Full disclosure before we get into the meat of this review, I’m not an audiophile. I don’t own Bose or Klipsch equipment, I don’t have a 7.1 surround sound home theater and my car isn’t fit with an amplifier and subwoofer.
What I am is a gamer. Your run-of-the-mill everyday gamer. I own a slowly disintegrating Turtle Beach headset, an ancient pair of Altec Lansing headphones, a well used set of Logitech Z2300 2.1 speakers for my PC, a $120 generic CD headset in my car and an incorrectly setup Pioneer 5.1 home theater in the lounge.
So I guess what I’m trying to impart to you here, dear reader, is that if you are the sort of person that simply must have the best in audio equipment and want to hear from like-minded individuals then this isn’t going to be the review for you. If on the other hand you’re “just” a gamer like me then you might be interested in what I have to say about the Plantronics RIG 500 Headset in terms that you can understand, put through it’s paces in ways that you would normally use them.
So we wont be listening for ‘strings’ in Tchaikovsky’s ‘best of’ album (although I did listen to some music) but instead playing games and talking with friends, which is what we really want in a headset.
I should make mention at this point that I have these plugged into the on-board audio of my Asus Maximus VIII Hero motherboard, which Asus bills as some amazing ‘new-age’, ‘Supreme FX’ nonsense but in reality it’s just another Realtek on-board.
Ready? Let’s do this.
First up the box is swish, but you’re going to stick it in the cupboard when you’ve removed the headset from it right? It has some fancy shiny textures and proudly displays a ‘Endorsed by ESL’ badge in the corner. There are some statistics on the back that you won’t need to read because you’ve read this review. Largely irrelevant, I only bring up the box because one thing stood out to me and that is the headset was secured in place by two velcro straps rather than a swathe of cable ties. I just thought it was a nice touch.
Inside we find the headset itself, an audio adapter, some instructional material and a ESL sticker. Assembling the headset was straight forward and trouble free. I didn’t even bother reading the instructions nor did I need to. The headset has a single plug for both stereo sound and microphone. This is used primarily for phones, tablets and consoles (such as the Xbox One or Playstation 4) but for the PC though you’ll likely want to use the provided adapter which splits headphones and microphone into the typical two plug setup.
The entire thing is comprised of plastic and fabric and is extremely light weight. I’ve honestly never worn cup headphones this light before. As someone who sweats quite a bit it has fabric in all the right places as well, with both the earcups and the headband both comprised primarily of fabric. This is a much preferred option compared to my Turtle Beach headset which has (had) faux leather on the headband that is currently disintegrating and leaving small flakes of black everywhere.
You might worry though that all this plastic and lack of metal might create a fragile product. Plantronics have definitely spent some time in R&D and avoided one of the most common problems I’ve encountered with headsets over the years, that being a breaking point where the earcup connects with the frame. Usually this is a fixed connection, either ball point or something similar that inevitably breaks over time and leaves you with one earcup hanging by a wire. Rather than having the cabling run through the headband it runs down, much like earplug headphones that have no headband. The earcup itself also plugs into one of three holes (for different sized noggins) and that’s it. It’s not really a moving part, which should go a long way in reducing breakage. The entire thing is modular though with replacement headbands and earcups available in a variety of designs and functions, so at worst you could replace a single component rather than the entire headset.
The microphone is permanently fixed to the left earcup and while I haven’t tried breaking it or wiggling it too much it appears to be the weakest point in the design. It swings up out of the way and immediately mutes itself which is a nice touch but in doing so creates the problem of the infamous moving part we just spoke of. I’m also concerned that one good knock would break the thing, but I’m not prepared to test it to find out. I might have gone with a flexible arm option for the microphone for the sake of durability.
While the included adapter was appreciated the other point where I felt the design was lacking was the exclusion of a hardware volume control. You’ll have to adjust the volume of your PC or device once you plug this headset in which can be particularly annoying if you aren’t settling in for a long session on one particular game and are constantly having to juggle volume control. Perhaps Plantronics felt the inclusion of a volume control added too much weight to the design, either way it’s something I missed as every other headset I’ve owned has this functionality. One other (tiny) criticism, the two plugs on the adapter for ‘Microphone’ and ‘Headphone’ are both black with just a small icon on each denoting which is which, coloured green and pink plugs would have been greatly appreciated for quickly plugging the adapter into the correct ports.
Wearing the headset though is a joy! As I mentioned earlier it’s extremely lightweight, the lightest headset I’ve ever worn which is fantastic for long sessions. The fabric headband is elastic and self adjusting and the fabric padding on the earcups is extremely soft and comfortable. Unlike previous headsets that feel like they are ‘pinching’ my head and leave me with a headache after a while the Plantronics RIG 500 was at all times comfortable to wear, even after extended use.
But is the SOUND any good? In short, my computer made sweet love to my ears through the use of this headset. I played some games, I played some music and I watched a couple of movies, all of which sounded fantastic. The bass is plenty without drowning out every other sound and the higher frequencies are crisp and clear. While it is only a stereo headset, things sounded great spatially in games. I had no trouble tracking down treasure goblins in Diablo III or turning to shoot an enemy behind me in Payday 2. In this regard I’m very satisfied with the RIG 500.
The microphone does the job, which I guess is all you really need it to do. I spoke with friends using Mumble and in-game chat and they heard me just fine. While the back of the box labels the microphone as noise-cancelling I’m not entirely sure to what degree. I run a ceiling fan in my office while gaming and the microphone easily picked this up with my friends commenting that I sounded as if I was in a wind tunnel. I did fib a little in my opening paragraph; I actually have Yeti Blue microphone that I bought for podcasting and I use it for voice chat in games, by comparison it does not pick up the ceiling fan. It’s also about four times the price of the RIG 500 headset. Depending on how serious you are for audio recording and what environment you’ll be using these in it could impact your decision on whether this is the headset for you or not. For general gaming with push-to-talk? Not a problem and the audio coming through on the other end is plenty clear. For podcasting though or regular skype calls where microphone audio is important, maybe not. But let’s be honest here, the RIG 500 is billed as a gaming headset and not a podcast or studio headset so I shouldn’t be too rough on it.
Lastly, value for money. The Plantronics RIG 500 weighs in with a recommended retail price of $99.95 (although I did find them for $79.20 pretty easily). As I stated at the beginning of this review, I’m not an audiophile and firmly believe that spending over $100 on headphones (at least wired ones) is a waste of money, so these headphones definitely fall into the right price category for me.
SUMMARY: Would I purchase this headset as a replacement to my dying Turtle Beach? Honestly? Yes. For me the extremely lightweight and comfortable fabric design coupled with great audio quality for under $100 is a winning combo despite the average microphone and lack of hardware volume control.
You can checkout the official product page for the Plantronics RIG 500 here, which also showcases some of the accessories I mentioned. Interested in picking up a set? I found them on the EB Games website here and on the JB Hi-Fi website here.