Sennheiser headphones cut the umbilical cord
By Jim Bray
Sennheiser's RS 175 wireless headphones are a nice way to keep your tunes - or whatever you're listening to - private while freeing you from being tethered to your audio system. And they do a nice job of it. They sound good, too, as well as offering bass boost and fake surround sound settings.
I haven't tested a set of wireless headphones in 20 years or more, partly because the ones I tried back then weren't very good and that spoiled the technology for me. Twenty years is an eternity in technology, however, so when I got Sennheiser's press release about the RS 175 I was intrigued. Would these phones offer the sound quality as well as the convenience I want? And what are the tradeoffs?
Headphones can be a way for audiophiles on a budget to get good sound without having to spend thousands of dollars (though you can also spend plenty on them if you like) on a higher end audio system. This is especially true if you're listening to two channel music; in my admittedly limited experience, surround sound headphones can sound great, but the surround leaves something to be desired. Headphones can also be neighbour savers, in that you can blast the tunes as loudly as your ears can stand it without bothering people in other rooms our outside the house.
My biggest gripe about the old wireless headphones was that they were noisy, which eliminated any need to actually listen critically for the sound quality of the music, and they only worked line of sight, which meant you had to be right in front of the sending unit for them to work. Sennheiser has corrected these issues well. The RS 175's have a claimed wireless range of 100 metres, though I never took them that far away from the source since my typical suburban home is a tad more compact than that. Sennheiser also says the phones only work line of sight, but I found that not to be the case.
The RS 175 comes in two basic pieces: the headphones and the base unit. Setup is a breeze. You can hook it into your system via an analogue 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack or an optical digital input. Cables, by the way, are included. I chose the optical route after trying both methods to ensure they work as advertised. You can change inputs via a little switch on the back of the base unit. I tried hooking the Sennheiser into the TV's optical output, the output from my OPPO BDP-103D Blu-ray player, and my satellite receiver. All worked fine.
The "over the ear-type" phones appear robust and built well. Since they're of the over ear variety, they cover your ears fully, isolating you from outside noise. They're quite comfortable, though I did notice that I'd experience some fatigue after a couple of hours of use because of how tightly they sat on my head. If you aren't a fathead this may not be an issue…
I listened to a variety of sources, from stereo music to television shows and concerts and movies. And I was impressed. Not only is the sound from the RS 175's very clean and listenable, but I experienced no signal dropouts, extraneous noise or other artifacts that deteriorate the audio quality. The sound remained consistent as I walked around wearing the phones, too. The signal made its way through walls and floors as if they didn't exist, kind of like your home Wi-Fi connection does (or is supposed to, anyway!).
One ideal use is late night TV watching, when you don't want to keep others in the house awake. And the Sennheisers worked really well here. I could sit in the living room and listen to TV (or whatever) as loudly as I wanted and no one more than a couple of inches away could tell. Not only that, but the generous wireless range meant I could get up and go to the bathroom or get a drink or snack and not lose the audio.
That was a really nice touch.
The RS 175's are very clear and detailed, and sounded as good as you'd expect a $320 set of phones should. Naturally, the better the source the better the sound at the destination; and when I pumped high resolution audio into them they jumped up and took notice very nicely. The bass boost and fake surround modes are kind of neat, but I preferred leaving them off and listening to the "pure" signal.
I'm kind of anal that way and your mileage may vary. Sennheiser has actually done a pretty nice job on both of these features, but I prefer no artificial colouring in my tunes.
The headphones worked well with movies, too, their dynamic soundtracks and low frequency effects channels being reproduced very nicely - yet quiet sections also came through very well, whether they be the whispers of characters on the screen, ambient sounds or whatever. As mentioned, I found the phones got a bit heavy on my head by the time a full length movie was over, but it wasn't too onerous and it certainly beat bothering my sleeping wife.
Another nice feature is the way you store the phones: they sit right on the base unit when not in use. This not only gets them out of the way from taking up space your coffee table or whatever, it also means the phones are always charged up when you need them (they perch right on the charger).
So here are my highlights: great wireless connectivity, easy setup, very nice sound quality from various sources. Lowlights? Not much. I found them a tad fatiguing after longer listening sessions and - not really a lowlight as much as a personal preference - the bass boost and surround sound modes were superfluous to me. There was also a minor learning curve figuring out which buttons were which on the headphones, because that's where the volume and surround sound mode controls are and you can't see them when you're wearing the phones. Not a big deal, though.
The Sennheiser RS 175's aren't the highest end headphones on the market, but they sound darn good anyway - and if you value the convenience of their excellent wireless performance more than their ultimate audio quality, these could fit the bill very nicely.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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