Buttons and Switches

Mad Catz decided to keep all your usual headset controls away from your cables and instead stuck them around the earcups. This meshes well with the removable cables, meaning a replacement cable should be a lot cheaper than something with inline controls.
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Looking at the left earcup, you find a simple microphone on/off switch positioned conveniently on the front. Above it there a call answer button, meant for when you have the TRRS cable attached to a smartphone. On the bottom you find a micro-USB port where the included removable cables plug into. All pretty standard, nothing too exciting here.
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On the right earcup there is a rolling volume switch and is one of the best features on this headset. Many devices’ volume rollers that just directly control the device that they are connected to and spin and spin and spin with no feedback for where you are on the volume scale. The F.R.E.Q.3 instead has a switch that controls volume coming out of the headset, independent of the output device volume. It also has a hard start and stop so you know for sure that you have maxed the volume or dropped it to complete zero.
Moving to the front of the right side we find the microphone. Unlike most headsets, the microphone is built right into the earcup. It’s a more elegant alternative for when you’re wanting to use them outside of your house and don’t want to look silly with a mic arm hanging off of the side of your face.

Testing

The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 3 is designed to cover a range of gaming applications, as well as media consumption, and claims to excel at them all. Typically with a headset advertised like this you end up with a closed design, tons of low end, a wide sound stage, and a microphone that handles noisy environments well.
Firstly we’ll take a quick look at the microphone. The positive side of the built-in design means it’s out of your face and easy to move around in a bag without the fear of snapping it off. Sadly that’s about it. Due to the fact that it is not near your mouth there are a few issues that just can’t be worked around. First and foremost your voice comes in pretty low if you don’t run any microphone boost. To counteract that you can boost the microphone level +10dB, but then you run into the other issue of ambient noise. Since it’s not directly in front of your mouth it can’t perform noise cancellation as well and you just end up picking up a ton of noise alongside your voice. At home you might not see those issues as a large deal but you’ll be struggling to get through to your teammates at a LAN if you have to use VOIP.

Moving onto the bread and butter of these headphones: their sound. Mad Catz claims a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response range and a total harmonic distortion of less than 1%. To the best of my hearing extent, which is just under 18kHz, the claims are true. At way higher than usable volumes I was not able to pick up on any significant levels of distortion. The low end is strong but slightly muddy and is exactly what you’d expect for the F.R.E.Q.’s advertised uses. The mids get swallowed a bit by the lows and the high end is clear but harsh. If EDM is your thing then you’d find the sound to be decent for the price. Stuff like country and vocal-centric stuff don’t come out well at all however.

Conclusion

When it comes to headphones, everybody has a different preference for sound profile. The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 3 suffers from what I like to call “Beats syndrome”, where so much emphasis is placed on the lows that everything else suffers. This works great for gaming and certain genres or music, but overall leads to a sub-par experience for everything else.
The major positive with this headset is its comfort and ergonomics. For a headset advertised to be worn from commute to work to home it has the design to stay comfortable for long periods of time. There is a bit of worry in the longevity department with how much flimsy plastic is, but otherwise feels solid.
In the end this headset is hard to recommend with the likes of the Kingston HyperX Cloud Core and the Razer Kraken line coming in around the same price.

 

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