Mad Catz has made a concerted effort to up its game recently. The brand has evolved beyond the cheap knock-off controllers that we all remember from our childhoods to a respectable line of headsets, mice and other gaming accessories made with quality and easy of use in mind.
That's the idea, at least, and from what I've seen of their current and upcoming lineup, the company is doing a bang-up job. Case in point: the F.R.E.Q. 5 gaming headset.
This red, shiny succubus of a headset (mine was red, at least—it comes in white and black, as well) is both versatile and limited; as far as gaming goes, it's purely a PC headset. It doesn't interact with gaming consoles at all. But it's compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X, and can double as a smartphone/MP3 player/PS Vita/3DS headset as well. For the sound quality and double functionality, it's hard to argue with a cool $150 price point, as long as what you need out of the F.R.E.Q. 5 falls within those two categories.
First and foremost, let's talk about the sound. The F.R.E.Q. 5's 50mm neodymium stereo drivers produce a nice, crisp sound for its price range, though compared with something at a higher tier, like the Astro A50 that I use most of the time, certain things are being lost. Depending what you're using it for, the low end can overpower the high end, so that in-game dialogue or song lyrics are consumed by the bass.
That's less of a problem when you're PC gaming with the F.R.E.Q. 5, since you can switch between preset EQ settings with the press of a button. One setting drops the low and mid frequencies almost entirely, while setting two brings the mid up so ambient wind and distant environmental rumblings suddenly come more into focus. With the third setting, the bass gets a major boost. I played on setting three the most, because I like to be assaulted by game sounds. I found it quite immersive, and chatty neigbors and barking dogs were easily drowned out. I did miss the simulated surround sound from my other headset, though, as the F.R.E.Q. 5 is only stereo.
Listening to music or playing portable games with the F.R.E.Q. 5 can be a mixed bag. The EQ settings only apply when you're connected to a PC via USB, so you're stuck with one setting and what you can adjust on your smartphone/other device itself. Switch the USB cable out for the 3.5mm jack and plug it into your portable, and you're often hit with a rather overwhelming amount of low end sounds. That works better for electronica and hip-hop than it does for rock, but it could ultimately amount to personal preference. The mic also allows you to take voice calls on your smartphone—if you want to walk around with it attached all the time, that is.
The F.R.E.Q. 5 comes with a few bells and whistles. The blend of shiny and matte, metal and plastic finishes is attractive and high-quality, as are the braided cords. It's easy to just plug it in and play without having to fiddle around with too many settings, no matter what system you use. An umbilical cord with a microUSB attachment hangs off the left side, and both the headphone jack and USB cord attachments are included. It comes with a detachable, flexible mic as well, with a mute button on the left ear cup and an LED light on the mic itself that tells you when it's muted.
The rolling volume wheel on the bottom of the right ear cup is easily accessible, and though it has no function when the headset is plugged into an iPhone or 3DS, on PC it directly controls the system volume, which is nice.
It would have been even nicer if the F.R.E.Q. 5 was wireless, but the breakaway connector and dual gaming/music functionality necessitates that drawback. If you can deal with cables, then you'll be fine, but some people aren't happy unless their gear is fully wireless these days.
Here's where I ran into my real issue with the F.R.E.Q. 5. I'm a four-eyes, and I often have problems wearing headsets and large headphones because of my glasses. The F.R.E.Q. 5 in particular exacerbates the normal set of issues by being extremely tight-fitting. This thing is practically glued to your head. It's got a firm grip, which means I walked away from long sessions with the headset with sore ears and the handles of my glasses imprinted into my skin.
Some might appreciate how tight-fitting the F.R.E.Q. 5 is, but even with my glasses off, I found the ear cups slightly too small. Maybe I have huge ears, but I had to adjust the headset's position frequently because it was pressing so tightly on my ear lobes and cartilage.
Beyond that, a squishy bit of rubbery stuff cushions the top of your head from the headset's weight. If it weren't for my glasses I think I would have really enjoyed using the F.R.E.Q. 5 a lot more. As it is, I'll still likely use it for late-night PC gaming sessions, since it's easier than dragging my other headset's receiver over to the PC and plugging it into the computer's digital output. The F.R.E.Q. 5 will also be suitable for long flights that might necessitate drowning out loud infants or annoying safety announcements, though the headset will definitely require regular adjustments for comfort.
I recommend trying out the F.R.E.Q. 5 before you buy it. It's got some shortcomings, including the wires and the lack of surround sound, not to mention my particular issues with comfort. That said, the overall sound quality—even if it's a little unbalanced—is worth the asking price, particularly if you like a bombastic amount of sound while gaming. The dual functionality is the cherry on top.