Plantronics is an audio equipment company that is well-known for its high-quality office and Bluetooth headsets. In the crowded gaming space, the company has several solid options for PC gaming and communications, but offers much more limited selections in the console gaming arena.
At Gamescom this week, Plantronics is announcing the RIG Headset, a $129 gaming headset that is not only equal to some of the best headsets on the market, but also uniquely fulfills a need many gamers did not realize they had.
RIG is not only the name of the headset, but also the name of a line of products that take advantage of a new audio system that allows the user to engage in multiple audio input and output sources.
Pivotal to the RIG system is a puck-shaped mixer-controller that allows up to two devices to be connected to the headset, simultaneously. The controller itself has volume level dials and a large toggle switch that controls which device to send voice output to.
The most common combination of devices connected to RIG is likely a user’s gaming console (or PC) and mobile phone. When both the console and phone are connected, the user can adjust each device’s output volume level, and can easily jump from speaking to friends in a game (via Xbox Live, PSN, or Ventrilo), to speaking with someone on the phone. All of this can be accomplished by simply toggling the switch on the controller.
Two Devices, One Headset
After extensive testing with my Xbox 360 and iPhone 5 connected to RIG, it’s quite clear how liberating and innovative this system really is. Without RIG, when I’ve wanted to speak with someone on my phone while playing a game, I would have to resort to using my phone’s inline earbud and mic in one ear and leave my gaming headset hanging off of my head for my other ear. In doing so, I would obviously lack all game audio in one ear.
With RIG however, I only need to use the RIG headset, and can actually hear audio from both my Xbox and iPhone simultaneously. Speaking to either communication source only requires a quick flip of a switch. There’s no longer any need to compromise audio from either the gaming system or mobile device.
Of course, any device with a 3.5mm connector can be connected to RIG. This means instead of connecting a mobile device, a tablet or other audio source can be used concurrently with your gaming system. Now you don’t have to take yourself out of the game to listen to a quick walkthrough on Youtube, and you can even listen to your favorite streaming music app through the same headset that you’re gaming with.
RIG's headset is equipped with 40mm speaker drivers that produce excellent quality stereo sound. While this means you won’t be getting 7.1 surround sound, from my tests in playing games like Black Ops 2 and Dead Rising 2, the stereo drivers produce excellent 3D positional audio. When comparing RIG’s surround sound to a pair of “5.1 surround sound” headsets, I found that RIG’s audio quality was actually superior, without the loss of positional audio. So while the debate between stereo and 5.1/7.1 rages on in online forums, to my ears, RIG’s audio quality and positional surround sound are excellent.
There are three EQ profiles that you can switch to on the RIG controller: Pure, Intensify and Seismic. And while they each sound slightly different, I found that even the Seismic profile could use a touch more bass.
Comfort and Design
As with most modern headsets, RIG has soft ear cushions that are designed to control the listening environment for each ear, while maintaining a level of breathability. People have different levels of tolerance for heat, but I found RIG to be just as comfortable as any other headset I have tried. The ear cushions also help eliminate ambient noise from coming in.
Plantronics took a very modern and minimalist design for the RIG headset, which is available in either a black or silver color scheme. Since the headset can be used as a standalone set (without the controller) for a mobile device, it is was important for Plantronics to design the headset to have a more subdued design that can be worn out in the public without looking gaudy.
RIG comes with both a boom mic, and an inline mic, so users can swap out between the two, depending on preference and use.
In addition to the two mics, RIG comes with a slew of cables that are required to connect all of the devices to the controller. When you’ve got an Xbox 360 (via optical cable, which is one particular cable not included with RIG) and a mobile phone connected to RIG, there are no less than five cables spreading out from RIG's controller. If you have an aversion to wires and cables, RIG might drive you crazy. It would have been nice to have a Bluetooth connection from mobile devices to the controller to eliminate one cable, but that likely would have unjustifiably increased the purchase price.
Ultimately however, I have to say that the ability to connect both a device and a game console or PC to a single, comfortable, modular headset is unquestionably worth the price of having a handful of wires lying about on the floor.
With RIG, Plantronics delivers excellent audio fidelity with a modern headset design, and introduces an innovative, game-changing solution to the mobile communications problem every gamer faces. With the ability to take and use the RIG headset on the go, and the fact that RIG is compatible with Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, straight out of the box, its utilitarian value increases even more.
Despite requiring the connection of a bunch of cables, RIG is an evolutionary piece of tech that gamers will find hard to live without.
RIG will hit retailers worldwide sometime in Fall 2013, at the retail price of $129 and is compatible with PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, and mobile devices. Click over to Plantronics.com for additional information.
This review is based on a sample unit provided by the manufacturer.