Some music lovers prefer the experience of headphones over in-room speakers. For music, especially two-channel music, I can certainly understand the appeal. Headphones are a cost-effective way to get great sound and the perfect solution for shared spaces where quiet listening environments are the norm. For TV and home theater purposes, though, draping a long headphone cable across the length of the room can be quite a burden. Sennheiser's new over-the-ear RS line, including the $279 RS 175, aims to solve this problem with wireless connectivity.
The RS 175 system includes the headphones and the wireless base station/headphone DAC unit. The system couldn't be easier to set up. Cables are provided for two possible connections from the input source to the wireless module: a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and a Toslink digital input. The provided cables both worked, but I quickly realized that a simple upgrade can yield better sound out of the RS 175. No, I don't mean an expensive cable that completely dwarfs the price of the headphones themselves. I used a Nova Toslink optical cable courtesy of Wireworld ($35 retail), which yielded strong performance increases above the standard cable, to connect directly to my Oppo BDP-105, which I used as the source for all music, TV, and movies.
The RS 175 headphones were as comfortable as I've ever experienced, with an adjustable headband and plush ear covers. The fit was snug but never too tight. You can get the full rundown on the headphones' design and build here.
With stereo music, the first thing I noticed was how stable and seriously good the wireless connectivity was--no signal dropouts, static, fluttering, or any sign of connectivity issues. I heard the same quality sound everywhere within my media room (which is downstairs in my house) and even got good signal in some of the upstairs bathrooms. Yes, through walls and floorboards. Granted, my newer-construction home may be made with flimsier partitioning materials than some, but nonetheless the wireless system was executed flawlessly here.
Listening to Metallica's titular album (DVD-Audio, Elektra), I could tell that clarity and detail were the RS 175's strong suits. From James Hetfield's raspy voice to Kirk Hammet's guitar, I could hear every nuance accurately and clearly. On guitar, this same level of detail applied across all the variances from the single-note plucks in the intro section of "Enter Sandman" to the heavy distortion effects on "Sad But True." Where the Sennheiser headphones fell short was sometimes sounding a little thin at the extremes. With reference-quality headphones like Sennheiser's much-revered HD800, you can hear the sense of scale and fullness of more complex music that I didn't get from the RS 175. On the acoustic 12-string guitar sections of "Nothing Else Matters," the details were all there, but the RS 175 just couldn't muster the robustness and character of Hammet's 12-string.
The RS 175's bass boost function actually helped on the bottom end; and, unlike bass modes from other manufacturers, I found Sennheiser's execution to be very natural-sounding. Similarly, the LO virtual surround mode helped create a smooth picture of a fuller, more spacious soundstage without sounding at all artificial. On the other hand, the HI surround mode was a bit too over the top for the purist in me.
Movie- and television-watching yielded similar results. The RS 175 continued to impress through hours on end of binge watching season three of The Americans (FX). The headphones deftly powered through low-volume whispering spy conversations with incredible detail and showed its prowess with dynamics in sudden shifts to heavy action sequences. The nicest thing about watching TV with the RS 175 was that, even after watching five or six episodes while wearing my glasses and the headphones on top, I never felt weighed down or otherwise uncomfortable.
• The RS 175 system offers seriously well-executed wireless connectivity.
• The headphones offer accurate, detailed sound, with performance exceeding most wireless headphones in its price range.
• The headphones are super comfortable for long-duration wear, even over glasses.
• The surround and bass effects processing modes sound natural.
• The RS 175 doesn't quite keep up sonically with its bigger brothers in the RS lineup.
• The included cables don't offer the best performance.
Comparison and Competition
It's hard to directly compare the RS 175 to other products because, for whatever reason, high-end headphone manufacturers have not chosen to invest heavily in wireless offerings. So competing headphones look something like the Solo 2 wireless headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre for $299, which the RS 175 will handily outperform sonically. If you don't care about wireless connectivity, the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 sells for $30 less and comes highly recommended. Better sonic performance combined with wireless connectivity will probably come from Sennheiser's own RS 185 for $399.
The Sennheiser RS 175 is a super-comfortable, great-performing pair of wireless headphones that beats out most competition at its retail price of $279. Better performance certainly can be had for those looking for those headphones that can provide that "replace your speakers" quality experience. In fact, the Sennheiser RS 185 and RS 195 might just be an even better value, offering near reference-level sonic performance coupled with the same wireless convenience, albeit for a bit more money.
• Sennheiser Cuts the Cord with New RS Headphones at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• The Good, Better, and Best Headphones on the Market Today at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Sennheiser HD 700 Over-the-Ear Headphones Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.