[Article originally published at my Examiner.com PC gaming column – Note that all links go to my column at Examiner.com]
Generally speaking I’ve been impressed with (and a fan of) Mad Catz products such as the innovative S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard and virtually all of their gaming mice; the R.A.T. MMO7 is still a favorite. I even like their functionally useless but utterly cool gaming lights. The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 7 is the first Mad Catz gaming headset to land desk-side, and it proves to be an excellent addition to their impressive PC gaming product line.
The F.R.E.Q. 7 is a USB surround-sound headset powered by Dolby headphone technology and twin Neodymium 50mm drivers. In addition to virtual 7.1 surround sound, the Dolby-powered tech can upmix standard stereo signals into virtualized surround sound that (according to Mad Catz) “gives you an edge over gamers limited to stereo sound.”
I suspect that’s a pretty theoretical edge, but there’s nothing wrong with the feature.
Ergonomics & Design
On the whole the F.R.E.Q. 7 is a standout for its smart design. The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 7 basically gets everything just right or damn near it. If I were to create a list of personal preferences for PC headsets—or even “best design practices” that I would recommend to all PC headset manufacturers—I’d say the F.R.E.Q. 7 design hits every one.
First, all the necessary controls—microphone muting, volume, and the Dolby on/off button—are easy to identify and access on the ear cups—there’s no fumbling for inline controllers. Each control resides in a distinct, discreet location; you can’t mistake one control for another, or accidentally activate one when you’re trying to activate another.
The mic mute button sits directly next to microphone on the left ear cup. Even better, when the mic is muted the microphone tip lights up to let you know—I think all PC gaming headsets should have this feature.
Another button on the front of the left ear cup toggles the Dolby sound on and off. A roller on the right ear cup controls the volume. It’s not quite as well placed as the roller on the Logitech G930wireless headset, but it’s still good.
The detachable microphone is ultra flexible, similar to the ones found on the SteelSeries Siberia V2 and some other headsets.
In addition, the F.R.E.Q. 7’s ear cups rotate a full 90 degrees so it can rest on your chest comfortably when not in use. It’s not a feature I employ often, but it’s nice when a coworker, your wife, or the kids need your attention.
The F.R.E.Q. 7s hard plastic exterior sheaths a light aluminum headband, which is definitely a bit sturdier construction than many PC headsets. The headband is lined with a gel-like soft rubber. The ear cups are a little on the small side compared to some headsets, but they do a good job of sealing out external noise.
Despite the smallish ear cups and rugged, rigid plastic exterior construction, the FREQ7’s are still comfortable. They are notably more comfortable if you have very short (or no) hair—something I didn’t come to appreciate until I reviewed Turtle Beach’s XP Seven headset, which gets rather uncomfortable if you don’t have some cushioning (i.e. more hair) between your head and the headband.
Audio quality & performance
My usual suite of tests is hardly scientific—I listen to music, watch some surround sound Blu-ray movies, and check out the headset’s surround sound in Left 4 Dead 2 (it’s one of the few PC games that supports surround sound) and a variety of other games. The FREQ7 passed all of my non-scientific tests with flying colors.
Surround sound reproduction in Left 4 Dead 2 seemed good—I couldn’t find any “dead spots” (go ahead, pun away) in the surround audio, and I could accurately discern the direction of my team mates and enemy infected.
Skype and mobile calls worked well so there are no complaints to be made about the microphone, and the F.R.E.Q. 7 remained comfortable for extended use while gaming (3-4 hours anyway).
Music and movies sound excellent as well, even cranked to maximum volume and almost uncomfortable levels of
In many ways this reflects the F.R.E.Q. 7’s simplicity—you don’t even need to install the software control panel for the F.R.E.Q. 7 to work just fine. Regardless, a full 11-channel equalizer and the ability to store user preferences would be a nice addition. But as it stands the F.R.E.Q. 7 (even with its limited presets) still sounds excellent.loudness. I didn’t hear any traces of distortion, crackle, or ‘muddied’ audio. At their default settings, the F.R.E.Q. 7 seems to have just about the right amount of bass.
About the only minor chink in the armor of the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 7 is its software, which offers only 3 equalizer presets, in addition to volume controls and a Dolby On/Off button.
The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 7 is elegant and almost perfectly designed, and it gives you everything you need in a simple, reliable, and comfortable package.