Back in December 2005, I received a pair of Sony MDR-DS3000 headphones for Christmas. I reviewed them on Amazon, giving them 5/5 stars. I used them for years and never had any problems with them–they are comfortable, have good range, and the strange proprietary batteries still work great.
However, the audio quality of the Sonys was at best fair and I wanted something a little more. In order to achieve acceptable audio quality with them, an amplifier is needed and the user should keep the volume on the headphones themselves no more than 50-60% up. Even with these tweaks, the audio quality is just acceptable–it’s not fantastic.
So in July 2011, I bought the Sennheiser RS 180 headphones. I’ve been a Sennheiser fan for a while now; I also own the Sennheiser PXC 350 noise canceling headphones and the Sennheiser HD800 headphones.
The audio quality of the Sennheisers is much better than that of the Sony. The other nice feature is a line output that enables plugging amplified speakers or another downstream device into the headphones.
Where Sennheiser misses compared to the Sony is the amount of micromanagement required by the user. There is a power button on the base to start transmitting to the headphones. This is stupid; if the headphones are lifted from the base, that should be an implicit ‘on’ operation. There is also a power button on the headphones themselves. The way the Sony headphones work is that the power button is embedded into the head adjustment, such that putting on the headphones causes the headphones to turn on. Brilliant, and I assume Sony has a patent on this design–but Sennheiser needs their own technique to accomplish the same. If you were reading closely, you realized that the Sony has no power buttons the user has to turn on while the Sennheiser has two power buttons. On the bright side, Sennheiser uses standard NiMH AAA batteries and includes a pair with the headphones. The base is also a little nicer styling-wise.
The other major difference is transmission technology. The Sony is infrared, so line-of-sight is required. The advantage is that there’s no chance of cordless phone or other RF interference. The RS-180 is radio. Both transmit a digital stream; the RS-180 claims to transmit lossless 44.1 khz 16 bit audio to the headphones. I am not sure what the Sony is transmitting, though I’d be impressed if it is transmitting such a wide stream of data over IR. The Sony can take an S/PDIF optical input and provide simulated surround sound. I never used this feature and cannot comment on it.
The other contender worth looking at is the Sony MDRDS6500 — it has a modern stand like the Sennheiser and uses RF instead of IR. If it matches the Sennheiser sound quality with some of the conveniences of no power buttons, that would be a clear winner. I am skeptical on the audio quality front, but it is possible.
I will write more on this when I’ve had a chance to live with the RS 180 headphones more.