When iFrogz announced to us at CES 2013 that they were entering the gaming arena, we were sure to take them up on their offer to review their flagship PC gaming headset, the Caliber Vanguard. Lets start off with the main selling points of the closed-ear headset. It has 40 mm neodymium drivers for the speakers. Diving deeper into the technical specs, it sports an impedance of 32 ohms, sensitivity of 95 dB +/- 3 d/B at kHz, and a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Too deep? Then we’ll move onto the highlights where users get to toggle the vibrating bass driver on the fly and Windows users get to enjoy 7.1 surround sound and a deeper array of customization. The left ear cup holds a retractable mic and a convenient volume dial. But it doesn’t stop there…
In the looks and construction department, the unit (like the entire Caliber product line) aims right at my personal weakness – anything that is blue, black or both. So be careful with whom you are acquiring a beauty rating from. It is an attractive headset with a trust-inducing build. In your hands, the unit has a bit of weight to it, giving you the impression that you didn’t spend your money on cheap plastic with a black glossy finish and cyan undertones. Stretching out the headset reveals the metallic band keeping things together sturdily while upholding flexibility. When you’re not using the mic, it can be retracted upward while maintaining the unit’s esthetic, staying firmly in place. A bit above the where mic extends is the vibrating bass toggling button. There’s considerable cushioning on both the headband and ear-cups allowing for long-term use and comfort. I found myself playing for at least 5 hours straight, whilst wearing glasses, with no build-up of discomfort. And the cord length seems just about right at 2 meters.
Out of the box, after installing the drivers if you’re on Windows, the sound feels spot on. Although I did have to enable the 7.1 Surround sound myself, it didnt take that long to do. Tobe anal about it, I had fellow writer Infinite_Ammo help me test it out by running around me in Team Fortress 2 yelling random things at me as a heavy. The quality did not stagger in any game I played. One thing that was of the utmost surprise to me was the advertized Vibrating Bass function. Personally over the years, I’ve strayed away from Bass Boost functions as I always found them to be a sort of add-on that is used to increase the feature count in an audio device. Often times I found the vanilla settings in my favortie audio devices to be just fine. That and the Bass Boost did nothing more than dull the sound and vibrate my brain.
Now that is not to say I that I dont like bass, far from it. I simply never appreciated the amplification of it. Now that all that is out of my system, I have to say that I utterly loved the Vibrating Bass feature. In fact, my comparison of Vibrating Bass and “regular” almost suffered as i became so comfortable with Vibrating Bass, I almost never turned it off. In comparison, the Bass Vibration was implemented carefully in such a way that I felt more immersed in game play than without it, all without feeling that I am listening to game sounds from within a pool of mud. Should you get this headset, I find myself surpised to say that Vibrating Bass is a feature that should be on all the time.
Speaking of features, the Windows install of the drivers comes with a customization application that is jam-packed options for you to tweek to your hearts content. For me, optimal settings simply involved “activating” 7.1 surround sound and enabling mic boost. But dont let that stop you from fiddling with EQ settings, messing around with the simulated speaker placements, or try out some of the preset special effects. While EQ settings, speaker placements and spacing options are welcomed additions, the special effects were better applied to music-listening than game-play. I’m not sure if you want to see what it sounds like to hear gun-fire in a bathroom (a preset) or a dragon’s roar in a hallwall (another preset). It’s a gaming headset after-all, but its not meant to stop there. I would have to assume that iFrogz would like you to use this headset as an overall audio experience for gaming and beyond. The effects are all nice and convincing as thier individual names suggests, (“concert hall” being my favorite). I just suggest laying off of these when you’re actually playing games.
You may have noticed by now my repeated mentioning of use on Windows, specifically because the included driver disc that installs the customization suite is a Windows-only install. If you’re a Mac user, you’ll consider that a draw-back if you wanted to play with the EQ settings or experience the 7.1 channel sound. The unit will play as a plug-n-play device. And since the sound processing work is handled by the device directly, you can still use the Vibrating Bass function. Back in the windows scenario, I don’t consider your having to activate the surround sound setting yourself a draw-back as much I as consider it a mild inconvenience. Any PC gamer that I know would have cared enough to tweek their new headset’s settings right out of the box in any event. But if you’re installing software yourself, the software’s preset might as well have left Surround Sound on as a default, for the average Joe. While the mic is sensitive, we found ourselves having to turn on Mic Boost, as a casual indoor voice did not pick up well otherwise (and I do have a booming voice…) But that is something that was again taken care of by the flip of a switch.
Let’s sum up what you have here. At $129 retail, you get a product that is 100% worth its value and delivers as promised (particularly to Windows users). It undercuts Mac users if they expected 7.1 surround sound and further customization. But with Vibrating Bass being my favorite component of the headset, and that function being available on both platforms, I would have a Mac user assess their taste for bass as a main judging point when consideing getting this unit. It is easily the most comfortable and best sounding headset that I have personally used for PC gaming after making just 5 minutes worth of tweaks.
† First two images derived from Zagg-iFrogz’s Caliber Vanguard webpage.