Over the past few years, Mad Catz’ range of Tritton headsets have been consistent performers. From the Kama set at the value conscious end of the scale up to the 7.1 equipped Katana, they’ve largely produced comfortable, decent sounding headsets that boast solid build quality.
They’ll be hoping to retain that reputation with their new range of Ark headsets, with the Ark 100 the first to arrive. Boasting an in-built amp and a wired connection that’ll match it up with any of the current generation of consoles – it just plugs into your controller for audio – or indeed your mobile device of choice, it’s a versatile stereo unit with a unique and eye-catching design.
The matt black single piece monocurve band, with it’s luminous orange interior surface, is a bold piece of design, and rather than a traditional set where you extend the band itself in order to position the cups over your ears, they sit and move within the band’s housing. At first it felt as though the ear-cups would move about when you were wearing them, but in practice they stayed absolutely where they’re meant to. There’s also a boom mic that folds away quite effectively behind the left earpiece, though it’s a shame that it’s not completely removable.
Those earcups feature the set’s Kameleon RGB lighting, and will light up in a variety of ways while you’re using them, from solid colours through to heartbeat pulses. Their in-built accelerometer also allows you to control the hue and brightness of the colour which is a neat touch, and you can customise them to your own particular preference.
However, as with other sets like the SteelSeries Siberia 350, having lights on the side of your head is of a niche appeal, perhaps only useful in a pro-gaming environment, while at home it only really serves to drain the batteries. You’ll get around 25 hours use from them without the lights, compared with a far less impressive 10 hours with them on, and given that it takes two AAA batteries as opposed to having an internal rechargeable one you’ll probably want to get the most you humanly can out of them. With a flick of a switch you can have them operate without power, but the sound loses a lot of its impact.
The Ark 100 isn’t the smallest of headsets, but Mad Catz have managed to keep the weight down quite effectively, and I was able to wear them comfortably for a number of hours at a time – I even fell asleep with them on while listening to music. The headband has a decently-sized piece of foam at its centre which certainly helps, and the earpiece’s padding is soft enough to prevent sore ears. One downside of this is that there is quite a lot of sound bleed which may disturb people around you.
A headset lives and dies on its audio performance, and the Ark 100 doesn’t disappoint. It boasts a unique dual-driver design, with a 60mm speaker dedicated to low-end to mid frequencies, while a second 10mm one handles the high end. It’s a clever piece of engineering and it works incredibly well.
There are only three EQ settings though, which is a little disappointing. The standard ‘optimal’ setting is accompanied by one that boosts the bass and another the treble, but when it sounds as good as it does out of the box it’s forgivable. Pairing it with a mobile app like Poweramp, you can take more comprehensive control anyway.
As with a number of amplified headsets there is an audible hiss once you power up the headphones, which you’ll be able to detect during quieter scenes if you’re listening out for it. It’s not at all intrusive when you’re in the thick of it, and only a touch more perceptible than hissing that I’ve experienced in much more expensive sets.
The bold design isn’t going to be for everybody, but then the Ark 100 is definitively styled as a gaming headset. That’s a little bit of a shame, given the enjoyable audio response. Beyond playing games I had great time listening to music, and plugging it into a 24-bit DAC with a few uncompressed FLAC files yielded a fantastic return, offering crisp, punchy bass, and clear higher frequencies. Its performance was comparable to headsets that cost considerably more.
Considering its price point, the Ark 100 headset offers a remarkably strong audio performance that puts some more expensive sets to shame. It’s an over the top design, but for those looking to make a statement though, the Ark 100 is a great performer in the sub-£100 bracket.