Plantronics Rig review: This excellent headset's killer feature feels like a gimmick
At a Glance
Plantronics has produced the answer to a question I’m not sure anyone is asking: How do you answer phone calls without taking off your gaming headset? That solution is the Rig, a $130 gaming headset that works with multiple platforms and sports a unique dual-channel mixer which empowers you to jump between chatting with teammates and talking to the pizza guy by flipping a switch.
Simple setup, solid performance
That mixer is the Rig’s killer feature, and Plantronics has built it into an intuitively shaped, sleek, black puck that sports a paired cable (USB and 3.5mm audio) for your PC or game console, as well as a second audio cable for your smartphone or tablet. Plug the latter into your smartphone and you can use the Rig’s headset to take phone calls by flipping over to the phone’s channel and jabbing the call button on the front of the mixer.
You switch between channels by punching the big rocker switch on top of the puck. You adjust the relative volume level of each channel independently using small sliders on the inside ring of the mixer, and control the overall volume by cranking the giant rotating dial that comprises the puck’s outer ring. It's a simple control scheme that feels very natural and satisfying to use, like flipping switches and twisting dials on an old-fashioned radio. After a few minutes I was able to quickly adjust the volume of either channel and flip between channels without even looking.
The front of the puck also hosts a mic-mute switch and an equalizer button, though the latter only lets you cycle through three vaguely-named EQ profiles: Seismic, Intensify, and Pure. Seismic does what it says on the tin, amping up the bass levels to a borderline-painful degree, but other than that, my plebeian ears had a hard time telling the difference between the three modes.
Setting up the Rig is a breeze: You just plug the puck’s cables into your device(s) of choice, let the mixer do its thing—registering with your console, or installing drivers on a PC—and within a minute, you’re ready to rock. There’s no proprietary software or apps to worry about, though that also means you don’t have any power to customize the Rig’s performance beyond the EQ toggle and the audio-device configuration options baked into your device. All that’s left is to jack the Rig headset into the headphone jack on the front of the mixer. Plantronics includes two flat, swappable headset cables: one with a fixed boom mic that attaches to the left earpiece, and the other with just an inline mic and remote control like the one on iPhone earbuds.
If you want to use the Rig to chat with friends on the 360, you run a second cable from the mixer to your gamepad’s mic port. Plantronics deserves kudos for including lengthy cables with the Rig; you get roughly six feet of cable between the mixer and your PC or console, while the cables connecting the headset to the mixer are about two feet long, long enough that I was able to comfortably use the Rig while sitting on my couch with the mixer on my coffee table.
This does create opportunities for cable snarls and ugly clutter since you have four or five cables running into the mixer. It's not a problem if you primarily use the headset in one configuration—say, for PC gaming—but mildly annoying if you try to get the most out of the Rig by moving it back and forth from your PC desk to your living room.
The Rig’s dual role as both a gaming headphone and a hands-free headset demands a decent microphone, and Plantronics delivers with a boom mic that's great at filtering out background noise while capturing your voice at a smooth, even level. While testing the Rig I used it to chat with friends both in-game and over the phone, as well as to record screencasts and broadcast on Twitch, and in all cases I was pleasantly suprised by how good my voice sounded.
I also found the headset itself to be light and comfortable to wear for hours at a time, and the unremarkable design, with black-on-black plastic and memory foam, was subtle enough that I could swap out the boom-mic cable for the inline version and wear the Rig in public without it being obvious that I was rocking a gaming headset. Not that I had much reason to do so: While the Rig performs surprisingly well when playing music, especially when it comes to rendering bass lines without drowning out higher frequencies, on the whole it’s nothing to get excited about.
I have mixed feelings about Plantronic’s latest headset. The Rig seems like a solution in search of a problem: Being able to plug my phone into my headset mixer when I sit down to game is nice, but it doesn’t improve my experience in a meaningful way—taking calls through my headset is luxurious, but the time saved by not having to take off a standard headset and answer the phone like a normal person is miniscule. There’s no option to charge your phone via USB passthrough either, so keeping it connected to the Rig while you play prevents you from juicing up unless you happen to have a phone-charging cable next to your gaming rig.
I actually found the Rig more useful for listening to audiobooks while grinding through quests in Guild Wars 2 or playing a few Starcraft 2 matches. While the headset is designed and marketed with smartphones in mind, there’s nothing to stop you from getting creative: The spare audio cable can be jacked into your smartphone, your tablet, your iPod, or anything else with a 3.5mm audio jack, and then use the volume sliders to dial in the perfect level for listening to a podcast while you’re farming World of Warcraft daily quests. It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but a gimmick that works and doesn’t detract from the quality of what is, overall, an excellent—if slightly too expensive—gaming headset.