Trying to capture the true soundscape of video games can be a daunting task. Looking to surround-sound home theater options, users have to balance the price of speakers and a receiver with the space demands a setup would require. Due to this, gamers often turn to headphones to get the job done. Plantronics has released the Rig Surround headset as a way to fill the need for 7.1 surround sound experience without an expensive price tag or room full of speakers. But is the Rig headset something that consumers should look to, or would they be better off making room for the speakers?
The Rig Surround headset looks fairly plain at first glance, sporting circular, over-the-ear cups and a headband wrapped in cloth. The black of the headset is broken up by bright orange cloth on the inside of the ear cups. Only two other orange highlights appear on the headset: one tag sewn in on the left side of the headband with the Plantronics brand, while another smaller tag on the right side indicates how the Rig should be worn.
Rather than having a 3.5mm jack on the bottom of one of the ear cups to plug a cord into, Plantronics put the port on the backside of the left cup. The horizontal port then accepts the plug that is built into the included microphone, recessed some to make the fit secure. The cord that Plantronics includes for the headset is also attached to the microphone, which creates a small problem.
Unless buyers have another cord laying around, owners will be forced to wear the microphone around all the time if the headset is purchased to be worn every day. It doesn't tuck away or retract into another part of the headset. Even if users find another cord, it has to be small enough to fit into the space. Users need to put up with an awkward bend that a standard cable will have when used as well. A cord with a built-in microphone for smartphones is included with the cheaper Rig Flex, but not for the Rig Surround for some reason
The cord itself could be better too. It offers a flat, ribbon-like design that is typically associated with a no-tangle feature. Instead, the cord on the Rig Surround gets tangled up on itself constantly. Users will need to frequently unplug the headset from the mixer to straighten the cord out, else it bundles up on itself and gets wrapped up in other cables on the desk.
Comfort is another issue with the Rig Surround, as the headband becomes extremely uncomfortable in as little as 20 minutes. Unlike the ear cups that are covered in soft padding and a jersey-like material, the headband has a thicker cloth glued to it. The headband offers only two layers of cloth stitched together with some additional padding only on the crown. It isn't enough, as those wearing the Rig end up constantly shifting the headband around to avoid discomfort. There was one standout feature in the ear cups, since the cloth that rests against the plastic hiding the 40mm drivers is padded.
Clarity from the microphone is great, good for voice chatting in games or phone calls. The mic picks up very little background noise and doesn't seem to suffer from random pops or static when in use. However, it does feel like the mic is too far away from the mouth considering it's a boom mic. It only offers limited adjustability, since the rubber construction keeps it from bending very far.
One of the big features of the headset is the USB amplifier/mixer that comes with it. Through the mixer, users have a master volume dial that is easy to grab onto and turn. There is also a button to mute the microphone, a button to enable and disable Dolby surround sound, and another button to set the equalizer. The Rig Surround has three EQ presets, ranging from "pure," which is an unaltered signal for clarity, to "seismic" for a heavy bass emphasis. The "seismic" setting seems mildly distorted, leaving the middle "intensify" setting as the best option for a little boost. The headset can be used without the mixer, but Dolby surround is only enabled with it.
Another impressive feature is the rocker switch in the center to change the microphone between game chat or voice for smartphone that is plugged in. The mixer has a built in cord for plugging in a smartphone or other device, allowing users to shift to a phone call without removing the headset with only the flip of a switch. The balance between volume for the game can then be controlled independently, so none of the action is missed during the call.
Sound quality for the Rig Surround is top notch, giving overall balance to highs, mids and lows. Depending on the EQ setting, this can shift -- as was previously stated -- with the "intensify" setting. The headset doesn't crank up to high volume levels like some other gaming-focused headsets, as it topped out at 92.8dB during music tests. "Hunter" recorded the top volume levels, without bass overwhelming or harshly distorting the sound. From 100 percent volume down to 25 percent volume, levels dropped 17 to 20 percent. There was only a slight drop from 100 percent to 75 percent, but the curves for all three songs were consistent to each other.
Surround sound is where the Dolby-certified Rig Surround shines, as it offers a deep soundstage with superior directional audio. The back channels were particularly impressive, as they sound strong without being muddy or distant like other surround-sound headsets. In games like Red Orchestra 2, the directional audio is extremely helpful in picking out where a shot or explosion came from. In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the surround sound feels slightly off, but this could be the outer space setting of the game. However, it does make the slight echo the headset has stand out more. Be warned that the surround sound only works with the mixer in use on a PC. Plantronics requires a Dolby driver that is only available for Windows to drive the surround sound.
For $100, gamers get a great value in sound with the Rig Surround. With a mixer that allows fine tuning of volume and voice levels, along with toggles for Dolby and equalizer settings, there are a lot of ways to fit gaming needs for PC gamers. Those that want to use it the headset and mixer on a Mac or the headset alone on a gaming console can, but they won't be able to use the 7.1 surround sound. Those users might be better served by the Rig Flex, which offers a similar headset for $20 less.
The big question is if users can overcome the minimal padding on the headband and the cable. The cable isn't necessarily a big deal, but the discomfort on the top of the head can be a deterrent from participating in long gaming sessions. The Rig Surround might not be uncomfortable for everyone, but having to shift it around or take it off even before half an hour goes by detracts from its superior sound.