Reviews

Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 7 Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound Headset – Review

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I’ve mentioned this before, but to me buying a good headset is one of the best investments a dedicated gamer can make. Sure, you can go out and buy a massive surround sound speaker system that costs enough to feed a small country for a few years, but for a lot of people that’s not a great option due to a lack of space or neighbours who do not appreciate loud explosions and gunfire and stupid-o-clock in the morning. Of course there’s a lot of headphones out there to choose from, and they can get pretty pricey. Today I’m talking about Mad Catz new F.R.E.Q. 7 Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound headset, which promises a stunning audio experience.  Are they good? Short answer: yup. Longer answer is this review.

But lets start with the absolute basics – what’s in the box and what are the system requirements:

Product Includes:

  • F.R.E.Q. 7 Surround Sound Gaming Headset
  • USB Audio Connector Cable (6.6ft/2m)
  • 3.5mm Audio Connector Cable (3.3ft/1m)
  • Headset Stand

System Requirements:

  • PC: Windows 8, 7, Vista, XP and XP 64-bit
  • Requires internet connection for driver download

As you can tell the USB cable is a decent length and is also braided for extra durability, and the included 3.5mm connector so that you can use the headset with your Iphone etc. is a nice touch, although that feature wasn’t tested for this review. Sorry,  Iphone lovers! Sadly the connector’s aren’t gold-plated, though, which is a bit of a shame considering the price-tag of $199

To my utter dismay the F.R.E.Q. 7 continues the utterly infuriating trend of not including the device’s software in the box. Instead, once you’ve plugged the headset in using the supplied USB cable – which is braided for extra strength – you’ll have to head onto that dangerous internet thingy and download the appropriate software from MadCatz’s site, or if you don’t have an internet connection then you’ll need to break into your mates house wearing a balaclava late at night and use his or her computer to download it and then transfer it to your own PC using a USB storage device. It’s worth noting that you can use the F.R.E.Q. 7 headset without the software, but you won’t get the full 7.1 surround sound experience  and you’ll unable to change the settings.  Sure, most people these days do have internet connection, but this is still a problem worth mentioning. Except, of course, it’s probably not relevant to you because this review is online, meaning you have internet connection since you’re reading it. Unless you’re currently reading this sitting in your mates house wearing a balaclava…

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Regardless of whether or not you’re trespassing on someones property the software itself is a streamlined and simple panel that is essentially idiot-proof. Seriously, there’s no conceivable way that you could screw the headset up from this panel, because there’s just not enough things to click for you to do that. From here you can adjust the primary volume and voice chat volume, turn on and off the Dolby 7.1, and also choose between three preset equalizer settings for gaming, music and voice chat. Strangely, there’s no setting for movies, although I found the gaming setting worked for everything pretty well, including films. And that’s it. There’s nothing else to be done from this panel, unless you count clicking the, “contact us” button. Which I don’t.

This barebones software is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s sort of nice to have a streamlined panel that makes using the headset a breeze for anybody that doesn’t want any hassle at all – you just plug-in the headset, download the software and off you go, merrily listening to agonized screams of dying virtual people.  But on the other hand it’s very disappointing to not be able to tweak the equalizer settings to my own taste. If you spend a large amount on a headset, the chances are you want to be able to set it up exactly how you like it. Maybe in the future we can have the software split between a basic option for those wanting simplicity, and an advanced option for people like me who want to adjust bass and treble to their heart’s content. But for now if you feel like you really need to be able to adjust the settings on your headset then just stop reading this review right now: the F.R.E.Q.7 isn’t for you.

Software

Moving on to the headsets design, several pieces of lightweight metal have been incorporated to bolster the frame, making the F.R.E.Q.7 a sturdy piece of kit that strikes a nice balance between having a reassuring amount weight to it without being too heavy on the head for those long Battlefield sessions. It simply feels solid, and I’m confident it could take a substantial beating, much less everyday use. The earcups have plenty of lovely leather padding – which provides a fairly good amount of noise cancelling – as does the headband, so comfort isn’t a problem, either, although I would hazard that the earcups could do with being a bit larger as anyone with fairly big ears might find them a bit tight. The earcups also fold inwards so you can hang the headphones comfortably around your neck. A small detail that I also appreciated about the design is how there’s units of measurement printed on the metal extenders on both sides of the headset, so you can set each side precisely. It’s a small thing, but it’s the little details that count for a lot. Located on the left hand side of the headset you’ll find a button for switching between Dolby 7.1 and regular 5.1 stereo, along with another button to mute the microphone. Located on the right hand side is a roller for adjusting volume which spins freely. Sadly this volume adjuster is one of the few weak aspects of the headset, as it’s a temperamental and awkward thing to use. Not only does it need a little more resistance when you’re turning it as it’s really loose, but it frequently fails to pick up small adjustments, while other times even a slight turn will send the volume up or down far more than you intended. There’s also a noticeable lag of up to a few seconds between turning the spinner and the volume actually adjusting.

A small complaint that I would also make is that there’s no button located on the headset for swapping between the three preset equalizer profiles, instead you’ll have to go into the software to do that. This is a relatively small complaint, but one that’s worth mentioning. I’d also like to point out what there’s no way to adjust the volume for each side of the headset. This flaw was brought to my attention buy my own father when he tried out the headset. He has considerable hearing difficulty with one ear, and so he appreciates being able to adjust the volume on each side separately.

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As you can clearly see from the many pictures adorning this page the F.R.E.Q. 7 is aesthetically badass. There’s just something about the angular design that clicks with me, and for some reason makes me think of the Crysis series whenever I see it. A small, plastic stand also comes packaged in the box so that you can proudly display your F.R.E.Q. 7 to all who enter your domain and force them to make appreciative cooing sounds at it. I’d spend a bit more time talking about how sleek it looks, but you can make up your own mind about whether it looks pretty or not.

Moving on to the headsets performance, I’m going to quickly talk about the microphone before getting to the audio quality. The microphone is plugged directly into the socket on the side of the earphones, and sadly cannot be folded or otherwise tucked away when not in use. This flaw aside, though, the microphone performs very well, able to pick up the sound of my voice even when relatively far away from my mouth. For testing purposes I chatted to several friends in-game and they all reported that my voice came through crystal clear. Finally I recorded some general babbling and was pleased to learn that my friends were absolutely correct – the microphone provided crystal clear quality on my utterly horrendous voice, confirming once again that I’ll never be a Youtube sensation. Better yet the microphones noise cancelling tech also worked a treat, blocking out all other sound. Also, nice little touch is that the microphone tips lights up red when it’s muted, ensuring that you won’t ever accidentally say anything down the mic that nobody wants to hear.

Side on with speaker display

Right, now for the important stuff: does the headset produce quality audio? Yep. What, you want more than that? Alright, well, the sound is driven by Dolby Digital ProLogic IIx technology which enables the 7.1 surround sound, with a 50mm speaker with neodymium magnets within each earpiece. The end result is crisp and clean audio, from the deepest depths to the highest highs.  During testing using a range of games, and especially on Far Cry 3, the audio experience was very impressive, with the positional audio in particular being exceptional. Quite often in surround sound headsets you can head the audio transitioning from plane to plane, but not here.  I had no problem pinpointing where sounds were coming from, which is always helpful when you’re in an online shooter and need to know where the enemy are hiding out so you can merrily lob a grenade in there.

They’re honestly pretty hard to fault in terms of their sound, though I would say they lack a little punch in comparison to something like my favored Turtle Beach PX5s. The bass is adequate, but could do with being a little more powerful for those big explosions.   Music and films also sounded superb through the F.R.E.Q.7’s – for testing they were used while watching the 2009 Star Trek reboot, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearly, The Avengers, Iron Man and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and while listening to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Mumford and Sons, AC/DC and the entirety of the album No Regrets by my good friend Geoff Sharp (shameless advertising plug. Go and check out his stuff). Needless to say every song and film sounded great. All in all, then, the F.R.E.Q.7’s audio quality is superb.

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And on a side note, Mr. Geoff Sharp that I just mentioned above also happens to be a sound engineer, so I let him loose with the F.R.E.Q.7s for a little while and he also came away pretty damn impressed with audio quality they were providing, which is a ringing endorsement, indeed.

Currently Mad Catz  haven’t announced a precise release date for their new headset. The F.R.E.Q.7 is currently available to pre-order and is going to be released some time in Q1 of fiscal year 2014, which starts in April, if memory serves me, and has an RRP of $199.99, with no official UK price announced yet, either, although a quick conversion would work out at just a fraction over £130.

So, would I actually recommend them? Absolutely. There’s a couple of little niggles with its design, but they won’t lessen your overall experience, and the software needs to be fleshed out considerably to appeal to the hardcore audiophiles. However, for your money you’re getting a brilliant headset that provides fantastic audio with minimal fuss and that looks great to boot, all at a competitive price.

The Good:
+ Looks great!
+ Sounds great!
+ Simple software…

The Bad:
– Simple software.
– Volume adjuster.

The Verdict: 4/5 – Great.
Certainly there are some flaws and things that I’d like to see changed , but the F.R.E.Q. 7 is a comfortable, fantastic headset that produces  great audio.

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