By – Mike Bezek
The realm of headsets is a vast and nebulous universe designed around marketing speak and silly numerical values that supposedly extol quality. Can you really tell the difference between 2.35 DB of noise dampening and 3.35? Is that even a thing? Finding a quality manufacturer that places material quality and excellence in sound is a difficult quest when the rabid marketing tigers seek to divert you away from companies not involved in competitive gaming. To say I was surprised to find that MadCatz was producing headsets is an understatement, considering I am flabbergasted they are expanding their product division despite stiff competition. With the F.R.E.Q. 5, the name of the game is comfort, quality and solid sound – but does it falter in the shadow of its rivals?
The deep and exuberant shade of red has become synonymous with MadCatz products, much like Razer’s ghostbuster-esque green glow. The eponymous color was painted upon my review unit making it eye-catching, and rather elegant to boot. Personally, I like understated devices that seamlessly blend into my working environment. Yet, the F.R.E.Q. 5 is the misnomer in my work space, but the color is a nice dash of flair while not being overbearing. The trademark “scratch marks” that adorn all MadCatz products are found on the cans, but the lack of any logo makes it a very nice design choice over pointless branding.
It was surprising to find that this unit was a bit of a transformer, hiding its additional capabilities quite well. A small, circular cover can be easily uninstalled to reveal the audio jack for the headset, allowing for the jack to be concealed by popping the cover back in place when not in use. My PC instantly recognized the device and I was able to switch from listening to chatting in no time. Connected by a 3.5mm audio jack, the microphone is fully adjustable, allowing user to move the mic away from their mouth to avoid resonant sounds while talking. Pressing the Mute button near the base of the microphone will illuminate the tip of the mic to give visual feedback that it has been completely muted, a nice feature I have yet to see in other units I have used in the past.
The back of the retail box makes the claim of “lightweight, but sturdy metal” in it’s construction. On any product I review, I take it to the letter and test its stated merits on the spot: I dropped the unit from head level to a carpeted floor (after testing its working condition) and then immediately plugged it in. The hefty materials that support the unit were more than enough to prevent any internal damage, as well as keeping the shiny exterior looking brand new. While it may be a rather archaic and unscientific approach to testing durability, I would prefer to push a claim to its advertised limits that take the statement at face value.
The solid construction can be felt from the moment it is picked up, retaining a decent heft while not taxing to wear for extended periods of time. Assisting comfort is the ample cushioning on the headband, made of a rubber-like material, which kept the unit from weighing on me after extended periods of time. Furthermore, the satisfying and solid response when adjusting the headband echoes the overall build quality. While other headsets I have used had wiggle room in each adjustment, the F.R.E.Q. 5 is very precise in every adjustment giving confidence that it will not readjust due to stress.
The earcups are very comfortable, the lightweight design allows for extended periods of usage with no fatigue. The wrapping material for the padding around the ears is made so that heat buildup is never an issue. Interior depth of the cups are a bit shallow, so some users who have larger ears may feel some discomfort due to the choices in keeping it relatively compact and lightweight.
Furthering the necessity of being incredibly lightweight is the added ability to plug the device into anything with an available 3.5mm jack. The braided audio cord, while thick and hefty, is spliced in the center with a USB to Mini-USB connector that can be swapped over to a regular 3.5mm connector. This allows you to use your smartphone, mp3 player or whathaveyou on the go. Supplementing the mobile functionality is a volume dial positioned on the underside of the right cup for quick adjustments. While volume controls are par for the course for headsets, it’s worth mentioning that is resides on the device, rather than an audio cord attachment.
Sound Delivery & Recording
Customizing your listening experience is controlled solely by three buttons found on the earcups. On the left side, an Equalizer allows the user to switch between Gaming, Music, and Chat. Switching to Gaming mode gives a noticeable boost to the bass, but voices/treble tend to suffer and are a bit drowned out. Music mode equalized out nearly all aspects and outputs a very balanced sound, while Chat downplays both ends of the sound spectrum to focus on balancing out voices coming through the headset.
What is odd about the Equalizer is there is no way to tell which mode you are in as the button will cycle between modes with zero feedback. Even at factory default, there is no indication in the instructions or other packaged materials that show which mode you are starting with – it’s just an educated guess. It required a bit of experimentation to deduce which mode was appropriate, and to also remember where I left off as to avoid fiddling with it upon subsequent use.
Testing was done using both FL Studio and the Cynic Project to get a feel for the range of the unit. Although the F.R.E.Q. 5 is not 7.1 surround capable like it similarly priced competitors, it delivers powerful sound nonetheless. What was most surprising about this unit was the very satisfying, deep bass; I was able to hear lows in some songs that I was previously unaware. The FREQ’s bass is tuned appropriately instead of being a cover for an overall low-quality sound experience. But it’s weaknesses lie with the treble, it simply cannot handle higher frequency sounds without noticeable degradation.
Testing for recording purposes was conducted over Skype during our newest show: Restore Point. In comparison to earlier shows using a competitors product, the boost in overall recording quality is top notch given its supplemental functionality. The stated noise cancelling was immediately noticeable during post-production editing of the show, ambient noise like PC fans and low frequency sounds were nonexistent.
Is it Worth Your Money?
The F.R.E.Q. 5 finds itself in a precarious pricing quandary. At $149.99, it sits among other contenders like the Logitech G930, arguably the best headset on the market within this price range. While other offerings on the market feature 7.1 surround sound, among other things, the F.R.E.Q. 5 stands on its own due to excellent build quality, sound delivery, and recording capabilities. While the gravitational pull of surround sound is quite heavy in the sub-$200 market, those who do not need such a feature will find plenty to love about this unit.
MadCatz F.R.E.Q. 5 Summary: