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.