Wireless headphones have come a long way over the last few years, and Sennheiser was one of the first companies to introduce a set of high-quality cans for those of us who like listen and move beyond the tether range of a headphone cable. Sennheiser’s marquee offering, the RS 220s, are equipped with a technology that offers superior sound quality via uncompressed audio streaming. For this price, I want to feel like I’m sitting in Carnegie Hall. And you do — even down to the fact that you can’t move around during the performance.
The RS 220 product page advertises a range of “30 to 100 feet in common listening environments.” But in my tests, I couldn’t walk more than 20 to 25 feet without experiencing blips, hiccups or full-on dropouts. And when bring walls or doorways into the picture, all bets were off — the stream started sounding like a low-rent MP3 file downloaded in the Napster days, all weak and choppy. As a result, I tended to stick close to the docking station to keep the quality sound streaming. I might just as well have been using get-gadget headphones.
The RS 220s are more comfortable than their predecessor, although they are definitely on the hefty side. The velour pads make extended wear no problem, though you will look and feel like you’re sporting heavy-duty earmuffs.
Setting up the RS 220 is simple: Plug your audio sources (TV, stereo, iPod, etc.) into the transmitter/docking station, select the input using a button on the front of the dock or the side of the headphones, and the audio starts streaming. You can patch in sources using coax, optical, or analog connections, and a light on the front of the docking station indicates which source is active. The side of the cans also has buttons for volume, input, power, and balance, and after you get used to which is which, they are easy enough to navigate.
The previous version of Sennheiser’s wireless headphones used Kleer’s wireless technology, which compresses the audio before transmitting it. The RS 220 uses an updated wireless system called direct sequence spread spectrum, or DSSS. The big advantage is that DSSS transmits uncompressed audio, which can make a significant difference in sound quality.
After queuing up everything from metal to classical to hip-hop, it became clear that the RS 220s offer excellent sound quality, with a wider dynamic range and a more natural, rich sound than their predecessors. Even with bass-heavy hip-hop (B.I.G’s “Hypnotize”) the RS 220s responded with a deep, accurate low end, balanced with clear and clean high-end and midrange details. When I compared the RS 220s to headphones made by Grado, Audio-Technica, and Sony, the Sennheisers won out, and I’d happily reach for them to listen to nearly any style of music.
But if you’re going to spend big bucks on a pair of wireless headphones, the wireless performance had better be top-notch. Sadly, the RS 220s can’t make that claim. However, if your home or office is very open, these headphones may fit the bill. For smaller, urban dwellings, however, the RS 220s are bound to cause more headaches than easy listening.