Review by Andrew Overfield
Edited by Sam Hughes
Product: Surround Sound Headset: E-Sports Edition
Reviewed on: PS4
Go back to the days when I was growing up, playing Master System games at my grandmother’s house all the way up to smashing the hell out of my friends on Mortal Kombat Trilogy there was always an air of unpopularity for people who consider themselves “gamers”. With very few outlets to share our love for games with each other, with the lack of the internet all we gamers had was the comforting, yet disciplined presence of Sir Patrick Moore to share our passion with on a weekly basis.
Then the internet opened our abilities, our communications, our technological advances and our gaming. With competitive gaming growing bigger and bigger, gaming became a perfectly acceptable hobby, passion and lifestyle without being shunned.
My first introduction to online gaming was in 2006 when I started playing my first MMORPG of Final Fantasy XI. Attempting to communicate on Ventrilo by setting up a PC microphone and plugging in a pair of cheap headphones were the only way I could talk to my online friends fluidly without having the fingers of The Flash. Setting up alone was a huge pain in the rear.
Since 2006 I have always made sure I grab a new headset for whatever console I own so that when I do get online and game competitively I have a good means of communication. These days are no exception. I am quite partial to the calm and soothing tones of the underage gamer whilst enjoying a stress-free match of Hardpoint on COD: Black Ops III (yes that’s a joke).
I am quite the COD fan and over the years I’ve poured some serious time into the series. The majority of those hours have been spent online either via competitive lobbies or zombie/spec ops modes.
In all my time experiencing online gaming, I always look for a certain few things when choosing my next headset:
Comfort: The absolute pinnacle of my headset purchase is that they have to sit on my bonce comfortably. Most of my gaming sessions last anywhere in the region of 1 to 4 hours or even more if I’ve planned a big night with a friend! This means I have to have something that won’t hurt after a while of wearing.
Sound: Secondly, comes sound. Weird considering I’m a sound guy right? Not really. I don’t always like to listen to a game objectively and analyse everything. Sometimes it’s nice to ignore my audio intuition and just enjoy the game, for all of it’s successes and flaws. I never forget I loved to game because it was fun, and if I’m over critical of sound all of the time then that element may be lost. That being said, I enjoy good sound. I generally have quite a tendency to lean towards lower frequencies. Sounds that are lower and bassier in the spectrum just get me going. To me gain in the higher frequencies really grinds on me. Overall I like a good balance in the mid section with a lean-to the lower end. I like a duller sound for longer gaming stretches so to not give myself fatigue. In my field of work, I kind of like my ears and may need a nice easy rest if I have a cue to work on the next day.
Usability: I have to be able to use them easily. Do I need to quickly mute? Has some random guy jumped in a lobby with a seriously loud, distorted voice? Screw that guy, I need to turn down quicker than the game will allow me to mute him (gotta keep up the K:D ratio!). I need to be able to quickly change a setting on my headset without disrupting my game, whether it be lowering volume, muting or switching audio preferences.
Look: I honestly couldn’t care how a headset looks. Nobody ever sees my headset, it could have Hello Kitty written all over it and it wouldn’t bother me. I’m only adding this section in here as there are some competitive gamers who like how their accessories look the part for their next tournament or live stream session.
So that’s how I have reviewed the Plantronics RIG500E, based on those key areas. Now I am a little spoilt as for the last 5 years I’ve been pretty much a Turtle Beach fanboy. And I’ll openly admit it was only because of commercial hype that got me into them but they’ve not been too bad so far.
I’ll start with the unboxing. Pretty simple, not much in the way of instruction but then again, if you’re old enough to be buying a $99 headset then I’m pretty sure you can fathom the setting up. You get in the box, 2 pairs of earcups. One, vented and one unvented (for noise cancellation) which is a decent bonus. Both sets of cups have their own independent connection cable to the extra extension wire provided. You get a separate microphone piece which seems quite sturdy. However, one negative I got off the bat was the it’s one-sided. You can only carry the mic on your left earcup. Now unless you can talk out of the back of your head, if you prefer micing up your right-side then you may be disappointed. For me, it’s not an issue as I normally use left-hand microphones.
The mic clips snugly into the earcup, I did have it fall out a few times when testing, knocking it a few times didn’t help but once I got used to it’s presence I didn’t have a problem.
You get a head carriage and a material piece to sit comfortably underneath it, which wasn’t too hard to get into place. I wasn’t a fan of the triple/zone clips in which the earcups sit into as first but after thinking about it, it’s not a bad idea at all! It removes all the potential of the runners on the inside wearing by sizing to your head and they stay in place firmly. The only downside to this is that you only have 3 sizes to choose from. I suppose unless you have an oddly-shaped head this might not be much of an issue. Even with my tiny head I found a comfortable setting. Speaking of comfort…
I can’t fault these headphones in terms of comfort much at all. Even with my tiny head and big ears I found a good setting to sit with for a long period of time. My first test was with the noise-cancelling variation of the cups. The tops of my ears got quite warm over time, which made me need a few breaks here and there but this isn’t so bad. If an average competitive game online takes between 5 and 10 minutes you can easily gather a break or two to cool off. These would be more suited to times when you are wanting to completely immerse yourself, keep your noise down and don’t have to listen out for the ever-inopportune postman. The extension wire got a little annoying at times plugged into my PS4 controller and dangling between my hands but I managed to find a decent position to play and not notice it. In terms of adjustments I haven’t had to make hardly any, and now, after a handful of gaming sessions with it, I can just pick up, plug in and get on with it. I found better comfort in using the vented earcups. Especially when playing for much longer periods without having to keep the noise down. I have to be careful in my house as the slightest movement or noise makes my cats think they are getting fed… I experienced much less fatigue while still being able to enjoy the game.
As I’ve said before, I’m pretty spoilt when it comes to audio. I have a good pair of Sennheisers, which I use in the studio or when critiquing audio. These have a keen bass response and sit like they were moulded to my scalp. On top of that I mostly use Turtle Beach Earforce (P11 Series for PS3) which have given me a lot of mileage. On testing the same game I found little to no difference in the audio quality. Nothing I could overly complain about the responses and the quality. The panning was spot on, I noticed hardly any delay and things like hit markers and stingers/accolade noises were crystal clear without having to adjust volume. Saying that adjusting volume may have proven to be a bit difficult but I’ll get onto that next…
I attempted to also test the headset listening to my “test” set of tracks I listen to for referencing speakers and headphones. A large portion of higher frequencies I look out for (especially when testing with some live acoustic music) were very low in the mix and sometimes nonexistent. Now this might not gather much of a problem as most “E-Sports” related games are very ‘epic, boomy, intense’ in terms of sound. However, if using these to listen to say Until Dawn or Tomb Raider with the brilliant Jason Graves’ shrieking violins they may not be as prominent in the mix.
I must say I had a few negatives in terms of usability when it comes to the RIG500Es. I wasn’t a fan that I had no control over the audio of the headset without adjusting the in-game settings. Now, bear in mind there are labelled for PC use. They still worked with my PS4, plugged into the controller and the system registered them as a working headset enough to adjust the microphone and other audio settings through the PS4 settings. But I really did miss not having an independent volume/mute slider to hand. One thing my TB headset trumps the RIG500E is the ability to manually adjust chat and game volume settings with an in-line controller built into the cable.
Another experience I had was when playing Black Ops 3 I noticed a little bit of lag when in a match. Not thinking much of it I carried on. But then I experienced this a few other times. Now I’m sitting on a 100Mbps connection and never usually have lag problems unless my ISP is completely derping for the day. So I decided o go offline and buy oxycodone and xanax online attempt campaign mode. And I had the same sore of responses. My controller was a little slow in reacting to my controls. It also happened when browsing the PS4 menus with my Ethernet disabled. Once I removed the headset it went back to normal. It wasn’t too much of a big deal but noticeable enough for me to go all MGS patrol guard and go “huh?!”. I can say ove the course of longer gameplay sessions it didn’t provide enough of a bugbear to stop playing, but in a competitive gaming environment it may cause a slight annoyance. And we all know how much a poor workman likes to blame their tools right?
Since I am no real judge of gaming headset looks, I’ll let you bunch of cheery folk decide:
I’ve been putting off getting a new PS4 headset for sometime now (don’t ask, my cats like the taste of earcups!…) and upon getting chance to review the RIG500Es I thought I’d put them through their paces. They look pretty decent, albeit a bit bulky, but that’s not a huge issue. There’s next to no weight in them in terms of annoying or being constantly aware of them on your head. The set is pretty well constructed and you can tell the designers have had a careful thought into the brand and design for comfort and even possibly transport. They can be easily packed up into a smaller space for any mobility purpose.
As far as a gaming headset goes, these are a pretty good bunch and a decent bang for your buck. At $99 they are in the higher end in the competitive market against other brands on large online retailers. If I were to give my honest opinion if I wouldn’t pay that price tag for this headset, not saying it’s not worth it. But the cons stated in usability really have it for me.
That being said after only knowing Plantronics as more of a large provider of call centre headsets (which trust me, I know all too well!) being introduced to the brand in the aspect of gaming has opened up my opinion about shopping around for a good pair of cans. So if you’re looking for an introduction into competitive gaming headsets and aren’t too fussed about the lack of a few features, or simply need something to enable you to listen to your favourite games without waking up the surrounding occupiers of the house, then I would recommend these.
I will definitely be checking out what they have on offer the next time I go to obtain the next piece of gear I’ll need to shout at teenagers when they are quick-scoping me with my poor aiming reflexes.
The Sound Architect