not available yet. The 45mm is $25 more, which is trivial when it cost $399 to just get in the door. That is a chunk of change, but I actually think that is the right price for this watch.

The idea about smartwatches is, like I said earlier, either about a device or a watch. I can keep wearing my Pebble Time Steel in 2025 because it actually looks rather appropriate despite the aging, arguably terrible display. Because a watch really is about how it looks on your wrist, which most of it comes in the stuff outside the display.

The Watch 3 is just a proper piece, a fine looking watch. The 41mm might be a bit cheeky for a luxury watch because it’s a bit nondescript, but the 45mm looks like a proper watch. The rotating crown is a great navigation tool and it really accentuates the watch, plus adding protection to the screen. It speaks a very stated, balanced, Korean-Asian sense of style. Go walk around SIN, HKG, or HND, look at all the luxury stores and ads, and you know what I mean.

My only reservation is with the size, and given Watch3 45mm is still a good 14-20% smaller than Galaxy Active, that means it’s finally not too big to be unwieldy, that I won’t press the crown buttons by bending my wrist. Even my relatively small Pebble Time Steel gets into that.

If you are tracking this product category, though, you would be a bit concerned that a Watch Active can be had for under $200, but this launches for over $400 after tax? Given the two really aren’t different outside their guts, what is going on? And it comes to that a smartwatch is not just a device. It’s also a watch. And you would never be able to justify a $20000 or even a $2000 watch, yet that’s where the game is.

So I think a fine looking hardware like Watch 3 45mm Titanium for a yet-to-know price is probably worth it. I dig the new features for sleep tracking and ECG. I like how it has heartbeat and O2 tracking over the Pebble. I like the crown. I like the display. I don’t like I have to use Samsung Health–mainly because it doesn’t integrate well with what I already use. The sleep tracking app I use also doesn’t seem to integrate with it (not a surprise, may take some time). I don’t like that I have to buy a 3rd party app for Google Fit integration. Samsung Health sleep tracking is okay, but is lacking compared to what I currently use. It can survive a full day (with always on turned on), but not so hot on how it takes a while to recharge.

But it’s good enough that I can make it work on my routine day. Kind of like Android watches generally they meet the minimum at best. I like the watch overall, which justifies the price, but it has added Samsung baggage that holds it back still. Another reason why I have returned the watch… Once Google’s acquisition of Fitbit clears.