The Fnatic React Gaming Headset is a Divergent Disappointment
I bought this headset with my own money. I don’t receive a kickback if you decide to buy one, and none of the links in this article are affiliate links. I wasn’t sponsored to write this, and I had full editorial control over this article.
Fnatic, an esports organization that sometimes dabbles in computer peripheral design, launched the REACT gaming headset right at the end of 2019. They promised it would be a new take on a “back-to-basics” design, with all the things professional gamers need and nothing they don’t. The result is an awkward, muddled copy of HyperX’s popular industrial designs, with a sound tuning that’s suitable for only a narrow type of listening, and a poor level of fit and finish that had my pair show up splashed with adhesive.
The headset sells for between $55 and $75 depending on what discounts are running. In the box, you get the headset itself, a detachable boom microphone, and an extension splitter cable. Upon opening the pair I bought from Amazon, I noticed a small wet-looking spot along the side of the headband. This turned out to be some glue that was just hanging out there, taunting me.
After I carefully removed the glue with some masking tape, I had to contend with the cable. It’s a little over a meter long and tremendously springy, and the end of the cable had a sticker wrapped around it proudly declaring the name of the headset. Removing that sticker lead to my discovery of another round of unsightly adhesive smeared on my fun new peripheral, and another careful dance with the masking tape.
On the plus side, the marketing copy about the sound signature on this headset is perfectly honest. In describing the sound, their web site says: “Created alongside veteran esports stars, we’ve tailored the sound for tight low end, no overpowering bass, whilst enhancing the mid-high range.” I can’t think of a better way to describe these. Low bass is slightly rolled off, but the rest of the sound signature is essentially flat and accurate…except for two prominent peaks. There’s one bump of sharpness in the upper mids and one bump in the treble (Around 2khz and 8khz for the audiophiles out there).
The result is a pleasant listen that can very quickly turn unpleasant with a sharp splash of treble. It’s not as harsh or strident as Grado’s headphones, or as the famously-sibilant DT990, but it shares far more in common with those headphones than it does most gaming headsets. Some other gaming headsets will accentuate these ranges a bit to enhance localization sounds and footsteps, but it’s usually either not as intense, or softened with a warmer bass response.
Further, the design of the headset is so awkwardly proportioned that many users might hear an even sharper sound than intended. The ear cups are quite long, the ear pads are massively thick, and the amount of vertical swivel is somewhat limited. This meant that on my larger-than-average head, the headset wanted to pull away from the lower part of my jaw, and focus all of its clamp above the center point of the ear cup. It was quite hard to achieve a good seal while wearing the headset, and if I failed to get it seated just so, the signature would tilt firmly in a harsh direction while the bass leaked out the bottom of the pads.
Headband adjustment range is limited even compared to the classically-small Cloud II, and I have to wear these adjusted out to within one click of maximum. Even with that, I’ve got to press, squish, and rotate these around on each re-seat just to get the seal right. I’ve never had such a fit problem with any other gaming headset I’ve tested, and I almost immediately yearned for the sculpted pads of the Roccat Elo series I enjoyed so much recently and the instantly good seal they provide.
I’m guessing that Fnatic thought the huge pads were a good idea. They’re filled with memory foam and seem like they’d be quite comfortable. But they end up impeding the fit on my personal head, similar to what happened with the Corsair HS60 Pro. The clamping force also started tight and never really loosened up. I didn’t notice it at first, because again, it’s focused near the top of my head and usually I feel clamp lower than that. But I had a number of hour-long sessions with the headset where my ears were sore afterwards.
These might not be issues for you personally if your head shape is a better match for this particular design…but then you still have to listen to the headset. The sharp, powerful mids and highs just aren’t that fun to play games with unless you’re playing competitively all the time. And if you’re looking for something that straddles the line better between a more immersive, bass-heavy sound and being a positional awareness legend, you’d honestly be better off with any other popular headset. HyperX’s headsets have more immersive bass without sacrificing soundstage, and Turtle Beach’s Stealth and Elo products have their cool Superhuman Hearing mode for when you need footsteps above all other things.
At least the microphone on the React is good, although it doesn’t fit that tightly into the headset and I’m worried that it’ll become loose over time. I can’t say anything nice about the in-line controls on the springy nightmare of a cable. The mute switch is loud and feels cheap to control, and the volume wheel introduces a prominent channel imbalance at anything but the highest volume.
If you want a headset that looks like other popular models, while also providing a strident sound that’s purpose-built for positional listening and not the best for anything else, I guess the React is a decent consideration. But for me personally, this was one of those rare times where I couldn’t wait to finish my listening tests so I could toss it in my storage closet and never think about it again.
I actually really enjoy the way it sounds…when I can get it to seal right on my head. The awkward fit of the too-large cups and pads was just enough to ruin this for me every time I picked it up over the last week. It was a strain just to get it to fit right, and after an hour or two it would pinch my head too tightly. And the level of glue mine included was entirely too high. Even if your personal pair doesn’t come covered in gunk, and your personal head shape is a better fit for the unusually large design, the sharp sound probably won’t be to your tastes unless you already love a brighter sound signature.
There are countless better examples of a sub-$99 gaming headset on the market that will fit more heads more easily, sound more fun for gaming, have smoother volume controls with no imbalance, and feature cables that will eventually straighten out. I love that Fnatic tried some new things with the sound signature and the design of this headset, but in the end all it did was prove to me why I like other models so much.