Plantronics RIG review

The Plantronics RIG headphone pair combines a gaming headset and smartphone compatibility to good effect.
Photo of Plantronics RIG

Gaming headsets are usually just for gaming, or at least just for using when hooked up to your computer or game system. Normally, you put them on when you sit down at your desk and take them off when you leave, switching to your favorite headphones or earbuds for your smartphone. The new Plantronics RIG is different; it’s a gaming headset that works well when tethered to a desk, but it’s also built around keeping your phone connected to it wherever you are. At $129.99 (list), it’s pricey for a wired gaming headset, but its flexibility and strong audio performance make it an appealing choice for gamers who want both a headset and headphones. Granted, you can find better-sounding and wireless dedicated options like the Editors’ Choice Skullcandy PLYR 1 headset, but the RIG is an excellent compromise.

Design
The headphones themselves on the Plantronics RIG are simple and deceptively comfortable. They look completely plain, with circular earcups (available in black and white versions, with red fabric covering the drivers for both) and a thin, barely padded sleeve of fabric around the headband. The earcups pivot 90 degrees to sit flat for storage, but there aren’t any hinges on the band to make it collapsible. That said, thanks to large memory foam earcups and a headband that puts very little pressure on the head, the headphones are extremely comfortable, and it’s easy to wear them for long periods of time.

There are no controls on the headphones themselves—just a single port on the left ear cup for connecting either of the two headset cables. One cable has a built-in boom mic that bends in front of the face, and the other has an in-line microphone and smartphone controls. The former cable is best for using the RIG at home with your PC or game system, and the latter cable is designed for use when connected directly to your smartphone, so it can double as a set of-on-the-go headphones with a microphone for taking calls.

The mixer is the heart of the RIG’s connectivity. It’s a small, puck-shaped device that sits on your desk and serves as the bridge between the headset, your computer or game console, and your smartphone or tablet. Two cables run out of the back of the port for connecting to your devices; a long, two-strand cable ends at a USB plug and a 3.5mm audio plug for connecting your computer or game console, and a shorter cable ends in another 3.5mm audio plug for connecting your smartphone or tablet. The end of the shorter cable can fit in a rubber clip that connects to the longer cable, so you can keep both straight and tangle-free when you’re not using the shorter cable. Finally, an optical audio port adds another option for hooking up an audio source. A 3.5mm port on the other side of the puck connects to either of the included headset cables and the headset itself, and a 2.5mm port next to it lets you connect your Xbox 360 controller to enable the microphone on that system.

The mixer’s front panel holds all the controls you need to adjust volume levels, once you’ve configured your computer or console to work with the RIG. An outer ring controls the master volume control like a dial, with a white tab showing where the level is on the ring, and a white dot on the face showing where the minimum volume position is on the mixer. The ring clicks safely past the white dot to turn the headset off. On the inside of the ring, two levers form smaller half-rings, controlling the mix of game audio and either smartphone or voice chat audio. A large black toggle button between them switches instantly between game audio (from the longer cable) and smartphone audio (from the shorter cable), so you can mute your game and jump on a phone call with a tap. On the lower side of the face, three buttons can answer and hang up calls, mute the microphone, or switch between three equalizer presets.

All told, it sounds like a complicated design, but the biggest features (main volume control, game/call switching, and microphone muting) are so prominent and easy to find under the fingers and the different functions feel so distinct on the puck that I quickly got used to it.

Setup
Setup is very easy: use the USB/3.5mm cable to connect directly to your computer through USB, or attach the included 3.5mm-to-stereo RCA passthrough to connect it to your game system. If you have an Xbox 360, connect the controller to the 2.5mm audio port in the front, next to the headset audio port, to use the microphone. The optical port is entirely optional, and the headset doesn’t come with a cable. It works immediately with all devices, and even the PC doesn’t need to download any drivers or software to get it to work. When everything is put together, the headset looks much simpler than its many included cables would indicate; one cable (USB, 3.5mm, or optical) goes into your computer or game system, one cable connects to your smartphone, and one cable connects to the headset.

Performance
The RIG impressed in testing. Game audio sounds clear and forceful, but the RIG’s completely stereo drivers and connection mean it can’t produce a simulated surround effect like the Skullcandy PLYR 1 headset. This means the headset lags slightly behind more expensive, surround sound processing-equipped headsets in tactical imaging. But only slightly: Headphones are fundamentally unable to produce a true surround sound field, even with drivers for individual channels, because there simply isn’t enough room for the sound to travel and reflect properly. Even “true” surround sound headsets only produce a vague sense of direction. But even in stereo, explosions and screams in Team Fortress 2 sound loud and clear, and the boom mic works well for clear voice chat.

Gaming headsets aren’t built primarily for music, but since the RIG can be converted into a boom mic-less set of headphones with an in-line mic and remote for smartphones, it still needs to be judged on its ability to handle music. The headset handled our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” with gusto, rendering both the deep bass and kick drum notes without a hint of distortion and a good amount of force. The bass wasn’t overwhelming, but it didn’t have much texture in the kick drum, which very good headphones can produce. Of course, these are standards for more expensive, dedicated music headphones that can cost much more than $130 and not shape-shifting headsets built for gaming, so the RIG fares very well, all considering.

For less specifically bass-heavy music, the RIG works well for a primarily gaming/desk headset. With Iron Maiden’s “The Wicker Man,” the drums sounded strong, yet still didn’t swallow up the guitars or Bruce Dickinson’s vocals, though the plinky rhythm guitar during the refrain felt flat instead of having a jagged punctuation that should stand out above the vocals. It shows a distinct weakness in the high end, which is standard for typically bass-heavy gaming headsets.

Conclusion
While it’s pricey for a wired, stereo headset, the Plantronics RIG combines solid performance with flexibility, including a handy way to use it with your smartphone both when you’re at your desk and on the go. It works well as a pair of standalone stereo headphones for listening to music when you’re away from your PC or game system, and it can seamlessly switch between smartphone calls and game chat with the touch of a button thanks to its intuitive mixer. If you want a pure gaming headset, you might want to spend a bit more for the surprisingly good faux-surround imaging and wireless convenience of the Editors’ Choice Skullcandy PLYR 1. If you want a pure set of stereo headphones for music, you can get superior performance at a lower price with the Sennheiser HD 429s. But if you’re looking for a combination headset/headphones, instead of a dedicated pair of cans each for gaming and listening to music, the Plantronics RIG is a solid choice.

Specifications
Active Noise Cancellation No
Wireless No
Connection Stereo 3.5mm, USB
Removable Cable Yes
Phone Controls Yes
Surround Sound No
Boom Mic Yes
Type Supra-aural (on-ear)

Verdict
The Plantronics RIG headphone pair combines a gaming headset and smartphone compatibility to good effect.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc