Plantronics Rig 500E Review

The Rig 500E take a different approach to gaming and offer something that no other company does. So have Plantronics found the perfect formula for creating the “best of both worlds” gaming headset?

In the box

Included with the 500E you get.

  • One set of vented earcups
  • One set of isolated earcups
  • Detachable microphone
  • A 3.5mm female to 3.5mm male cable
  • USB Dolby adapter
  • Self adjusting headband
  • The headset frame
  • The documents

in-the-box

Design and Build

The design of the 500E is quite different and quite clever. Like previously mentioned you get two sets of earcups to choose from and a frame. This means that the 500E are well modular.

design-overall

Looking at the Isolated earcups first and they are very nice. Their predominately Black and feature a basic but nice design. They also have some subtle branding and a circular Silver accent. So as a whole they are pretty clean and understated.

On the inside you’ll find some generous padding finished in a synthetic leather and also the ESL logo. At the bottom there is a point in which the cable comes out as both earcups are hardwired together and finally on the left side there is the 3.5mm port where you’d add the included boom mic. I like that the mic is detachable as whenever its not in use, its not in your way or obstructing anything. It also means that you could use these with your mobile device too as they look like normal headphones.

The vented cups taking a different approach to the isolated ones and feature a more distinct design pattern. Again its all Black so its subtle, but it does make choosing between the two an easier task. You’ll also notice that the vented cups have a splash of Cyan, this in my opinion is nice and makes these a little more aesthetically exciting than the isolated counterparts. If you’re not a fan of the colour its actually not that noticeable when the cup is installed on the frame.

These also feature the same Rig branding, same port location and same mechanism on them as the isolated cups. They also share the same design on the fabric. Where they differ is the earcup material finish. They are breathable fabric, but more on that later.

Both the earcups feature built in cables and they are a little thin, I’ve encountered thinner but it maybe something to consider after a year or so of use. I haven’t seen any reports of cable failure, which is a good sign. But again its better to look after them to make sure they last. The strain relief is decent though which is a great thing as the cables shouldn’t fray at the top.  If they do however happen to fail, the big bonus is that you can buy new earcups and not have to buy an entire new headset.

The frame like the earcups are made from plastic and the grade is decent. Its not the highest quality plastic but it manages to feel solid but also remain flexible.

On the sides of the frame are the adjustments, there are three different size levels and for me that is okay, but if you have a larger head that may pose an issue. But again more on that in the comfort section. Above this is where you’d install the headband.

adjust

The headband is a soft fabric that is attached via elastic. This is great for keeping the weight down as well as for comfort. It also has some more branding here too. Its not obtrusive at all as when wearing them you’d not see it.

headband-1

Finally the cables and there are two of them. Both are very good quality and well made. Both feature a fairly thick cable with good strain relief.

The Dolby cable has the switch and although made from plastic it feels solid enough. There is a little flex to it, but honestly its not a part of the headphones that will see much wear and tear so its fine. The button isn’t the best either and feels a little mushy, but again its nothing something you’d likely use that often anyway.

Onto the slight issue with the design and that is the finish on the frame, its quite fragile and marks pretty easily so just keep that in mind.

One thing I would have liked to have seen is the cables built into the headband, this way it would eliminate the dual cable design and make the overall design a little cleaner. There could be a reason why they haven’t done this, but it would take the modularity aspect to a new level.

As a whole though, when they’re all installed together they are a very nice looking heasdet that do stand apart from all the others in the market. The build is good, yes they use plastic heavily but its good quality (for the most part) and they feel solid even given their modular nature. Of course there are better built headsets out there, but they don’t offer what these do.

all-tog

Comfort – Headband and Frame

The headband like previously mentioned is fabric and feels really nice against your head. There is easily enough padding as the headset only weighs 200g. So any more would be overkill. The fabric also does a great job of flexing and conforming to the shape of your head. This dual way of making the headband flexible is great and honestly one of the better of this type that I’ve ever tried.

The downside though is the lack of real adjustment for larger heads. I don’t have the tallest of heads and on level 2 (the middle) my head touches the plastic frame when wearing them. This doesn’t cause any fatigue really, its just noticeable. So putting on the third is the best option, that way it leaves a bit of a gap between the top of the headband and the frame. However like mentioned if you have really long head this may not work for you and they maybe a little to small.

frame-adjust

Clamping force isn’t too strong either and is nicely judged meaning you do get that horrible feeling of compression when wearing them.

Comfort – Isolated

Comfort wise these are my least favourite out of the two and there is one small reason why. That is the heat build up. Because the finish on the cups is non breathable they can get hot after a few hours of use. Taking regular short breaks does solve this, but its not ideal.

iso-cup-1

On the plus side the padding is very generous and very soft. They don’t cause any rubbing or chafing on your ears and they are even quite comfortable with glasses too. The opening is easily wide enough for my average sized ears and should fit larger ears comfortably too.

iso-pad

Comfort – Vented

These are the most comfortable of the two as they share the same great padding of the isolated, but these have a more breathable fabric finish to cup which means you can game that bit longer without the heat build up. Yes they do get a little warm but nothing like the isolated. The fabric finish is also really smooth and does cause any irritation at all.

vent-pad-1

Also to note, you could actually remove the earcushions and swap them around. So if you prefer the sound of the isolated ones, but don’t like the padding, simply swap them out. It does take a bit of fiddling and effort, but it would be worth it if you really can’t get to grips with the finish on the isolated ones.

vent-pad-2

Overall they are very comfortable and I can honestly wear them much longer than any other headset I’ve ever tested. In reality usually the max I go without a break is around 2 and a half hours. With these I can easily stretch that to 5 before needing a break.

In use

Using these daily has been a joy, I can easily swap out the earcups depending on the type of game that I’m playing. Its so simple and straight forward to do and doesn’t take long at all. Also if you do get some you can buy another frame and how two different sets depending on the types of games that you play. The frames cost from as little as £6.99 for the basic versions and go up to £11.99 for the camo versions. That means that for the cost of the headset £72 on Amazon and £7 for the frame you can have two high quality headsets.frames-2

So if you wanted to that then you could. Its what I’ve done and I now have a set for my PC and one for my Xbox One S. Only downside is that there is only one mic. Well for the price its understandable and you can actually get the mic separate if you need too. I use my mic on PC and don’t have it on he Xbox, but in reality its easy enough to swap it over if needs be. To install and swap out all you have to do is line up the 3.5mm male to female as well as the mounting pin and place in. Removing it is easy too and requires only a little effort. So in use they are great, you have so many different options and can even build two headsets for around £80.

Isolation and Leak – Isolated

These are the ones to pick if you want to block out any external noise and have a better gaming experience. They just do a far better job of it. For example my Cooler Master keyboard with its mechanical switches is fairly loud and these blocked them out no trouble at all. The same can be said for the noise coming from my PC, it blocks that out no issues too.

Leak is a non issue really unless you’re playing in a environment where there are other people, but even then the leak from these is not that bad at all and in fact its quite minimal.

Isolation and Leak – Vented

Isolation here is of course a bit worse, you can hear more background noise and if you do so happen to be in a noisier place, then these will let you know. Because the are partially vented noise does naturally creep in. So if you’re at a LAN party and playing some competitive games, you’ll likely hear whats happening around you. If however you play at home in a more quiet environment then they are better, but they still do let a bit of keyboard and PC noise in.

The same can be said for leak, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but its much more noticeable than the isolated cups. Its par for the course really as the ventilation does allow sound to escape. It won’t really bother any one at home and even at a LAN party I think you’d still be okay, well unless its silent.

Microphone

The microphone on the 500E isn’t the strongest, its a little quiet even at 100%. Its also a touch nazzley too. Detail is okay and its clear it just needs a bit of a boost. But because its a USB mic I wasn’t able to add any gain as my software wouldn’t register the mic as it doesn’t USB mics for some reason. Yours may do and then you could boost the volume a little. Bass pickup is a little lacking too, meaning that if you have a deep voice it won’t come across.

mic-on-headset

So for casual gaming and skype chats its okay but if you want to use it for streaming, I’d suggest investing in a dedicated mic. I’ve included a few samples for you to listen to and they’ll give you a rough idea of what its like.

Regular test

Keyboard pickup

On the plus side it is flexible which means you can position it very easily. Its also well made and shouldn’t give you any trouble, even during long term use. You can also mute the mic by gently pulling it towards the headset, this is great if you quickly need to turn off the mic.

Software

The 500E does have some software that accompanies them, you have to download it as it doesn’t come in the box. That isn’t really an issue as pretty much anyone who buys them will have access to the internet and the file is only small so it doesn’t take long to download, nor does it take up loads of precious disk space.

With the software you can control the microphones volume, the sidetone and toggle Dolby 7.1 on or off. You also get a fully customisable 10 band equalizer to play around with and tailor the audio experience to how you want it. There a few presets if you don’t feel comfortable with tuning the profile yourself but in all honesty its a simple process. You essentially move the sliders whilst wearing them and adjust them until you find the perfect sound for you. It does take a bit of time but its worth it if you aren’t happy with the built in presets.  You can then save the custom one and if you have the time, make one for each game that you play.

Sound – Isolated

Plantronics describe the isolated cups as “Immersive” and they give you “extreme focus” but do they? Well in a word yes. If you want to have a more immersive experience then these are the ones you’d want to pick. They block out more external noise and have a fuller sound signature than the vented variant. These make the isolated perfect for those types of games that you play solo, for example Forza Horizon. Horizon sounds fantastic, the isolated cups do a great job of capturing the deep bellows and growls of a big American V8 as well as maintaining the more visceral sound from a highly tuned GTR or Ferrari.

You really get a sense of what the cars sound like and if you really want to get lost in the game, then pick a radio station and cruise around for hours. Of course its not the same as being in the cars yourself, but they do a great job of portraying what it would be like.

Tomb raider is another prime example of how these are great for solo games, you can still hear close by enemies and perform sneak attacks with ease, but its just the immersion you get from them, they are impressive. They make good headphones for music too, the bass is very deep but tight and well timed, but its not over the top or too unnecessary. There is plenty of punch and detail too. The mids are nice and clear with good detail and actually sound equally as good as some dedicated headphones that I’ve tried. Vocals are great too which not only play well for music, but for voice chat too.

Where they do fall down a little is for competitive games like Fortnite, Overwatch and PUBG. They just don’t seem to have an open enough midrange for it. Yes they are good and if you only play for fun then they are actually impressive, but if you want to play more serious then the vented are the ones to pick. Yeah can still pick out enemy footsteps and positions but they are more clear when using the vented.

Sound – Vented

These are a little less potent and powerful than the isolated cups, but honestly that is what you want. They still do have a bit of depth but it does a great job of not overshadowing the important mids and highs. Plantronics describe these as “Spacious” and that is pretty much what you’re getting. Of course they couldn’t match a pair of fully open back headphones but they breathe much more than their isolated counterparts.

This is great if you play games like Overwatch, Fortnite, PUBG and Battlefield. You still get great sound and can still enjoy your experience but you don’t lose any competitive edge. Yes explosions and gunfire doesn’t have the same impact as the isolated ones but when playing competitive games more seriously, these are the ones to choose. These make it easier to pinpoint your enemies location, quiet sounds are more defined and its easier to distinguish friendly from foe. This works best for Overwatch in my experience as enemy footsteps are a little more prominent and these just make them that much easier to pick out. It also makes team chat a little easier as well as that is nicely defined away from what you’re hearing in game.

However you can still enjoy solo games like the ones I mentioned but they lack the immersion of the isolated ones. Its still a nice experience and you can enjoy them for longer, but if you really want to get into your game, the isolated ones are the right choice.

Music listening on these is nice too, I tried them on mobile and PC and they sound great. Yes the bass is less powerful than the isolated but they make up for it with a super clean and open mid that packs in much more detail than the isolated cups. Again they won’t compare to something like the Grado SR60e but they are very impressive for a gaming headset. Vocals are much nicer too, they’re more open and breathe more. Soundstage is again wider and a lot less closed in.

So to wrap this segment up, go isolated if you want a more immersive or casual experience and save the vented ones for when you want to knuckle down and really get in some more serious gaming. One final note as well is that if you want even more of an cocooned experience or want to gain more of an edge, you can always tweak the sound using the software.

Dolby

dolby-remote

When listening to music the Dolby mode is an odd experience, it does change the characteristics of the sound and I’m not a huge fan. It gives the sound a bit of a false sense of space and height, its not as noticeable with the vented cups, but with the isolated you really can hear the difference. The effect it provides isn’t all that pleasant and in all honesty it does tarnish the sound a little. Its also too artificial, well because that’s what it is and it shows.

Watching movies was a much better experience than music as I was expecting. I watched Baby Driver and it sounded incredible with the Dolby on. I mean it was good before but the Dolby just enhanced it so much more. The bass and lower tones hit harder, especially crashes, gunfire and explosions. There is just more going on and it makes the experience more multi layered and more dimensional.

The subtle music score in some scenes was also made better and if you’ve watched the film you’ll know that the addition of music is done to intensify the films key parts. It all sounded fantastic. Not as good as a full blown movie experience, but so much better than any TV or most compact stereo speakers could offer.

The same can be said for Spiderman Homecoming, the score isn’t as good but the sound effects and design just have more potency and presence, but it doesn’t detract from the dialogue. You also get a greater sense of directionality and things going on around you. Its very immersive. Honestly watching movies with them is a far better experience than I was ever expecting.

For gaming however its a mixed bag. For solo games like Arkham Knight, Tomb Raider etc then it works great. The sound gets boosted especially the bass frequencies. The bass gets more power and vigour. This mids get a little height and space, but unlike with the music, it sounds better.

Now to the downside and that is for eSport style competitive games, you lose some of that ability to identify enemy positions as it boosts the lower end. This masks enemy footsteps and it makes distinguishing them a little harder. It does make the games sound better but to a point where you lose that competitive edge. You can dial back the bass in the software which does help, but I found the added effects too distracting.

Again the choice is yours, personally for solo gaming I’d leave it on, but for competitive or co-op gaming I’d leave it switched off as it hampers your abilities too much.

Summary

Yes this has been a long one but there has almost been two headsets to review. But to wrap things up, are they “the best of both worlds” and should you get some? Well the answer is yes to both. I mean the design is nice, functional and modular. The build is great in places and a little worse in others, the comfort is superb, noise isolation is well handled and leak is kept mostly in check. The sound is far better than I ever expected and the addition of Dolby sound is amazing. Not only that but if you get these from Amazon they’re only £72 and for that you’re getting a lot of value for your money. The 500E is now my top pick for best headset under £75 and possibly under £100 too.

Yes the mic isn’t the strongest, some of the Dolby features don’t work well for gaming and there is no built in volume control, but as whole these are a fantastic headset and now my go to for gaming on Xbox and PC.

Score 8.5/10

Get some here www.amazon.co.uk/rig-500e

 

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