Sennheiser RS 170 Wireless Headphones

Unplggd Test Lab

Having previously suffered through a cheap pair of off-brand line-of-sight only headphones (it was a Christmas present, so we didn't have any choice in selection), the Sennheiser RS 170 was a real treat to sample. Despite a high price tag and some nitpicky details, the audio quality was outstanding. It's a solid wireless headphone solution worth checking out after the jump. Now do we really have to give them back?

Product: Sennheiser RS 170
Price: $280
Rating: Strong Recommend*

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The Sennheiser RS 170 wireless headphone kit comes packaged with a set of HDR 170 headphones, TR 170 transmitter, and a bevy of cables and power adapters for different countries. The included rechargeable batteries did not have any juice in them, so we had to wait a while before trying out the headphones for the first time. Placing the headphones on the large charging station gave us a moment to realize just how plasticy (is that a word?) the transmitter was. It would have been nice to have a bit more heft to the unit, which all too easily bounces around when handled, despite the best efforts of its rubber feet.

Once charged, you'll need to turn on both the base unit and the headphones. These two steps were a bit annoying - it would have been nice for the headphones to automatically turn on when removed from the charging stand or some type of motion sensing. A few times during testing we had some issues where the base unit was on and the headphones wouldn't power up and sync, but this may have been a dead battery. The documentation lists a 16 hour playing time before charging, and while we never tested that limit listening to music we probably left it on accidentally after taking the headphones off, which is very easy to do as you hunt and peck for the power button.

The power, volume, and surround/bass buttons are nicely built in to the headphones, but are designed such that it’s fairly difficult to tell what you’re pushing. There's an audible tone when you press the buttons but either they only intermittently made a noise or some of my presses weren't registering, so it’s a literal stab in the dark whether you pressed the button or not and which one. Volume level changes were so slight that it was hard to tell if anything was happening at all. Response was slow as well, and without a mute button sometimes you’re forced to rip the headphones off your head when an unexpectedly loud music/sound is played. The power button could serve as the mute, but turning it back on takes a second or two instead of instant. All that being said it’s nice to have volume control on the headset itself without having to reach to the base unit or computer.

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The transmitter supports up to four wireless headsets, which sounds like a really cool feature until you think about why you would need to use headphones if as many as four people are listening to the same thing. One would imagine you'd simply be listening through regular speakers at that point. There's also no pass-through on the transmitter so you can't have speakers plugged in at the same time as these headphones. A cheap splitter would probably fix that, but it's something that would be very convenient out of the box to not have to switch the inputs when you want to switch between headphones and speakers.

The wireless capabilities of the Sennheiser headphones were absolutely fantastic. The ability to walk around while still being connected and hearing music is fun and convenient. The Sennheiser website lists the transmitter as having an 80m line of sight capability, although we clearly walked out the door and down the hall without interruption. A Sennheiser representative clarified that the transmitter is indeed an RF unit which works through walls, but because it influences the radio waves they recommend line of sight. You'd think marketing would want to tout the full RF capabilities and not short sell the RS 170, but it's nice (although initially confusing) that they're being open about RF capabilities. Once we reached the distance limit - much further than we would ever go with massive headphones on anyway - the sound simply cuts out, and right back on when you cross that imaginary line. There was no noticeable signal degradation at the edge of its distance limit.

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Speaking of sound quality, the Sennheiser RS 170 absolutely shines. Touting Kleer wireless audio technology, the transmission is reportedly uncompressed. The highs were amazingly clear, the mid-range well defined, and the bass crisp. The leatherette earpads really do a great job of containing the sounds and are fairly comfortable - they're even padded at the top where it rests on your head. One of the benefits of headphones being a total isolation of outside noises, with these Sennheiser headphones you can really concentrate on identifying the details of music and sounds.

Pressing the dynamic bass boost button really amped up the deep tones without feeling muddy or overpowering. Activating the 3D surround sound feature made the sound feel a bit like you're in a concert hall but in terms of actual three dimensional spatial differentiation - not much so. I preferred to keep this setting off. The bass boost came on when really watching a movie or listening to music, but stayed off when working and listening to music in the background.

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It’s a toss up to personal preference whether you like the look and feel of these Sennheiser headphones. I much prefer these comfortably large over-the-ear headphones over the smaller in-ear type. These could stay on my head all day without discomfort while I can’t have earbuds in for more than short periods of time for discomfort. Not everyone feels the same way though so this is definitely a personal preference. Another advantage of this style of headset is you can pull them off your ears and hang them around your neck without having to hold on to anything, so interruptions to your listening are not such an annoyance when you can simply drape them down around your neck and back up.

Overall, the Sennheiser RS 170 is a fantastic wireless headphone set. Most of the negatives are minor when you just put your hands down, close your eyes, and really listen to the quality of the audio. While we strongly recommend the headphones for their aural quality, the $270 price tag may be too steep for many.

Pros: can connect multiple headphones, convenient charging stand, big and comfy (for those who prefer big and comfy), built-in volume buttons, comes with tons of power adapters
Cons: expensive, hard to tell when synchronized/connected, lots of cheap plastic, difficult/not tactile/no feedback volume buttons, no mute button, no audio splitter to have speakers and headphones plugged in at the same time

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend
Recommend*
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.

(Images by Jason Yang and Ken Yang)

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