Sennheiser has released a set of headphones for use with music and TV entertainment. Paul Rigby reviews the RS195
In terms of consumer technology, our lives are surrounded by immense choice. It seems that, no matter what we want to do and how we want to do it, there’s a technological solution ready and waiting to consider. For headphones, especially nowadays as the format has bloomed in popularity, the choice has moved onwards from specialist audiophile use, mobile use to general entertainment. It’s the latter that the RS195 addresses. That is, the RS195 headphones are built for the dual use of both music and TV entertainment.
You can see that the RS195s are different as soon as you take a cursory look at the package. There’s a lot going on in there. The headphones arrive with a base station (that has a range of 100m). The purpose of the station, which is powered by a simple wall wart power supply, is firstly to serve as a cradle, a place to put the headphones when not in use. The headphones balance on top of the base station and charge while doing so. Secondly, the base station can be connected digitally with an optical cable to your Hi-Fi’s CD player or digital player, directly. An analogue connection also means that the base station can be plugged into your hi-fi’s headphone amplifier or pre-amp. Apart from that, other connected technologies can include your TV, laptop, mini-hi-fi system, phone and more.
On the front of the base is a charging light to show battery charge progression and a Mode switch. This includes three positions. The first is the neutral position, the second boosts bass for music while the third strips away bass for speech oriented tracks. A fine tune knob underneath accentuates your choice. I was especially happy with the third ‘Speech’ Mode, ideal for anyone wanting to concentrate upon speech but great for those with hearing issues. Below that is another knob to change the balance of the sound to and from each ear. Again, ideal for those with hearing issues.
The headphones themselves hold two small AAA batteries (featuring 18 hours of use), one behind each ear pad. Press button controls are situated on the outside of one of the ear pieces to control the sound Modes and the volume. The controls are responsive and easy to use while switching on the headphone unit’s wireless button results in the quick connection to the base unit’s wireless signal. This is, in fact, not Wi-Fi, per se, but Sennheiser’s own technology which it calls, rather simply and opaquely, “Radio Technology”. I found no problems with this area. The connection was quick and reliable every time.
TV USE & COMFORT
The wireless headset is meaty in style but light on the head so doesn’t feel intrusive. Its bulky looking design mainly serves to keep sound out so, if you are in a relatively noisy room full of people but want to hear the TV with these headphones then other voices will be excluded and you will be able to enjoy your TV programme in peace. I wore these headphones in a totally quiet room with nothing playing over the headphones at all. I then asked my wife to talk to me from a distance of around half a foot away in her normal speaking voice. I could only just hear her. This gives you an impression of how good the noise exclusion properties are.
Of course, being wireless, you can sit a long way from the TV and not have to worry about cable length which adds to the convenience.
In terms of comfort, I tried the headset both on my head (large) and my wife’s (dinky). Obviously, I had to move and extend the headset earpieces but they retained a comfortable shape no matter the size of the head and head shape.
Plugging the base station directly into my reference Denon B-475 CD player and spinning Mel Torme’s We’ve Got World That Swings, the RS195s, on the default neutral Mode, offered a relatively bass-lite performance with a decent upper midrange performance without exhibiting any great extension or clarity. There were no obvious demons in the presentation of this mode. Right after the song is an interview with Torme. The speech revealed a rather noisy response here. Changing the Mode to Speech Mode, smoothed the output, losing a lot of the noise and making the speech more attractive. Moving back to the music but emphasising the bass, the output provided a balanced presentation, allowing more lower frequencies to enter into the song and bringing the double bass into the frame for the first time.
I then turned to the the analogue option and plugged that into my MacBook laptop, playing a slice of blues from Harry ‘Big Daddy’ Hypolite, a blues shouter toting an acoustic guitar and played at 24bit/96kHz. Playing the track in standard mode gave the output a thin, anaemic presentation. No bass but a pleasantly detailed midrange. Although the headphones couldn’t really cope with the dynamic performance. Turning to the bass mode failed to provide too much extension to the upper frequency areas of this high resolution file but what it did do was to open up the soundstage, adding space and air to the music, giving a better balance to the sound.
The fact that this set of headphones is a wireless design means that it cannot be seen as an audiophile product. I have yet to hear any wireless design, at any price, that can hold its own against a similar, wired product. Hence, the design is crippled, in sonic terms, by adopting this technology in the first place. But to damn the RS195s on these terms is to miss the point of the design. I don’t believe that the RS195s even have audiophile pretensions. The reason these headphones exist is for more practical concerns: convenience and ease of use.
This is an ideal set of phones for family use (it blocks sound well), for TV use and for wandering around the house listening to music while you do other things. The fact that it also features different modes of sound is also useful because too much bass may just interfere with a talking book, for example.
The fine tune option is also welcome for the same reasons. The two levels of connection for the base station just adds to the flexibility.
Yes, the relatively lower levels of sound quality does result in the RS195 not quite hitting the heights and grabbing an award. Nevertheless, the rating does reflect that there are no obvious concerns or problems with the Sennheisers and that they do their job very well indeed. If you are needing a pair of wireless headphones or need headphones as part of an entertainment system then the sound quality is more than adequate for this sort of use while Sennheiser has got the technology spot-on.
GOOD: Design, technology implementation, flexibility
BAD: General sound quality is good without being great.
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