The Plantronics Rig 500 headset is aimed at competitive gaming, and nothing else. It’s completely tailored towards the complete gaming experience, with fun, useful features such as swappable ear cups and customised headband, with sweet sound and microphone.
We’ve had some hands-on time with the headset over the last few weeks, mixing our use with both gaming and music.
But it’s clear these cans are for gamers, from your wannabe pros all the way to the top level.
Design and Comfort
The Plantronics Rig 500 is packaged and set up to show you exactly how they come together like Lego pieces. I admit, I often hate ‘build it yourself’ devices that offer lots of customisation options, which often tend to be poor build-quality and break apart at the various pop-in or pop-out points.
One thing about the Rig model is that the fully modular aspects of the device are very good – they snap in and feel reassuringly solid, yet snap out easily enough to make tweaking the perfect fit easy.
Built for competitive gamers, the headset it set up to quickly swap out ear cups, the soft inner head-strap and the outer shell rigid headband – that means you can customise both for comfort and flair, like representing your team’s colours or logos.
The standard rig is all black, with just a logo or two including the ESL (Plantronics’ eSports pro-gaming partner) logo.
The ear cups are round and pop into one of three spots to cater for both moon-faces and, well, pin-heads. Even this abnormally round head was catered for.
The high-end RIG 500E comes with two choices of cups, with each designed for a specific purpose. Concentrating on a big match where you can’t afford a single distraction? That’s the faux-leather, deep noise-isolating ear cups with rigid exterior, designed to put you in the zone with 7.1 surround sound.
Plantronics say you can probably go two to three hours with these on before they start to make your ears a little warm and you might need a break – that’s why they’re designed for intense play.
When you need a break, pop in the plush set of more vented cups, designed more for longer sessions behind the screen, with less audio-isolation. These are your go-to in a social situation or when you actually want to hear someone talking to you.
The only thing that seems remiss in the design is that there’s no super easy way to see which ear cup is the left or the right, and it’s very easy to spend an extra few seconds stuffing about putting the wrong one in.
The design is on point, and the whole set is surprisingly lightweight and comfortable.
The entire weight is set out at 200 grams, which allows you to work or play all day. We tested them on a range of people, from petite females to some over-sized units in the office. The flexible headband conforms well to all heads, with the only minor concern that they ear cups were a wee bit small for someone with large ears, but comfort wasn’t impacted.
RIG 500 Gaming Performance
The RIG 500 delivered strong audio performance across a wide variety of games.
I wore the set while on my PlayStation 4, starting with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicates to test out the feeling of immersion in London, and hoping to catch some London accents – “I’m just a bloody urchin!”. There’s great detail here, with satisfying surround ability to hear those around you in a 3D or 360 degree sense. Another PS4 game which sounded great was NBA2K16, mainly for the soundtrack full of tunes!
I tried Rocket League on PC to enjoy a mix of beats, crowd noises and all the fun sounds of rocket cars to good satisfaction.
I was able to try the RIG 500Es to compare ear cup performance too, mixing the isolating ear cups with the more open vented set. It’s clear that the isolating jobs do best to keep audio inside and outside noises outside, which means a louder and somewhat bassier experience. That said, the vented cans do a solid job and keep all the detail, it’s just more likely you’ll be able to hear someone talking to you or a knock on the door.
The microphone is a removable, flexible noise-cancelling detail, which sits slightly far from your mouth no matter how you manipulate it. That’s slightly disconcerting – while people on Skype/mobile phone had no trouble hearing us, there’s something about talking directly into a mic which provides assurance. While gaming, I was heard loud and clear by teammates, but it was while gaming that the lack of additional controls was occasionally annoying.
While you can mute the microphone by flipping it up, there’s no in-line or on-ear controls for changing things as you go. Loud scenes might be too loud at times, and more stealthy engagements soft. Changing volume on the fly via the cord should be an option, really.
RIG 500 Music Performance
These are gaming headphones, yet music is a big part of gaming and general work life. And in theory, great audio in games would mean great audio from music tracks too, right?
Well, putting it simply, yes. Our standard playlists of classics, rock, to pop-tracks ensured bangers were bangers while vocals weren’t lost.
So, the configurations of the RIG headsets are worth mentioning. The RIG 500E are the top of the line, with the more standard RIG 500HD offering surround sound but no alternative cups, while the most basic Rig 500 is available, without a choice of ear cups, nor surround sound.
The RIG 500E retails for $199.95 (though we found them for $178), the RIG 500HD for $129.95, and the RIG 500 for $99.95.
First question, should you buy a RIG 500E at all?
In our opinion, there’s not many people the headphones won’t suit – they’re innovative, lightweight, and not over-prices for the quality you receive. The competitors in the space are Turtle Beach Z60s which come in at $150, but don’t offer as many advantages in terms of customisation as the RIGs. They’re a great go-to that we recommend.
So the second question is, which RIG 500 should you buy?
For competitive gamers and dedicated enthusiasts putting in multiple hours throughout their day and week, we’d suggest no compromise and go for the RIG 500E, the full set-up with all the options. But the catch is the RIG 500E isn’t as easy to find – while the headsets are new to market, it wasn’t easy to find the 500Es for sale online or in-stores. Odd, huh?
The 500s are much more available and will suit to grab for an excellent device that doesn’t hurt the wallet.
The surround sound from the RIG 500HD is something easily worth paying $30 for to get, again, if you can find it.
Update: Plantronics have been in touch to let us know that the 500Es are exclusive to EB Games until January 2016 – you can find them here for $178. And Plantronics have updated their website to show this, with a link.