POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 17
RS65 wireless headphones - Eliminating the tie that binds
as reviewed by Max Dudious
Good News/Not So Good News
The whole thing about listening through headphones—is—there is the good, and the not-so-good. The good includes our ability to hear more deeply into the music, hear the details, the balance; to hear nearly free from other audio events in the environment, to hear without intruding on others around us. The less than ideal is: we can hear errors in performance, details gone wrong, balance gone out of whack; and not hear other important audio events (our wives, beepers, telephones) we should attend. The cord that connects our headphones to our music brings us personal delight, yet we might accidentally step on it and break the solder joints inside the earphone cup, rendering the headphones in need of costly, labor-intensive repairs. To remedy this problem, Sennheiser (and others) have come up with some solutions—socketed cords, and cordless headphones.
In theory both are great. Step on the cord, and the wire pulls out of the socket; or, if not, the cord acts as a kind of fuse and the wires break off at the socket pins and all we have to do is trim back the wires and resolder. Or, in the cordless format, while we move freely about the room the RF Wireless Headphone System's transmitter broadcasts to our receiver, not unlike the satellite systems that feed our car-audio these days. Sennheiser calls it, "The ultimate in personal surround sound." It is a specialty thing, a niche product that has several good features.
The Sennheiser RS 65 headphones ($210 MSRP) do have some interesting features. They are described in the owner's manual as: "Open-Aire™ circumaural hi-fi RF headphones that employ Emmy award-winning RF transmission technology." They are relatively lightweight with soft, velvet-like earpads, incorporating volume control and one-touch auto-tuning. They include a special filter to eliminate TV interference, and a switch that it is claimed will create a, "A full bodied three dimensional sound image from a stereo signal." (For more specifications, go to http://www.sennheiser.com.) The complete kit includes a receiver HDR 65, a transmitter T 60, two rechargeable batteries BA 151, a power supply, a mini jack plug with adapter to 1/4" plug, a storage stand that serves as a recharging station, an instruction manual, and a partridge in a pear tree.
All that suggests the RS65's are a serious product, not for children; a light, easy to use cordless headphone; one designed to provide us with hours of enjoyment each time we use them. I'd say the corporate description is pretty close. They are relatively light and easy to use. They sound surprisingly good, with their ability to render the sound fuller and richer than one might expect. Plus, they allow us to move about the house with our hands free to do non audio-related chores, and our feet free from the possibility we might have a great fall, and all the king's horses and all the king's men, wouldn't be able to fix us again. The system delivers on all of its promises, with varying degrees of engineering competence.
On the shipping carton, the frequency response is stipulated as 20 - 20kHz. There are no specific details offered, such as + and - 3dB points, so that isn't of great consequence. But they do make the 20 - 20kHz claim, which is cool. When you try them out you'll find they have a pretty wide band, and that their peaks and dips are within the bounds of what is acceptable, according to the Headroom spec comparison image generator. (To see how they superimpose the graphs of different headphones, go to the Headroom website at http://www.headphones.com.) Make no mistake about it, the RS 65's are no match for the Sennheiser 650's, but the headphones are fairly flat, with no disturbingly anomalous peaks or suck-outs. My wife, La Dudeen, says they are smooth. Music sounds better than average through them, TV sound is much improved (the TV hash is removed by their filter), and you are free to move about the country.
In recent years I've been interested in TV sound more and more. Sometimes, as with the film Master and Commander, there are differing sounds ranging from violin and cello duets the captain plays with his surgeon, to howling storms, to cannon blasts (not from Pachelbel). Hitching my "universal" Onkyo DVD player to my surround system, and playing it loud enough to make a facsimile of a battle on the high seas, the volleys of cannon fire cause my Morel sub-woofer to vibrate so fiercely that columns of CDs placed atop the Phantom topple like the topless towers of Ilium. But I must protest, especially to David Robinson, that I do this only rarely, with my CSPAN audio buddy Paul Loeschke, who belongs to one of those DVD clubs.
And as my cable TV hook-up plays such films (often that particular film) late at night, I am forced to jack into my Toshiba 27", lo-def, stereo TV that automatically mutes the sound track with the audio headphone jack connected, and watch it with various headphones on. When I have been involved with Master and Commander, late at night, playing it as loudly as I like, I've found the sound of the Sennheiser 65's does a very pleasing, smooth job. They do have enough bass and enough shimmer on the strings (like a semi-loudness contour), to please me. If anything, they are a tad down in the mid range, with a pronounced absence of presence. But my memory's default system is that of my Grado RS-1 headphones that many folks find a tad forward in the upper mid range.
Less than Ideal?
There are a few caveats I should mention. The first is, the portable battery pack that powers the receiver end of the RS 65's only holds its charge for about four hours. That means you must have a second, identical battery pack recharged and ready for that moment when your first battery pack craps out. That is the ideal system, and the Sennheiser engineers have been foresighted enough to anticipate this need, and provide a small space with terminals so the empty battery can re-charge when you substitute the full one. Bad news? The battery only runs four hours. Good news? There are considerations made for rotating two batteries, and you are supplied a second battery.
The other caveat is the sweet spot. There is a sweet spot that occurs when the transmitter and receiver sections of the system are optimally aligned This may only mean moving your favorite chair a few inches, or slanting it slightly. It is something to be aware of. The proper orientation of your head becomes more important than ever. You have to have your head screwed on straight if you're going to use Sennheiser's (or anyone's) remote headphones. If you like to nod into sleep as you listen, you might find that as your chin hits your chest you will be overcome by waves of white noise. Whoosh. Whoosh. This has happened to your trusty advanced scout. It isn't life-threatening, but it is unlovely; especially if you are trying to descend into sleep just as Mahler descends into one of his diminishing adagios, or something. And while this feature has become the butt of my mild jokes, and provides opportunity for punning, it is really rather minor.
The Sennheiser RS 65 Wireless Headphone System is a highly specialized product that may meet the needs of some audiophiles. It is a pretty good sounding piece that is a notch or two below Sennheiser's most excellent 650's. (But so is most everything else.) What it lacks in flat response, it makes up for in features (freedom from safety hazards, freedom to move about the room or house).
One feature might make it suited for audiophiles who like to listen louder than their spouses. I have written earlier (see archives) about "Gendered Audio," and how adult males and females differ in their response to recorded music. The Sennheiser RS 65's might be one answer to the Zen koan, "How do couples get to wedded bliss?" The answer is not, "Practice, man, practice." The correct answer is..."Separate Volume Controls." At the price, it might be a great saving. So, if you're in the market for such a niche product, one that provides for the common defense and domestic tranquility, slide into your Birkenstocks and do the funky-chicken bodaciously on down to your audio boutique, listening on your iPod to my favorite Otis Redding tune, "Young girls, they get woolly," and you got to, Got To, GOT TO tell em Max sent ya.