Fnatic Gear DUEL Review (Page 3 of 4)
Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis
As with all the audio products we review here at APH Networks, it takes quite a bit of experience and training of the ears before we can begin making a fair judgment. Even for the best of audiophiles, it can be hard to produce an exact and accurate evaluation of a product without a thoroughly familiar product to use as simultaneous reference. While I will not claim to be the reviewer of all reviewers for headphones, I can say quite a few other computer review sites have editors lacking in training for reviewing anything audio related. Give them anything and all you will get is some vague description of “awesome bass, amazing midrange, nice treble, no muffles, 10/10”. Do not get me wrong though; there are knowledgeable audio reviewers out there on respected online media outlets, but they are far and few. There are no true objective measurements for audio sound quality. As the reviewer, however, I will put the Fnatic Gear DUEL through a series of subjective tests to try to come up with the most objective rating as possible. The tests were conducted primarily with the DUEL plugged directly into the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura sound card's dedicated headphone circuit.
After over 50 hours of break-in time (Well above the typical required period), we put the Fnatic Gear DUEL to the tests. All tracks are uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher. For gaming, I played Overwatch, League of Legends, and Black Desert Online. First-person shooter games like Overwatch are probably the most crucial games to test these headphones, as gameplay can heavily rely on hearing additional sounds. Black Desert Online and League of Legends are more so used to test extraneous sounds, though they are less crucial to the actual gameplay. All testing, both gaming and music, was done with the over-ear pads applied.
If there was anything I could really say about the Fnatic Gear DUEL, it was the fact these headphones sounded like they were built with gaming in mind. Considering this is what the target of these headphones are still primarily for, this was not surprising. However, this had several implications throughout the headset. Starting at the low end, I felt like this was where the DUEL was given the most emphasis, with a deep and oomph-y bass. It provided a lot of drive, though there were times I felt like the bass was overwhelming. In game testing proved this extra bass was helpful, as footsteps were heavy and heard easily. While I was still sent back to my respawn point in Overwatch at times, the DUELs definitely allowed the deeper sounds in games to be heard.
Moving to the midrange in the DUELs, this region was probably the most recessed area, following the V-shaped characteristics often heard in gaming headsets. Unfortunately, the DUELs definitely left a bit on the table when it came to this middle frequency. The low-midrange still had an ample volume with similar characteristics as the bass frequencies. However, sharp drop in this middle region was not the best in terms of music. Even with the recessed nature though, I felt like the other characteristics of this range was not bad either. The wooden resonance sound heard from instruments like pianos and guitars was decent and damp, though not as natural sounding. I think the heavier bass just overwhelmed the midrange at times. This is understandable for a gaming headset, but it does have negative implications for music. In games, voice lines were still easily picked up, which made assessing circumstances during the game easy to do.
At the top of the frequency region, the Fnatic Gear DUEL was again following the V-trend, with a greater emphasis shown here, at least when compared to the middle frequencies. Instruments in this region were heard clearly, though they were a bit dry in reproduction. When we take a look at all three frequencies, the resulting picture was a bit darker than I would have liked. The treble did come through, and things like Ana's biotic grenade being thrown in Overwatch was definitely heard. The overall characteristics of the Fnatic Gear DUEL was, as aforementioned several times, a very V-shaped output, common to many gaming headsets. While this may not be the best in music situations, it is actually preferred for gaming, as it emphasizes the more common noises such as sound effects.
Soundstaging and imaging is a necessary characteristic shared in both gaming and music, and the Fnatic Gear DUEL was mostly capable in this regards. In games, the soundstage was wide, with directions being easily heard. However, due to the V-shaped characteristics and the darker output, musical imaging was not necessarily the best or most natural. We still had a good image being produced with a decent amount of depth, but I think both of these could have been improved. Even as a smaller 40mm driver with a closed-back design, I think the Fnatic Gear DUEL struggled in providing an organic image when it came to music.
Together, all three layers produced an adequately detailed sound. The entire audible range was present, albeit with the above sound profile heard throughout. The ranges were separated and defined, and the transitions between the ranges was decent. There was a bit of a dip between each set of frequencies, which is not too surprising. The sound felt cohesive, but the real issue I felt causing all of these categories to not feel as great was the cleanliness of the sound. I think this may have been in part due to the imbalance of the sound and a bit of muffle heard through the ranges. Overall, the Fnatic Gear DUELs just felt like they did not produce a clean enough output, which hampered the perceived quality of the audio output.
Sound isolation on the Fnatic Gear DUEL was not great, as there was quite a bit of sound leakage, even at lower volumes. I did not notice this as a problem until I heard the Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan try the headset, and I immediately heard what he was hearing. Even so, the over-the-ear cups still sealed my ears completely in. The passive noise cancellation was sufficient in removing external noises. Microphone performance was also good, with it recording a clear but nasally sound, while reducing external noises such as my mechanical keyboard or my mouse clicks. Audio recorded through these types of condenser microphones often sound nasally, so it is not too surprising.
Overall, the Fnatic Gear DUEL is very much a gaming headset. The fun V-shaped sound was on display with the DUEL, and while this was effective in the gaming tests, it was not so successful in music reproduction. The real issue stemmed from the lack of cleanliness in the audio ranges throughout, leaving a good, but not great, sounding headset in our hands.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis