Sennheiser RS180: The Wireless Audiophile

When I compare the soundstage performance to the RS180 to the HD650 driven from the Grace m902 amp (The m902 has one of the widest soundstage performance among many amps that I have tried), the RS180 soundstage feels quite noticeably narrower. However, it makes up the loss in width in the depth and overall soundstage performance that is better than the HD650’s. While the HD650’s soundstage sounds fairly flat and two dimensional, the RS180 has a real depth in the sound and a fairly coherent spherical soundstage. Not bad, considering the RS180 does its own digital to analog and amplifier job within the enclosure of the headphone.

The RS180 wears very comfortably, with the D-shaped housing that mimics the HD800’s frame. The pads are made from very high quality verlour, and the RS180 is more comfortable than the HD558/HD598/HD650 wired models, both due to the better verlour material as well as a softer headband clamping force. I also noticed  interesting differences between the RS180 to the conventional wired models. The headband portion of the RS180 is noticeably longer, and somehow that long headband design makes it easier for the RS180 to maintain a comfortable yet firm grip on the head. Also, while the D-shaped housing mimics that of the HD800 (though in smaller diameter), the RS180’s orientation is totally the opposite to that of the HD800.

What about the wireless performance? If you’ve bought a wireless router before, then you’ll know that the claimed wireless range is almost never the actual range. Likewise with the RS180’s claimed 100m range. It may be possible if you live in a totally open space with no walls or any sort of physical obstructions. The RS180, however, gives quite a nice range of wireless coverage, roughly 15 to 20 meters depending on the construction of the building. The good thing about the Kleer transmission is that audio quality doesn’t suffer as the distance is enlarged. Rather, you get dropouts on the signal if you get too far from the transmitter. The Kleer transmission is able to transmit pure uncompressed audio signal over the 2.4GHz digital link, and the signal is indeed very clean and CD-like. Although the fidelity cannot rival a high end set up such as the Zana – HD800 combo, but no one really expects the wireless RS180 to go that far either. The Kleer technology also allows up to 4 headphones to be used at the same time from one transmitter source, although I didn’t really had the headphones to test out this feature.

The RS180 headphone requires batteries for operational. One AAA battery per side. But unlike the Beats Studio headphones, the RS180 comes with a recharging mechanism through the transmitter that also works as a stand for the headphones. Very smart design, and I never find myself running out of juice with the RS180. The battery life is claimed to be 24 hours, with charging time to be around 8 hours. The transmitter requires an external 5V DC supply, and Sennheiser supplied a universal voltage wallwart with removable AC plugs (UK, US, EU, and AU). What I find to be objectionable is the fact that the transmitter comes with a 3.5mm jack input. Not the best for audio connection, especially because it’s hard to find a good RCA to mini jack cable off the shelves. The transmitter stand, however, comes with an RCA out. A design decision that is quite puzzling to me. But still, I’m using the cheap RCA to mini jack cable that Sennheiser supplied with the RS180 to connect the transmitter to the Grace m902’s DAC output for this review, and I don’t really have any major complaints of the audio performance. The RS180 headphone itself comes with a volume control and L&R balance control, in addition to the on/off switch. The transmitter stand comes with an on/off button, as well as an ALC button that is designed to help to enhance speech performance (audio books, perhaps?).

Wearing a wireless headphone is truly a remarkable experience. I set the transmitter station on my workdesk, and I’m free to go outside to sit on the porch with a book in my hand, enjoying the fresh outdoor air. Yes, you can do the same thing with a transportable set up, but you still have the clutter of portable DAPs and portable amps to carry around. The RS180 is a totally different experience. Without the constraints of wires, the RS180 truly brings out new ways for me to enjoy my music.



Gears used for review:
Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, HD558, RS180
Amplifiers: Grace m902 (for the HD650 and HD558)
Source: HRT Music Streamer II+ (to the analog input of the RS180 and the analog input of the Grace m902)

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32 Comments

  • Reply October 6, 2010

    Mike

    No Love for the RS180?

    • Reply August 10, 2011

      Anonymous

      Their price on Amazon has just dropped to $234.53 (USD), that is my breaking point.  I’m in.

      • Reply August 11, 2011

        Anonymous

        Nice. Thanks for sharing the info.

  • Reply October 7, 2010

    Mike

    $282.40 for these sweet headphones through Amazon.com!

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B002TLT10S/?tag=026bbpl-

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    Pat M

    These look intriguing, that's for sure. You mentioned using an amp with these. Considering the equipment that I have and the connectors on the headphone stand (I don't get the RCA outs either), would an iPod to RCA out > Imamp > 1/4" hp out to 1/8" mini jack > RS180 be viable and would the Imamp really improve performance of the RS180 a great deal? Or is there some kind of internal amplification already in the RS180 units themselves (batteries in phones, external power source to stand)? Thanks!

    • Reply October 14, 2010

      Mike

      Pat M, the RS180 does all the DAC and amplifier processing inside the headphone, so I don't think adding an external amp in the chain will help anything, except perhaps to add a coloration to the sound.

  • Reply November 8, 2010

    Robert

    Best review I found for these headphones. I was hoping that the rs170s would sound close to the 180s but I have been hearing a lot about how the 180s superiority. Will you be reviewing the rs170s too?

    I really want these headphones but I might have to compromise for the closed-back 170s since I'll be living a dorm in the future.

    • Reply November 8, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Robert, no plans for an RS170 review for now. But a friends own one and he enjoys using it. The fidelity factor is not as high as the RS180, but it's still quite an enjoyable headphone. I think you'll enjoy it.

  • Reply November 10, 2010

    Robert

    Awesome. Its interesting how you said the headphones have a built in amp though. Does this mean it won’t make a much of a difference whether or not I’m connecting it to a good dedicated sound card or my onboard audio on my PC?

    • Reply November 11, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Robert,
      Theoratically, the wireless signal would be transferred as a digital data. So when the headphone receive it, it needs to do a digital-to-analog conversion (which basically is a DAC), and then it needs to pass the signal to some sort of a mini amplifier inside the headphones.

      A good source would still help I suppose, as the better quality source will still make its way through the chain.

      • Reply January 2, 2011

        Jeff

        While it is true that these headphones have a DAC and an amplifier inside the headset, that is separate from the initial D to A conversion needed for the digital file itself.

        There is an important distinction here. When one normally speaks of a DAC in this context they are referring to the initial conversion of the digital file into analog music. The quality of that conversion is important regardless of whether you go from there to a pre-amp/wired-headset, or to this wireless device.

        So any sonic improvement that you normally get with a nice DAC on high quality uncompressed digital files compared to say, just using the DAC that is built into your laptop, will still be present with these wireless headphones.

        Think of all that as your "source" – right up to where you would normally plug in wired headphones. From there, with this wireless solution, the "transmitter" actually takes the analog signal from your source (laptop/cd-player/DAC-preamp) and does a new conversion to a lossless digital stream which it sends wirelessly to the headphones on a 2.4 GHz RF carrier wave. The headset then does another D to A conversion and re-amplification inside the headphone unit.

        That second set of A to D and then back to A again is obviously not going to be perfect. This review and others I've read does however suggest that it is pretty darn good and does not meaningfully degrade a high quality musical source.

        • Reply January 3, 2011

          Mike

          Thanks, Jeff. I never meant that the onboard DAC will replace the need for a DAC outside, as the RS180 clearly takes an analog input. Perhaps I didn't make that clear enough though. Thanks for the contribution. 🙂

        • Reply April 22, 2011

          Anon

          Why no digital input on the base unit as this would negate any degradation from the first crappy DAC on a laptop and subsequent ADC on the base station itself? In a world of digital content, HDMI would have been a no brainer but for the licencing fees associated with using said.

          • Reply April 25, 2011

            Anonymous

            Yes, a digital input would’ve made sense. Perhaps it’s less common for the general public?

  • Reply January 7, 2011

    Robert

    Thanks for the clarification guys. BTW Mike, what source(s) did you use to test the RS180?

    • Reply January 7, 2011

      Mike

      I believe I used the HRT Music Streamer II+ and possibly also the Grace m902 DAC. 🙂

  • Reply March 24, 2011

    Josh

    Impressive.
    Have you try it on movies?
    Just curious how it performs and how good it handle the movies.

    • Reply March 25, 2011

      Anonymous

      Hi Josh,
      Unfortunately I did not try it with movies.

  • Reply July 27, 2011

    Anonymous

    Just ordered a pair, and a HRT Music Streamer II… stoked. I’m just discovered your site; fantastic reviews. 

    I am also planning to use the RCA output on the base station to push onward to my Audioengine A2’s and was wondering if you thought the signal would pick up any troublesome coloration or degradation in the pass-through. Any thoughts on the matter? 

    • Reply July 28, 2011

      Anonymous

      Thanks, Rylander.

      There would always be degradations when you are passing through a connection point, but at the end I think it would be pretty minute and I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

  • Reply January 9, 2012

    TonyC

    Sennheiser just released the wireless RS220 with digital input. 

    • Reply January 9, 2012

      Mike

      Didn’t they announce that last year? 

  • Reply March 13, 2012

    Ken Stuart

    Mike, I was looking to buy something like HD558/598, but happened to read your review of the RS180 and realized that wireless headphones equivalent in quality level to 558/598 would have significant advantages for me at times, so I purchased a set.

    Since the RS180 is designed to work with a variety of equipment setups, it thereby requires that “audiophiles” experiment with different connections and relative levels between source and headphones, as well as attenuator on/off, in order to get the best possible sound they are capable of.

    Personally, I find the RS180 to have the most accurate reproduction of electric guitar based music of any headphone I have heard (which is many less than you, of course).   Since you state:
    ” It is indeed interesting that Sennheiser chose to fit such a fun sounding tonal balance for its wireless model, but at the same time not making it available on the wired models. As it is, the RS180 stands out very strongly due to the tonal balance. ”
    then I think that you should include the RS180 in the Full-Size-Headphones Recommendations, perhaps just change the HD558/HD598 paragraph to HD558/HD598/RS180 and add a sentence to the end that the RS180 adds wireless at a similar quality level, and with a better tonal balance, and then include a link to your review.
    Otherwise, readers rarely end up in the Wireless section, because everyone has the preconception that Wireless means a sound compromise, and your review shows that it no longer does.
     

  • Reply July 17, 2012

    awesome1981

    I didnt like the ear pads of RS180 but would have preferred the rs 170 ear pads instead. what do you think

    • Reply July 17, 2012

      Ken Stuart

      What don’t you like about the RS180 ear pads ?
      (Headphone fit and feel varies from person to person, just like shoes.)

      • Reply July 17, 2012

        awesome1981

        Well the texture of the fabric. I wish it was a smooth as the rs 170 ear pads

        • Reply July 22, 2012

          L.

          Didn’t get a chance to listen to the 170, sorry

        • Reply December 31, 2013

          Jon Dekievit

          The RS160 and 170 use leatherette whereas the 180 uses valuer. They are all interchangeable.

  • Reply February 12, 2013

    Israel Best

    Hi, I own the RS180’s and I am absolutely loving them! Great sound and they are perfect for sitting on the couch and listening to music or watching a movie without waking the kids up.

    I was wondering if it would be beneficial for me to add a dedicated DAC/headphone amp into my setup? I am currently using a Sony STR-DB795 receiver for amplification and my RS180’s are hooked up to the headphone output. Or do the inbuilt DAC’s in the headphones negate the need for this?

    • Reply February 13, 2013

      Mike

      Well if you hook it to an external amp and DAC there’s definitely going to be a double DAC/Amping there, but still you’ve got to hook the RS180’s to some sort of a source somewhat, and a better quality source is definitely going to sound better than a lower quality one.

  • Reply February 20, 2015

    gfmucci

    Does anyone have a comparison between these and the HDR170’s?

    • Reply February 20, 2015

      dalethorn

      The only discussions I remember are on the HiFiHeadphonesUK forum. You should be able to do a search there and find a few tips.

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