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Review: Sennheiser RS 220
Prasad Naik
July 11, 2012
First Published: 15:03 IST(11/7/2012)
Last Updated: 17:47 IST(17/9/2012)
Sennheiser

The Sennheiser RS 220 is the company’s flagship wireless headphones. These headphones offer uncompressed audio transmission, which solves the biggest issue most people have with wireless headphones and that is the lossy nature of the audio transmission process. So how do they sound? Let’s find out.

Design

Just like its other wireless siblings, the RS 220 is a two-piece unit consisting of a transmitter that also doubles up as a charging dock and the headphones themselves. The headphones design consists of enormous semicircle driver units connected by a thick headband. The driver units are really thick and stick out by a couple of inches from the side of your head. The reason for this is that unlike regular headphones, the RS 220 also has to house AAA batteries in each unit, as well as amplifiers and other circuitry for the drivers. Despite their size and all that is inside them, the headphones are surprisingly light.

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The driver units use extremely plush velour earpads that look and feel great, but they also tend to attract a lot of dust and lint. The earpads are large enough to accommodate your ears completely without feeling hemmed in. Other than being easy on the ears, the earpads also do a great job of absorbing the vibrations from the driver units so you don’t feel a vibrating sensation every time you turn up the volume.

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The headphones use an open-back design for the drivers, so there are large grilles on the back surrounded by glossy plastic. The driver units are attached to the headband through Y-shaped plastic joints that have a matte finish, which in turn incorporate a metal sliding strip for the headband adjustment. The headband uses soft foam padding on the inside and are covered by faux-leather. Near the end of the headband are silver contact patches on either side for the charging dock.

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The driver units have controls on either side. On the left unit, you have the Power and Source buttons with an LED indicator. On the right are the volume controls and Balance key. To control the balance, you tap the balance key and then use the volume controls to move it to the left or right. Pressing and holding the key resets the balance to the middle position.

Also found on each driver unit is a small compartment for AAA batteries. The compartments are normally hidden by the Y-shaped joint but can be accessed by folding the driver units inwards. You will need two AAA rechargeable batteries for these headphones and Sennheiser promised a battery life of nine hours on a full charge.

The overall design of the headphones is great but they do look quite thick as they stick out from either side of your head. The build quality is also great but there were some less than impressive bits here and there. The Y-shaped joints holding the driver units flexed and creaked a bit when pressed. The keys on the back looked extremely cheap with their silver finish and awkward pattern and looked terribly out of place on such an expensive and otherwise elegant looking pair of headphones.

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Now speaking of the transmitter/dock, it is one of the most stylish docks I’ve seen for a pair of wireless headphones. On the front you have a few LEDs to indicate the power, charging state and source and below are couple of feather touch controls for power and source.

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On the top is where you place the headphones for charging. Here I came across a couple of problems. First of all, you have to place the headphones very carefully to make sure the contacts are aligned properly or else the headphones won’t charge. You can’t just carelessly plonk the headphones on top of the dock and expect it to align themselves properly. I wish Sennheiser had made this process a bit simpler.

Secondly, the dock is not very tall, so it cannot accommodate headphones extended beyond a particular point, or else the speakers touch the base of the dock. You can’t, for example, have the headband extended all the way and keep the headphones on the dock as then instead of hanging from the two contact points on the top, the headphones will stand on the driver units without the charging contacts being anywhere close to each other. So if you have a particularly large head, you will have to change the band length every time you place or remove the headphones from the dock.

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On the back of the dock we see a smorgasbord of connectivity options. The RS 220 supports analogue, optical as well as coaxial inputs as well as output ports. There’s also the power input port, along with a button for pairing in case it goes off. The headphones come with a 9V power adaptor, an RCA analogue cable, a coaxial cable and a RCA female to 3.5mm male adaptor for devices with only 3.5mm output, such as mobile phones.

Thanks to this range of connectivity options, you can connect the headphones to a vast variety of devices, from audio systems, computers, gaming consoles, DVD/Blu-ray players, laptops, MP3 players and mobile phones.

I have an issue with the power saving nature of the headphones. The headphones are designed in a way that when they don’t sense any audio signal, they go in standby mode and then eventually switch off. If an audio source comes in while they are in standby mode, they switch on automatically. But if they switch off, you will have to manually switch them on again. Also, once the headphones switch off, the transmitter also switches off.

The problem is that the headphones are always in a great hurry to switch off. Even if you leave them idle for a few minutes, they go into standby mode and if there is no sound for a few more minutes they switch off completely and then you will have to switch them on manually.

Performance

One of the key features of the RS 220 is that uncompressed digital audio transmission. Wireless headphones usually compress audio before transmitting it due to limited bandwidth. The process used to compress audio is usually lossy, which results in a loss of quality as the sound reaches from the source to the headphones. With uncompressed audio transmission, the RS 220 takes care of the biggest bugbear of wireless headphones, which means that’s one less thing to worry about for audiophiles.

Regarding the audio quality of the RS 220, I was expecting a more balanced sound, considering the high price of these headphones. However, I was surprised to hear a significantly more bass-heavy sound than I anticipated. The RS 220 drivers produce a serious amount of thump and can bring out even even the subtlest of bass notes in the music. At higher volumes these drivers can shovel a serious amount of air in your ears, and the effect is almost akin to placing your ears over a bass reflex port of a subwoofer.

I personally found the bass to overpowring at times. And it doesn’t help that the rest of the frequency response is not up to the mark. The mids and highs sound good but lack the level of clarity that you expect from a premium set of headphones such as these. The sound is also not particularly revealing, which means the minor details aren’t highlighted well enough.

The RS 220 does have good soundstaging, which, coupled with the powerful bass response, makes them great for gaming and movies. One word of warning, though. Due to the open back design, you don’t get much in terms of noise isolation. On top of that, they also leak a ridiculous amount of sound, so people around you are always aware of what you’re listening to.

Wireless performance of these headphones was good. Sennheiser boasts of a 100m range, which is more than what anyone would need, as long as the headphones and the transmitter are in line of sight. However, place a couple of walls between them and the sound starts to falter, even if you are within 10m of the transmitter. Still, the convenience of not having to deal with a cable is undeniable. Being able to move your left arm around without a cable coming in its way feels extremely liberating, along with the knowledge that you can just get up from your position and walk around the room without having to worry about accidentally dragging your source with you thanks to the cable.

Verdict

I enjoyed my time with the Sennheiser RS 220, particularly due to the wireless nature of their design. The uncompressed audio transmission also takes away the price you have to pay to get rid of the cable. I also greatly appreciate the wide variety of connectivity options found on the transmitter.

However, I did expect a bit more in terms of audio performance. The bass is a bit too strong for my liking and the mids and highs lacks the clarity I expected. There are also minor design and build issues with the headphones and transmitter and the aggressive power saving nature can be annoying.

Overall, these headphones are great for those who enjoy watching movies or playing games and don’t mind paying Rs. 24,990 for the wireless freedom. But if you are an audiophile looking for great music playback, then you should consider Sennheiser’s wired HD 650 instead.

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