The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 is a decent headset at a reasonable price, but while stereo sound quality is good, and the headset is comfortable to wear, it's let down in a few key areas – and the 7.1 surround effect isn't up to scratch.
Feels cheap in places
7.1 surround isn't very good
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The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 is a recent gaming headset from the peripheral maker that's designed to deliver high build and audio quality in an affordable package.
That's an ambitious aim at the best of times, but when it comes to audio, many consumers are (understandably) very choosy. If you're going to boast about the sound quality of your headset, you'd better deliver.
This is especially true of a gaming headset that the makers claim will give you a competitive edge, like Mad Catz does with the F.R.E.Q 4. With noise-cancelling tech for speaking to teammates, and virtual 7.1 surround sound, the F.R.E.Q 4 offers features aimed at multiplayer gamers in particular.
All this for a price tag of $60 / £90 (around AU$160). In the US especially, this is a very tempting price. It's slightly more expensive than the excellent Corsair HS50 Stereo Gaming Headset, but that lacks 7.1 virtual surround.
It's pitched at a price that means if Mad Catz can deliver on its promises, the F.R.E.Q 4 could be a very impressive headset.
When it comes to design, the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 comes with an aesthetic that fits in well with its other gaming peripherals. While not quite as 'out there' as its R.A.T gaming mice (which certainly have a love-it-or-hate-it design), there's no denying that this is a gaming headset. There's the obligatory RGB lighting, of course, with an extendable mic that can be pulled out from the left-hand can.
It's not a bad looking headset, though slightly dated in some ways. There's a fabric headband that rests on top of your head, then a twin steel headband above it, which along with the exposed screws, gives it a slightly military feel, and could appear to fans of flight simulators.
The padded fabric headband feels comfortable on your temple, and the whole thing clams to your head securely, without feeling too tight. There's no way to adjust the headset – the tension of the headbands does the job, and while some people may miss being able to fine tune the headset, we found it worked well – just slip it on, and it fits snugly.
The polyurethane-foam-made oversized ear-cups also sit comfortably on the ear. We wore the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 for long periods of time, and it never felt uncomfortable. There's also minimal sound leakage – either way – thanks to the snug fit of the headset.
The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 is wired, which may not be too surprising considering the price, with a single USB connection. There's an in-line remote which is big and plasticy, and is the one part of the design which feels a bit cheap. You can mute/unmute the mic, turn the volume up or down and turn on the 7.1 surround sound effects.
While the mute button lights up red when turned on, none of the other buttons seem to. Especially with the 7.1 button, this is a shame, as it's not always obvious when the setting is switched on or off.
When it comes to sound quality, the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 delivers good, punchy, sound courtesy of its "super-sized 50mm Neodymium Drivers", which offer clear and loud audio, with very good bass. For action games where you want hard-hitting audio, it does a good job without losing high-end details either.
While it's not the best sounding headset in the world, for the price it does a very good job. Music and movies also sound good.
The 7.1 surround sound isn't that convincing, however. We're rarely impressed by virtual surround, and here it just seems to widen the soundstage a bit. It's enough that we'd play with it turned on, but don't expect it to give you an immersive experience where you can pin-point enemies sneaking up behind you.
The Environmental Noise Cancellation (ENC) mic, meanwhile, is easily positioned so you can be heard loud and clear, and backgound noises are kept to a minimum. It works well, and for both multiplayer games and video calls, where clarity is of the utmost importance, it impresses.
What doesn't impress, however, is the software. While Mad Catz talks of its Flux software, we could not find it anywhere. We contacted Mad Catz and were informed that was the old name for the software, and any mentions of it should be removed. Instead, we downloaded the F.R.E.Q 4 software from the website.
Sadly, the F.R.E.Q 4 software is an ugly and limited app, that feels like it comes from 2005, not 2020. So, it has a user interface that gives us horrible flashbacks to Windows XP's worst apps, and a distance lack of features.
So, you can tweak the volume of the headset, but only in stereo. Tweaking the 7.1 surround effect isn't included.
The microphone levels and LED coloring can also be changed… but that's it. Add in the ugly interface and the need to restart the PC after installing the app (it's 2020 for goodness sake), and you'll probably end up wondering why you'd bothered to install it in the first place. We certainly did, and the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 works well without the software.
So, overall the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 is a decent headset that works best as a stereo headset, with music sounding good in particular. The 7.1 surround sound doesn't convince, however, and the software is awful – but luckily you don't need to install it. It does feel well built and comfortable to wear, though.
Buy it if...
You like to play music loud
The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 does a good job of playing at loud volumes without distortion thanks to its large drivers. Just be careful with your hearing.
You play for hours on end
The Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 is a comfortable headset that you won't mind resting on your noggin for hours at a time.
You want simplicity
The fact that Mad Catz’s software is so bad could be a blessing – just plug this headset in and begin using it. Don't touch the software. You can thank us later.
Don't buy it if...
You like to tweak
While the awful software means you don't need to install it, it also means you can’t tweak the settings of the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 easily, and will instead need to rely on Windows 10's built-in options.
You want immersive surround
While the Mad Catz F.R.E.Q 4 claims it's 7.1, it's not really, and the virtual effect, though pleasing at times, cannot replicate a real surround sound system.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.