For most humans, opening up a new gadget has to be a highlight of their day. Ok, it’s not up there with discovering fire, positing gravitational theory or feeding and clothing your family, but it feels pretty good. Let’s bypass what that says about society right now – we can come back to it later if you like – and talk about the gadget that I’ve just opened, the Plantronics RIG 500 Pro Esport. It’s a headset that you can assume is aimed at the esports crowd, but is absolutely fine for mere mortals as long as you’ve got an ear or two to put them on top of.
The 500 Pro Esport is comfortable with pretty much anything with an audio connection thanks to its super friendly 3.5mm jack, so whether you’re rocking a PC, PS4, XBO, Switch, or even a Game Gear, you’ll be able to hear every little detail. Sound is piped out of 50mm low distortion drivers, which are coupled to some fancy-sounding high resolution tuned acoustic chambers in each ear cup. Interestingly the 500 Pro Esport isn’t Hi-Res certified, but it definitely does a fantastic job of chucking out beautifully detailed audio into your ears. And it’s more comfortable than that sounds.
This is an industrial-looking headset. Each earpiece features a honeycomb style metal casing that’s reminiscent of girders or construction materials, while the metal of the headband sports false bolts to complete the look. It might be a bit much for some people, but you have to think that you’re not going to be spending too much time looking at yourself wearing them, unless you have an odd penchant for headset selfies. Personally I think the industrial design is pretty cool, and you absolutely can’t question the manufacturing quality or the strength of many of the components.
Despite its partially metal construction the 500 is pleasingly light, both in the hand and on your head. There’s a suspended fabric headband which Steelseries owners will immediately recognise, which means that not only will it broadly fit anyone from the get-go, they’re liable to stay comfortable and in place no matter how long you wear them for.
To get the fit right each earpiece can also be moved up or down the frame by popping their plastic catches out, which isn’t something I’ve seen before. It’s a cool idea, though I wonder how long the catches will last if you were tinkering with them all the time. You shouldn’t have to though, unless you’re the kind of person who repeatedly shares their headset around with friends that have unusually small or large bonces.
There’s also a choice of earpads, though both sizes have a soft fabric on the side that matters. The leatherette earpads that are fitted as standard were noticeably warmer after extended wear though, so it might be worth swapping them over from the off. I had to consciously make sure my ears were wholly within the earpad as well, which I don’t often have to do with over-ear gaming headsets, despite having pretty big lugs. They still fit comfortably but the earpieces must be a few millimetres smaller than some of my other headsets.
Once they’re in situ the Plantronics 500 are an excellent sounding pair of cans. There’s plenty of detail at the top end, a balanced mid-range and some decent heft to the bass which made them a real pleasure to use no matter what type of game I was playing. Rage 2’s bombastic gunplay and discordant soundtrack sounded fantastic, and the 500’s passive noise isolation did a good job of keeping external immersion-breaking noise at bay.
Fans of big bass may still find them a little underwhelming – they’re not going to touch an Astro A50 or Razer’s Nari Ultimate – but this is a much more balanced pair of headphones and much more cost effective. They’re very similar in performance to Turtle Beach’s Elite Pro, which has been one of my favourite sets of recent years, and which you might be able to find somewhere near this price point, but that’s without its surround sound providing amp.
The Plantronics RIG 500 Pro meanwhile is Dolby Atmos certified, and as a big bonus comes with an activation code in the box as well which is everything you need for Windows and Xbox One users. Sorry PlayStation people, you’re out of luck here yet again. Given how great the 500 is as a stereo headset that’s not a dealbreaker by any means, but if you’re looking for a surround sound solution this isn’t going to fit the bill for Sony or Nintendo fans.
In terms of Dolby Atmos the Plantronics set does an impressive job of dispensing a virtual soundstage, and in games like Fortnite and Black Ops 4 it gave a good sense of where my enemies were attacking from. It did not make me any better at either of them mind you.
If you’re playing with others and putting that Esports tag to use you’ll be wanting to use the removable microphone which satisfyingly clicks into place, and which you can then fold up when not in use – or take back off if you prefer. Its bendable metal arm offers plenty of angling options and stays in place no matter what you’re shouting into it while the microphone offers clear and crisp audio to those that want to listen.