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Sennheiser RS 180 Open Digital Wireless Headphone
Sennheiser RS 180 Open Digital Wireless Headphone
Price: 169.95

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Inferior to the older Sennheiser RS 130's in almost every way, 19 Oct 2011
I got these headphones to replace my faithful, but aging, Sennheiser RS 130 cordless headphones. The RS 180's are part of the new digital range designed to take over from the old analogue RS 120/130/140 series.

First impressions, on opening the box, were that these headphones were quite a bit smaller than my old RS130's. The dock / transmitter is also a little bit more compact than I expected from its picture, which I was personally pleased about. Lifting the headphones out I immediately noticed how light they were too - again a positive attribute for comfort. I also prefer the look of the newer RS 180's, and particularly its transmitter looks a lot better than the bulky old ones, and it's better designed in terms of getting the headphones to sit on the charger correctly. The old RS130 / 140 design was sometimes tricky to line up so that it charged the headphones!

What I didn't think about, until I put them on, is the smaller headphone ear pieces also mean they make significantly more contact with your ears than the previous RS generation which are a larger oval shape design that cups over the ears more. The RS 180's are a much rounder "D" shape and sit more on the ears. Personally, as someone with relatively small ears, I could live with this. But if you have large, or even average sized, ears I would not recommend these headphones if you prefer something which cups the entire ear rather than something which rests on them. Tightness pressure of the head band was very acceptable. Not pressing your head, but not so loose they fall off, and comfort would improve even more with usage.

What's not so good is I'm pretty sure the headphones are made from an inferior grade of plastic (in comparison to the RS 130 / 140 series) which may be more prone to snapping over time. They just don't feel as solid and I'd rather have the extra weight than feel like something may snap easily. Layout wise the headphone controls also look nice, but are a triumph of design over functionality. As many others have commented, it's impossible not to trigger the power button sometimes when you adjust the volume up or down, because the power is placed smack bang in the middle of the two volume buttons. What makes it worse is the buttons are quite flush with the rest of the headphone surface meaning it's tricky to feel them. What was up with the old style volume knob Sennheiser?! Likewise adjusting the pan left or right will result in a beep when they can't pan any more, but there's no beep when you reach the middle - which means you're left guessing if you've properly centered the balance.

Since these are cordless headphones arguably the most important thing, after sound quality, is reception. So how is it? Unfortunately the reception is poor. I wouldn't go as far as to say terrible, but definitely poor. They'll work fine if you're in the same room. Move to the next room and they should also be ok. However, go about 20 feet away and through 2 walls (say the distance between a bedroom and kitchen in a typical house) and you're likely to have reception problems. This irked me a lot because the RS130's performed flawlessly at the same distances and well beyond. An operating microwave oven also completely wiped out the signal if I came within about 10 feet whilst using it. In these aspects they are unfortunately a big step backwards from the older generation of analogue cordless Sennheiser headphones.

Another unwelcome aspect of the change to digital is sometimes, if I turned the headphones off, they couldn't find a signal again when they were turned back on. I had to go to the transmitter and turn it off and on again so the headphones would get a signal. I know some of you will have experienced digital cable/TV boxes which "lock up" sometimes and need to be reset to work. This is exactly the sort of thing which happened to the RS180's transmitter.

There is also noticeable latency (delay) on the headphones. If you play any sort of musical instrument and intend to use these headphones for any sort of real time live monitoring they will not prove suitable. I sat right next to the cordless transmitter and hooked them up to play some piano and I would guess the latency is around 50ms or a bit more. Turning on the automatic gain control - which is thankfully selectable on these headphones - seems to make the latency go up even higher. So the latency means they're unsuitable for things like playing piano or monitoring a live guitar / microphone vocals etc. This, yet again, is a flaw that the cheaper RS 130's did not suffer from. However the RS180's latency is definitely adequate for things like TV or movie viewing (the audio will lag a frame or two behind the picture, but that's small enough that you generally won't notice) and this is a non-issue for music listening - unless the music is also playing from another speaker source, in which case the headphones will have a small delay that you will notice in comparison to the speakers. I feel that Sennheiser could've done much more here. They didn't and, as a result, the latency means they're unsuitable for certain audio tasks.

So how's the sound? I was hoping maybe it would redeem some of the above. Unfortunately I wasn't impressed here also. The digital aspect does help eliminate the hissing from the old cordless analogue headphones, as you might expect, and that does mean there's a small improvement in clarity when it comes to listening to quieter sections of music etc. However Sennheiser appear to have resorted to some of the usual tricks headphone manufacturers use to please most consumers. They've given the RS180's a bit of a "smile curve" frequency response. The bass response isn't overdone as many headphones do, and I ended up quite liking that for the most part. But they've also boosted the upper-mid frequency range, which means these headphones might be quite fatiguing to listen to with certain types of material for longer periods. This boost leaves a slightly scooped out mid-frequency range which, in part, makes me feel like I'm listening to the sound almost like it's coming through a "veil" if that makes sense? The older RS 130's don't leave me with the same sense that I'm listening to music through a veil as these RS 180's do. However many people will hear a bit of bass and some higher frequencies and that will equate that to better clarity to them. I don't agree, but audio preference is highly subjective.

I am genuinely gutted that I find myself giving these headphones a less than glowing review. I honestly wanted to like them, but I can't. Their lack of suitability for my own needs left me with the task of tracking down another pair of the (now discontinued) Sennheiser RS 130's to replace my current 130 headphones. Sometimes what seems to be a technological step forward can actually be several steps backwards. It's my opinion this is true of Sennheiser on this occasion, and I would recommend people purchase the older analogue models if they get the chance. The older analogue ones have a longer reception range, no issues with latency, and subjectively (the old RS 130's specifically) sound better to me too.
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