Plantronics RIG 500 PRO Esports Edition review: Modular at odds with itself

Brodie Fogg 27 August 2018 NEWS
Quick Verdict
The RIG PRO 500 Esports Edition may not be entirely worth its (light)weight in die-cast metal but it's still a sturdy, modular headset with above-average stereo and top-notch Dolby delivery built for rough and tumble gamers.

Strengths

  • Spectacular modular.
  • Solid stereo output with surprisingly sound directional mixing.
  • Sturdy and stylish gunmetal grey band.
  • Dolby Atmos included.

Could be better

  • Quality wireless options at the same price.
  • Console-licensed options aren't worth the $10 saved.
  • Game audio dial is neat but lacking in features.
  • Noise isolation not what's it's cracked up to be.


Plantronics' RIG 500 PRO is the right fit for those looking for a flexible gaming headset but convenience comes at a premium price.

Thanks partly to a solid presence in Australian retail stores like JB HI-FI, EB Games and Harvey Norman, Plantronics has enjoyed unrivalled success in Australia this past year, holding the crown as the market leader for gaming headsets Down Under for the better half of 2018.

A strong physical presence made Plantronics a household name but the company's flexible pricing tiers and suite of options have opened up a world of online gaming for your average punters.

With that said, the headset pusher's latest range is a more premium line-up aimed at serious gamers and esports competitors. The RIG 500 PRO series stands out from the crowd in two particular ways: its premium modular design and its unique game audio dial.

For the sake of our review, we tested the RIG 500 PRO Esports Edition headset, the top-tier multi-platform option with a die-cast metal frame and headband. We'll discuss the other options further down.

Design: Metal band to die for

As mentioned, the premium price of $199 gets you the RIG 500 PRO Esports Edition, the metal die-cast variant that comes with a game audio dial, in-line controls and extra ear-cups (breathable mesh fabric). The beauty of the modular range is that you can start with the low-tier 500 PRO HS/HX option with the lightweight ABS frame and then purchase the extras (in-line controls, breathable mesh cups) later if you like.

If you're gunning for the die-cast aluminium frame, you'll be paying full price up front.

The all-inclusive Esports Edition will set you back $80 more than the base models. For me, that's a price worth paying. I'm notoriously clumsy with my gear, the Mr Magoo of the tech world. Things just fall apart around me. Whatever the tech, I'll drop it, sit on it, spill coffee on it. I appreciate the fact that I don't need to fork out for a whole new headset if I sit on the RIG 500 PRO's mic, or if I wear out the memory foam cups that come packed in.

The combination of the die-cast aluminium frame and removable cups is a godsend if you're a little rough with your cans. Each cup pops out with relative ease and there are three slots in each arm that allow you to adjust your fit. The resilient aluminium frame can also be twisted and bent quite far without any damage (something that a confident Plantronics rep demonstrated).

The sturdy die-cast frame definitely has a premium feel but by virtue of the headset's modular nature, it feels a little cheap as a whole. The plastic plugs that secure each ear cup in place crack and creak when you remove and replace them, making them feel a little fragile in comparison to the rest of the headset.

Resting on your crown is a duel-material headband that is plush and breathable (a standard feature across the entire range). This too can be replaced which could become handy in the hotter months when you're sweating up a storm.

Most people have a preference when it comes to ear cup material; the noise-reducing pleather/memory foam combination or a more breathable mesh fabric. I tend to prefer the comfortable combo of memory foam and pleather but I also run hot so long gaming sessions can become a little uncomfortable. Having the option to easily switch to breathable mesh is a nice bonus that's very much appreciated. Mind you, given the option, I would still opt for the HyperX Cloud Flight's pleather-wrapped memory foam ear cups over both choices the PRO 500 Series offers.

As for looks, the RIG 500 PRO is very much a "gamerz" headset. Its metallic angular design is par for the course with gaming headsets and not necessarily something I would wear out in public. Though I do appreciate the classier colour options; the black with gold accents at the cheaper, console-specific end, an even mix of black and gold at the mid-range PRO option, and black and gunmetal grey colour scheme with the Esports Edition.

Features: Line 'em up or dial 'em down

Plantronics' proudest achievement with the RIG PRO 500 series is the Game Audio Volume Dial. It's a clever little volume wheel that, rather than being in-line or on the cup, sits at the tip of the 3.5mm audio cord. In practice, this volume dial sits in reach of a console gamer's busy thumbs, meaning you don't have to take a hand off the control to fiddle with the volume.

It's a very natural placement that makes volume control just another option on your gamepad and can be locked to maximum volume (in case you happen to brush the dial). Hats off to Plantronics for this one, it's a simple, common-sense innovation that no other manufacturer has offered before.

I only have a couple of issues with the Game Audio Volume Dial. Firstly, the completely unnecessary difference between the licensed options. The game audio dial has a curved rubber tip that secures the dial in place, so the jack doesn't twist as you adjust the volume. The only difference between the console specific game audio dials (and headsets for that matter) is a tiny little notch on the inside of the rubber cap which stops you from turning the rubber cap upside down and using it on both controllers.

The cap curves upwards on the DualShock 4 and downwards on the Xbox Wireless Controller. Not a problem if you could just twist it around but the little notch inside stops you from doing just that and, as far as I can tell, it's the only difference between the HX and the HS variants. The HC sports a "multi-platform" dial so you're effectively paying $10 to remove that restrictive notch.

Most premium headsets these days offer four key controls: Master volume, mute, mic volume and mic mute. Here you only get volume control which isn't so much of a problem as it is a noticeable omission at the $199 price point.

The RIG PRO 500's detachable boom mic is flip-to-mute but you need to take a hand off your controller to do that, which seems at odds with what Plantronics is trying to achieve with the Game Audio Dial.

Even Plantronics RIG 600LX headset had mic mute and EQ settings on the amp (which also plugs into the bottom of the controller) and you can pick up the 600LX for the same price as the RIG 500 PRO Esports Edition.

PC users can opt for the RIG 500 PRO GOLD option which comes with inline controls. A simple, thin audio cable with a volume slider.

Performance: An isolated case

One of the most promising tidbits of information we received when the RIG 500 PRO series was first announced was the noise-isolating design. Rather than closed backs, the ear cups have a sort of skeletal look with vents cut from the ABS or aluminium shell that expose an inner plastic cover. This design and the isolated inner acoustic chambers are supposed to reduce distortion caused from bumping and shifting the headset. And it does, just not as much as I expected.

The difference is noticeable when compared to say, my HyperX Cloud Revolver S, but the distortion is still there. Being a key feature of the 500 PRO series, I expected a more noticeable reduction of ambient noise.

With that said, the PRO 500 series otherwise offers a very well-rounded listening experience for both gaming and music.

I was amidst the multiplayer beta for Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 when the RIG 500 PRO Esports Edition showed up and it provided a tidy experience across the board. Traipsing past a surprise C4 charge let off a boom that was powerful and loud enough to give me a bit of a fright but not so bassy that it blew my head off.

Some of the finer sound effects, like the tinny thwomp of Battery's War Machine, sounded phenomenally accurate thanks to a healthy balance across low and high range frequencies.

The directional audio was surprisingly fit for standard stereo mixing. Playing in a building with small twisting staircases, I was a regular Matt Murdoch, getting the jump on my prowling enemies as they made a racket switching weapons and reloading.

After a little experimentation on PlayStation 4, I shifted to Xbox One and took the included Dolby Atmos for a spin (there's an activation code included with every purchase, bar the PS4 variant). I booted up Assassin's Creed: Origins and took it for a whirl and oh my days, what a difference it makes.

AC: Origin's Egypt really came to life with Dolby Atmos activated. The denizens of Alexandria could be heard whispering as I passed by on foot, or distantly shouting as I climbed a building in public. The low and powerful whoosh of arrows that grew louder as they narrowly missed Bayek gave the gameplay a little added thrill.

I was so inspired by the clarity, that I was convinced I could win a fight with my eyes closed, using only audio cues. I was wrong but it was still a fun experiment.

As for the mic, I had no issues with in-game audio chat. I asked a couple of friends to jump back into Destiny 2 for a spell to which they reluctantly agreed. I had no complaints from their end; my tirades came through crystal clear.

I recorded a few samples on my laptop and found that, while I had no issue with clarity, there was a certain watery quality to my voice recording when compared to other headsets. Even my packed-in AKG/Galaxy S8 headphones played back a little neater than the RIG 500 PRO mic. It sounded a little like I was recording from the inside of an interrogation room.

Pricing and availability

The Plantronics RIG 500 PRO Esports Edition is $199 and is available through JB HI-FI, Harvey Norman and EB Games. We're told accessories and replacement parts will also be sold through the same retailers.

Verdict

The Plantronics RIG 500 PRO Elite headset's modular nature and sturdy build will suit rough and tumble gamers with a bad track record with preserving tech. The 50mm neodymium drivers can't be faulted for their above average stereo quality and top-notch Dolby Atmos delivery.

Plantronics is a company known for its variety, a massive selection of options tailored to very specific needs and budgets, but the Plantronics 500 PRO series doesn't quite know where it should sit.

Its priciest option is $199, which is edging on unreasonable when you look at the competition at the same price point: the wireless Corsair Void Pro or even Plantronics own RIG 600LX which comes with an audio amp that bests the new Game Audio Volume Dial.

If you're looking to go modular, I'd recommend forking out for the full Esports Edition bundle but if you're not looking to pay the premium you can always opt for a cheaper model and pay for the extras as you go.

Just don't get suckered into paying $10 less for a console-specific variant.

Plantronics RIG 500 PRO series spec comparison

Specs RIG 500 PRO Esports Edition RIG 500 PRO RIG 500 PRO HC RIG 500 PRO HS RIG 500 PRO HX
Extra accessories PC inline volume controls, fabric earcushions None None None None
Audio controls RIG Game Audio Dial Inline volume controls RIG Game Audio Dial RIG Game Audio Dial RIG Game Audio Dial
Audio type Dolby Atmos Code included Dolby Atmos Code included Dolby Atmos Code included Stereo Dolby Atmos Code included
Cable length 1.3 m 1.3 m 1.3 m 1.3 m 1.3 m
Connection type Single 3.5mm Single 3.5mm Single 3.5mm Single 3.5mm Single 3.5mm
Drivers 50 mm 50 mm 50 mm 50 mm 50 mm
Earcup exoskeleton Die-cast aluminum Lightweight ABS Lightweight ABS Lightweight ABS Lightweight ABS
Earcushions Dual-material, memory foam Dual-material, memory foam Dual-material, memory foam Dual-material, memory foam Dual-material, memory foam
Frame type Modular Modular Modular Modular Modular
Frequency 20-20,000 Hz 20-20,000 Hz 20-20,000 Hz 20-20,000 Hz 20-20,000 Hz
Headphone impedance 32 ohms 32 ohms 32 ohms 32 ohms 32 ohms
Headphone maximum input power 40 mW 40 mW 40 mW 40 mW 40 mW
Headphone sensitivity 111 dBSPL/V 111 dBSPL/V 111 dBSPL/V 111 dBSPL/V 111 dBSPL/V
Mic frequency response 100 Hz-10 kHz 100 Hz-10 kHz 100 Hz-10 kHz 100 Hz-10 kHz 100 Hz-10 kHz
Mic pick-up pattern Uni-directional Uni-directional Uni-directional Uni-directional Uni-directional
Mic sensitivity -45 dbV/PA -45 dbV/PA -45 dbV/PA -45 dbV/PA -45 dbV/PA
Mic signal-to-noise ratio >42 dB >42 dB >42 dB >42 dB >42 dB
Microphone type Detachable Detachable Detachable Detachable Detachable
Noise-cancell

ing

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Platform Cross Platform, Laptop and PC PC, Laptop and Console Xbox One and PS4 PS4 Xbox One
Weight 323g 281g 258g 258g 258g
Price $199 $129 $129 $119 $119

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