There's having sound reach your ears, and then there's having sound touch your ears. Outfitted with haptic technology, the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 4D Stereo Gaming Headset licks the inside of your ear canal with bass. It's more pleasant than it sounds.
It's a USB powered headset for your computer outfitted with ViviTouch actuator modules. which provide haptic feedback — vibrations that can be felt. I've experienced haptic feedback in handheld controllers and special vests before, but never against my ears. It's strange and somewhat wonderful.
Here are the specs, if you're into that sort of thing.
- Cable Length: 6.6ft/2m (USB), 3.3ft/1m (3.5mm)
- Cable Type: Braided
- Speaker Diameter: 50mm
- Ear Coupling: Circumaural (Over-ear)
- Magnet Type: Neodymium
- Frequency Response: 20Hz–20kHz
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <1%
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 60 dB/V
- Resistance: 32 Ohms
- Power Source: USB
- Price: $129.99 at the Mad Catz store
Note that the USB cable can be swapped out for an included 3.5mm to mini-USB cable with in-line audio controls for mobile device use, though the haptic feedback will not work in this configuration.
I've been using the F.R.E.Q. 4D on and off for about three weeks now. I've played games — most of Wolfenstein: The New Order was experienced wearing the headset. I've listened to horrible music. I've actually used it to stream to Twitch once-or-twice. I've used it for Skype calls. I even plugged it into my iPhone, though I still contend that giant headsets have no place plugged into tiny cell phones.
Vibrating Ears: The 4D effect brought on by the ViviTouch actuators in the ear cups caught me off-guard at first. See, I didn't read up on the headset before Mad Catz sent the review sample, and figured the whole "4D" thing was just another one of the company's silly naming conventions. Nope, this is a thing deserving of some sort of name.
Have you ever been walking down the street and had a car pass by you with the bass so powerful it vibrates your ear drums? The effect of the F.R.E.Q. 4D is not unlike that, only nowhere near as fucking annoying. The vibrations rumble pleasantly in your ear canal, like they do when you find that perfect seat between the speakers in a movie theater. It's a powerful effect.
The headset comes configured with several equalizer presets that adjust the effect accordingly — one of them sounds like what I imagine the inside of those annoying BOOM BOOM BOOM cars must sound like — or you can hit a button to turn the effect off.
Powerful Sound: The F.R.E.Q. 4D 50mm drivers do a valiant job of cutting through the vibration, recreating sound quite nicely with very little distortion. It's weird, really — I'd figure the extra vibration would screw with the overall fidelity of the headset, but they actually work together quite nicely.
Isolation: Even with all of this sound being tossed about, the F.R.E.Q. 4D headset manages to keep things relatively contained, with little bleed-through. That means I can keep the volume at a modest level without screwing with the built-in mic. It also means I cannot hear anything else when these are on my head. Parents can feel me here.
Easy-Access Controls: Everything necessary to control the F.R.E.Q. 4D is conveniently located on or around the ear cups. Volume, equalizer, microphone mute and the button that turns the shaky-shaky on and off are all there, meaning there's no fumbling for the right spot on the cable for the in-line controls. That is, unless you're using it on your phone, but why?
Built-In Mic: I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out where the microphone pulled out of the unit before I realized the microphone was built into the side of the right ear cup. Off-putting at first, I soon warmed to not having something sticking out in front of my face the entire time I wore the unit. The sound's not too shabby either, managing to pick out my voice without grabbing every other sound in the room.
The Fit: When I first put on the F.R.E.Q. 4D headset, I winced with discomfort, then turned the unit around. Ah, that was better. Only it wasn't. I had it on backwards. The headset felt better backwards than frontwards. That was not a good sign.
Eventually I grew used to the correct placement of the headset, thanks to the soft leather-ish ear cups and band padding, but it still feels somewhat off. It's the ear cups — they seem to bend in just a tad too much, pinching slightly in the back and feeling a little loose in the front. Maybe it's just my head shape.
That Plastic Feel: Having stepped on the unit more than once over the course of the past three weeks (you're welcome, Mad Catz), I can attest to its durability. That doesn't preclude it from feeling slightly cheap. There are metal bands connecting the ear cups to the head piece, but beyond that it's fancy plastic with excessive detailing I've come to expect from Mad Catz. The company wants to be sleek and futuristic, but these random flourishes give the product more of a toy feel.
If you plan on picking up a Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 4D Stereo Gaming Headset, prepare to be just a tiny bit disappointed every time you use another headset and your ears aren't filled with pleasant vibrations. It's an addictive aural sensation — I've found myself making excuses to use the headset more often than I normally would. If it weren't for that ever-present extremely mild discomfort, I'd never go anywhere without it.
As it rests on my head, it could be a bit better. As long as Mad Catz keeps putting those ViviTouch actuators into ear cups, I'll keep putting them on until I find the ones that fit just right.