Sennheiser RS220 vs Sennheiser RS180

Posted by mitch on May 13, 2013

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post comparing the Sennheiser RS180 headphones to my really old Sony IR wireless headphones. It was an easy post to write; the RS 180s were the best thing happening for wireless headphones at the time, as far as I know.

In March 2012, Sennheiser released their first wireless headphones that they segment in their audiophile line-up. Until that time, the audiophile models were the HD 518, 558, 598, 600, 650, 800 (and now, the new 700 model comes in between the 650 and 800 at $1,000). The new RS 220 model has been out for a year and has received positive reviews by media publications, but horrible reviews on Amazon and in forum discussions due to serious signal drop out issues. I didn’t buy them for a while, fearing those issues were real.

But in a moment of frustration with the RS 180s, I took the plunge (and Amazon has a good return policy). The drop outs were in fact real and serious. Thanks to a post over on Head-fi.org, I learned one fellow had changed his wifi network to use Channel 11, which I did as well–and mostly that has solved the drop outs for me.

So if you can solve the signal drops, how are these headphones?

They are fantastic–These are the best wireless headphones on the market. Do they have the same sound quality as my HD 800 rig? No, but at $600, they are a quarter of the price of my HD 800 set-up, weigh less, and have no wire to the headphones. The main frustration I had with the RS 180s ($280–$320 street price) is that piano and classical music are quite muddy in them. The 180s seem to be better suited for watching TV and listening to modern pop music than anything with fine detail–and for what they are good at, they are great. But the RS 220s are much better, with the drawbacks of shorter range, less battery life, and the darned wireless signal issues.

For me, the trade off is worth it as long as the wireless issues remain infrequent. There’s a lot that goes on in the 2.4 GHz range–WiFi, Bluetooth, cordless mice, microwave ovens–so I remain a bit apprehensive about it. After listening to the 220s, I can say that the 180s experience signal drops as well–they are more subtle and less irritating. The RS 180 signal drop is like a record skipping vs the RS 220 that feels like an empty second or two lapse on a cell phone.

Physically, the headphones are much more comfortable than the 180s. The padding is thicker, the headband isn’t as “crushing”. Beware that the headphones are open, meaning they are not for private listening. The other perk of the 220s is that the base has audio output, which let me get rid of a switchbox to pick headphones or my M-audio BX5 D2 speakers on my desk. I use a Belkin remote-controlled power strip to turn the M-audios on and off, so this has simplified my desk a little bit. I also like that the RS 220 base is easy to turn on/off with one hand–the 180 base is very lightweight and the buttons require a firm push.

I am using my 220s with an AudioEngine D1 DAC ($180). It probably doesn’t do the 220s justice, but it’s small and has a volume control on it, which is nice. I don’t feel I have enough room on my desk for a something much larger. I have 2 ft AudioQuest cables connecting the DAC to the RS 220 base, which seems fine. The 220 base also has optical input, but I like having the volume control on the AudioEngine unit, so I intend to keep using it, rather than connect the computer’s optical out directly to the 220 base.

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Stop Hating on Bose?

Posted by mitch on February 14, 2013

Sennheiser PXC-350 (left) and Bose QC-15 (right).

For years I’ve been fascinated by the hate against Bose products. Bose must be really bad to get all the negative reviews, right? Search any electronics forum or Amazon reviews, and you’ll find thousands of people frothing about how much Bose sucks.

In December 2009, I wanted a cheap pair of computer speakers for my office in California. I didn’t need anything fancy and I didn’t want a subwoofer. I went to Fry’s and the only 2-speaker system they had for a reasonable price was the Bose Companion 2 speakers for $100. Sighing, I bought them.

They weren’t super awesome. In fact, they were pretty muddy. I gave them a negative review on Amazon. However, they were $100 and small. At this point they sit in the closet; I have a pair of M-Audio BX5 D2s on my desk, which take up significantly more room and sacrifice a lot of usability. They are plugged into a cheap AudioEngines DAC/amp, which means the whole system cost four times the Bose Companion 2s. (Update: After I posted this, I remembered that when I moved the Bose Companion 2’s to my office in Boston, they sounded a lot better–the acoustics in my California office were crap, I suppose.)

Fast-forward to the middle of 2011, I decided to get rid of my stereo separates in the bedroom. My cleaners were always moving the speakers, disconnecting the speakers, and the whole system took up a lot of room. With some reluctance, I bought a Bose Wave radio/CD player–I couldn’t find anything that I liked the looks of better than the Bose at any price point. There are competing products for less money, but they look like crap. I wanted something that looked good.

It’s an expensive box–$500 for a radio, CD player, amp, and speakers. If you listen to the Wave within 2 feet of the unit, it is indeed “bass-y” and “boom-y.” But if you listen to it across the room, it sounds great! I really love my Bose Wave system.

Back in 2009, since I “knew” that Bose sucked, I bought the Sennheiser PXC-350 headphones for air travel. The modern model is the Sennheiser PXC-450, which run $350 on Amazon as of this writing. Recently I had misplaced the Sennheiser headphones and I bought the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones from the local Apple Store.

I could not believe how good the Bose QuietComforts are. I suspect they have a bit of a low-pass filter in them–they are not accurate as, say, a pair of Sennheiser HD 800s. But I don’t care about accuracy for noise-canceling headphones! I don’t want to hear engine noise, fan noise, or people talking when I am wearing these. Without sound playing, the Bose headphones are dead silent in my office with a bit of desk fan noise. The Sennheiser PXC-350s pass a bit of that noise through and introduce some hiss that is often an artifact of cheaper noise-canceling headphones.

The cord on the Sennheiser ‘phones is much nicer and has a volume control. The Bose came with two cords, one without controls and one with an Apple remote. The Apple remote works fine with my iPhone 4S, but with my current-generation iPod Nano, it introduces feedback noise that is unacceptable. That’s a serious issue, either with my iPod or the headphones.

However, armed with better silence, smaller size, and lighter weight, the Bose headphones are a clear winner.

So if you’ve been avoiding Bose because you’ve heard they suck, maybe take another look. If you’re looking for accurate listening, you’ll note that I said above none of these Bose products produce accurate sound to my ear. Personally, I don’t need accurate listening for my bedroom, riding the train, flying in a plane, or to hear that Skype is ringing.

Some photos:

The Bose headphones are quite a bit smaller.

Comparing the cup size. The Bose headphones are tighter on the ear, but not to the point it is uncomfortable.

7.0 oz vs 10.0 oz

Despite being a Sennheiser fan, I can say that the Bose QC 15s are quite a better buy for the typical noise-canceling applications.

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