Budget products must wage an eternal war between price and quality, and gaming headsets present a perfect case study. The Plantronics RIG 400HS ($50) keeps costs down by using a cheap plastic frame and so-so audio drivers, but it also offers a workable, detachable microphone and a convenient setup for PS4 gaming. More expensive console headsets offer better audio and wireless functionality, but the RIG 400HS does what it promises for a reasonable price, particularly for PlayStation gamers.
If you've seen the Plantronics RIG 500E from last year, the 400HS is a less expensive version — although not necessarily a better one.
The first word that sprang to mind when I examined the RIG 400HS was "cheap." Like most budget headsets, it's made of plastic. Unlike most budget headsets, the RIG 400HS doesn't take any pains to hide that fact. The shiny black plastic looks like it would be more at home on an action figure than a headset, and feels breakable, if not exactly flimsy. The design is, at least, cool — angular but understated, like a mountain-bike helmet.
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One curious design feature (or flaw, depending on your perspective) is that the headband is not adjustable. Instead, you can move the ear cups up and down on three fixed points. While this works fine if one of the three points fits perfectly, it doesn't exactly give a precise fit for everyone. Furthermore, you need to pop the ear cups out and in again to alter their positions, which only adds to the feeling that the plastic might snap in half at any moment.
On the other hand, the microphone is a thing of beauty. Both detachable and bendable, the mic on the RIG 400HS is extremely easy to connect, disconnect and mold to fit your preferences.
The RIG 400HS is extremely comfortable. With breathable fabric over-the-ear cups and a plush headband, you could wear the peripheral for hours on end and suffer no ill effects. I wore it for a few hours myself and thoroughly enjoyed how it felt.
I handed off the headset to a co-worker, who tried the device and remarked that it felt light and comfortable. He also agreed with my assessment that the limited options for adjusting the ear cups meant that he couldn't get a perfect fit.
Although the Rig 400HS works fine with PCs, mobile devices and even Xbox Ones, it's advertised primarily as a PS4 headset. As such, I took a deep dive with two PS4 games: Call of Duty: Black Ops III to test the headset's compatibility with multiplayer shooters, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance to evaluate how well it plays with story-driven adventures.
The results were neither great nor terrible. Explosions, gunfire and the chatter of teammates all sounded clear and understandable in Call of Duty, although the sound didn't have much directionality to it. Knowing where your opponents and teammates are before you see them is vital in a first-person shooter, and the RIG 400HS didn't communicate that information very well.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, on the other hand, was just fine. As a story-driven action/role-playing game, it’s more dependent on dialogue and music than it is on sound effects and communication (although you can indeed play with up to four people). Voice acting came through crisply, and the music sounded suitably epic. The sound is rather flat — neither highs nor lows really stood out — but if you want to play a game without disturbing your housemates, it'll do.
Like its gaming performance, the way the RIG 400HS handles music is strictly middle-of-the-road. I listened to tracks from G.F Handel, The Rolling Stones, Flogging Molly and Old Crow Medicine Show in particular, and kept the headset on for the better part of a day listening to various other music and media.
I didn't find one particular genre that the headset conveyed very well, but I never wanted to throw it off in frustration, either. The sopranos, altos, tenors and basses all sounded similarly uninspired in Handel's "Messiah," while the bass was somewhat muddled in Old Crow Medicine Show's "Carry Me Back." I didn't have any trouble making out lyrics or key instruments, however, and the headset did not distort at high volumes.
While the RIG 400HS wouldn't do for a proper audiophile, it'll get you through an average day of listening to music, just as it'll get you through an average game session.
Without any software to speak of, the RIG 400HS's only real special feature is its inline volume control. Players can make audio louder or softer without having to grapple with the PS4's cumbersome devices menu, as well as mute or un-mute the mic. It's functional, but the volume slider is so tiny and stiff, it takes a little breaking in before you'll be able to change anything during the heat of battle.
As for the microphone, it's audible, but picks up a ton of background noise. Unless you're playing in a very quiet room, it could be tough for your teammates to pick up what you're saying.
You can use almost any gaming headset for the PS4, so what, if anything, makes the RIG 400HS special? Well, nothing that I can find. However, if you can deal with the fact that it never goes above and beyond, it's still a worthwhile way to spend $50. The sound quality is decent, the build is comfortable and the setup is trivial. Still, each moderate benefit comes with an equally moderate drawback. The design looks (and feels) fragile, the fit isn't perfect and the multiplayer sound isn't nearly all it could be.
Logitech and Kingston recently came out with $50 entry-level headsets as well: the Prodigy G231 and the HyperX Cloud Stinger, respectively. I don't have a strong preference among the three. The Logitech has the most consistent sound; the Kingston is the most comfortable; the RIG 400HS has a detachable mic. Multiplayer aficionados may want the Kingston, while single-player adventurers should probably choose the Plantronics; the Logitech can handle either.
If you need a headset for the occasional multiplayer match or private single-player session, the RIG 400HS is fine. If you need to sit around for hours and hone your competitive skills, you'll have to find a more ambitious peripheral.